Welcome to Vino Vitis, my blog.

Although this page is new, the blog is not. From 2010 to 2013, I wrote the posts you’ll find here – most of them devoted to wine-related marketing and communications. You can dig deeper to view the content, although not all of the links and videos will still be in working order.

Since then, my work has focused on research-related communications for the New Zealand wine industry. You can read all about it here, in “Women in Wine: Ruby Andrew Knows the Write Stuff,” published in the December 2020 issue of New Zealand Winegrower magazine.

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A glass of spring

I'll have what she's having, thanks.

Dare I whisper that Spring is in the air?

The signs are everywhere: magnolias in full bloom, with ornamental plums and cherries hurrying to catch up. A change in the light that makes one take a second look at familiar objects – because suddenly everything looks new (or tired or somehow different).

I’m feeling renewed myself, and that’s not altogether surprising. In recent months, I’ve moved (to sunny, spectacular Hawke’s Bay), finished writing a book (more on that to come), and embarked on a variety of exciting communications projects.

I’m also excited to return to blogging. My schedule under the arduous ‘must finish the book’ regime did not allow for such luxuries. I can confirm, however, that there really are only so many hours in a day.

Much had to be set aside due to my workload, but that’s about to change – in a good way.



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Down the rabbit-hole

Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!

In another moment down went Alice, never once considering how in the world she was to get out again.

Like Alice and the White Rabbit, I am about to enter Wonderland. In this instance, I’m afraid, it’s a “wonderland of work” – a very pressing project that will keep me (pre)occupied in the weeks to come. Since I can think of little else, I must beg for a time-out from the blog. I look forward to continuing our conversation at a later date.





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Authenticity & wine

Avoiding the “counterfeit brand story”

This wonderful chalkboard image sums things up beautifully - but it's been used on many blogs before mine, making it difficult to source and credit the originator. Help, please?

In a recent article for The New Zealand Herald, “Passion for Pinot,” Jo Burzynska writes, “When I hear the word ‘authentic’ applied to any product, I am immediately suspicious.”

I agree wholeheartedly, but perhaps I should explain myself a little since the tag line for my blog reads, in part, “It’s all about authenticity.”

We all know that using a word doesn’t actually “make it so,” and that goes for the word “authentic.” The same can be said for words like “handcrafted,” “groundbreaking,” “passionate,” “artisanal,” “luxury,” “reserve” and, well, I’m sure you get my drift.

Ms Burzynska ably articulates why the word has become a source of suspicion for her – and many others:
“Authenticity became a buzzword when marketing gurus identified an important new consumer group seeking something ‘genuine,’ who’d been left feeling empty and disconnected by the hyper-consumerism of the past.
“The term has since had the meaning flogged out of it and it’s been coupled with products whose claims to authenticity were highly questionable.”

Sadly, all true. Once the corporate world twigs to a hitherto unexpressed desire among consumers, you can be sure that a catchword won’t be far behind. I’m afraid “authenticity” currently fits that niche in ersatz wine marketing.

Differentiating your wine is all about the details that you own and no-one else can claim. Authenticity will be understood “as read” by consumers when they learn more about your company’s history and its approach to viticulture and/or winemaking.

That’s why I ran a series of posts some time ago about “The Power of Narrative” and the art of telling your own story (you can link to the series here in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4). Effective marketing for small producers of artisanal wines will always rely on a strong story. But there’s no room in narratives for shorthand: don’t slot in a catchword and then omit all the details that actually support the claim. That’s what big companies do, and you’re not doing yourself any favours by following suit. Ms Burzynska warns, “As for the A word, if you’ve got it, you don’t need to use it. Avoid it at all costs.”

In its defence, though, I’d argue that the A word still has one important role to play. When fans of your wine offer word-of-mouth recommendations to their friends, guess which A word they’re going to use? That can only be a good thing.

Plenty more voices in this conversation, so follow the links while they last:

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Perfect online photos

Would you like size with that?

A very handy infographic today, created by LunaMetrics, that provides an invaluable tool for those of us who start Googling “photo size for ….” while we’re right in the middle of creating online content. Bookmark it now – LunaMetrics will be updating the cheat sheet as social media sites revise or add new photo specs. Now, if only there was a cheat sheet on how to make profile pictures of ourselves that we actually enjoyed looking at!

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New Zealand Pinot Noir

Send in the clones?

J. Troncy lithograph of Pinot Noir - the mystical grape.

Ever since Matt Kramer (contributing editor to Wine Spectator) offered his keynote speech at the Pinot Noir 2013 conference in Wellington last month, wine writers have been debating the roles that clonal selection, planting and viticultural management play in the making of outstanding Pinot Noir wines.

I have been following with great interest the related coverage on several blogs, including posts written by Jamie Goode and Alder Yarrow, both of whom go into some detail regarding Kramer’s recommendations to use multiple clones and selections of Pinot Noir to create truly great wines.

Kramer himself summarised his remarks a few days ago in a post entitled “In Pursuit of Ambiguity,” commenting:

“Recently I gave a speech at a Pinot Noir conference in Wellington, New Zealand. Without going into the various details of my talk, suffice it to say that I offered the suggestion that for producers to create really exceptional Pinot Noir—the truly great stuff—they might want to seek to make 2 + 2 = 5.

“I offered one possible means to that admittedly ambiguous end, which involved the idea of Pinot Noir producers creating vineyards that contain a broad mix of clones, or strains, of Pinot Noir, preferably 20 such strains or more.”

Kramer believes that “too many of today’s New World Pinot Noirs are composed of too few clones (many of them the flavour-potent, narrowband Dijon clones with designations such as 113, 114, 115, 777 and so forth).”

Well, it’s very true, New World wines are “clone poor,” but Kramer’s criticism is somewhat disingenuous, for he overlooks the complexities – and risks – involved in vine importation and DIY clonal selection.

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All wrapped up

Packaging perfection

Who doesn’t enjoy receiving a gift – especially one that is beautifully wrapped? Stranger & Stranger, a packaging design and branding company that specialises in the drinks business, understands the psychology behind our enjoyment better than most. In recent years, the firm has created sinfully gorgeous packaging for a number of wine companies that, in a clever twist of marketing strategy, manages to incorporate the joy of receiving a gift into the act of purchase – by “gift-wrapping” wine bottles.

Stranger & Stranger's brilliant packaging for Truett-Hurst.

I have been thinking about their beautiful creations ever since Patrick Schmitt’s article in The Drinks Business profiled the packaging Kevin Shaw created for Truett-Hurst’s sales in the US supermarket chain, Safeway.

Wanting to differentiate the company’s products by adding content that couldn’t easily fit on a standard label (either front or back), Shaw used Stranger & Stranger’s custom-designed paper sheaths to tell a story, offer a recipe, or simply inform customers that they were purchasing a seafood-friendly white wine.

The sheaths are not only visually pleasing, they are also tear resistant and can be reused as gift wine bags or simply put in the paper recycling bin.

Sales were reported to have “gone nuts” following the Safeway launch, but I kept on thinking about other uses for wine sleeves and branded giftwrap beyond the supermarket shelf.

Stranger & Stranger's award-winning design for VML - "suitably worshipful."

While Shaw’s packaging design served one purpose – brand differentiation for what is really a fast-moving consumer good (FMCG), I wanted to see the same thought and design process worked into an artisanal or premium wine brand.  Stranger & Stranger were way ahead of me: the firm also won a Gold Pentaward in 2012 – in the “Luxury” category – for their work on Truett-Hurst’s sister company, VML (named after biodynamic winemaker Virginia Marie Lambrix).

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Ring in the new year!

Inspirational Malbec

Dr Rod Malbec - from TW Wines' Artist Series. The sketch on the label is the work of Geordie Witters's sister, Shelley Witters.

A nice surprise was waiting for me in The New Zealand Herald today, with an article on the “Meet the Makers” vineyard tour that served as a prelude to last year’s Wine & Food Festival in Gisborne.

Justine Tyerman describes meeting the colourful personalities behind the Spade Oak, TW and StoneBridge wine brands, as well as her first impressions of the “flavour explosion” that is TW‘s 2010 barrel-fermented “Dr Rod Malbec” – named in honour of my late husband, Rod Bonfiglioli (who was known to one and all in the wine trade as “Dr Rod”).

Paul Tietjen and Geordie Witters (the all-important “T” and “W”) wanted to pay tribute to Rod’s memory in recognition of his infectious enthusiasm for the variety – particularly for the selection from the Pedro Marchevsky vineyard in Mendoza, Argentina, which Rod imported as source material on behalf of Riversun Nursery.

Paul planted “Dr Rod Malbec” vines as soon as they became available. The 2010 wine is the first commercial offering in New Zealand showcasing the new selection.

Read the story here, while the link lasts.


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By any other name … please!

Waikikamukau Mtsvane anyone?

New Zealand's wine brand names often read like a road map.

Andrew Jefford’s blog in this week’s Decanter describes little-known grape varieties that, from a marketing perspective, are “hamstrung by nomenclature.” His list includes Hungary’s Cserszegi Fűszeres, Királyeányka or Zalagyöngye, Romania’s Fetească Regală or Zghihară de Huşi, Portugal’s Donzelinho or Fernão Pires, Greece’s Xynomavro or Agiorgitiko, Catalonia’s Xarello, Italy’s Sciascinoso and Georgia’s Mtsvane Kakhuri. (I’ll pause here, to give you some time to digest.)

As Jefford notes, “The chance of ‘ordinary’ drinkers outside the relevant language group cheerfully requesting a wine by use of that variety name is zero.”

His observations brought to mind a similar perspective offered in a brief article by Lee Suckling in this month’s New Zealand Winegrower magazine, “A Common Whine.”

Suckling interviewed Kathie Bartley, an experienced and respected wine marketer, who commented that too many Kiwi wineries “don’t spend the time or money to come up with a good brand name.”

“It’s easy to spot the brands with difficult brand names to pronounce, say and remember,” Bartley added.

Key offenders are those wineries that have opted for Maori place names that will not only be unpronounceable, but completely unintelligible to anyone who has not spent a fair bit of time travelling in the “Land of the Long White Cloud.”

Bartley didn’t pull her punches. “Maori names like Ngatarawa, Nga Waka, Te Kairanga all fall into this category,” she noted. “As a result Ngatarawa use Glazebrook internationally, Nga Waka developed the Three Paddles brand, and Te Kairanga is promoted as TK.”

Kiwi road signs can be as difficult to navigate as the brand names.

I have often marvelled at the use of such names for wine brands. Kiwis grow up in a landscape saturated with Maori monikers and seldom pause to consider how difficult the words are for those of us with an offshore heritage. As a Canadian transplant, I arrived with complacent familiarity with strange-sounding names like Nanaimo, Chemainus, and Cowichan (all place names on my native Vancouver Island), but found myself flummoxed by Waikaremoana, Waipukurau, Eketahuna and Whakapapa. There are so many vowels that a number of them are silent – a good case could be made to ship surplus vowels off to Bosnia, where they’re in perennially short supply. Even names I thought I understood, such as “Mac O’Rory,” turned out to be spelled “Makorori” – something that registered only after I kept missing the turnoff to a local beach.

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Chateau Chunder

A wine tale that opens up the sluices

A new documentary tells the compelling story of how Wine Australia captured its enviably large slice of the global marketplace.

Written and directed by Stephen Oliver, the doco revisits a story told by Phil Reedman in his first guest blog post on Vino Vitis: “Export – it ain’t easy.”

In both instances, the chronicle charts the “overnight success” of the Australian wine industry – an achievement that, as Phil noted, actually took about ten years of incredibly hard work by a cast of very colourful characters (inveterate scene-stealers, the lot).

After reading Huon Hooke’s review of what sounds like a highly entertaining 60 minutes of strolling through Ozzie wine history, I immediately ordered my own DVD of Chateau Chunder from the EP Independent store. Can’t wait to have a mini-screening with friends – perhaps we’ll pull the cork on that special bottle of “Chateau Rod Laver.”

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