By Erin Healy
Once, at a media dinner for a very high-end wine estate, a writer asked me as we were chatting over dinner, why would very well-known, iconic wineries invest in PR? He wasn’t asking in a negative way, but rather with genuine curiosity, and an interest in finding out the why’s behind luxury brands making this investment.
It’s a great question! And one worth exploring. On one level, it could be true: a highly-regarded,
small-production, expensive wine may already be allocated each vintage to its loyal customers.
Yet there is much more that may be communicated to the media, the trade and the public.
Here are some areas where PR is key for luxury brands:
Positioning key spokespeople as thought leaders
Luxury brands usually have the means to have the best of the best as part of their teams –
whether it’s the estate director who has worked among the most famous wine estates in the
world or CEOs with decades of experience in top companies. Therefore, they are often
considered thought leaders. Things have been changing rapidly in the wine industry lately, and
top wine brands and companies not only have their finger on the pulse, but are sometimes the
ones who are driving these innovations. Thought leaders have something to say not only on the
topic of wine, but in larger, big-picture topics that are important both to the wine itself, as well as
beyond the bottle: think climate change, social sustainability, changes to sales channels and
how consumers purchase wine, etc. Key spokespeople from top brands are often considered as
go-to resources for thoughtful, intelligent comment and cutting-edge ideas that move the needle
of the status quo – criteria necessary for interesting, thought-provoking articles in top
publications. PR works to connect the right spokesperson with the right media opportunity.
Introducing the wines to a new audience
When many think of the customers of high-end, luxury wine estates, they picture older, affluent
wine drinkers, and rightly so. According to Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the US Wine Industry
2021 report, as expected, Boomers still hold the reigns as the cohort with the highest
percentage of wine consumption in the luxury category: in the $80 and above price range
(broken down by $10 increments), Boomers make up between 42-44%, vs. Gen Xers and
Millennials each at about 15%. Put together, these two cohorts account for approximately 30%
of consumption in the luxury category; a number that should not be ignored. Reaching younger
audiences is an important aspect, allowing luxury wine brands to develop relationships with
them and in turn, future loyal customers. New methods can be employed to reach them that are
relevant to them: traditional media relations, as well as social media, influencers, etc., and a
page can be taken from the general luxury market, as noted in the report:
“While the wine industry makes slow inroads to attract the young consumer, the luxury market
has gone all in, adapting product offerings, digital communication and engagement strategies and
evolving distribution channels. The comparison with the wine business is stark: About 20 percent
of millennials consume wine, yet many more, 33 percent, consume luxury goods.”
Not only is the means of reaching new audiences important, but also the messaging. Supporting
products that reflect their values is vital to younger consumers. Communicating authenticity and
the work that wine estates are doing in terms of environmental and social sustainability,
diversity, etc. is crucial for Millennials and Gen Zers, as evidenced in the report.
“The younger wine consumers now, having lived through the Great Recession and a pandemic,
aren’t destined to be consumers who will want to show off their wealth. They too will work for a
better lifestyle, but they want to know that those who have wealth are contributing to a better
world in some way, and instead of bragging about price, they would rather talk to friends about
the good work that a brand and its owners are taking on (see figure 25).
In addition to sustainability, health and environmental issues, which have long been important to
younger generations, today social justice, equity and diversity concerns are driving these
consumers to place unprecedented pressure on companies to adopt these issues into their brand
platforms. The social intersection between a brand and the consumer is increasingly connected to
the decision to purchase particular products, including wine.
Future success in marketing to millennials depends on recognizing the things that are important
to them versus what’s important to boomers. That’s not meant to imply we need to change our
core brand or a traditional label, but we have to evolve and leverage the consumer’s values when
Launch of a new wine
Many established, luxury wine estates don’t sway far from their classic, historic wines that have
a loyal following. Sometimes though, a new wine is conceptualized and crafted, most often with
a deeper meaning and messaging behind it. PR is important here to communicate the why, the
how, the who, etc.
Expanding to a new market
There are high-end wine estates around the world that have focused their markets close to
home, but have not yet fully tapped the US market and would like to do so. Through PR,
activities such as media relations, trade outreach and events, social media, etc. can go far in
reaching that goal.
Communicating important milestones
The standard of new vintage releases happens every year for (most) wines, as well as
anniversaries, albeit less often. While often anniversaries may not be very significant
themselves, some iconic wine estates around the world celebrate milestones that are truly
newsworthy, with a real impact on the wine industry. PR helps these wineries communicate the
importance and impact of certain milestones, placing them into a larger picture and story to tell.
News that is relevant to media outside of the wine industry
Sometimes, a wine estate may have a new project that is newsworthy beyond the wine media.
For instance, a new state-of-the-art winery designed by world-renowned architects, a new
restaurant with a top chef, a collaboration with a famous artist, important charity work and
donations, etc. will want to be communicated. Utilizing PR allows the news to be shared with the
right media and audiences.
Press and trade trips
There is no better way to understand a wine estate – its philosophies, vineyard practices,
winemaking, etc. than being there in person and experiencing it for oneself and in the context of
its region and terroir. This can be even more true for luxury brands. PR professionals are there
to play a key role in organizing the trip, logistics, and getting the right media and key opinion
leaders in the trade to visit, as well as being present to make sure the trip is seamless and a
valuable experience for both the attendees and the estate.
Overall, that’s the beauty of PR: there is not a one-size-fits-all approach. With integrated
communications programs like we have at Colangelo & Partners, customized, bespoke
communications plans can be designed to meet the needs of a wide variety of clients, whether
it’s one with a $10, widely-available wine, one with a highly-allocated bottle worth several
hundred dollars, or anything in between.