Marketing is a big part of the wine equation

  • By Jeff Wicklund Special to The Herald
  • Friday, August 31, 2007 4:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

It takes a truckload of moxie to launch a winery these days in the state of Washington if you are a small, independent, viniferous entrepreneur.

Having the passion for the fermented grape and capacity to transform that passion into a well-made wine is just the beginning.

There are many elements crucial to navigating the rocky waters of an emerging winemaking enterprise, but there’s one big obstacle that rears up after the “fun part” (tons of back breaking work), and that’s marketing the product.

As I see it, our state’s wineries are roughly divided into three categories. First, there are a few “refinery/wineries” with monstrous marketing budgets churning out hundreds of thousands of cases annually and gobbling up a big chunk of our state’s market share, as well as satisfying the curious (what’s up with Washington wine?) consumer in markets all over the country and the world.

Second, there’s this new phenomenon that stems from the huge success of our state’s wine industry as a whole. It’s the emergence of folks with tons of cash, a yen for wine and the romance that engulfs the beverage and the inclination to jump on the bandwagon. There are very few stumbling blocks that can’t be hurdled with the appropriate amount of greenbacks.

And then there’s the vast majority of Washington’s 500-plus wineries that comprise “mom and pop,” “garage,” “grass roots,” “bootstrap pulled” and all the other euphemisms indicating a small independent start-up winery with limited capital investment. Here’s where I find the stories fascinating, and many times, thoroughly inspiring.

Like the story of two friends, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with the past decade, who have created quite a stir in the Washington wine pot over the past few years and have each began to paint portraits of success that are looking more like masterpieces every day. They may end up in textbooks on how to launch a successful winery.

I first met Chris Gorman (Gorman Winery) and Mark McNeilly (Mark Ryan Winery) as highly competent, engaging and witty wine reps for distributors out of Seattle. They both expressed a desire to dabble in winemaking on the side, and over the years they produced some pretty delicious hooch.

Turning that alchemy into successful “quit their day job” wineries, in the time they were able to accomplish that, is the part of this story that’s fascinating and a model for other upstart wineries. Of course, without a high quality product, a great marketing plan alone won’t do it, unless you’re talking about “Two Buck Chuck” (cheap wine parlayed into megadollars) or “Little Penguins.”

Both Gorman and Mark Ryan wineries have produced some world-class wines, which have netted them critical acclaim and a bunch of those coveted 90-plus point scores.

This has helped the numbers-chasing crowd to beat a path to their door, but when they get there, they find a couple of fun-loving guys who really get what this whole wine thing should be all about. This attitude is contagious and is reflected in the way their wines are marketed and packaged and within the very wines themselves.

Recently, these two independently successful wine guys have joined forces to create a new wine project fittingly called Giant Wine Co. They have released a red and a white wine going by the mysterious name Ghost of 413.

Oooh! See, there you go, marketing genius. Actually, these are beautifully crafted wines with tons of character, offered at an affordable price. The white ($13) is a bright and racy blend of 50 percent semillon, 25 percent chardonnay and 25 percent gewurztraminer completely fermented and aged in stainless steel and finished completely dry.

The red ($16) is a no-nonsense bold and spicy wine boasting gobs of black fruit, mocha and mineral flavors with a long and silky finish.

These wines have rocketed straight out of the gate and will surely sell out rapidly, following suit with the top-tier wines that Gorman and McNeilly produce independently.

“We’re making wine for the people,” McNeilly said, and he and Gorman are right on target with their wheelhouse pricing, quality product and, yes, great marketing.

So, what’s the deal with the “Ghost” and the number “413”? Is it a hotel room number? Ricky Schroder’s birth date? (Gorman’s preoccupation is well-documented.) Or something as simple as a phantom winery bond number?

I suppose it can be whatever you want it to be, which, if you include a corkscrew within the conundrum, it’ll bound to be the correct guess. The “Ghost” wines are available at select retailers for a spooky-short time as they will probably disappear before Halloween. Now that’s some frighteningly good marketing.

Jeff Wicklund can be reached at 425-737-2600, 360-756-0422 or wick@purplesmilewines.com.

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