A funny thing happened on the way to my September column in The Ann Arbor Chronicle.
The column highlighted Spotted Dog Winery, a micro-winery in Saline that successfully markets its kit-made wines through a raft of local retail stores. It recently announced an expansion that will triple its capacity to 3000 cases, in order to meet demand for its wines -- and managed to land admiring press coverage not only on annarbor.com, but a filmed-on-site segment on Detroit's Channel 2 .
Whatever your take on kit wines -- and mine isn't especially positive -- when it comes to selling them, many small, from-scratch Michigan wineries would do well to emulate Spotted Dog's example.
They've assembled a smart package of local-oriented branding, attractive labels that jump off the shelf, and slick marketing -- including a retail store display that probably looks irresistible to many grocers and some specialty stores eager to offer more made-in-Michigan products. (Never mind that most of the grapes grew in California or Australia.)
They've also hired a salesperson to represent them to retailers throughout the metro Detroit area; their website claims you can now buy Spotted Dog wine at close to four dozen stores.The winery's co-owner, John Olsen, plans to grow that further once the expanded winery begins operation, in the next few months.
Kit wineries do have some built-in advantages that allow them to concentrate on marketing. Their cost for raw materials is low and highly predictable. They don't spend any time worrying about weather, vintage variations, and growing (or buying) grapes. They don't have to pay for expensive crushers or presses. Their consistent-quality wines pretty much make themselves, without tweaks. Inventory can expand quickly if needed to meet demand, whatever the season.
But from-scratch wineries start with a number of advantages, too. They can brand their labels with grape varietals, vintages and geographic identities. They can schedule attractive events around the seasonal growing and winemaking cycles. Local wine trails and the state Grape and Wine Council offer them numerous marketing opportunities.
And, when everything else is said and done, there's one overriding advantage: well made from-scratch wines taste better than anything that comes out of a pre-packaged, pasteurized kit.
It's almost as if Spotted Dog knew that it had to work harder on its own to survive in the marketplace -- and taught itself to have the loudest bark on the block.
So why don't more small Michigan wineries do a first-rate job packaging and marketing their wines? And why can I find Spotted Dog in more stores around Ann Arbor than most other Michigan wineries of a similar size, including those right in my own backyard?
What do you think?