Sales are up, wine tourists are increasing, new international markets are being tapped into, Rioja is on a roll right now. But what’s behind the sudden increase? Is it the changes in regulations governing barrel ageing? Single vineyard wines? Using almost extinct grape varieties? They all help for sure, in streamlining and clarifying Rioja’s message to the world but when it comes down to making a major impact on a targeted mainstream wine consumer you have to doff your cap to the marketing team at Rioja’s governing body, the Consejo Regulador, for sponsoring a Blind Date-style US reality TV show.
One way around the problem of how to sell Rioja as great value wine without cheapening it, is to increase footfall in the region as a whole and get people to discover the wines themselves.
Go to Dubrovnic in summer and you’ll be lucky to actually get into the old walled city without a very long wait – such are the queues. When you finally do get in you’ll probably be slowed down by packs of Game of Thrones fans on guided tours, following some poor Sean Bean lookalike sweltering away in a doublet and hose. “And this is where they filmed the climax of Season 2….”
Having a major TV series like Game of Thrones pick your town or rural idyll as a setting can be a double-edge sword, just witness how the ‘Dark Hedges’ Bragagh road in Northern Ireland is now closed to all traffic on account of all the GOT fans that caused gridlock.
But for Rioja, on the other hand, the wine region has managed to help attract wine tourists in their droves and boost wine tourism not only by being used by Game of Thrones as a setting – but also by what can only be described as very cute marketing indeed.
For the final episode of ABC’s hit show The Bachelorette, in which a woman tries to find true love all around the world, the Consejo Regulador managed to sponsor the show so that the climax of the love action – the final episode – would take place amongst the vines of Rioja, by being entirely filmed in the region.
“We couldn’t be happier in our partnership with The Bachelorette as we take America on a romantic journey through Rioja,” is how Ricardo Aguiriano, director of marketing and communications for Rioja put it.
I should say he’s happy. Over 12 million people watched this episode and the results are already being felt.
On a trip to Rioja this summer Eduardo Hernia, sales director of bodega La Emperatriz, where part of the episode was filmed, said it was one of the key factors in why sales were booming in his region.
“Tourism has increased massively here, particularly with American tourists, they want to come and see the vines, spend time in our wine bar and generally be where some of it was filmed.”
And there is nothing like getting wine consumers to understand the uniqueness and benefits of a wine region and its wine by getting people to actually go there and get familiar with it first hand – this is far better for longer-term education and brand loyalty than remote advertising.
Wine tourism is something that the Old World has been slow to develop compared to the New World but it is now booming and Rioja, that is not near sun-kissed beaches like some of the other major Spanish wine regions has had to be particularly inventive with how it projects itself abroad.
For starters Rioja has undertaken a major marketing push this year using the Spanish tagline Saber Quién Eres (‘To know who you are’) which you can read about here. What is so smart about getting involved with Bachelorette, though, is how effective and long-lasting TV sponsorship is.
TV sponsorship is proven to drive long-term awareness and positive brand associations more effectively than one off ad spots within shows – the ad reach is vast and consistent. Online searches for Superdrug, for example, rose 900% after its sponsorship of the similar-styled reality show Love Island.
And then there’s the social media, of course, with the Consejo being visible and particularly effective on the TV channel’s various social media platforms.
At the time the Bachelorette episode was aired at the tail end of 2017, the show had 1.5m friends on Facebook and over 650,000 followers on Instagram alone – one post which had the message ‘Romance and wine are alive and well in La Rioja, Spain! @RiojaWine’ was liked 27,686 times within a few days and commented on 499 times. You can’t pay for that kind of coverage… well actually you can.
Then there’s the outreach created when the international rights to the TV show are sold to other wine markets, plus the continual online presence that repeat viewings has on other content platforms such as YouTube.
Having made Rioja a ‘hot topic’ non-digital media also followed the trail to the wine region; no sooner had Bachelorette heroine Rachel Lindsay found romance in the vines but America’s bridal magazines started getting in touch with the Consejo and running pieces as did American Vogue.
So for those who scratched their heads at the Consejo’s decision to use Saber Quién Eres in Spanish irrespective of the country it’s used in, just figure the 41 million native Spanish speakers the US has (pre-Trump). That’s potentially a lorra lorra bottles of Rioja that can be sold.
So is all this clever marketing affecting export sales? Well early indications are positive – volume sales to the US last year were up 5.8% to 8,877,517 litres, but how much of that uplift was in the final quarter (Bachelorette was aired in October) is too early to tell, it will be interesting to see though when 2018’s figures are released at the end of December whether that momentum has been maintained – especially amongst the Hispanic community.
Not in isolation
Of course one swallow does not a summer make, and Bacherlorette is not the only reason that wine tourism is booming in Rioja.
Javier Ybañez Creus, export manager at Marqués de Riscal, says that wine tourism has been steadily increasing since about 2000 in Rioja, with visitors to Riscal now numbering over 100,000 alone, attracted as they are by the Frank Gehry-designed 5-star Wine City hotel that started work in 2003 and was completed in 2006.
The Zaha Hadid-designed tasting room at R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia also attracts busloads of tourists every day according to Maria Sánchez-Monge, whose great-grandfather’s original wine shop is housed inside.
And just up the road at Briones there’s the Museum of Wine Culture that’s built at Bodega Vivanco and at Ollauri, Bodegas Conde de los Andes has opened up its 500 year-old underground caves to the general public.
Educating the public about Rioja and its wines is a fundamental part of wineries having a public tasting room, in fact a recent research paper showed that this was rated as more important by the wineries themselves than wine off-sales in Rioja.
And so far it looks as though the messages are starting to land, certainly if the latest sales figures are anything to go by. Promoting white Rioja, rosé and premium wines, three of the Consejo’s priorities, have all got encouraging results with volume sales of white up 32%, of rosé by 41% and average bottle price up 2.2% (Nielsen MAT to June 2018).
Now that really does look like happy endings.