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The Festival as Wine Marketer - Small Business Series

Updated on September 2, 2012
The Saude Creek Tent
The Saude Creek Tent
The New Kent Winery
The New Kent Winery
Andrew Crumbly a Horton Volunteer
Andrew Crumbly a Horton Volunteer

What activity garners as much excitement, brings together a devoted group of fans, melds music, crafts, and food in one activity? Well I can think of a few but the wine festival comes quickest to mind. I asked Kathryn Thomas of the Saude Creek Winery in New Kent, Virginia how these marketing events help promote the Saude Creek brand, " By attending festivals we are able to reach out to customers who may not be aware of us. By being at locations, other than the winery, they learn about us, where we are, and what we have to offer. Sometimes those individuals come out to see their favorite winery and see us while they are there. We gain so much exposure by each festival we go to, especially smaller festivals with 10 or less other wineries."

The New Kent Festival

I was recently at the wine festival held at the New Kent Winery in New Kent, Virginia. Being held in a beautiful part of the country, set amongst rolling hills planted with thousands of grape vines and at a winery that was designed by Williamsburg architect John Hopke. The winery is built with spectacular old timber heart-pine trusses reclaimed from the circa 1901 Southern Railroad Depot located in downtown Richmond, Virginia.

The participants in the New Kent Festival, in addition to the sponsor, included Virginia standouts Saude Creek, Horton, Ingleside and Rosemont:

  • Saude Creek - a privately-owned and operated vineyard and winery located on the Pamunkey River in New Kent County, Virginia. The mild climate and mineral-rich clay soils of the Tidewater contribute to their complex and food-friendly wines. Their 'stand-out' was the 'Vidal Blanc' a fruity, off-dry wine with grape and grapefruit characteristics - great pairing with spicy dishes and full bodied blue cheeses.
  • Horton Cellars - Dennis Horton began his winemaking venture in Madison County, Virginia in 1983. He researched the warm growing regions of southern France before planting any grapes in his vast vineyards. Dennis may be known for his grapesbut the wines that were the hit of the festival were his Fruit Wine offerings. The new 'Chateau Le Cabin Pomegranate' created with a small blend of Syrah is enchanting with its fruity -tart beginning and pomegranate finish. Perfect for a hot summer afternoon on thepatio with cheddar and crackers.
  • New Kent - their White Merlot is spectacular, exuding pineapple, pomegranate and orange in a fun and balanced wine that pairs well with sharp cheese, chicken in whitesauce, and any good blackened fish.

The South African Festival

In order to make a festival interesting, Winery Marketers also may include a unique theme. A great example of this type of marketing is the South African Wine Festival, since 2006 held at the Grayhaven winery, with a roster of acts from South Africa used to introduce visitors to the unique cuisine, wine, food, music and culture of South Africa. What started as a modest local festival has grown into a successful grass-roots cultural event attended by thousands of visitors from along the east coast.

Guests arrive bringing chairs and blankets to enjoy food and wine offered at the festival which takes place right in the vineyards and next to a small lake. We were able to sample a few South African labels that are either hard to obtain in Virginia or were out of our price range. A standout was the Indaba Shiraz - a fresh, juicy Shiraz which flaunts lively flavors of ripe blackberry, blueberry and dark chocolate, with hints of white pepper, licorice and spice. It makes a perfect partner for bacon cheeseburgers, grilled sausages, hearty pasta dishes, and lamb chops - for me a perfect combination!

You might think it odd that a small boutique winery would host a two day South African event, but that can be explained by the addition of Deon Abrams, a native of Cape Town, South Africa, who joined the family business at the turn of the century. Deon was responsible for introducing South Africa’s Pinotage grape into Grayhaven’s vineyards in 2001. Grayhaven is now one of only a handful of Pinotage growers in the United States. This years' event takes place in September.

Other Upcoming Wine Events

It takes an incredible amount of preparation to be able to successfully participate in a wine event, Kathryn Thomas offers some insight in the work Saude Creek engages in, " There are so many different things we have to do to prepare that we have many employees working on it. Months ahead of time you have to apply to attend, pay the fees, sign the paperwork and apply for any licenses and permits you may need. Then a few weeks before the event we have to find enough employees and volunteers willing to work that particular festival. Then 1-2 days before the festival comes crunch time where we decide how much of each wine needs to go and what supplies need to be taken. We then get all of those items packed into our festival vehicle and only then are we are ready to go.

September 8: Annual Rockbridge Wine Festival, noon-5pm, Lime Kiln, Lexington, VA

September 15: Annual Harvest Jubilee and Wine Festival, noon-6pm,
AVOCA Museum, Altavista, VA

September 15: 3rd Annual Lynchburg Beer & Wine Festival, 11am-7pm, Riverfront Festival Park, Lynchburg, VA.

September 15-16: Virginia Wine Festival, 11-6pm Great Meadow Event Center at the Plains, VA

September 22: Dionysus Wine Festival Fredricksburg Va

October 6: Yorktown Wine Festival 12PM-6PM

October 13-14: 21st Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival, 10am-5pm, Rebec Vineyards, Amherst, VA.

October 14: Taste of Culpeper, 12:00pm - 5:00pm Culpeper Va

October 20:Louisa Wine Festival

October 20-21: 25th Annual AT&T Town Point Virginia Wine Festival, 11am-6pm, Norfolk, VA.

October 20-21: Hot Air Balloon Festival,7:30am-4:30pm, at Historic Long Branch Farm, Millwood, VA

October 20:, 10am-6pm, at Powhatan Courthouse Green, Powhatan, VA

October 27: Chesapeake Virginia Wine Festival Noon – 6pm Chesapeake City Park Chesapeake Va

November 17: Poplar Forest Wine Festival, 12pm-5pm, Poplar Forest, Forest VA.

If you attend one of these events you may witness something you hadn't bargained for! Kathryn Thomas relates a great story she was recently a part of, "We occasionally have Friday night music events where we sponsor raffle drawings. Well - one week a customer approached me about rigging the raffle so that his girlfriend's ticket number would be called. He asked that we mention that this raffle is a special one and would the winner please come up. When she did, Jason (one of the owners) handed her a wine bag with an empty bottle in it, but at the bottom of the bag was a small ring box. When she found the box her boyfriend got down on one knee and proposed in front of everyone there. It would have been perfect, except the first time we called the "special" drawing no one came forward. Somehow the tickets had been mixed up. So we had to get another set of matching tickets and redo the drawing about 10 minutes later without alerting everyone to the fact that something secretive was going on. It succeeded! We had our first proposal and it was very romantic!"

The Virginia Grape

Although the Virginia summers are warm enough to ripen almost any grape variety, the humid conditions favor growing grapes with thicker skins and loose clusters. There began the search for varieties that would flourish in Virginia’s climate and had the capacity to produce some of the finest wines of the world. Wineries in the eastern part of the United States are typically planted with vinesproducing Chardonnay, Merlot, White Merlot, Meritage, Vidal Blanc and Norton - a grape native to Virginia.

Interesting Virginia Wine Facts

  • In the late 1800's, central Virginia was declared the "Capitol of the Eastern Wine Belt".
  • Some of Virginia's Norton grapes had survived destruction during prohibition and are still in use today.
  • The Saude Creek winery site once boasted Frank’s Tavern, a Colonial Inn and Publick House for wayfarers riding between points north or west and the Colonial capitol of Williamsburg. George Washington and the French General Rochambeau, among other patriots and notables of the time, reputedly slaked their thirst there.
  • Dennis Horton (Horton Cellars), during his business research, was struck by wines he felt had beautiful texture, grace, and finesse - one grape in particular seemed to keep coming up as perfect for his vineyard - Viognier. It was a grape of wonderful potential - it had a thick skin and loose clusters, perfect for the Virginia climate.
  • Best Wine Tasting Pourers - the crew pouring for Horton - entertaining, quick with the pour and wit, great smile.
  • Worst Wine Tasting Pourers - James River Winery - I always like the James River wines but their pourers were stressed and overworked - one of theirworkers actually snapped at one of the patrons during this reporters tasting.

Other Marketing Initiatives Taken by Vintners

Not only is the wine festival being used by mainline vintners to promote their product but many vintners from California to South Africa are using social media tools to communicate with existing and prospective consumers. This is a global trend driven not only by the rise in social media but also by wine brands needing to find more cost-effective ways to market themselves.

According to a University of California research blog, “More than 80% of 109 grape growers, distributors, retailers and other wine experts in California who were questioned in a survey by the Wine Industry Financial Symposium Group and the University of California-Davis Graduate School of Management said they were using Facebook in their business, up from 46% in 2009."

Saude Creek's Kathryn Thomas adds, "We send out an e-blast once a week with our upcoming events and festivals. We start putting events on these e-blasts when they are about a month out, so each one tends to get at least 4 weeks exposure. We also list all festivals we will be attending on our website under the festivals tab. Plus we use Facebook as much as we can to let people know what's going on and where we will be.We check different sites that we are familiar with once a week, and also do a general Google of our name to find where else we may be listed.”


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    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      I really enjoy the wine festivals that our local wineries put on in the various wine growing regions of South Australia rwmaurer. These events, such as the Dea & Vine festival in the McLaren Vale last week is supported by the SA Tourism Authority and every winery is involved with matching great wine with top food. People tend to travel throughout the day having an entree at one wineries, main course at another and dessert at another one.

      The local motoring club (RAA) also put one a designated driver campaign to keep people safe on the road. Cheers Michael