Last week I attended (and spoke at) the 2013 Wine Tourism Conference hosted here in Portland.  I was really inspired by some of the stories of the wine tourism associations, winemakers, and other wine-related businesses in attendance.  Here were 4 of my biggest takeaways.

wine tourism conference

1. Collaboration just works.

There’s a saying in the business/economic circles you have probably heard: “A rising tide raises all ships.”  It’s the implication that when one businesses is very successful, it brings more customers to others nearby.  In my experience, this is true – and I enjoyed hearing some of the discussions winemakers were having about business challenges.  For example, often wineries are clustered into the grape growing valleys, and so how can they work together to make sure that not everyone has a dinner or event on the same day?  How do they work together to host even bigger events to bring in travelers from afar?

Almost every wine region, from Oregon to Maryland, had a story to share about where working together revealed a better result.  If you think that your neighboring businesses are only competitors, you are wrong.

2. Focus on your raving fans first.

About 90% of the winemakers said their core revenue was driven from wine club members.  That wasn’t just the wine club payments itself, but that these “raving fans” also were the first to signup for special events and other promotions.

This reminded me of Kevin Kelly’s 1,000 True Fans model, which basically says you should spend all your time and money on courting a relationship with a small group of perfect customers.

This is good reminder to check-in: are you clear on your “perfect” customer, and are you constantly building relationships and connections with those raving fans?

3. No marketing or media is “free.”

On a more sober note, during my “office hours” after my workshop, I was talking to several winemakers about ‘free media’ versus ‘paid media.’  The question that was posed to me was about how much time to spend on social media, since it is “free.”

Here’s what I told them, and I want to tell you right now: no marketing is free, ever.  Everything costs time and/or money – just because you didn’t trade dollars for output doesn’t mean it was free.

4. People know when you love your product.

Last point, I want to give a big shoutout to two wine organizations who really stole the show: Texas Wine and Indiana Wine.  Most people would say “WTH” in response to wine from these non-traditional locations, but you wouldn’t if you met the nice folks who are promoting these wine destinations.  When you are absolutely in LOVE with your product, people can’t help but want to hear more.  It’s true.  Even if their wines were bad (they weren’t, by the way), their representatives spoke with ultimate confidence and passion.  Despite that, they were there to engage in conversation – they wanted feedback.  They wanted to know if you hated it – and what they could do better.

Winemakers are always a fun bunch to hang out with, and when winemakers talk business (over a glass of wine, naturally), you should listen.  They are heartfelt, smart entrepreneurs.