Mind the Gap: Wine Production and Marketing

Wine is a hospitality business at heart, a feel-good endeavor that unites us all. Wine professionals of all stripes excel at making their work appear seamless, creating the illusion that it’s not work at all. Insiders know this sense of ease and unity is sometimes more wishful thinking than reality. One notable glitch can occur between the wine production and marketing departments. Consider the following scenarios:

  • A marketer creates, schedules, and promotes a winemaker dinner with minimal consultation with the winemaker.
  • A winemaker neglects to tell a marketer that a special, limited-production wine won’t be bottled for another six months, leaving a void in the seasonal club shipment.
  • A winery manager makes a cutting remark implying marketers, who often sit at desks or work with people, have an easier job than winemakers, who often engage in manual labor in the cellar.

11-3_2012Harvest_MikeJulia_CookJulia Iantosca is a Sonoma County-based winemaker who has consulted with such clients as Lasseter Family Winery. Her winemaking experience spans decades, but she also spent five years working as general manager and executive vice-president of Lambert Bridge Winery in Healdsburg.

“What I have seen,” Iantosca says, “is that there is a divide between [marketing and winemaking]. Often, because each department doesn’t really understand what the other is doing, there is a lack of respect for the efforts made by each ‘side’.” 

Understand that it’s normal.

In any industry, and in any company, rifts between departments are likely to develop. Department leaders work to build and strengthen teams, hoping to boost productivity. If unchecked, the mission of a departmental team begins to compete with the mission of the company. This is known as “tribalism.”

A recent article in Harvard Business Review normalized our tendency to tightly band together: “Tribalism is natural. Humans have a natural conservative bias in assessing threats — mistrust is the default condition. Thus, we have a difficult time thinking good thoughts and feeling a sense of connection with those outside our immediate experience.”

Tribalism, however, is also deemed one of the top threats in the business world. In the tribal mentality, departments compete, rather than cooperate. Colleagues might speak disparagingly or categorically about the work of their peers. (“Geez, he’s so uptight—typical winemaker!” or “What can a marketing hack possibly know about wine!”) Workers become so focused on building pride within their department that they slip into the habit of degrading their colleagues. They become uncurious about their peers, forgetting their shared purpose.

Wine is a highly social industry populated by passionate and dedicated people, making it especially prone to tribalism. Winemakers work intensively during harvest season, bonding with their crew during long hours in the cellar. Marketers throw their energy into creating opportunities to share the wine. Both professionals are at risk of letting their healthy teams devolve into insular tribes.

How can this be prevented? By minding the gap. 

Identify the shared mission.

11-3_Fellowship_CookOne fundamental way to bridge a gap between departments is to identify the shared goal—often found in the company mission statement. Says Iantosca, “If done well, the mission statement creates an organizational road map and a litmus test for all communication—i.e., does this message, idea, event, etc. truly keep us on our path?”

Managers can post their company’s mission statement in a central place to remind the entire staff of their common purpose. Winemakers can reiterate it to cellar staff through huddles with their crew. Marketers can integrate it into promotional plans. By keeping their shared purpose central, employees in all departments are reminded of their common drive.

In smaller or more unconventional wineries that have not developed mission statements, the question can still be posed: What are we all working towards?

Assemble the cast.

Theater director Constantin Stanislavski famously remarked, “There are no small parts, only small actors.” This can apply in the workplace, too. Everyone who shows up and works is integral to the operation.

That said, just as every drama has a lead role, every company has a top priority. Most companies engaged in manufacturing have adopted one of two business models: either a production-driven or market-driven model. A production-driven winery sells whatever it makes. A market-driven winery makes what it can sell.

Either model can foster a false sense of superiority from one department over the other. A market-driven winery, intent on meeting the demands of the thirsty masses, might push a winemaker toward a wine style outside his purview. A production-driven winery might overproduce too much of an unpopular varietal, failing to consult their marketer for potentially helpful data.

No matter the business model, says winery manager and marketer Jim Morris, “There is a critical need to have a plan.” Morris, general manager of MacPhail Winery Tasting Lounge in Sebastopol, California, was formerly vice president of DTC Sales & Hospitality at Michel-Schlumberger and helped launch Truett-Hurst Winery.

“Winemakers want to make wine. Marketers want to sell that wine. Often the existing channels need to be prepared for any changes in production, up or down,” says Morris. “Any major changes to the planned numbers have a significant ripple effect in all directions.”

When winemakers make assumptions about what their marketer can sell, the effect on the company bottom line can be disastrous. Further, the marketer’s key skills are wasted and devalued when that person is not consulted about product-to-market decisions. Iantosca weighs in: “It is important to remember that winemaking is a collaborative process. Each person’s contribution is important. Sometimes, as a winemaker we may overstate our own importance.”

Build the bridge.

The logical way to bridge the gap between two distant parties is, of course, to communicate. “This is the hardest, most complex, most regulated business I know, “ says Morris. “There are so many mitigating factors that affect everyone up and down the line. You simply can’t communicate enough.”

Amen to that. But how?

  • Bring people together when it is possible and productive. No one likes extraneous meetings in stuffy conference rooms, but thankfully there are alternatives. “At Lambert Bridge,” recalls Iantosca, “we had weekly meetings that helped keep communication lines open. But one thing that also helped is that we had lunch together and every day we did a group effort on the daily crossword puzzle—it was a bridge that reminded everyone that we were all on the same side.”
  • Indeed, harvest feasts are fairly commonplace in the wine industry. When all departments are included, an opportunity emerges for important fellowship and connection.
  • Ensure that technology is in place. Would cloud-based computing help winemakers share a production schedule, or perhaps allow marketers to post the event schedule? How about a company intranet?
  • Consider visually representing the collaboration of your two departments. Many people are very visual and find this helpful. Whiteboard your production and/or marketing processes, then post the results board in a central location. Additionally, post photos of staff, along with brief job descriptions. In this way, roles become clear to all.
  • When and if interdepartmental conflict emerges, normalize and (when possible) allow it to happen. Make room for each side to express their perspective—including emotions. In his bestselling book Difficult Conversations, business communications expert Dan Clurman writes, “Engaging in a difficult conversation without talking about feelings is like staging an opera without the music. You’ll get the plot but miss the point.” If you or your staff could benefit from business communications training, seek out those resources.
  • Focus on the positive: Recognize and reward collaboration. Post social media updates, run newsletter items, or give verbal feedback to reflect even the smallest of collaborative successes and joys.

Walk a mile.

What else might help winemakers and marketers appreciate one another’s work? Corporations have long seen the benefits of “job swaps” for top executives. Walking a mile in a colleague’s shoes can allow one to:

  • Empathize with their colleague’s challenges.
  • Anticipate their colleague’s workflow.
  • Appreciate their colleague’s efforts.

In a winery setting, it can be enormously helpful for marketers to help in the cellar or vineyard. Similarly, it can be illuminating for winemakers to engage with customers. Iantosca reflects, “One of the things I treasure is the professional collaboration that exists in the winemaking community and the willingness of winemakers to lend a hand in all (or most) situations.” Marketers might consider: What can your company winemaker and crew do to help you meet the company goals? What’s more, how can you keep your eyes open for opportunities to return the favor and help them?

Morris concludes: “Work together, communicate often, have a plan, understand one another’s situation. Soon, that gap will be a memory.”


Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

About the Author

Amy Bess Cook (https://amybesscook.com) has been a working writer for 16 years. For half that time, she managed a boutique winery in Sonoma. With a zeal for creative entrepreneurship and a passion for the vine, Amy Bess now works as a writer and brand consultant within the wine industry. Check out her harvest journal and winemaking project here: https://www.sirseethegift.com/.


  1. I enjoyed reading your article.Every workplace has its challenges and it is part of our job and our responsibility as human beings and workers to overcome them.

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