“Successful winemakers have to think outside the box”
What use are provocative labels to a winemaker, why are consumers different today, and how important is creative marketing in the wine industry? Martin Bauer from the Emil Bauer & Söhne winery in Landau-Nussdorf in the Palatinate is considered one of the most successful young German winemakers and a provocateur in his industry. What does he do differently from his colleagues?
Mr. Bauer, you are known not only for your award-winning wines, but also for your marketing and the provocative labels associated with that. What is your strategic approach and what is the intention behind it?
Our labels embody who we are. But it is important to remember that there is a very fine line between presentation and content. For us, the product is always paramount. We have a high rate of repeat buyers, and that is not just due to the optics. It's no use if only the label comes across as attractive and funny. The quality of the wines definitely has to be paramount.
Wine drinkers in this country are still regarded as conservative and traditional. Are you appealing to younger target groups with your modern appearance, and how are they responding to it?
Yes, we definitely want to attract younger consumers with our marketing approach. Wine drinkers today are different from customers in the past. The regular customers of my parents, for example, are very loyal. They rely on a brand that, in the best case, they will buy their entire lives. Consumers today think very differently. They want to try out different varieties and not commit themselves to just one brand. That's why it’s important to use provocative labels to consistently draw attention to yourself.
And how do the traditionalists respond to the slogans in your marketing concept, such as “If you can’t be happy at least you can be drunk”?
It was amazing that even older customers reacted positively to the concept. But it goes without saying that there are all kinds of consumers. Some like our image, others don’t. That is perfectly normal. But we also don’t want to appeal to everyone with our wines. That’s why I have a relaxed approach when it comes to our further development.
What were the reactions like when you printed social and taboo-breaking statements on your labels?
In the beginning we also received negative feedback. We experienced a pretty strong backlash to our Sauvignon Blanc named “Terrorist” with the label “If you are a racist, a terrorist, or just an asshole, don’t drink my Sauvignon Blanc.” But we have the backbone to see it through.
Do you also want to cause an international sensation with this approach?
Absolutely! We are now quite well positioned in exports, and that means that we were able to ramp things up a bit with the labels. And admittedly, the slogans sound kind of odd in German, while in English they were simply much shorter and more effective.
How is the global wine industry doing in terms of modern marketing methods?
The international wine market is pretty similar to the national one. I consider Charles Smith from Washington to be a pioneer of the kinds of creative labels that we use today, but Italian winegrowers are really upping the ante in this regard as well.
And how are your German winegrowing colleagues reacting?
At first our colleagues in the Palatinate laughed at us pretty frequently. We've gotten used to it in the meantime, and it doesn't bother us because the content is right. Our success has proven us right, as our numerous awards also show.
…and what does the retail trade say?
Today, modern packaging and individual labels are playing a major role, especially in the retail trade. After all, wine also needs to appeal to the eye. We also have many label buyers who think our design is charming or funny. Our repeat buyers appreciate that as well. I haven’t seen our varieties gathering dust on the shelves of any stores so far.
How important are innovations today for winegrowers to survive in what many consider an unmanageable market?
Innovations have become extremely important to success. But it’s not just about the labels, it’s also about the products. I see our future in red cuvées, for example, in combination with varieties that do not necessarily have to be native to our area. Climate change is also playing an important role for us winegrowers at the moment. We adapted in time and we are also growing foreign grapes, such as Sangiovese, Barbera, Cabernet Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec, which are usually only found in warmer regions.
You just recently remodelled and expanded your winery. How is your brand expected to continue to grow dynamically with all these investments?
We remodelled because we want to make our entire production more state of the art. The aim was to further optimise our work processes and make them leaner. At the moment we are addressing the subject of logistics on a neighbouring property. People place an order today and want the wine tomorrow. We haven't really been able to do that so far, but we will be able to respond to these kinds of requests in the future.
What can consumers expect in the future when it comes to wine, and how will the business of wine producers develop, even internationally, in the years ahead?
It is clear that wines are becoming better all the time, but we will also see a centralization. That is why successful wineries are increasingly buying additional grapes. We continue to press varieties that we know well, however, because they are the most resistant. In addition, we are seeing more and more women in the industry, and young winegrowers have a much better education than in the past. My father completed his training within a ten kilometre radius, while my younger brother has already gained vital experience in South Africa, Australia, and France. For winegrowers to be successful, it is now more important than ever to think outside the box.