© 2023, Wine Chemistry Creative. Digital Wine Marketing, Sonoma California 95476

Wine positioning in a competitive market

Using winery positioning to reach customers and save marketing dollars in 2024

Positioning a wine brand is about helping your potential customers understand your wines in relationship to others. Wineries that manage this well can attract more customers.

Good winery positioning helps consumers purchase wines with confidence.

In this article, I cover how you can help your audience know what you’re about. Stay with me to the end, where I touch on how to communicate your positioning using storytelling and brand.

Image of a signpost crowded with winery signs signifying the crowded wine market and the importance of positioning wine brands.

The desired result of positioning a winery is to place your wines favorably at the front of the minds of your potential customers.

What is wine positioning?

Positioning is the art of differentiation; it is how you make your winery stand out from other wines in the minds of consumers. According to the American Marketing Association, “Great positioning is the heart of any sound brand strategy.”

Wine positioning is how a winery designs and presents its image to potential customers so they can understand the wines offered by that winery and how they compare to other wines within the marketplace.

In other words, if your winery’s image and brand communicate your wine positioning effectively, consumers will have an understanding of your wines based on other wines they’ve tried that are in your same category.

The challenge in positioning wine brands

If you make a Napa Cab that sells for $80, your wine would naturally be compared alongside other Napa Cabs in that same price range. Wine consumers who shop in that product category have a good sense of what they’re getting, even if they haven’t previously tried the particular wine they are selecting.

Wine consumers will compare your $80 Napa Cab to all the other $80 Napa Cabs. And there are hundreds of them.

Now, if you were to position your $80 Napa Cab apart from all those others, you would begin by identifying what your wine represents to wine drinkers that all the others don’t.

You’re in a saturated market, so it gets tricky: are you the only Napa Cab with a 100-point score from Parker? (Nope.) Are you the only Napa Cab with a celebrity winemaker? (Nope.) Are you the only Napa Cab that uses a comprehensive Mycorrhizal Fungi program in the vineyards? (Who cares?)

Today, many wineries position themselves as small, family-owned wineries producing wines that seek to express the unique terroir of their vineyards.

There are only two problems with this approach:

  1. It fails to differentiate the winery from the thousands of other small wineries using this same positioning statement.
  2. It communicates nothing about the wine that would help consumers compare it with other wines.

A key detail to consider is that positioning exists in the customer’s mind. It is formed by a combination of image, perception, and reality.

The best wine positioning happens when your winery's branding perfectly aligns with your customers' needs.

Winery positioning occurs in the minds of your audience. You can influence how your brand is perceived, but what you present must match how you are perceived.

The benefits of positioning a winery

1. Good wine positioning reduces your competition

You already know your winery is not competing directly with every other winery in the U.S. You could probably narrow it further without giving it much thought: if your focus is fresh, lighter reds and rosés, you’re not in the same category as big, lugubrious 15% alcohol Zinfandels (and I stand by my use of the word lugubrious in this context).

Open this window for a brief intro to finding open spaces in the wine market >

But to go a step further, in the example of the $80 Napa Cab mentioned earlier, you might prefer to be recognized as one of only half a dozen Cabernets that fit a particular category.

Skillful positioning achieves this.


Digging Deeper:

Finding open spaces in the market

Considering what your wines represent to your different customers

We gave the example of price positioning, but you could also consider other factors people use when choosing wines, such as wine type (red, rosé, white, sparkling), variety, geography, organic/regenerative, style, and so fourth.

In this way, you can discover areas in the market where your wines would compete most favorably.

Creating a map that reflects the positioning of your winery allows you to look for "open" spaces in the competitive environment, enhancing your ability to improve your business and attract customers who are the best fit for your winery.

Whichever criteria you use to position your winery, keep in mind that the qualities you promote must be important to your customers.

2. Good wine positioning helps your customers choose you

As a wine professional, you probably don’t experience the same struggles an average wine shopper endures while trying to select a wine from a grocery store shelf.

An adventurous shopper might be comfortable grabbing a bottle they know nothing about, but many who face this struggle find it overwhelming.

How does an authentic expression of the terroir make the flavor better?

Which is better? A Russian River Pinot Noir or one from Carneros?

Does $45 for a bottle mean I will like it?

This is where positioning wine brands effectively helps the consumer. Positioning your wines within the lineup of other, similar wines gives your shoppers something they can use to understand your wine before they buy.

Using positioning to communicate your wine brand reduces confusion and uncertainty for consumers.

Photo of wine bottles in a wine fridge. The goal in positioning wine brands is to be included in those wines.

Wine consumers like to keep an assortment on hand. The goal in positioning wine brands is to be included in that assortment.

Three steps to winery positioning

1. Define your Category

Your category is that space within the industry where you fit in and are the best. Once you have defined your category, your goal is to own it.

A category must be something your consumers care about.

What is the difference between Market Category and Market Segment? Open this window to find out

2. Identifying your audience

The next step is to learn about the people who care about this category and get to know them. This includes their purchasing behavior, wine knowledge, demographics … you get the picture.

3. Build your brand

Your brand includes your labels, your website, your storytelling, your winery experiences … everything that represents your winery, all the way down to the prices of your wines. Creating a powerful wine brand requires that everything feels consistent, seamless, and relevant to your audience and your positioning.

Learn more about how you can develop your brand here >


Positioning Wine Brands:

Market Category vs. Market Segment

Two important concepts to understand when positioning a winery are Category and Segment.

Here's how they differ.

Category refers to an area of the marketplace where competing firms offer products that share commonalities.

Those commonalities could be price, quality, geography, sourcing, process, or combinations of these or other factors. For example, the category Napa Cabs under $50 combines geography, variety, and price.

To position a winery, you must define a category that:

  1. Means something to consumers and
  2. Which your winery can lead.

To illustrate how a category must mean something to consumers, think about whether consumers would ask for that category in a store. For example, “Do you have any Napa Cabs under $50?”. This is quite a plausible question for a consumer to ask. However, “Do you have any Napa Cabs that are grown using cover crops?” not so much.

Segment refers to a subgroup of consumers within a particular market sharing similar traits or commonalities.

The traits or commonalities that might be used to group consumers into segments include:

  • Demographic (age, gender, income, occupation, education, marital status, religion, nationality), 
  • Geographic,
  • Behavioral (online browsing and shopping, in-store buying behavior, tendency to attend events or click on emails …),
  • Psychographic (personality, values, attitudes, opinions, interests, and lifestyles).

Demographic and Geographic information is the easiest to collect, but often leads companies to rely on assumptions from this information, such as how likely is it that a 35-year-old single woman making $65k would enjoy rosé?

Behavioral information can be collected from sources such as Google Analytics, your email service provider, and other services.

Psychographic information is collected through surveys, contests, online quizzes, and other methods of engaging with your audience (like speaking to them.)

The loftiest goal of positioning a wine brand is to lead the category you’ve identified for your winery, which consumers care about.

Getting started positioning your winery

The big takeaway you should get from this article is this: positioning your winery requires identifying the strategic advantage that your winery can maintain over other similar wineries, causing you to be most remembered.

To help you get started on a wine positioning exercise, we’ve created a Winery Positioning Workbook. It includes questions designed to help you highlight differentiating factors, define or select a market category, and identify audience segments.

Next Steps

The next step is to develop and hone your unique story. Your story of why you are here will help your audience connect emotionally with your brand.

Storytelling and branding are the most powerful tools for communicating your positioning to your target audiences.

Your brand is always on. However, only particular moments serve as opportunities for using storytelling.

These opportunities include visits to your tasting room or website, new newsletter subscriptions, and onboarding winery tours for new club members. The presentation of your story should vary slightly to best suit each occasion.


Bradley Squires


Bradley Squires, the founder of Wine Chemistry Creative, helps wineries become memorable. He thinks of this as Creating Chemistry with your customers and future customers. Bradley has provided marketing services for some of the largest (and smallest) brands in the U.S.. Notable brands include Vintrace, UCSF, Ericcson, Grgich Hills, The Nature Conservancy, and Napa Valley Vintners. He holds degrees in Oenology, Viticulture, and Wine Marketing. He doesn’t have a dog.


Not sure where to start? Get in touch for a free 30-minute consultation and we’ll answer any questions you have about positioning your winery.

Related Posts