I deal with a lot of small wine farms on a regular basis. My job requires that they invest some money for the opportunity to speak to thousands of wine buyers who come to spend money. The South African wine industry is full of old school stalwarts who haven’t let go of the system that the winemaker is also the marketing manager of the farm.
I have not personally been to university to study winemaking, so I went and did some research on the marketing of wine section of the degree. If you have any luck finding it, please let me know so I can eat my shoe. Winemakers don’t study marketing. They are, generally, skilled at their craft, which is to nurture the vines with the viticulturist and create, in the shed/cellar/mega cellar, masterpieces in flavour, colour and scent for the rest of us to enjoy. Quite simple, right?
I don’t see too many lawyers who moonlight as carpet salesman.
So why have I met hundreds of winemakers who moonlight as the marketing managers for their farms? Surely there is a company out there who can help them with this specialist task. Marketing is not a simple task, especially in an environment like the wine industry where the market is flooded two ways. One way there is the giant of Distell which produces 70% of the market, and the other way there are all the really small guys who would never need a marketing manager. My problem is the batch in the middle, which is big enough to afford one, but to cut costs, only employ a winemaker.
Sure, the winemaker knows the wine, but what do they know about industry trends, about advertising concepts and about trade shows. I know that most of them spend their days on the farm without contact with the outside world, apart from the occasional salesman who calls them to pitch a product their way. They either say yeah or neigh and that’s their marketing function.
As someone who mingles in the wine biz a lot and who sees huge potential for the future in this industry, I have to ask why farm owners think this situation is good. I have to scratch my head and wonder why they think they aren’t getting market traction and can’t find distribution in new areas. Their marketing guy is tending to a vineyard, that’s why they are struggling to make ends meet. The guy in charge of driving the brand is driving the tractor.
I had a very interesting chat with a very smart wine marketing guy this morning and having come back to the office to deal with “decision makers” at farms regarding marketing when they know nothing of it has me a little frustrated. I see SO many farms with SO much potential to make A LOT more money than they current make, simply because their marketing function is devoid of talent. What the smart guy does it purely marketing oriented. He will admit to not knowing that much about wine making in general, even if he is an avid consumer with a rich family history in the wine biz.
You can make the best wine in the world, but if nobody out there is listening to your story, and buying your wine, then it’s the best cellar in the world, and not a wine farm which trades. Great wine and no marketing make less money than good wine and awesome marketing. Distell have proven this throughout the ages, with a reported 27% total production in SA and even more scary, a total 70% of local sales going their way. Their wines are good but their marketing and their sales force are so powerful that I think the average guys have taken a back seat and are happy to suckle off the rear teat.
Is this good enough? No. why don’t they fight together? Why don’t they employ people smarter than they are to make them money? Is there none of this education in the industry out there? Unfortunately the old stereotyped white Afrikaans Boer who’s great great great grandfather bought a farm and they are all still there holds true. They have been stuck on the farm for years and years but haven’t spent time in the real world acquiring marketing skills in decades.
So why am I ranting? Because I want to see the wine industry reach its potential, I want to see jobs filled in South Africa with quality, qualified people making sure we spend correctly, timeously, wisely and that our economy will recover because of it. I want to see people who are good at what they do, even if that’s just one thing. It ties nicely into the single tasking episode. Don’t be a jack of all trades, master of none. Be good at what you do. Respect your abilities because you will do a bad job at something you don’t really know how to do.
If I tried right now to make wine, I’d be kak at it. Full stop. I could market the wine, I could sell the wine, and we all know I am quite good at drinking the wine. But making it? NO! I’ll stick to the job which is to get more people to enjoy more wine more often and leave the making of it to the guys who are qualified for it.
All this talk has me thirsty. Luckily I’m meeting a Serbian friend later for a drink…