Tell Your Story Better — The Fine Art of Storytelling for Your Winery

Bradley Squires
published on
June 21, 2021

For small wineries, most often the quickest path to growing a loyal following is telling your unique, compelling story. If told well, in a way that touches the hearts of your audience, your customers will share your story whenever they share your wine.

The age-old art of storytelling is a powerful tool, but be careful! It can be used for good, or it can be used to describe your vineyard soils.

The best wine marketing uses storytelling to connect with customers
If your winery's story is about your vineyard's soils, you don't need me to tell you it's not growing your audience.

In a market with well over 200,000 different wines available, how can a winery create a loyal following?

Having a background in design, it would be expected for me to shout "Label Design!" While it’s true that label design is more important now than possibly at any other time, people have become jaded by too many bottles with a striking design on the outside, and a shitty wine on the inside (ahem, Yellowtail).

So, while a pretty label does the job of catching shoppers’ attention in the wine aisle, it doesn’t create a following.

Likewise with giving your wines naughty sexual innuendo for names, as Ménage à Trois does. It’s fun when you bring it to a dinner party for the first time, but once you discover that it actually contains a blend of Zinfandel and Cab, the relationship's over.

No, to truly create a bond between your winery and your audience, you need to have a story in which your audience can plausibly see themselves. You need to make an emotional connection.

If your winery website's key message is about your unique soils, you have way more visitors to your site who don't care about your message than those that do.
Your winery's story needs to mean something to your audience for it to create memories that will be attached to your wine.

Why Storytelling is so Powerful for Small Wineries

We, (you know, "humans") are wired for social connections. We can't help this. In fact, scientist Matthew Lieberman makes the case in his most recent book, Social, that our need to connect is as fundamental as our need for food and water. He explains that our brains have two fundamental neural circuits; one designed for social interactions, and one designed for non-social tasks. Our biology is set to switch our brains to the neural circuit for social interactions by default whenever we complete a non-social task. Interesting.

We connect with people through stories because we are able to see (and feel) ourselves in those stories — they activate our social neural circuit, and we can't help ourselves. Did you ever read the story, Into Thin Air, about climbing Everest, by John Krakauer? I did. It was terrifying, every moment of it, and I couldn't put it down. Compare that to reading a manual on how to mountain climb, which would involve our non-social neural network that we use when engaged in tasks. There's nothing there for us to connect with on an emotional level, so we don't.

When people discover your winery, they're hoping also to discover an amazing story; a story they can experience and feel, a story they can share with friends. And when they buy your wines and share them with friends, they won't be saying "This wine is amazing - it has a pH of 3.4!" Instead, they'll say, "This wine is amazing - it was made by an incredible woman who ..."

"Those who tell the stories rule society."

The Art of Telling Your Winery’s Story

To effectively use storytelling in marketing your winery, you need to know two things: the first is your winery's audience; the second is your winery's story.

Although identifying your audience might, on the surface, seem obvious, it's a little more tricky than just “wine drinkers” or “millennials” — it’s having an understanding of the actual people currently buying, drinking, and sharing your wines. The people visiting your website who are likely to buy something, the people coming to your winery and bringing their friends.

Understanding who your winery appeals to, who enjoys your wines, and why they feel this way, you can steer your messaging around to focus on more people like these. (More on how to get to this information in a bit.)

This brings us to your story.

It might seem like I’m suggesting you make up a story about your winery that you think will appeal to your audience, but all you are doing is listening to what your best customers are telling you, and then weaving that into a coherent thread that is compelling, easy to tell new customers, and easy for new customers to share.

Although your winery’s story will be used in your marketing, it still has to be authentic. Don’t go telling people you’re from Sweden if you’re not from Sweden.

The Process of Developing Your Winery’s Story

There are 5 steps to developing your winery’s own, authentic story:

  1. Start by knowing who your audience is

    As we covered above, this is about identifying who your best customers are. These are your loyal followers, your brand advocates, and it's your job to understand everything you can learn about them — what wines they like, where they learn about new wines, what kinds of events they're interested in, and, the kinds of people they influence.

    As a winery owner or member of your winery's marketing team, it's a simple matter for you to get a handle on who your best customers are, just by looking at your data. Who are your most frequent buyers? Your most frequent visitors? Your biggest spenders? It's your job to get to know these folks personally.

  2. Find out what your audience is interested in

    Are they new to wine and discovering what kinds of wine they like? Are they crazy about cooking and excited to pair food with wine? Or are they long-time collectors?

    How do you find out? Ask them! Know who they are, speak to them, ask them questions about how they first discovered you, share stories with them, and discover what they care about.

  3. Take a long hard look at your winery (identify what makes your winery unique)

    The thing that makes your winery unique is what people will share about your winery to their friends.

    How did your winery get started? Where did the idea come from? What gigantic boulders did you have to overcome? What is your grand vision?

    Conduct a brainstorming session with your co-founders/family/trusted advisors to list everything that comes to mind.

  4. Connect your story to your audience

    Your story needs to be authentic (something that actually happened), but it also needs to be something your audience cares about.

    While it may be true that you’re growing the only Zweigelt on Californian alluvium, your audience might care more about how you use sheep for weed control in your biodynamic farming.

    There is something about who you are that your audience already digs. Find it and tell it.

  5. Connect it back to benefits for your audience

    If it’s your winery’s sheep that everyone loves, will people be able to take a selfy with one in the vineyard when they visit?

    This is about finding ways that your audience can become a part of the story, so they will share it.

If you're struggling to craft your winery's story ...

It's not uncommon to be so close to the story that it's difficult for you to see it. Often, it helps to get a fresh set of ears — someone who understands what you're trying to accomplish — to help you weave the details of your story together to help you connect with your audience. You can read more about that here.

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