Wine Scores Are The Worst Marketing Technique - So Stop It!
I will never forget a customer I hosted in the tasting room at my first job. I poured him a taste of our Merlot, he took a sip, swished it around his mouth, and swallowed. I tried to read his face for a reaction, but he seemed undecided. I asked him, “What do you think?” and he responded “What score did it get?” A look of shock and befuddlement took over my face as I replied, “Why does it matter?” His answer was “So I know if it’s good!”
This experience stays with me to this day and is still a frustrating topic. I had a customer physically tasting a wine, but abdicating his ability to judge the wine for himself. This is the industry's own fault, but we have a chance to fix it.
The Myth of 100 Point Glory
In 1978 when Robert Parker published his first edition of The Wine Advocate, the internet did not exist and American wine was a fledgeling industry. He found other critics scoring systems to be overly complex and not impartial. He set himself apart as solely a critic and not a retailer or industry veteran. He claimed to have no agenda.
Today his 100 point scale has become commonplace and the majority of publications seem to agree. Furthermore, wineries have embraced the system themselves. Receiving a 100 point score was a game changer for wineries and instantly catapulted them from obscurity to fame and success. But, is that still the case today?
Don’t assume wineries selling 100 point wines sell out every year. That is far from the truth. 100 points leads to an inevitable bottle price increase and possibly alienating past loyal purchasers. Those loyal paying customers are then replaced by point-chasing trophy collectors who are now only interested in the wine because of its notoriety, not the taste. Soon-there-after, another 100 point wine is crowned and the trophy hunters move on to their next prize. The winery is left with a very expensive bottle of wine, has alienated its original and most passionate fan base, and is stuck with excess inventory.
Why Celebrate Scores Below 95 Points?
While I browse winery websites, receive mailing list emails, observe shelf-talkers in stores, and see winery produced advertising, I am astounded by the number of brands advertising scores of 90-95. I do not know the intention or expected result, but I think the brands expect some massive increase in sales because their wine got 92 points or maybe they feel it is a badge of honor. Regardless, the scores are relatively meaningless and harmful.
Collectively as an industry, we have ceded power to the critics and given them our voice. It’s time we take our voice back! Wine brands have let one person reduce years of hard work, passion, money, and craftsmanship down to a single number. Above all, who are they to crown themselves the arbiter of good taste? Everyone knows wine is subjective, so why anoint one person as the sole tastemaker?
According to the Wine Advocate’s website, a score between 90-95 means “an outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character,” yet let’s all be honest here, there are many wines in that range that are far from “outstanding.” The overuse of the scoring system and the sheer number of wines that score between 90-95 points has diluted the impact of the scores themselves.
Stop Allienting Your Customers
Marketing wine based on scores sets the customer up for failure. What if a customer opens a bottle of your 92 point wine and thinks it’s the best wine they have ever tasted. They will feel “uneducated” or “wrong” for thinking it is so amazing. They might think there is something wrong with their palate for liking a 92 more than a 96.
Conversely, what if they drink a 98 and dislikes it because it is a different style than what they are used to? The consumer could feel “bad” in front of their friends and “unworthy” of picking out good wine. We have to stop making customers feel bad or unworthy! Wine consumption should not hinge on education and size of check book.
We CAN Fight Back
Scores only have “power” because the industry chooses to use them and place the system on a pedestal. What if we made a pact to never submit our wine for scoring again? A world without scores would allow wines to be judged based on their own merits and not subjected to a highly politicized system. If we stopped broadcasting scores, wine brands could instead create meaningful connections with consumers, instead of artificial ones based on one critics opinion.
Author Simon Sinek makes the case in his book Start with Why, that we should “sell the why, not the what.” I challenge each and everyone of you to pass up the low hanging fruit of “good scores,” and instead focus on the “why” behind your brand. Why did you start a winery? Why is your wine unique? Why should consumers care?
If, and only if, we as an industry agree not to let self-appointed kingmakers speak for our wines and instead reclaim our own voices, then we can create deeper and more meaningful connections with consumers. I invite you to join my campaign to #StopWineScoring and take back our voice! Take the pledge below and push your brand to new heights.
Simon Solis-Cohen is the founder of Highway 29 Creative, a leading digital and creative agency serving the wine industry. He challenges clients to think about the future and constantly innovate. The agency chases data, not fads, and provides one-stop shopping for wineries looking to enter or jolt their direct to consumer sales. Their approach starts by designing and building a website focused on conversion (wine sales, club sign ups & tasting room reservations) and then dives into each digital channel with consistent and effective content and messaging. What to learn more or looking for advice? Shoot Simon a message at email@example.com.