The Medium is the Message

Shrinking the gap between wineries and consumers


The wine industry is like the music industry... before Tower Records went out of business.

You buy a bottle of wine not just for the product, but for the story behind the winery. Just like a teenage girl buys her music not only for the song, but to fuel her unrequited love for Justin Beiber. The store just happens to be the medium through which you procure the product; the brand association, obsession and identity is with the artist him/herself.

In the U.S., the vast majority of wine (over 90%) is sold by retailers. The winery sells the wine (indirectly) to retailers, who then sell it to consumers. In this triangle, the weakest connection is between the winery and the consumer, although it's the one that the consumer almost always wishes were stronger. The winery conveys passion, excitement and image, while many stores only convey price and accessibility.

For those few fortunate enough to visit a winery and witness the heart and soul that each winemaker pours into his or her wine, they end up hooked and loyal customers for years, if not decades. This is known, and it's why tasting rooms are generally so well-staffed and -appointed, and why domestic wineries sell more than a billion dollars via this channel annually.

Not everyone has the opportunity to go to Napa, or Tuscany, or Walla Walla, and for the rest of us, the only experience with wine is often intimidating, either through the "wall of wine" in a retailer, or via a snooty sommelier in a local restaurant.

The internet is, slowly, changing this, allowing wineries to interact and forge relationships directly with consumers. Through sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snooth and Yelp, wineries are able to build communities and interact directly with their most excited and loyal consumers, and to listen in return. These digital brand ambassadors are best positioned to extend your reach, and with the proper tools can be empowered to do so.  

Shrinking the gap between a winery and a consumer is powerful, and the internet presents the incredible opportunity of being able to do this at scale and cost effectively. Whether the goal is increased online sales, or just to drive consumers to know your brand and to ask for it in their local stores, the internet makes it possible for a winery to get its message to the buyer at the point of consideration.

Mentioned in this article


  • I am disappointed in the article. I thoguht it was going to be about the laws that some states have which don't allow direct shipping to homes. With these laws in place, the line of the triangle between winery and consumer will always be long.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 9:34 AM

  • I disagree with Zinfullydelicious I would like to buy more wine directly from wineries I have tried with Chateau San Michel and a french one but their price is as high or worst than retailers. I would like to be able to get more information about the wine production from the enologist if I buy directly from winnery.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 10:48 AM

  • I am with Zinful on this. I live in Delaware now and used to live in Maryland -- NEITHER of those states allow consumers to 'go direct' to the winery other than by car or plane. Online purchase is and always has been illegal in Md and DE (and a handful of other backward states). It is the rare online middleman with a sufficiently robust license that is currently our only conduit to the winery, and that still IS NOT dealing with the winery.

    Until Free the Grape has freed ALL the grapes, many of us must still be held hostage to state legislatures who are in bed with the liquor store lobby.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 12:34 PM

  • Snooth User: wineybrett
    Hand of Snooth
    133259 7

    Here in the UK it is rare for someone to buy directly from the winery, mainly because of cost of delivery, duty etc. However, this article is about using the medium of the internet for wineries to communicate with consumers, which some wineries embrace with skill. It does require work and attention to ensure that information is up to date and any queries or responses from consumers is dealt with promptly.
    Wine should be personal, especially when one moves up from purely commercial products, so more and more wineries will learn how to use the internet sensibly and profitably, for both them and their customers.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 2:50 PM

  • Snooth User: BruceMLWS
    520648 1

    A wine store is like a library of stories. Only a few readers research each author directly, they rely on expert reviewers, book clubs, and stores. Likewise the wine drinker.

    In fact some wine drinkers stick to a few brands, some like to explore many brands, some don't care and others are thoroughly confused. For those who just want to stick to a few brands buying direct is often sensible. But the rest want assistance and/or information about many brands not just one - which is where a good record store, I mean wine store, comes in.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 4:27 PM

  • I'm not saying a good, well stocked wine store with knowledgeable help isn't a good thing. What I am saying is that the point of this article, that the connection or distance between consumer and winery should be shorter, isn't an option for those of us who cannot have wineries ship to our states of residence. So for the article to not even MENTION this disparity, in discussing ways to shorten the winery/consumer connection, is leaving a third of the US wine market out in the cold.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 4:48 PM

  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,575

    Brett - thats right. The US distribution system has a lot of challenges, and some states are more closed (totally closed) than others. This article was about the ability for wineries to disseminate their message, rather than about their products, which is another topic.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 5:36 PM

  • Snooth User: GNJ
    Hand of Snooth
    673016 2

    As a consumer but also an owner of a retail wine shop who has many vineyard owner friends I have a couple of comments. Allowing us to buy online directly from vineayrds is a win-win for everyone, consumers, retailers, wholesalers, etc. It is a great way for us as consumers to rebuy stuff that we have had at vineyards or try new things.

    However a retailer, and I am talking good retailers, those who aren't the big discount only stores, but those who have knowledge, service, and other programs to educate consumers are a tool for 85% of the population - a population that doesn't know a lot about wine, that wants to be educated and that wants someone to help them learn (through classes, etc) and explore new wines. So yes even though online outlets may compete with retail stores, I think buying online is beneficial for all of us. But retailers are crucial to help these vineyards resell too.

    Dec 11, 2010 at 6:43 PM

  • I really must say, your stereotyping of Sommelier's is so incorrect!

    Sure, there are numerous Sommelier's who are in their role with an interest nothing more than making a high sale, with a continuous nose in the air to the rest of the world!

    Then there are others like myself, in the position for more realistic reasons...Passion! Enthusiasm! Enjoyment! Knowledge & Learning! And especially Teaching & Training others!

    I know I am in this industry and in my wonderful position as a Sommelier for the above mentioned joyous reasons! I got out of management and into my great role of dealing with wine because I was looking for that "happy factor" in my life. Wine does just this and much much more!

    I have been asked on more than one occassion by guests as to why I am not like some Sommelier's who insist on trying to sell a particular wine to a guest, who is really not intersted in this particualr wine? Simple! I listen and I advise with passion! The day I become like a car salesman is the day I will change roles.

    SO for future reference, perhaps you may wish to realise, not every country like the US has to have such a closed up view of the rest of the world - sorry, but it's true! Perhaps like Oprah, you too should take a trip 'Down Under' and broaden your horizons, without the blinkers on!

    BTW...I was considering maybe removing my details from Snooth's mailing list...congratulations on making that decision for me!

    Dec 11, 2010 at 9:43 PM

  • There is one major winery in California that can sell directly to consumers in any state, with one exception, UT. Find award winning wines and over 20 varietals at

    Dec 13, 2010 at 11:39 AM

  • The trouble is that most small liquor stores don't hand sell the wines, and know little about them or the story behind the winery.

    Jan 24, 2011 at 11:33 AM

  • For a more academic aproach you can read this:

    Jan 04, 2015 at 5:38 PM

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