By Elizabeth Hans McCrone
A plethora of adjectives have been used to describe Elizabeth “E” Slater, owner of In-Short Direct Marketing, a premier, coast-to-coast, wine industry consulting business: inspiring; dynamic; fun; cheerful; witty; a firecracker; a communicator; a connector.
Through conversations with several of the colleagues who have worked side by side with Slater on decades of wine marketing strategies, the indelible impression is that she is highly effective at what she does — and she knows how to have a heck of a good time while doing it.
The move to Wine Country
Slater’s marketing roots go deep, but not originally with wine. She got her start in Southern California working in sales and management positions for in-house ad agencies and their franchises.
In 1990, she made her way to Sonoma County, where Slater became intrigued with the intricacies of the wine business and the idea of creating her own marketing firm. Within four years (and while working at two different wineries), she mastered the art of tasting room selling and winery sales through direct marketing (DTC) activities.
More than 30 years since that initial foray, Slater is credited with spearheading several of the most successful consumer-facing wine events in the region, including the Russian River Wine Road, Winter Wineland, and the Wine and Food Affair, as well as playing an integral part in Passport to Dry Creek Valley.
Additionally, Slater has taught wine marketing courses through Santa Rosa Junior College and Sonoma State University, been the program director of Tasting Room Profitability, has been a columnist for Vineyard and Winery Management magazine and a featured speaker at countless wine trade shows and conferences across the country.
WIN takes shape
One of her most signature achievements to-date is the co-creation of Wine Industry Network (WIN), known as one of the most influential and leading business-to-business resources for the North American wine industry.
No one knows E Slater better than WIN co-founder and President George Christie.
“She has a great way of making the marketing and selling of wine fun,” Christie says. “She has a real knack for being able to educate and entertain at the same time.”
Christie met Slater in the early days of Sonoma County’s wine region development, while the two were serving on the same association boards and committees, and, eventually, a consulting team together.
He calls her “the go-to person for staff training and sales.”
When they collaborated on the idea of an online directory for regional wine resources, the concept of WIN emerged, with Slater as a driving force.
“During the early parts [of WIN’s development], I was really nervous,” Christie admits. “I give her credit for being the brave one. She’s also the one who came up with the WIN name.”
Celebrate all the regions
Christie notes that, once Slater made a name for herself in her own backyard with her own company, her reputation as a DTC marketing expert and staff trainer grew to the point that wine regions in other parts of the country began clamoring for her services.
“Everyone had heard of her and knew about her,” Christie recalls. “She started going on the road to places like Nebraska, Idaho, Ohio, Virginia … she’s touched the lives of so many people.”
One of those people is Donniella “Donnie” Winchell, a founding member of the Ohio Wine Producers Association and a vibrant contributor to the overall Ohio wine and tourism industries. (Winchell was among those chosen as Most Inspiring in 2022.)
Over the years, Winchell’s and Slater’s work has intersected on many levels. Because of this, Winchell knows Slater to be a non-pretentious and inspiring colleague. “She’s cheerful,” declares Winchell. “She has this lilting voice that just causes people to want to become involved in programs and projects she’s associated with.”
According to Winchell, one of the most valuable aspects to Slater’s professionalism is the way she has always encouraged those in Ohio to take their state seriously as a wine region. “She’s a visionary,” Winchell insists. “She understands that marketing wine goes beyond the West Coast. She’s respectful of who we are. She also understands that the strength of the American wine industry lies in increasing awareness [of all wine regions].”
Due in part to Slater’s influence, Winchell reports that Ohio’s wine industry market share has grown from four percent to nine percent, with thousands of visitors now flocking into the region annually. Winchell is particularly grateful for Slater’s reminder, to both consumers and professionals alike, to have fun with the business of wine.
“We need to stop making people feel stupid [about wine],” Winchell emphasizes. “What E has always done is to teach people to relax and enjoy wine wherever and however they’re the most comfortable.”
Cut to the chase
Julie St. John, president of Pedroncelli Winery in Geyserville, Calif., is part of a family that’s owned and operated the business for three generations. She remembers Slater, at a monthly wine region committee meeting back in the day, where St. John says the group was “going round and round” about which avenues to pursue to promote the burgeoning Sonoma County wine industry.
“All of a sudden [Slater] pipes up, cuts to the chase and says, ‘Listen. This is what we need to do,” St. John recounts with a laugh. “This little firecracker of a lady. She was a real force.”
St. John feels Slater’s marketing background with dissimilar industries was actually a big plus for those sitting around the table. “She was an important influence because she was always able to think outside the box,” St. John explains. “Coming from outside the wine industry, she had fresh ideas.”
According to St. John, it was Slater’s irrepressible personality as well as her relentless focus on customer service that made a lasting imprint on the California wine industry and beyond. “E emphasized that sales are relational, always relational,” she says. “You have to find out who that person is who’s standing in front of you. And she has this way of making light of all the moments. There was never a time you weren’t laughing while working with her.
“Her personality takes over, but doesn’t get in the way of the information she’s conveying, “ St. John adds. “There’s an art to that. She’s a fantastic businesswoman.”
It’s about people first
If there is one adage that could be ascribed to Elizabeth Slater, it has to be the phrase she coined (and drummed into the people she has coached) on how to maximize successful wine sales: “It’s not all about the wine.”
Slater confirms, “We have to move away from it being all about the wine to it being all about the people.
“You just need to be sure to describe the wine enough and give [customers] a few words to take back to their friends. But the focus needs to be on the person in front of you.”
A master of effective sales techniques, one of Slater’s weapons is her renowned ability to keep things light. “I always try to inject as much humor as I can into conversations, because if you can make people laugh, you can make them listen,” Slater explains.
Asked about her past achievements and how she feels about being recognized (and sought after) for her wine marketing expertise, Slater responds in typical fashion: “Standing up and telling people what to do is my idea of a good time.”
She further acknowledges that she’s had an incredibly rewarding career in the wine business as a teacher (“I love teaching. It’s wonderful to give students information in a way that will keep them interested”), consultant, seminar speaker and business owner.
But she credits other mentors along the way for her remarkable success.
“We like to think we’re self made, but we never do anything on our own,” Slater states philosophically. “Helping people along the way is what we’re here for. I’ve had some incredibly good teachers in the business.
“Our job in life is to help people and have people help us. That pleases me. That’s reward enough. If I’ve enjoyed my life and done what is right, I’m in good shape.”
Contact E Slater at 707-953-1289 / email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Hans McCrone
About Wine’s Most Inspiring People: Each year, Wine Industry Advisor chooses 10 individuals from within the wine industry who showcase leadership, innovation and inspiration. For the first time in 2021, WIA opened submissions to the industry at large, and the success of this new nomination process was quickly recognized, as honorees came from more diverse wine regions and had more distinct stories to tell. With more than 100 nominees in 2022, the editorial team selected the top 10 individuals who, they felt, had truly positively impacted the U.S. wine culture over the past year.