Open book in library - De legem ad vinum

Our US country manager reflects on her journey from maritime law to wine industry research

It has been a busy week for the Wine Intelligence London office, with our European counterparts descending on London for a quick catch-up and a spot of breakfast. While it’s always a pleasure to welcome Wilhelm and Jean-Philippe back into the fold, a visit from our USA Country Manager Erica Donoho is a much rarer treat. As a relative newcomer to the WI team, this was my first opportunity to find out more about the work we do in North America and get a feel for emerging trends in the US market.

Though Erica may have lost her way to our Bermondsey Street address on her first visit over 14 years ago, she has no trouble finding us today. We start with the basics: how she broke into the wine industry. Having worked for 8 years as a litigation attorney and spent a good chunk of time exploring the vineyards of the USA, Italy and France, Erica bolstered her wine knowledge with a WSET qualification and established our presence in the American market.

“Most of the work we do in the States is about the outside looking in,” Erica tells me. “A lot of our work centres on routes to market, how to break the US. It’s such an attractive market, where consumption trends are changing at such a fast pace, that all the big players want to make it here. The most important rules though, really, are: know your target consumer really well, be genuine in your messaging and manage your expectations.”

Being genuine and transparent in your marketing is key to winning over your target market, Erica explains: “You need a lot of support to get into the US. You need to find the right importer who is 100% behind the product, knows your story and can communicate that to the right distributor – who in turn can push that same story and product to the retailer, and right down to the wine advisor who’s ultimately going to recommend it to your target consumer. If you get any one of those steps out of line, you’re going to make a mess out of it.”

“That story, the message you’re trying to sell, doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel. You just need a hook, something that will resonate with your target segment. It could be something as simple as an ‘established’ date on the bottle or a family story. People want to be sold to, but they can see through marketing gimmicks easily enough. Good quality, sensible price positioning, varietal choice, yeah, they’re all important but you need more than that. It’s like college applications – there are thousands of kids out there with 4.0 grade averages. What are they going to do to grab someone’s attention?”

Erica warns that a funky label alone won’t draw in the punters. “This is why knowing your customer segment is so important. Know what they like, what they spend, when and where they buy wine, and then you have a good chance of getting where you want to be. It’s why so much of our research here is focused in on the consumer. Our work on segmentation addresses these issues head-on and gives insight into where businesses should really be spending their resources.”

Our conversation wanders – we cover purchasing cues, wine education, and of course, Donald Trump –  but we keep coming back to the primacy of the consumer. There seems to be a disconnected between the wine intelligentsia who are putting good product on the shelf, but not necessarily the product people want. “And the only way to fix that, is to talk to the real people buying wine in Costco, not the Manhattan crowd dropping into their local independent on a Friday night.”

Author: James Wainscott