The changing nature of wine marketing and how it will impact Napa Valley traffic prompted another discussion Wednesday by the Napa County Planning Commission.
Industry speakers noted the trend to place bottles of wines directly in the hands of consumers using online social media and e-commerce as a way to circumvent traditional sales techniques that rely on wholesalers, retail markets and wine lists.
But this new approach requires expanded tasting rooms, increased marketing plans, and more tours and tastings to connect consumers with a service and experience that help wineries stand out from the crowd.
The commission spent an hour talking about growing traffic congestion and how land-use planners could soften the impacts in the face of more wineries seeking use permit expansions.
The purpose of the talks, Commission Chairman Terry Scott said, was to spark a dialogue, and not to try to resolve an issue in one meeting.
“One of the industry’s greatest challenges is creating a balanced marketing approach,” Scott said. “This leads to a challenge that faces us. It is considering combining the impacts and benefits of the wine industry and the rest of the county’s population. Our task is varied and difficult as well.”
Paul Mabray, chief strategy officer for VinTank, started the discussion by saying that wineries continue to miss sales opportunities because they aren’t doing enough to engage potential customers on social media networks.
Acquiring two to 20 new customers daily — many more than that visit Napa Valley and post on social media networks every day — could mean $90,000 to $900,000 in additional sales annually, Mabray asserted.
But Mabray said 80 percent of social media posts from Napa Valley tourists go unanswered. The mean number for wineries’ posts to Twitter is 2.2 per day, and less than 20 percent of winery websites are enabled for mobile devices.
“There’s a huge disconnect,” Mabray said. “We are unbelievably great at the tasting room. The tasting room is fundamental. We need to make the customer stay engaged and stay with us longer.”
Michael Honig, president of Honig Vineyard and Winery, followed Mabray and said as the Napa Valley brand continues to expand into new international markets, tasting rooms will continue to offer a basis for some wineries’ sales operations.
“In the last five years, there has been more interest in the Napa Valley brand,” Honig said. “People need to come and see our valley. They need to see our barrels. They need to kick the dirt. Then they become lifelong customers.”
Citing a 2012 Visit Napa Valley survey, Honig said 82 percent of visitors’ primary activity is going to winery tasting rooms, and 70 percent are likely or very likely to purchase wine.
“Anyone with grapes and enough money can make wine,” Honig said. “What separates the failures from the successes is sales and how wine gets sold.”
Commissioner Bob Fiddaman said he appreciated the comments, but directed the conversation toward the cumulative impacts wineries’ expanded marketing plans could have on the rest of Napa Valley — a topic at the forefront of the commissioners’ minds. Increased traffic and road congestion could be a byproduct of this, he said.
“We have to take into account not just the biggest industry, but living here,” Fiddaman said. “I think it’s a great first step to being educated on what’s happening in the rest of the world.”
Honig said that based on his experience, tourists coming to his wineries are carpooling, with two or more people per vehicle, or relying on tour bus companies as transportation. He hasn’t seen many one-person-per-vehicle trips among tourists, but acknowledged that winery staff often drive solo.
“It’s certainly our staff that creates some of the backup,” Honig said.
Mabray said that while Napa Valley will continue to rely on selling bottles priced at $20 or greater to the baby boomer and Generation X crowds, the wineries can’t get complacent in relying on their luxury brands. They will have to continue to draw new customers through social media, with an emphasis on service and experience.
“We are now digital human beings,” Mabray said. “It’s about the service. The reality is our mindset has to shift.”