Austria Uncorked: New York’s Best Sommelier 2016 (and ongoing)
In 2016 Wine & Co. launched the first-ever “Austrian Uncorked: Best Somm” competition in New York City which challenged the next generation of sommeliers to study for Austrian Wine, in-depth, for a chance to compete and win a trip to Austria.
The program had multiple parts: Austrian wine Master Class presented by prominent Master Sommelier, Jesse Becker; a qualifying online exam; and a multi-part exam including theory, blind tasting, and service.
The entire program spanned two months throughout which Wine & Co. offered practice exams and helpful study materials. Wine & Co. also ran a social media campaign across our established channels.
In total, 37 sommeliers took the final exam. The day of the competition, sommeliers were asked to take a written theory and blind tasting exam in the morning. Those who earned the highest three scores were to complete a service exam that afternoon. In addition to the sommeliers in attendance, we invited press and “friends of Austrian wine” to lunch and the competition. Wines of Austria received coverage in many media outlets, including a feature in the Wall Street Journal by Lettie Teague.
This sommelier-focused competition encouraged sommeliers to deeply study Austrian wine in a way that wouldn’t have happened through formal education programs. Wine & Co. has since expanded the concept to San Francisco and Chicago and it returned to New York in August 2020. This year it has been all moved online and has been particularly interesting!
Alto Adige Wines: Race to the Top
At Wine & Co., we strive to create customized, relevant events that showcase a region or brand’s true self essentially bringing the region to those who cannot travel.
In the spirit of Alto Adige’s lifestyle and culture, we developed “Race to the Top” which is a new type of Sommelier Competition incorporating both the mental and physical muscles.
In 2019, 10 teams of 3 competed for a change to wine a trip to Alto Adige. One team member was climbing on a rock-climbing wall in a gym that was marked with various altitudes and grapes, while two were answering questions below. The climber was not able to advance to the next altitude until those answering the questions got it correct or one minute passed (whichever came first.)
The all-day event attracted several media as well as additional trade who tasted at a corresponding reception.
This encouraged top area sommeliers to study Alto Adige in-depth while also breathing some excitement into the campaign. It was appreciated by the community that we stepped away from the boring seminar or competition model and incorporated something physical. Feedback was tremendously positive!
Race to the Top was set to be in San Francisco in 2020, but Covid-19 prevented the live event. As a result, we pivoted the competition online creating a virtual climbing wall and inviting top sommeliers from across the country to participate on Zoom. The event was a fun and engaging way to bring everyone together whilst deep-diving into Alto Adige.
Alto Adige Wines: Online Round Table Seminars
In 2020, Wine & Co. decided to revamp the existing Brand Ambassador strategy of Alto Adige Wines and deepen the knowledge level of the New York Sommelier on the region.
The Brand Ambassador model (from previous agencies) involved the Brand Ambassador visiting culinary and wine school as well as stores and restaurants to teach small groups on the general area. But we are more about “digging deep”, geeking out on soils and explaining the why over just the general facts. So we developed a strategy that involved bringing top sommeliers together and creating a more Round Table Discussion highlighting certain varieties, areas, and more.
This series was set to be in person incorporating a food pairing aspect at top restaurants, but the Covid-19 hit and plans had to change.
We pivoted everything online quickly in April and developed a five-seminar series bringing together over 75 of the area’s top professionals. Each participants received a pack of 4 wines (purchased using the originally intended space rental budget), and an info packet prior to the class. Classes ran 1 – 1.5 hours and the classes were led by our Brand Ambassador. As an added bonus, winemakers were able to tune in to talk about their wines. Feedback was not only tremendously positive, but we also learned that many of our participants had never had such deep exposure to the region. We later also received information that because of the classes retail shops and even wine.com had an increased boost in Alto Adige sales due to an increase and recommendations.
Ridgeview Winery: Undercover Awards
Ridgeview winery of England is a small, family-owned estate based in Sussex that sought to gain distribution and awareness in the US.
Wine & Co. developed a program partnering with a prominent Austrian glassware company Sophienwald, that rewards sommeliers, journalists, and other members of the trade for accomplishments such as: receiving a James Beard Award, publishing a book, or being selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30.
We refer to this as “undercover” PR. Each box contains two glasses, a hand-written note and a special bottle of Ridgeview to encourage them to keep the celebration going. Our goal here was not to sell directly, but to create a positive brand image of Ridgeview by supporting an achievement just because we care.
As the English sparkling wine category continues to rise we have seen greater awareness and respect for Ridgeview.
Hungarian Wine: Back with a Vengeance
The Hungarian Consulate in New York asked Wine & Co. to coordinate and execute a tasting for the wines of Hungary from across the country with a special focus on the dry wines of Tokaj.
The tasting was held at the Hungarian Consulate of New York and included a trade seminar, a trade walk-around tasting, and a consumer event on the terrace of the consulate. The consumer tasting included.
This was the first-ever tasting for Hungary of its kind and was the largest Hungarian tasting in the United States.
- Plan, execute, and manage the four-part tasting
- Acted as agent for funds from Hungary
- Coordinate seminar including recruitment of speaker
- Coordinating with importers with wines currently in the New York market to participate, provide wine for, and pour at the event
- Coordinating with all vendors & wine importers
- Development of materials for tasting booklet & invitation including logo
- Coordinate with third parties for event invites to targeted consumers
- Compile report including all attendees, wines, importers, lessons learned, and more.
- Coordinate tasting logistics and ensure all ran smoothly that day
The tasting was a great success with over 300 trade RSVP’s (150 attendees), and 250 consumer attendees. The seminar, which was set for 60 people, saw over 75 attendees with standing room only.
We received very positive feedback from several attendees of the seminar on the speaker’s content as well as for the quality and presentation for the wines. Many of the trade attendees hadn’t yet had the opportunity to taste Hungarian wines in such a large and focused capacity.
Consumers, who were already interested in Hungarian wine and/or had never had exposure to a Hungarian wine, felt largely the same. The consumer portion included a Hungarian jazz band as well as several passed bites and over 20 wines to taste.
Austrian Wine Marketing Board
Austrian wine has experienced a renaissance in the past 25+ years and, as a category, it has grown dramatically in the past ten.
Following a scandal in the 1980’s, Austrian wine was, for the most part, a blank slate. Some of the great producers remained on the market, but the grapes were unknown to the masses and words like “Grüner Veltliner” and “Blaufränkisch” that contained the “scary” umlaut were sent to no man’s land.
In 2009, the Austrian Wine Marketing Board decided to turn a focus to the U.S. market with a strategy of simultaneously promoting the country, its people, and the unique varieties that defined its winemaking style of dry, high acid, food-friendly wines from varying regions.
The strategy we developed built on the AWMB’s evolved to focus on social media, public relations, strategy development for the US, copywriting, event planning, and more. Working closely with the Austrian Trade Commission on several projects, the project developed organically as new outlets were necessary to effectively achieve communication.
Elements of the plan have included:
- Press/blogger outreach and media monitoring
- Social media creation and management
- Creation and management of a dedicated website
- Monthly and quarterly newsletters
- Event creation and management on large and small scales online and live
- Acting as an unofficial brand ambassador for Austrian wine
- Recruitment of trade to attend events in Austria
- Organization, attendance, and management of consumer event programs such as Wine Riot and Bottlenotes 80 Sip’s
We quickly solidified that Austrian wine was a relatively new concept to most wine drinkers both in the trade and especially in consumer sectors. Had an individual tried an Austrian wine, it was quite often the liter example of Gruner Veltliner and, therefore, many believed that all Austrian wines were cheap and uncomplicated. Our challenges were both to reeducate those who thought they were educated and educate those who knew nothing at all.
By telling a series of simple stories to press, enabling trade and consumers to taste the wines, inserting Austrian wine as a brand in conversations, and creating enough “buzz” to gain attention, Imports of Austrian wine has significantly grown over the past six years in US surpassing the importance of other export countries and increasing in value.
We’ve now come to the point where “Grüner Veltliner” is considered a staple wine for any serious wine list and a household name. As awareness of Austrian wine has increased, our focus has expanded to other indigenous varieties and the red wines gaining fast attention.