Randall Grahm is one of the true characters of the American wine scene. A self-styled terroirist, intuitive branding genius and all around eccentric, Grahm has taken his Bonny Doon Vineyard on quite a ride over nearly the past 30 years. After setting out in 1983 to make great Pinot Noir in California, Grahm was drawn to Rhône varieties — long before it was cool — and blazed an innovative trail. Years past and the winery continued to grow particularly at the entry level with the ubiquitous Big House brand. But being a terroir driven vintner who presides over blending sessions in industrial wineries can’t be a lot of fun. So in 2006 Grahm sold the Big House brand to The Wine Group and spun off Pacific Rim into it’s own business with outside partners.
By his own admission Grahm has downsized his once considerable enterprise by a factor of ten and the business model of a modest winery today is a lot different than when he got started. Today the consumer has more tools to help them choose a wine in the store using smartphones and apps like Hello Vino. Social networks such as Twitter and Facebook can connect friends from Barstow to Barcelona in near real time for instant recommendations. And wine distributors, who used to be the winery’s “feet on the street”, have become nothing more than extensions of the sales force for large volume brands like Gallo, Kendall-Jackson and, somewhat ironically in this context, The Wine Group.
It appears Mr. Grahm is well aware of the current realities in the wine market and his own transformation from selling mostly through distribution to mostly direct to consumer after reading a very revealing post on his blog earlier this week. I have the opportunity in my day job to have frank conversations about the wine business but none of these surface here as they are off the record. Seeing similar issues presented in a long-form post on a winery blog is most refreshing and frankly breathtaking. I’m sure there is a bit of added drama at play here and the Dooniverse is not really on the edge of ruin but if it is that would be most distressing. The wine world with Randall Grahm and Bonny Doon in it is much better than the reverse.
So in the spirit of a friend lending a helping hand I offer the following unsolicited ideas for Mr. Grahm and his team to ponder:
Get social - Dude, you have over 350,000 Twitter followers! No other vintner is even close. Use it occasionally to sell your wine. I’d probably also figure out how to convert some of those followers to Facebook Page likes, too (only 5,000 there now). I know you have a social media strategy and do better than most in the wine business but a bit more wood behind this arrow would pay off handsomely at the very least in positive word of mouth.
Embrace Video - Unlike a lot of winery owners you have a rich story to tell with passion and nuance. Use video to get more of your story onto the social web to get some of those Milleninals exposed to your brand. You are sort of dabbling at this now; commit to a regular schedule.
Open A Bay Area Tasting Room - Hate to say it but Santa Cruz is kind of out of the way for many to get exposed to Bonny Doon wines. I’d take my hospitality closer to the customer and look for a space in San Francisco (SoMa, Dogpatch, Haight, etc.).
Ditch That Flash Website - I mean it’s 2012 and a lot of folks have iPads. All of that cute animation can be done in HTML 5.
Spruce Up The Wines - This is the least important on the list but one that deserves some consideration. I have to admit aside from the occasional bottle of Le Cigare Volant I have not tasted through your lineup in a while but a peek at CellarTracker reveals some improvement can be made. These days a $25 wine better taste like a $35 or $40 wine or people will buy alternatives that over-perform their price point.
Hope this helps, Sir. Let us know how it goes.