If you want an inspirational story about why it pays to follow your passion, and also get excellent wine-marketing advice along the way, have a conversation with James Melendez, Chief Winemeister at James the Wine Guy.
James began his wine industry career unexpectedly. He was a part-time clerk at the Cost Plus World Market wine department while in college. James took it upon himself to read as many books about wine as he could afford.
“It was a great role for me to delve into this fantastically compelling, yet complex, industry of wine and spirits,” he says.
His graduate degree, from St. Mary’s University in Minnesota, took James to San Francisco where he expected to work with foundations, the wine world remained “a magnetic draw,” he confesses. He quickly found employment in wine marketing and, ultimately, became a senior marketing manager at his former employer, Cost Plus. There, his customer-facing experience helped him bring the customer’s point of view to his work.
“I think that wine professionals can be so steeped in the wine world that they’re four or five times ahead of where the customer is,” he confesses. “Sometimes a customer is wondering, what is this? What do I have in front of me?” “My goal is to demystify the subject matter in a way that makes it comfortable for people to ask those questions, without me overemphasizing my knowledge over theirs.”
Today, he focuses on making wine accessible to everyone with his own YouTube channel, where he’s the world’s leading producer of wine videos.
“I love the business, it’s complex and I’m a student of complexity. That’s not to diminish the beauty of wine, because, all you need to do is have an amazing glass of wine and you’re sold,” he explains. “But I think beyond that is understanding the history of wine, producers, varietals and style, then bringing that to customers and helping them understand what that can mean to them.”
He also loves to help up-and-coming vintners. Here’s his best wine-marketing advice to produce success faster:
Create an iconic front label.
“I am so dazzled when I look at a fantastically well-designed label,” he admits. “Sometimes we try not to judge a book by its cover. But we do, consciously or subconsciously.”
“To stay competitive, it behooves any producer with a new label to make it as iconic as possible, without falling into trends.”
An example of a recent trend was labels that looked like they were from the post-prohibition era.
“Don’t fall into a trend, fall into what your heart says,” advises James. “And don’t go too simple because of an economic decision. It will show and be a turnoff.”
Don’t overlook the back label.
Got a great story to tell? Are there details about your wine that you’d like to share with your customer? What are your wine’s ingredients? Take advantage of your back label to explain, advises James. You may even want a wrap-around label to optimize promotional real estate.
“I casually look at people as they’re purchasing wine, and I say at least 70% turn the label around to see what’s in it,” he notes. “I think consumers today are more varietally curious than ever.”
He points out, however, that he thinks at least half of the winemakers don’t make the most of their back label to teach and reach consumers.
“That’s a miss, because when people are buying at a retailer, they’re rarely staffed up to help everyone. Often customers are self-selling,” says James. “Producers don’t think about that for a boutique wine.”
Choose a designer who has wine-label experience.
James explains that you can have a stunning label, but if it doesn’t pass Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) regulations, it will never see store shelves.
“You want to make sure the TTB will approve it with the fewest obstacles,” he says. “Select a designer who has been through the process before. Make sure your verbiage is just right, because approval is a very subjective process. Be ready and willing to defend and modify your label design.”
This is also why he recommends using a paper label that can easily be revised and updated.
Promote your label design everywhere.
“A lot of producers aren’t taking advantage of extending their label design to all customer access points,” points out James. “That’s the website, materials in their tasting room, pamphlets or napkins even. This provides a seamless brand experience,” he says.
“When everything is tied together, customers pick up on that,” he continues. “Why would you have an amazing label and not extend it everywhere?”
“It’s becoming a more competitive wine world, just go to ProWein, the international wine and spirits trade show in Dusseldorf if you don’t believe me,” says James. “So you really need to put the signature of your passion on the wine. Customers pick up on it. If you’re enthused about your wine, they will be too. They’re going to be excited, they won’t be able to wait to try your wine. I don’t think I see enough of that out there.”
Avoid analysis paralysis
This begins by not designing labels by committee.
“At some point you’ll have to put a line in the sand and make your decision,” notes James. “Don’t let too much time pass you by. Don’t shop your label around for 30 opinions. You can always update your label in the future.”
Want some more great wine-marketing advice? Be sure to check out our complete guide to wine bottle label success.