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Accelerated Growth in Digital Wine Marketplaces Offers Opportunity for Wineries in Pandemic Era and for the Future


By Paul Vigna

VivinoKeri Tawney has overseen marketing and events at Delille Cellars in Washington, about 20 miles northeast of Seattle, for five years. For several of those she was the marketing department for the boutique producer that has been recognized as a top 100 winery by Wine Spectator, Wine Examiner and Wine & Spirits.

Still, sitting in a crowded marketplace (Washington has more than 900 wineries) with a small staff does limit their outreach.

Enter Vivino, the wine marketplace and app with 46 million users, one that has become a global wine community since Heini Zachariassen and Theis Søndergaard created the business in 2010 for consumers trying to figure out what wine to buy. DeLille Cellars CEO Tom Dugan saw the Vivino presence as a new way to engage customers and became part of its brand stories program at the end of 2018.

“Looking back, I think deciding to collaborate with Vivino through our sponsorship program was definitely in hindsight a great thing,” Tawney said, noting that the pandemic has pushed more interaction into a digital realm. 

Brand stories works on both ends, providing background on the winery through text, photos and videos in addition to information on its recommended vintages and detailed information on its wines, all supplemented by consumer reviews. Beyond the exposure, wineries benefit from an evolving and expanding database that gives them more insight into who is scanning and/or buying their product, and where, and how they stack up against their competition.

The brand stories program fills a void that Zachariassen said he realized when he spoke to wineries who wanted to work with Vivino, but “we had nothing to sell, nothing at all.” So they developed a product that could “help wineries be in touch with the people who are already engaged with Vivino.”

That idea has picked up momentum this year, with the Vivino sponsorships team now working with around 230 wineries worldwide, including Cos D’Estournel (Bordeaux) and DeLille. In a year where so many producers lost money and exposure because of COVID-19, brand stories has increased both online sales and brand awareness. “A lot of people moved their budgets to digital and we were obviously ready to embrace that, and we’ve been very, very successful since then,” Zachariassen said.

Tawney said there’s good reason for that, because “what Vivino does is meets us at a very critical and unique point in the customer journey. They could be at a friend’s house scanning a bottle, in a restaurant scanning a bottle, or in a grocery store.” 

If it’s DeLille’s acclaimed red blend called D2, they can review its taste characteristics and peruse the several thousand reviews given to several vintages. “This is all user-generated content,” she said, “so it’s like these consumers are speaking for us, their reviews and their stories about engaging with the wine.”

Vivino will follow up a customer interaction by sending an email that provides more information on the winery. “Sometimes, sponsorship models can get in the way of the product,” Zachariassen said. “I think this one makes the experience richer.”

The importance of educating consumers isn’t lost on even the most iconic wineries, such as Napa Valley’s Grgich Hills Estate, Miljenko “Mike” Grgich made the Chardonnay for Chateau Montelena that turned the wine world upside down in the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, then opened his own winery the following year.

“Through their video banner feature and their ‘meet the winery’ section, we have been able to convey our story and brand history, along with key features of our wines,” marketing manager Megan Arnett said.

Both wineries cited the value of the Vivino-provided data. “We have been able to see [through provided scan metrics, engagement metrics and reviews/rating metrics] our consumers’ preferences with our wines, engagement broken down by ratings, scans, and winery articles along with locations of scans,” Arnett said. “Knowing what our customers are interested in seeing and interested in engaging with … assists in creating content that is tailored to what our consumers are looking for.”

Added Tawney, “With the metrics we see, and again being smaller, I don’t have a large marketing budget. They do things I never would have been able to do.”

Zachariassen noted that the dashboard is a work in progress, something that wasn’t part of the original idea. “So there’s a lot more to come,” he said. “We’re building the dashboard all the time to give them as much information as we can on the wines.”

That includes specific data points and geographic targeting such as why a wine might be selling better in Virginia than Florida, for instance, or identifying pockets where a wine or brand is selling. It could also compare regions and promotional tactics that might be working in one place and could be duplicated elsewhere. 

It’s a platform that has extended beyond single wineries to WineDirect, a direct-to-consumer ecommerce platform, which has exceeded 1,800 clients. Holly Schick, whose role as director of marketplace was necessitated by the growth it has seen for its clients, said that “in today’s rapidly changing consumer landscape, wineries need to invest in alternative DTC sales channels such as online marketplaces provided by WineDirect’s third-party partnerships.”

The results have been impressive, she said, noting that WineDirect has seen a 260% year-over-year growth across its marketplace partners during 2020’s first nine months. ”It’s evidence this is paying off for wineries,” she said. 

To Zachariassen, the pandemic has pushed the move to digital ahead by several years. “I don’t think this was a behavior that was just triggered by coronavirus as such, I think it was accelerated,” he said, adding it’s creating habits that consumers are embracing and not only for the short term.

At DeLille, they’re not about to give up on the impact of a tasting room visit. Instead, that will balance what it can deliver online through programs like brand stories. “I think Vivino has really made that customer journey aspect and that user experience, that’s kind of their sweet spot for us.”

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