The power of narrative: part two
In my last post, I promised to unearth a few compelling stories that successfully chronicle the genesis of a winery. Sadly, they’re not that easy to find – especially on winery websites, which is where they should be, front and centre.
Instead, most sites offer an “About Us” page that – if you’re lucky – provides a few names, along with the sort of dusty biographical detail one might find in a “Who’s Who” entry. It’s worth remembering that visitors to your website are there because they want to discover much, much more about you and your wines – more info, more stories, more photos. And one of the first things someone who’s interested in your wines will want to know is how it all began.
I should probably preface this post by noting that good wines are a prerequisite – the marketing is there in a supporting role. But New Zealand has many great artisanal wine producers whose websites do them an injustice by presenting the sort of generic story that might apply to almost any winery anywhere.
Personally, I always seek out the “aha” moment when an individual (or family or partners) comes to the realisation that the main goal in life is establishing a winery. If I can’t find that explanation, I wonder at its absence. After all, everyone knows the truth behind that old joke about how to make a small fortune in the wine business (answer: by starting with a large fortune), so what on earth has possessed this person? The story should make for intriguing reading; hopefully, it will provide some insight into the wines themselves.
One of the freshest foundation stories you’re likely to come across belongs to Mirabeau Wine, a producer of rosé based in Cotignac, Provence, and founded by Englishman Stephen Cronk and his wife Jeany. In Stephen’s own words:
“Mirabeau is a wine created by a family who escaped the London rat race for the hills of Provence. After 10 years of talking about it, they finally decided that Stephen couldn’t put off his passion for making wine any longer and that living in France was something they wanted to experience with their children.”
In a few short paragraphs, Stephen establishes the who (a former telecoms executive from Teddington), the where, the what and the why. Even better, the when and the how are chronicled via a video diary that Stephen began in the late summer of 2010. That’s right. This brand is not yet two years old.
Originally, the company posted videos on its Facebook page (the website followed later), and they’re well worth watching because they provide a case study on how to run a top-notch marketing campaign. Generally short (less than two minutes each), the videos chronicle the challenge Stephen set for himself, the decisions that needed to be made, and the triumphs and setbacks encountered along the way.
The challenge was not just to make a rosé wine, but to capture shelf space with a large British retailer. Incredibly, Mirabeau achieved this objective in less time than it takes to say “maceration” – the wine is now stocked by Waitrose, one of the largest UK supermarkets.
Stephen recorded every detail of the hard work required to achieve his goal: shopping for the right bottle, designing the (beautiful) label, focus testing with English ladies on holiday in Provence, and so on. Initially, most of Mirabeau’s followers on Facebook were members of the trade (although that has changed since the wine gained its listing with Waitrose), and the documentary approach is so compelling that Facebook friends were soon cheering him along. Indeed, the diary must have gone a long way towards persuading Waitrose that this was a company that would work very hard to support its brand.
Mirabeau’s story – and the tools used for its presentation (video and social media) – succeed on so many levels that it’s worth taking a closer look. One of the ingredients is Stephen’s charm as a front man. Not every propriétaire will be as handsome or as witty, but every wine brand needs a spokesperson, and Mirabeau’s entertaining videos introduced Stephen to members of the trade long before he appeared on their doorsteps – at that point, he was almost an “insider.”
Stephen also recognised that a story has greater appeal if there is a quest involved, and so right from the start he articulated his challenge. Intriguingly, Mirabeau’s goal was not recognition from the world of fine wine – rather, it was gaining a coveted spot on a large supermarket’s list. In doing so, the wine would of course have to meet Waitrose’s criteria, but it would be marketed in a fresh new way to both the trade and the consumer (another point of difference).
In addition to the quest motif, a successful narrative inevitably follows certain archetypal patterns that set off “pings” in a reader (of recognition, of curiosity, of desire, of respect). Where wineries are concerned, those archetypes frequently include:
- The artisan, reaching for the pinnacle of his or her craft.
- The estate, building on its heritage with a new generation.
- The exit from city or corporate life to live in a safe haven.
- The creation of a luxury lifestyle built around fine wine.
- The happy (or hippie?) accident that eventually turns into a lifelong commitment to wine (almost inevitably moving the story from a lifestyle archetype to that of the artisan).
- The agrarian, whose commitment to organic or biodynamic farming finds fulfilment in the creation of wine from the fruits of their labour.
An archetype on its own, however, is by definition generic – it simply helps speed along a narrative within the strict space restrictions that are a given in web-based marketing. By providing an instantly familiar pattern, the archetype enables us to take our time with the details. For it is the details that establish authenticity: they should be specific to the individual, the place, and the goal.
Stephen is not presenting himself as an artisan, far from it. After all, rosé is a casual summer wine, not a Grand Cru, and anyway, he’s a newbie on the winemaking front (who has sought assistance from Angela Muir MW and Bruno Siviragol). Rather, Mirabeau’s central story falls under the “exit from city life” archetype – the desire for a return to a rural setting. It’s a very powerful dream, shared by many who still labour in the concrete jungles of Teddington and beyond. It’s also a narrative that’s immediately appealing to wine consumers.
Importantly, the story suits the wine. Rosé conjures visions of carefree summer days, life in Provence, baskets filled with baguette and charcuterie – for many of us, the perfect encapsulation of getting away from it all. Is it any wonder that this foundation story helps to sell each bottle of Mirabeau wine?
I’ll leave you with one of the videos to enjoy – the introduction to making wine at Mirabeau – but do visit the company’s website, which holds the complete diary.