CalWine blending marketing, design with 'marketecture'

[caption id="attachment_17621" align="alignright" width="313" caption="Al Jabarin of CalWine in his existing wine shop."][/caption]

NAPA VALLEY -- Al Jabarin, owner of early e-tailer CalWine, sees the future of both Internet and retail sales of fine wine in providing a unique destination experience, so for his planned move closer to downtown Napa this summer he brought in expertise in blending marketing and space design.

"For two years I've been thinking about the concept, but I never pulled the trigger because of the economy, but now I feel the time is right," Mr. Jabarin said.

He's seen a buzz building in the downtown area with announcements of restaurants by celebrity chefs and more than 19 tasting rooms clustering there. He's also noticed that the way fine wine is marketed and sold is shifting rapidly toward experiential direct connections with consumers, which poses a challenge for small-production and new brands without a venue for that connection.

Eighty percent of sales are still online for the nearly 1,000 labels carried now, but the new venue will have room for up to 300 more labels, with one-fifth of the selection to be imports. He intends to offer samples of much of the selection.

"Consumers like to taste a product before they buy it," Mr. Jabarin said. "Wine should be the same as cheese or oil in that they can try a little bit. The more of a selection of wine and the more the consumer has an opportunity to taste will influence the decision."

Reviews and scores of wines have a significant influence on online sales, but many of the 15,000 CalWine mailing list members live in California, he noted. The goal will be to create a flexible venue for club members and "garagista" vintners to hold their own tastings.

Mr. Jabarin worked with his architect, Alden Marsh in Sonoma County, and a Windsor-based group of consultants called GFC Marketecture to come up with what he thinks is different from the typical wine shop or tasting room. The goal is to open the new 3,600-square-foot venue at 1313 Main St. in mid-summer.

Mr. Jabarin launched CalWine as an Internet wine store in 1995 and opened a shop with small tasting bar at First Street and Silverado Trail in 2006. The economic recession cut deeply into sales in 2008, but aggressive discounting and promotions in 2009 drove sales to the point of ending the year with 4 percent revenue growth.

Transforming the common "belly up to the bar" tasting-room experience into one that creates brand buzz and sales is key to the "message" and "place" components of "marketecture," a blend of the words "marketing" and "architecture," according to Gary Finnan of GFC Marketecture (www.gfcmarketecture.com).

One concept the group is developing is a bar with six different configurations that removes the physical obstacle between the person pouring and explaining the wine and the consumer.

"If the visitor has a great experience and they put out that experience to their networks, it communicates the brand message and monetizes the social-networking experience," Mr. Finnan said. "But when people get the message, they need to have a destination to come to."

The firm's network includes consultants and companies in architecture, interior design, construction, human resources, marketing, retail operations and business management.

Mr. Finnan said the elements of "marketecture" are vision (strategic planning and finance), human (human resources and organizational development), creative (graphic design, writing and interior and landscape design), buzz (marketing, public relations and social networking) and eco (sustainability and renewable energy).

The goal of the group is to get all the disciplines involved in joint planning from conception of the project through completion, according to Mr. Finnan.

Various elements of the message-plus-place concept have been applied to winery hospitality venues such as Seghesio Vineyards and C. Donetello in Sonoma County and Prairie Berry Winery in South Dakota, a cider brewery in New Hampshire and retail concepts such as Powell's Sweet Shoppe franchise.

New clients include visitor venues for Franciscan, Cakebread and Martinelli wineries and an African "ecolodge" for Healdsburg-based Bushtracks Expeditions.

This year a media element, called WineWisdom, will be added with video services, seminars and a forthcoming book on the concept. GFC Marketecture helped put on a seminar in Santa Rosa in December that attracted 180 attendees.

A number of the attendees were looking for quick help with their businesses, which led the firm to create rapid-response teams for "tweak marketecture." The goal is to quickly assess operational disconnects that are subtracting from the bottom line.