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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, April 21, 2014, 6:30 am

Wine Industry Conference Q&A: Hardy Wallace, Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery: Wine consumers want brand new conversation

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    Hardy Wallace is winemaker and an owner of Dirty & Rowdy Family Winery of Calistoga.

    A former information technology specialist in Atlanta, in 2009 he jumped at Murphy-Goode’s much-publicized search for a six-month wine lifestyle blogging stint, building on experience with his Dirty South Wine blog. In 2010 he got into making wines, working on the The Natural Process Alliance brand, which won awards in 2010–2011.

    The inaugural vintage of Dirty & Rowdy was 2010.

    Hardy Wallace

    Mr. Wallace is set to be part of a panel discussion at the Business Journal‘s 14th annual Wine Industry Conference about on-premise wine consumption and other industry trends. He spoke with the Business Journal about new media’s impact on wine and cutting-edge branding.

    What were takeaways from the Murphy-Goode assignment?

    HARDY WALLACE: Those six months, and the time leading up to it, the goal was not just to create content. When you talk about what’s expected for creation of content, a lot of wineries are formulaic and want you to pump out this many posts per week and get this many likes on Facebook or follows on Twitter. It’s more about engagement and listening. It’s as important, if not more important, than content.

    The Murphy-Goode thing was not just to put out 85 blog posts. It’s not just to see that someone commented and you need to respond. It’s more about the target community. That takes a lot of work and takes dedication.

    It’s just like communicating in person. If someone comes in with a set script, you would notice it right away. From the Murphy-Goode gig I learned lot of improvisation, because the conversation is constantly changing.

    How have you applied those lessons to Dirty & Rowdy?

    MR. WALLACE: The big thing is to be genuine. You can’t be formulaic. One of the biggest problems with press releases is when you get one you can follow the formula. You have to get to journalism and investigative reporting to get to truth. You can be 100 times more successful with honesty than with spin or with sizzle.

    To question time spent on social media is like questioning the time for writing press releases and PR, which take a lot of money and effort but can be ignored when it comes to the inbox.

    But aren’t there metrics for determining the success of social media efforts?

    MR. WALLACE: On the business side, you need to have metrics on whether or not something is successful. In my early days of social media, it was all about, “Does it sell wine?” and, “Is there a correlation to sales for the efforts and work on the social space?”

    This is building a brand, and you need to have metrics. At the same point, everything is constantly changing. You can be on the  forefront of a conversation, or you can be irrelevant. Whether you’re a 5 million-case winery or a 500-case winery, it does not matter, because a 500-case winery can have 10 times the recognition and be 10 times more successful in social media.

    What we’re looking for is relevancy: Are you a part of the conversation? There is an ongoing, 24/seven conversation in our marketplace between consumers, retailers,  sommeliers, distributors and brand reps. No one sees the dance moves unless you show up to the dance.

    One tool I rely on for metrics of our small winery is made by VinTank in Napa. I use it multiple times a day to see how my engaging in social media is having an impact, who I’m engaging with and what the conversation is looking like. I can look back on conversations, add to the conversation and see how they are linked to large purchases made and led to opening up sales in new states and overseas.

    We’re now we’re in seven countries, and we’re only making 1,000 cases. Six or seven of the countries were due almost entirely to Instagram. It’s not just reaching the consumer who came by the winery and bought a bottle. We’ve sold 10 pallets of wine for an order overseas, and we’re now on the tasting menu at the hottest restaurant in Singapore because they saw a post on Instagram.

    We’ve done that with no marketing budget or sales team on the street. [Wine social networking app] Delectable is another tool we use, along with Twitter.

    Instagram has been so successful on the international market because there is no language barrier. Someone may post a [a photo with a description] in German or Swedish, and I can like it. I can’t do that with Twitter, Facebook or a blog post. Who would ever think a thin-skinned semilioon from Yountville would be in the hands of wine geeks in Malaysia? What would be the amount of work to get that done 30 years ago and now it can be done by putting photo online?

    I worked at Corison Winery, and [Cathy Corison] has a $135 Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and makes 2,000–3,000 cases of wine targeted to sophisticated customers and the trade. Cathy runs a six- to seven-person person winery and is engaged with social media to share what they are doing with influencers in the trade.

    When you think of money spent on traditional advertising and marketing then think of the money you would spend on a person for conversing in the social space, one or two ads in a major wine mag would have paid for two people.

    What can vintners learn from new-media wine writers in communicating directly with consumers?

    MR. WALLACE: Always keep in mind immediacy. The lead time for a story in a traditional publication can be three months or more. In new media, it is right now, and can be useful for something that happens today or tomorrow. I’m not discounting traditional media in any way, because it has been hugely beneficial for me.

    Social media users are much more engaged with the brands and are far more savvy sellers and resellers of wine and apt to communicate with others than a number of readers of traditional publications. Yet the interlocking rings between traditional and new media may link up at some point.

    New media may have fewer eyeballs and is difficult to track, but it may be important to get information out because you might need sales today or tomorrow. Traditional media may be able to sell ads based on 2.5 million eyeballs, but do the ads register or do people glance past them? What about 700 or 1,000 shares of a story?

    There are some wine publications I only pick up when I’m getting on airplane and have a lot of time to read, but there are some online sources I will see on a regular basis. It’s not often that someone is going to rip out pages of a magazine on a feature on wines from Anderson Valley, put them in a folder then mail it to somebody. Yet how many times is someone going to share a feature story on social media?

    How well are vintners doing in communicating directly with diverse consumers?

    MR. WALLACE: We don’t have a club but have a mailing list. There are a number of ways we interact with on message boards, Delectable, Instagram or Twitter. We don’t have a tasting room, and we make wine in custom-crush space. We primarily communicate online.

    It’s amazing the age groups of our customers and how many communicate with us with tools heavily used by younger generations. Part of that too is we are hyperfocused. Our core is not cabernet, chardonnay and pinot noir but varieties people tend not to focus on.

    It’s overwhelming generality that vintners are doing a horrible job communicating with consumers. Though there are many exceptions, a lot are not sure what to measure, not sure of the benefits and the work they’re doing is formulaic. I can often tell when a winery has a new voice on social media because I see a barrage of inappropriate social media: You do not stand in a room and scream, “Buy this!” and, “We sell this!”

    I don’t spend a lot of time doing social media, but I do a lot of social media, because I know how to maximize my time and gauge results.

    I’m not trying to blame, scold or scorn anyone. On the small-winery side, agriculture and making wine is the easier part, and selling is the hard part.

    When wineries reach a larger size and corporate structure and can’t do anything without metrics of time and resources, they may want to stick with traditional methods of advertising, PR and giving incentives to distributors and wholesalers.

    We’re slightly prehistoric as an industry, but some are evolving faster. There are some drifting into irrelevancy and if not for their location on Highway 29 and Silverado Trail brand would be dead in the market and waiting for company to come in and buy them.

    Some say wine marketing needs to be more edgy, hip, transparent, etc. Some say it needs to be more traditional to communicate credibility, timelessness, high value. Who is correct?

    MR. WALLACE: Who is right is what’s right for the winery and the brand. If I changed Dirty & Rowdy from its very different label to picture of an oak tree or chateau, it wouldn’t fit what we do and the personality of the owners. It’s the same thing with a chateau in Bordeaux with a second label that has a flashy, night club-ready label. They do not go together, because they do not fit the wines and how the company is doing business.

    As an industry, we’re always one to two years behind, because it’s wine and we can’t make another batch of beer or chocolate bars. You have to be true to yourself and not try to solve things with an immediate change in packaging. That’s how you can build conversation through social media.

    People look at us and think we are Millennial brand, whether from our label or advertising. Our core customer base is Gen X- and boomer-heavy — 35- to 50-year-olds — with some Millennials and some over 55. We’re a $30–$40 brand that is hard to find — we don’t have a tasting room — and mostly on a mailing list or at higher-end restaurants.

    What’s next for Dirty & Rowdy and you?

    MR. WALLACE: We’re tiny and cash-strapped, but we’re ready to start our fifth vintage, growing maybe 15 percent to 20 percent this year to 1,500 to 2,000 cases. We usually sell out within days of release. We want to create something that has a long future. For us, it is maintaining control over grapes. Even though we’re seen as a virtual winery, almost like The Prisoner and Kosta Browne, we have a great desire to have vines and dirt but not a tasting room.

    We’re growing our direct-to-consumer market as well as the export market. We’re in Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, the U.K., Denmark and France.

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