Winemakers, producers, importers, retailers and restaurateurs have all had to step out from behind the curtain during Covid-19 to take their turn to go online, turn on Zoom or go live on Instagram in order to be able to keep telling their stories during lockdown. But none have been quite so prolific as Katie Jones who has created her own version of a breakfast TV show with her daily walks through the small plots of land that make up Domaine Jones in the heart of the Languedoc – taking a loyal and growing community of trade customers and consumers with her. Here she talks to Richard Siddle, in the latest video interview on The Buyer, about why and how she has turned so much to social media during the crisis, and how it is now going to be very much part of how she does business post lockdown too. In so doing she has also shown the way forward for other producers and drinks businesses to use social media, and Instagram Live in particular. Which makes her a very worthy second recipient of The Buyer’s ‘Raise a Glass To’ award to highlight people who have gone way beyond the norm during Covid-19…here’s her story.
If you spend every morning our in your vineyards checking your grapes and vines then why don’t you take hundreds of people with you on Instagram Live? All in a morning’s work for Domaine Jones’ Katie Jones.
(Click here to watch the full interview between Richard Siddle and Domaine Jones’ Katie Jones)
When it comes to marketing and having the skill and judgement to know when, and how, to shout loud and wide about what you are doing, then Katie Jones could teach even the most accomplished Napa producer a thing or two.
Since starting her own winery in Tuchan, in the heart of the Lanugedoc, in 2008 she has been able to quietly build quite an international reputation for the quality of her wines, even though she is only working with fruit from 15 “tiny vineyards”spread across multiple micro sites over 12 hectares.
Jones, and her husband winemaker, Jean Marc – who happened to be the winemaker on the property she took over – have successfully found her niche, deciding to work with only old vines, some over 100 years old, using local indigenous varieties way before it was very much the fashionable thing to do – not just in France, but right around the world.
(Click here for Katie Jones explaining how she has created her own Burgundy concept with tiny vineyard plots spread across a key vine growing area)
She has also had to do it the hard way. Jones says she still feels very much the outsider in a local community that has not taken warmly to the idea of an English woman operating a business that makes wines with a retail price multiple times more than the average co-operative wines made in the Tuchan area. So much so that she famously had her entire crop drained from her tanks from the 2012 vintage.
Whilst she may not have many local friends (only 2% of her wines are sold in France), she has built a growing and loyal community of followers, both in the UK, and around the world – thanks to a large degree to Naked Wines and all its Angels who stepped in to raise money and help her buy grapes and make wine from the 2012 vintage.
As well as Naked some of her wines are distributed in the UK through the Wine Society and a network of independent wine merchants. She is also exporting to Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Taiwan, Japan and the US.
So when the world went into lockdown and battened down its hatches to deal with Covid-19, Jones decided it was the ideal time to actually carry on talking and engaging with her customer base in different ways. Which, like so many of her peers, meant taking to Instagram Live.
But rather than just do a series of tastings, Jones, wanted to do something different and help give all her consumers and trade customers a bit of a release from their own lockdowns by inviting them to come, albeit online, to her winery and vineyards. So each week day morning, at 8.30am in France, 7.30am in the UK, from the end of April onwards, she would go live on Instagram and take whoever signed in on a trip to one of her vineyards.
(Click here to watch the first of her weekday rambles on Instagram Live that went out on April 27. You can watch any of the others on her YouTube channel here )
She says initially it was intended just for immediate friends and family to watch, as lockdown in France coincided with when her parents were due to come out and visit.
But news quickly spread and Jones soon found herself going on her morning vineyard walks with quite an entourage in tow, all following her every move, asking questions and joining in with whatever she saw or came across. An entourage she affectionally calls “my ramblers”.
Jones says it has been a hugely rewarding experience. Not only has it brought her closer to her customers, but it has helped her get to know them better, and find our more about what they are interested in, what questions do they ask when she points her camera to another set of vines or different types of soil, grape variety or wild flower – or even the occasional wild boar.
(Click to hear Katie Jones explain how her Instagram walks have allowed her to understand her vineyards better)
It has also helped her to get to know her own vineyards better. For normally she handles the sales and marketing side of things, often travelling for large parts of the year, whilst her husband is out in the vineyards looking after the grapes and getting ready for that year’s harvest.
Jones says she deliberately made the walks as relaxed and easy going as possible without getting too technical so that it could work on different levels depending on who was tuning in. It was, therefore, hopefully good to watch if you just wanted an escape and go into a vineyard, through to WSET students who were keen to ask more winemaking and viticulture questions.
“I was discovering it for the first time too,” she says.
It was also an opportunity to show what life in a vineyard is really like, when virtually the first two weeks of her walks were spent trudging through the vines cowering under an umbrella, looking at mildrew on the leaves.
(Click to find out how Katie Jones wants her walks to show all sides of life in the vineyard)
She has now cut back the walks to twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday, as the work intensifies leading up to harvest. All her “ramblers” who have loyally followed her through all these weeks of lockdown, will also then be able to have a birds eye view of the harvest taking pace.
Tourism business opportunity
Whilst all her morning vineyard walks have been fun and educational to watch, Jones also has seen the long term business opportunity here too.
Each day she was adding to what has become her own unique wine community, who actually started to talk to each other on the Instagram live feeds and start to greet and welcome each other as they joined the walk.
She had for some time been thinking about how she should open up Domaine Jones more to tourists and invite people in not just for tastings, but for winery experiences, to help out in the vineyards, or even pick grapes and take part in the harvest.
(Click here to see how Katie Jones has been able to build up her own wine community)
Her lockdown Instagram walks have now given her a community of followers to talk to, invite and see what they would like most to do.
That “winery for everyone” approach very much encapsulates Jones and how she has found her own way into winemaking. After all she is not a trained winemaker, and, by her own admission, has learnt and is still learning every step of the year, making mistakes and breakthroughs as she goes.
(Click here to hear how Katie Jones now believes she has built up a big enough community to start engaging more directly and, in turn help her importers and distributors)
Work, online, travel balance
Having done so much online throughout the lockdown – and with such success – Jones is now keen to find a way to carry on as things start to return more to normal. For a start she won’t feel the need to travel for weeks on end as she now knows she can take her vineyard and her wines to people wherever they are in the world.
It’s all about getting the balance right, she explains, between being able to get out and meet and talk to people face to face, which really is still so important, but combining that with the online tastings and other experiences you can offer by using the various digital platforms. Those will definitely become part of her daily working routine.
This will only accelerate the more the trade understands how they can get the most out of technology.
But she says she can now easily do short online video tastings for customers, and distributors on specific wines in their range, and go into as much or as little detail as they need – but allowing her to offer more support to her trade partner in a more effective way.
She says the Instagram walks have also been really important for her own well being and peace of mind throughout the lockdown. It can be hard living and working in a small community who don’t understand, and are not supportive, of what you are doing, as it is so different to the usual way of making wine in the area, she explains.
(Click below for Katie Jones and why the support she gets from her wine community is so important for her own well being)
So to be able to go online every morning and have 100 plus people who are all gripped by every word and are interested in what she is doing has been a “really positive for me, compared to what the reality can be like when you are trying to do something different in a village dominated by wine co-operatives”.
Raise a Glass To Katie Jones
As an added boost it was also an opportunity to personally congratulate her and physically Raise a Glass To her on behalf of The Buyer for all the work she has done online and Instagram on bringing her corner of France to the online wine world.
(Click here to see The Buyer’s Richard Siddle Raise a Glass to Katie Jones for all her Instagram walks during lockdown )