Wine & Poses

Hey farmers, here’s a brilliant marketing proposition: make your produce so desirable that the prospective consumers will pay just to get the sales pitch. Actually, create a visiting “experience” so special that they’ll pay just to walk through your warehouse, buy stuff you markup with your name on it, as well as videos glorifying your ancestors!

Whooping it up at Castello di Amarosa

OK, for all you wine snobs ready to provide your wisdom about the great vineyards and superior products from Napa Sonoma, this article’s not for you. I’m talking about an alternate reality; one that the masses seem drawn to, and/or are not familiar with corks.

My last trip to Napa Valley was with my 90-year-old mother-in-law (yes, really) who wanted to whoop it up in the tasting rooms. I felt like we were in Disneyland, except instead of kids wanting our life savings to stand in line for the rides and mouse ears, we were on tours of “authentic-like” cellars and stumped over whether to choose the access to the grounds or the “reserve and limited production tasting” in the Rhine House Mansion. OK, so the line to ride the gondola at the Sterling Winery was nice, but was the $20 worth the video tour and 5 pretty mediocre tastes?

Castello di Amarosa

However, the best marketing effort was at the Castello di Amarosa. Here you have the privilege of paying $17 just to get into (not even tour, which costs $32) the gargantuan “replica” of something beyond kitsch. Take a picture of me in the chapel with “distressed” frescos! Experience the horror of the torture chamber, then go sip some wine coupled with decadent chocolates! As for the product — as one of the employees said, “well, they’ve been making wine 4 years, and it’s getting better.” There’s a big difference between the sales office (the tasting room) and the back of the house where they brought in the grapes. Not everybody seems to respond like I did, of course. There are some very effusive reviews online about the winery experience at the castle.

I’ve been thinking a lot about agricultural tourism since just about everybody agrees that the US no longer produces anything. “Manufacturing jobs won’t come back. We need to focus on our service industries.” Since wine tourism can contribute about 20% of the income to a winery (excluding sales after the visit), it appears that the visitor experience will only be enhanced in the future as part of the marketing effort of one of the US’s only growing industries. Indeed, a Wine Tourism Conference in the Napa Valley just concluded, with sessions on “Growing Wine Tourism” such as “Marketing your region, winery, or business,” “Selling more of your product” and “Promotions, Festivals, and Events.”

Blessing of the Animals at St. Francis Winery

One of the more interesting events we attended was the Blessing of the Animals at the St. Francis Winery in Santa Rosa. Although the winery is not affiliated with a church, the event seemed genuine, and the priests (who offered some pretty innovative prayers for the attending pets and absent sheep) and SRO crowd at the tasting bar and pet beauty contest seemed to all have a great time. This gets me back to my disdain for the Napa wine tasting experience.

Most of the wineries around the world offer premium products and a genuine appreciation for the visitors who come to see their fields and casks. As for the ostentatious edifices constructed to woo tourists into purchasing lesser varietals, I guess there’s certainly nothing wrong with separating a fool from his money. After all, it’s the American way, and we certainly could use more of that now.

Suz Korbel

Susan Korbel

Graduating in '71 from Cornell gave me a few unencumbered years of protesting, followed by 4 happy hipster grad student/worker years at U of Michigan, completing a Ph.D. in public administration. Followed a comedian to San Francisco, then my heart to Austin Texas to learn the TV business, dabbled in hot&heavy politics in DC, and returned to Austin & San Antonio, Texas to hone my political/media skills. I make my money conducting consumer and political opinion studies.