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Some Wine Makers (and One Cider) That Get Their Message Out

Wine and information were flowing as Hank Zona of The Grapes Unwrapped educated and entertained attendees at the IABC NJ Wine Tasting and Networking event on July 25 at the Basking Ridge Country Club. Not only did he pour some great wines (and one cider), he explained how the winemakers bring their products to market and how they engage their customers.


The unique beverages with even more unique marketing messages that he introduced us to included:

Ironbound Cider, New Ark Farms, Asbury, NJ. Ironbound Cider was born from an article seven years ago in Edible Jersey about what was thought to be an extinct apple used for the making of Champagne Ciders in Revolutionary times (most famously in Newark). Charles Rosen read the article, found the apple, the motivation, and a message about reestablishing the maker economy in Newark back to its heyday when the “extinct” apple was commonly found. From this we now have Ironbound Cider. Rosen has not only developed a great marketing campaign showing why his product is better than the mass-produced ciders, he has given his company a community focus to match the message. The 180-acre farm and facility is staffed by the chronically underemployed. By giving back over and over again, he hopes to become a center for the NJ food and grower movement.

Chateau Maris, Rose de Nymphe, La Liviniere, Languedoc, France. The wine is a striking color. The slender glass bottle it comes in is also striking – all which seem to emphasize their striking commitment to the environment, which is their main message (besides having great tasting wines, of course). This wine maker is double certified biodynamic, uses natural ground cover, horses to plow some of its fields, and has a winery made of hemp bricks that absorb carbon, all of which has led to their designation as a B Corp – a global designation for businesses who achieve the highest level of business and environmental practices. And if that isn’t enough, the owner, a NYC finance professional who runs a green investment fund, will get on social media and talk it up with fans of the winery directly.

Adega Mae, Alvarinho, Lisboa, Portugal. Alvarinho is the type of grape used in this wine – excellent with a seafood or vegetable dish. In the wine industry (like the communications industry), some are consultants, some use consultants, and some fall into both categories. This winery has engaged one of the top winemaking consultants in this region of Portugal, and it shows in the quality and ratings improvements of the wines. Since there is a wine glut in the world and not a lot of shelf space, wineries often employ or engage someone (like a consultant) to get their message across. In fact, a wine and spirits industry consultant may not only do marketing communications, but may contribute to sales consulting, bottle and label design, and even input into how the wine should be made for the US market. Whether it’s independent consultants or trade groups representing wineries on a local, regional or national level, there’s a whole lot of consulting going on.

O.P.P. (Other People’s Pinot), Mouton Noir Wines, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Mouton Noir is owned by Andre Mack, a wine industry media star if there is one today. Former sommelier at Per Se, Mack owns his own media company, has been featured in countless articles, has been the subject of national ad campaigns for major consumer product companies, and has appeared in Black Enterprise’s Top 100. He is relentless and tireless in his promotion and outreach. He named his company Mouton Noir, which is French for Black Sheep because as Andre says, “When you name your company Black Sheep it gives you creative license to do things and look at things differently,” which is certainly evident in the non-traditional hip branding of his products and the way he runs the business. (When Hank’s 22 year old foodie daughter heard he was doing a wine dinner in NJ with Andre Mack on this coming September 14 she said, “Do you know know him or just know of him?” Hank responded, “I know know him.” She now thinks her father is cool (for the moment) because she follows Andre on Instagram and Twitter. If you want to hear more about the dinner in NJ, drop Hank a message.)

A Proper Claret, Bonny Doon Vineyards, Central Coast, California. Claret is the British phrase for Bordeaux or Bordeaux style red blend (usually with cabernet sauvignon as its base). But if you’re a Downtown Abbey fan you already know that, since the Grantham crowd drank batches of it! However, this wine isn’t quite a proper claret because it blends a bunch of different grapes, but nevertheless is still a great value for a California red blend. But then Randall Graham, the visionary behind Bonny Doon, never worried about being all that proper. Through not only his wines, but his labels, newsletters, marketing, and interviews, Randall showed Hank (when he was relatively new to the wine scene) and others that wine had a wit and sense of humor to it. His communication efforts helped change the perception of wine, that it didn’t have to be super-serious. Graham was a precursor to Andre Mack and Hank credits him with piquing his interest in wine over 30 years ago, helping him to see that it could be fascinating and fun to follow.

If you’re interested in learning more about wines, contact Hank at [email protected], visit his website http://thegrapesunwrapped.com/wp/ or follow him on Twitter @grapesunwrapped.

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