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Marketing Matters: Million-dollar winery marketing

A Million-dollar Bottle of Wine


March 22, 2017
By Cathy Bartolic

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Incredible. Unbelievable. Disneyland.

These were the words that came out of all our mouths as the Ontario Farm Fresh Marketing Association tour group visited Le Vignoble du Ruisseau last November. It is a vineyard and winery near Sutton in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The area is known as a pastoral playground for the wealthy from Montreal. It is incredibly picturesque and many towns and businesses have decided to focus their marketing dollars on attracting Montrealers to their establishments.

Le Vignoble du Ruisseau is no exception. The property was purchased in 2007 by a magnate in the Quebec road construction industry. His goal was to grow grapes so he could make his favourite French wines in Quebec. In order to do that, he needed to grow grape varieties not acclimatized to Quebec winters. So he went about developing a patent pending process that has kept the vineyard alive and grapes growing since before the first harvest in 2013.

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Geothermal pipes were laid deep below the ground on the 15-acre property. Corresponding pipes were laid beside the actual grape vines above ground, the idea being that with the heat coming out of the ground during the winter, the vines will never experience temperatures less than -10 Celsius. In order to keep the geothermal heat somewhat contained, a mini greenhouse is erected over each row annually in the fall. Red grape varieties are grown in more permanent greenhouse structures year round to increase the amount of heat they receive. There are other vineyards that go to great lengths to make certain their vines survive our increasingly unpredictable winters, but this seemed outlandish in comparison. Upon further consideration, maybe it is just the upfront costs that seemed outlandish and the annual efforts of other vineyards may eventually actually cost more in the long run. (This could be a PhD project that someone might want to explore.)

The vineyards were not the only incredible part of the Le Vignoble du Ruisseau. The actual winery and parking lot are separated by a ravine. To overcome this, the owners built a quaint covered bridge to connect the two entities. The winery’s boutique has soaring 12-foot ceilings and offers several local artisanal products in addition to the farm’s wines and maple sap and syrups. The cellars harken back to days of yore and the lunch we had was exquisite. Every part of the property has been created to reflect elegance and taste.

I also appreciate that the winery is willing to open their gates to everyone. The cost of the activities offered range from nothing to over $100 per person for a planned “countryside excursion,” knowing that some of their customers would think nothing of paying top rate for a personal tour. The winery is also available for weddings and special events.

Our visit included a wine tasting in the cellars. The chardonnays we tried were lovely but I don’t trust my taste buds to be discerning enough, so I did a quick search online. Interestingly enough, the reviews are all over the map with no clear consensus one way or another.

We were told the owner had already invested $15 million in developing this, his semi-retirement project. Having been given that tidbit, my mind automatically tried to guess what the price of one of their bottles of wine would be. How would they ever get that investment back? How could they make money when the upfront costs were so high? Why would we even visit an operation of this nature?

On-farm marketers don’t generally have easy access to $15 million but my hope is that every stop on the bus tour offers a nugget that can be implemented in order to make an operation more efficient, tweak a marketing plan to gain a greater audience or perhaps offer a display alternative that can be adapted by the participants of the tour. It is not to suggest that this type of operation be replicated exactly as offered.

A bottle of chardonnay, by the way, was $24.95. We agreed, as a group, that making money was not a high priority for this vineyard.