Saturday, March 6, 2010

We can still be Friends

Does guerrilla marketing have a place in wine tourism? Back when we started Bonair Winery in 1985 there were fewer than 40 wineries in the state. We were the fourteenth winery to join the Yakima Valley Wine Growers. Those days are long gone. Now there are over 600 wineries in the state. We keep hearing the same old story from the Wine Commission,. "We must work together to promote wine tourism for the good of the state." In a larger sense this is true, although the Wine Commission doesn't think wine tourism is part of its mandate. But, the growth in the number of wineries has outpaced the growth in the number of wine tourists. Visits to wineries are down and attendance at events is down, not just because of the economic downturn, but also because of the saturation of wineries. Eventually, I think every garage in the state will be bonded.

The typical wine tourist can visit four or five wineries in a given day - probably no more than ten in a weekend. The Wine Commission represents all 600 wineries in the state, so the chances of them sending me a visitor is one in sixty. I wouldn't buy a lottery ticket with those odds. (Well, maybe I would. I think that is better odds than the Washington State Lotto.)

Wine Yakima Valley represents about 50 wineries, so the odds of being selected become one in five on a given weekend. The problem with Wine Yakima Valley is, they cover a wide geographic area from Naches to the Tri Cities. This wine tour is 100 miles long.

Bonair Winery belongs to the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail which requires its members to be no more than two miles from the AVA border. All 17 member wineries are within 20 miles of each other. I like to compare it to shooting starlings on a wire above the vineyard. If they are close - which starlings usually are - I can get five with one shot. If there are 600 starlings on the wire, I will kill 1 out of 120. The rest will fly away. If there are only 15 starlings on the wire, I will kill one in three, pretty good odds of getting hit.

How does this relate to guerrilla marketing? Since the number of wineries has outpaced the number of wine tourists, the Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail resorted to 'unfair' (as one of our non-members said) marketing practices. (Note: All wineries were invited to join at the formation of the Wine Trail.)

For those of you who don't understand the concept; 'unfair' and 'marketing' don't belong in the same sentence. Think of the recent spat between AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Verizon showed a map of their 3G coverage compared to AT&T's 3G coverage. AT&T said the map was 'unfair' advertising because it made it look like AT&T didn't have coverage in most of the US; which it does, just not 3G. A judge decided that 'unfair' and 'advertising' don't belong in the same sentence. The idea is to gain market share against the competition anyway that is legal.

What were the 'unfair' marketing moves made by the Wine Trail? First, we came up with a passport that gave benefits and prizes for visiting 10 of our then 15 members. This encouraged visitors to stay in the area and only visit member wineries in the Rattlesnake HIlls. Secondly, the Wine Trail formed an alliance with the three local cities and formed a Tourist Trail to keep people in the area and promote tourism in the cities as well. Maps were erected in the cities and only member wineries were on the maps because the maps carried the Rattlesnake Hills logo. All hell broke loose. But if you choose not to join an organization, why would you expect them to promote you on a map with their logo?

The Rattlesnake Hills Wine Trail has as its main objective to bring people to our tasting rooms. Our brochures are available all over the state on ferries and at freeway rest stops. We work closely with the Yakima Valley Visitors and Convention Bureau to promote tourism in the region. The visitors center sells our passports in a mutual agreement that helps both organizations. Since some of our member wineries do not produce wines from Rattlesnake Hills grapes, we do not market the AVA as a growing region.

I may be a curmudgeon, but I'll work with you if you have a plan to increase tourism overall, but I am in the wine and tourist business. To stay in business, I need to succeed. To succeed, I might eat your lunch or try to take more than my share of the pie. Is that fair? No, it's business.

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