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Wine Industry Veteran Reflects on Wine Marketing Lessons in New Book

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By Laurie Wachter

Eric Guerra
Eric Guerra

When Great Wine Is Not Enough: A Wine Sales And Marketing Guide For Wineries, Négociants & Wine Brand Owners

Eric Guerra is a wine marketer, heart and soul. He spent a little over a year at Kendall Jackson that shifted his focus from 10 plus years in software to the world of wine. The breadth of the Jackson Family portfolio — composed of large and small wineries from Verite to international wineries — opened his eyes to a much bigger world than most first experiences in the wine industry. Then he went to work at Allied Domecq, whose U.S. wine operations had headquarters in Healdsburg before being bought by Pernod Ricard. There again, he found a diverse portfolio.

“I was at Kendall Jackson just a little under two years,” he continues, “but I learned a lot. Then Allied-Domecq expanded my brain universe further.” One of the brands he worked with was Mumm Napa, which, Eric avers, “I adore. It is a brand in my heart for the rest of my life.”

While he was managing Mumm Napa, he attended a fund-raising event and stumbled into an opportunity that has since changed his life.

The Mondavi brothers, Peter, Sr. and Robert, who was in his early 90’s, were also attending, and Eric found himself standing next to them while waiting for the next event. He describes the moment in his new book, When Great Wine Is Not Enough: A Wine Sales And Marketing Guide For Wineries, Négociants & Wine Brand Owners. “I knew I had a unique moment in time to ask a few questions and learn as much as I could as quickly as possible,” he writes. “As we chatted about wine and the auction, I realized we only had a few minutes left. I turned to Bob and asked him a very specific question, one I thought might provide an answer I could take with me for the rest of my life in wine. I asked, ‘Mr. Mondavi, still being early on in my career, I was wondering if you could give me some advice about how to be truly successful long-term?”

Robert’s answer was, “Eric, as you get higher up and you become very busy dealing with the challenges this business brings us all, never forget the reason why you got into wine to start with. Remind yourself often. Never forget.”

Over the next 16 or so years following that conversation, Eric has kept Robert’s sage advice top of mind. Years in which he climbed the ladder into general management at Mumm Napa, then stepped up into Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Terravant Wine Company and then Vineyard29. He found himself turning to those words when he had important decisions to make, tough moments to get through. “All these years later, his words are still with me, as powerful as they were when he said them.”

Somewhere along the way, “His message got into me,” and he realized that he wanted to get back to what he loved — sales and marketing. The book is the first product of this new path, and Eric’s passion for sales and marketing translates into the key lesson of the book – put sales and marketing first. “No wine book starts there, so I decided to fill the gap. It is a manifesto – a plea – for that side of the business.”

Eric wrote the book for someone coming into the market or perhaps managing a struggling brand. The book’s opening salvo points out that, “95% of the wine brands that are developed and launched each year ultimately fail.”

Brands that do well, he says, have the right messaging with the right innovation at the right time. For example, Kendall Jackson with Chardonnay when it was exploding, Meiomi with Pinot Noir when it was gaining traction at the mass level, “not the geeky level we know in wine country,” Eric laughs. “If you have the right messaging,” he adds, “people will pay for the wine, even at a high price.”

The first task he assigns the reader is to write down their intentions and purpose in starting a winery or growing a brand. He asks them to think through what they want their brand to become — a high-end single varietal vineyard or a chill lifestyle, take-it-to-the-beach brand. Once they figure that out, then they have to look at where and how they should sell it. A high-end wine might require a tasting room and private membership, while a beach wine would do best out in retail, selling as far and wide as possible.

“I have people do that before they launch the brand, before they build the winery and, most importantly, before they choose the winemaker. Choosing the winemaker is critical because if you’re building a blues band, you don’t get a rock guitarist. Same with a winemaker – they have different talents and experiences. You also need a cool sales and marketing person,” he laughingly adds, “but the winemaker will always be the rock star.”

Eric Guerra will be moderating the 3 Tier Wine Symposium on May 7 in Santa Rosa and using his expertise to help wineries improve their performance in the distribution channel.

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