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Reviewed Wineries

Why Most Winery Websites Stink

Thursday, July 21, 2011

There has been a lot of talk in the last couple years about the importance of Social Media, and it is important. However, for wineries, having a website that is attractive and provides useful information to consumers is equally important if not more critical than Social Media. Unfortunately, 90 to 95% of winery websites stink.

Before I go into why so many of the sites I see are so terrible, let me first make the argument for why I believe it is important for wineries to have a good website. If you work in a winery, think about the ways that people interact with your brand. Generally people either 1) see your bottle on the shelf 2) hear about your winery through a review, Social Media, etc or 3) try your wines at the tasting room, event, or through some other channel. Unfortunately in two of those three cases, the next step many consumers will take is to go to your website.

Let’s say a person sees a bottle of your wine on the shelf and knows nothing about the winery. Where are they likely to go for information? Better yet let’s say that a person decides to buy a bottle of your wine either on a whim or on a recommendation and, lo and behold! They like it! Again, what is a logical next step? Or let’s say someone has been hearing a lot of buzz about your winery. Perhaps they have heard people talking about the winery or perhaps they have heard you talking about the winery on Twitter or Facebook. Again, where are they likely to go? To your website to try to find out more information about the winery and see what other wines you make. And this is where the vast majority of the time things get ugly.

90-95% of winery websites stink because they say little about the winery and even less about the wines.
They provide largely generic information rather than specific information about who you are and what differentiates your winery. Here is example of what I often read. I apologize in advance if this reads verbatim from someone’s site. It was not intentional I assure you.

“(insert your winery name here) is a small family winery. We are dedicated to producing super premium wine from Washington’s finest vineyards. We believe that wine is made in the vineyard and strive to express each of our sites in our wines.”

Ugh.

Why is this so bad? “We are a small family winery…” All right. You’ve told me you’re not a mega-corporation, but why should I care? Many of these sites subsequently go on to say nothing about the family or the people involved. Some don’t even give their names! The site might as well says, “We are a small family winery but please respect our privacy. We do not like to give out information about ourselves.”

“We are dedicated to producing super premium wine from Washington’s finest vineyards.” First, almost no one knows what super premium means. Second, you’re in luck! Everyone else is looking to make plonk from vineyards that are producing 20 tons an acre! Again, some sites talk up their vineyards and then don’t say what these vineyards are or why they are special.

“We believe that wine is made in the vineyard…” Yada yada yada. I wait for the day I read, “We strive to make Frankenwines that are created in the winery and have nothing to do with the place that they came from.”

Don’t get me wrong. Each of these ideas is important. However, to throw them out there without providing further information to make them relevant to the reader is completely worthless. Worse, it just sounds like everyone else which is exactly what you don’t want to do.

All right, so we’ve gotten past the gobbledygook on your website and for some reason we are still with you. We’ve decided to move on to looking at the wines themselves. Here things are going to get even worse.

The vast (vast) majority of winery websites are not up-to-date. Here’s brief series of examples from the past week:

- Go to winery website looking for a bottleshot. None to be found/picture is of low resolution.
- Go to winery website looking for prices on current releases. Current vintages not listed and/or prices not listed.
- Go to winery website looking for prices on current releases. Links to external site that does not work.
- Go to winery website. Click on ‘Enter’ and goes to dead link.
- Go to winery website looking for information and it says 'Under construction.' It's said this for years by the way.
- Go to winery website looking for contact information. None found.
- Go to winery website looking for blend and technical information. None found.

Some of these issues may be less important to most consumers than they are to me, but most of them are not. You want to hear the worst part? Many of the sites that had these issues were considerably better than most of what I come across. These are the guys who are doing well!

Again, all the talk these days is about Social Media and with good reason. Social Media can be an important tool. However, part of its strength is wasted if you engage with people and then they disengage because your website either a) says much of nothing or b) looks like the winery went out of business several years ago and no one turned the lights off because the information/look and feel is so out of date.

Want to do a better job? Make your website say something about you and your winery, not generic boilerplate information. Talk about what makes you unique from the other 700 wineries in the state. Talk about why you started the winery in the first place. And for goodness sake, keep the information up to date!

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46 comments

  1. Anonymous Says:
  2. Sean, I so agree, being in the Wine business, and not being able to taste every bottle, every vintage, It is important to have an up to date web page. I am seeing many now have trade links that help, but so many are not maintained. An Idea! LOL, have your Kid's do it, they are great at the social media game! Thanks, Merlotman

     
  3. Anonymous Says:
  4. sounds like you have a lot of anger built up about this. 90%-95% stink? so did you copy Wine Peeps' blog style or vice-versa?

     
  5. Casting Stones in a Glass House Department
    You advise: "Want to do a better job? Make your website say something about you and your winery, not generic boilerplate information." I think the post and site here says much about this writer: smart, insightful, experienced, sanctimonious, verbose and probably not someone you want to get stuck in an elevator with.

    Too much.
    Too shrill.
    Too negative.

    And, looking at your website, one might offer your design team and lead writer this advice: hire an editor and simplify the landing page. It makes you drunk looking at it. Either that, or 12-Step your way through it.

     
  6. Anonymous Says:
  7. LOL, I do believe he knows this......he was just talking about redoing it! :} merlotman

     
  8. Matthew, my intent was not to be shrill or negative but rather to offer thoughts to wineries on how to improve the experience of people visiting their websites and why doing so is important. Your comments about my landing page and the overall design on WWR are well taken. As design team, editor, and lead writer, I know it needs a major overall. Thanks for the suggestions.

     
  9. Sean, I don't think your article is shrill; in fact I giggled all the way through it! As you know, I do a fair amount of drinking at my local neighborhood winery in Vancouver, and one of my biggest beefs with it is that the new owner changed the website. It's cold, unwelcoming, and does a poor job connecting the reality of the winery: welcoming and family oriented. I know the current vintner (son of our beloved vintner who passed away last fall) wanted to update and streamline his father's rather Italian-style website, but the new one feels creepy and cold. Wish I had a before and after to show you, but I agree 100% that if I had never heard of the winery and navigated to the website, I'd probably look no further.

     
  10. Thanks Dayna, my intent was to give a few giggles along the way but clearly some took the tone differently. Such it is with the written word...

     
  11. Sean,
    I few sites to give you hope...
    http://www.twohandswines.com/ - Two Hands
    http://www.matthewscellars.com/ - Mathews Cellars
    http://www.wilridgewinery.com/ - Wilridge
    https://www.rosenblumcellars.com - Rosenblum

    Eric Anderson - Tannick.com - Deals on the WineTrail
    eric@tannick.com

    http://www.tannick.com
    Twitter - @tannickdeals
    Facebook - http://www.facebook/tannickdeals

     
  12. Eric, nice sites! Thanks for sharing them. Had checked out the Matthews site recently which is nicely done but hadn't looked at the Wilridge site in a while. Looks good.

    Another couple I've come across recently that I thought were well done were:

    http://www.amaurice.com/
    http://fjellenecellars.com/

     
  13. JJ Says:
  14. Hi Sean -

    Here are a few things from a winery's perspective that may provide some insight as to why some of our industry's websites are not as informative or detailed as you would like.

    - Vintage inconsistency. For the nationally distributed wineries, it is very unlikely that all of the wines they sell across every distributorship are the same vintage. Supply chains vary in both speed and delivery method. A wine that has been "out" for several months in one area may just be rolling out in another. This creates problems on both sides of the coin, as the people who get the wine first are likely to believe the website "out of date" and the folks who are on the previous vintage will wonder why they are "stuck" with the older wine.

    A wine's price is not universal. The price you pay in Washington for a Washington wine is lower than you would pay for the same Washington wine in most other states, including in many cases Oregon and Idaho. It is often the winery's responsibility in the supply chain to pay for freight, and that gets passed on to the consumer in the form of higher wholesale per/bottle prices. Different distributors work on different margins as well, so that significantly influences wholesale cost. It is practically unheard of for a manufacturer of other grocery-items to list the price of their product on their website (Frosted Flakes/Starbucks Coffee/Coke/Budweiser) because the cost varies widely depending on how far it had to ship/who is selling it/how they're selling it. Nobody wants their prices to be a secret, but the nature of the supply chain dictates that the price of the wine from anyone besides the winery’s tasting room will be meaningless, and why you’ll rarely see a winery list an MSRP or something similar.

    - Cost. Many of the real small wineries simply do not have the time or money to spend on getting every last detail on their website. With web-development costs often into the triple-digits per hour, you can see how the average startup might take a bare-bones and minimally updated approach, particularly if they make more than a handful of wines. Bloggers are by design the generators of their own content, but oftentimes winery folks do not have the skills and/or means necessary to generate meaningful content, which means they’ve got to pay someone else to do it. You’ve got to sell wine in order to pay for things like a website, but without a nice website it’s harder to sell wine. It's obviously a conundrum, and I'm sure that many winemakers put off spending all of that time and money out of frustration that they have to spend so much time and money to make it happen. Perhaps it's not the savviest decision, but it's certainly a reality in the industry.

    All of that said, I agree that there is no excuse for broken links, generic information, and lack of contact details. There are many websites, my own included, that are not ideal, but hopefully I helped illustrate that there are two sides to every story.

    - JJ

     
  15. Dave Butner Says:
  16. I think my website is decent (your rating) and I'm working on a new one which will be even better. But crap...you just described almost word for word what is on my back label.

     
  17. As a retailer, my chief pet peeve with winery websites are those that fail to provide information on their distribution network. A common scenario has a customer coming into my store, asking if I can get a case of a certain wine for them. I look up the winery on the web. If they list their distributors, I can make a quick phone call to my rep and get a price quote while the customer is still there. Otherwise I have to send the customer on his/her way while I wait for the winery to get back to me (assuming they even provide contact information).

     
  18. Here's my favorite California vintner, Peter Figge's website. It's a beautiful site! http://www.figgecellars.com/

     
  19. Anonymous Says:
  20. Hater. Next thing you'll be telling us is that Cayuse wines are flawed.

     
  21. Luchavino Says:
  22. Totally agree. It is so frustrating to go to a wineries website and get outdated vintages or descriptions that say "red blend.". I want to see details about varietals and vineyards, ageing etc. This is all basic information that wouldn't take much effort to provide. And would make the websites much more interesting and make me want to return to the site in the future, feel more connected and/or buy more of their wine.

     
  23. Heather Says:
  24. What JJ said '-)

     
  25. JJ, many thanks for the extended thoughts and insights. Your last point is perhaps the most critical one in my mind - cost and content. It can be expensive for wineries to hire someone to do the webwork and if they do so it may subsequently languish as they don't want to pay someone to update it. And paying someone to create content itself can also be expensive. As you said, it's a conundrum of needing to sell wine but not necessarily doing some of the things you need to do to sell it.

    Part of the reason I think having better websites is especially critical for Washington wineries is exactly because there are so many small wineries here. Many of these wineries have compelling stories. They *are* small family wineries. They *do* care about the vineyards that they use. If people go to the tasting room, meet the people, and hear the story, they are sold. Unfortunately, for many, the website might be as close as they are ever going to get.

    By the way, I think Kiona has done a great job with its site. Tells the story and talks about the people and the land with compelling pictures to go along with it.

     
  26. Dave, that made me laugh out loud!

    Anon 10:14pm, where's my 'Like' button?

     
  27. What about www.bolandcellar.co.za. I think its important that you can differentiate yourself from any other wine brand. Like?

     
  28. Anonymous Says:
  29. Have you seen Trust Cellar's website? It could use some work, like an addition of some thoughtful wine pairings with cupcakes.

     
  30. Anonymous Says:
  31. sean-

    where do you work to make actual money?

     
  32. Anonymous Says:
  33. I think the problem is a lot of wineries in Washington State are smaller with limited resources. (If you are a large corporate venture with tons of money at your disposal, then you have no excuse!) Websites can be expensive, especially if you incorporate ecommerce (which you should - I hate order forms online that you print and fax - who has time for that?) and actually abide by state shipping and taxation laws. (Since most states are on destination-based taxation systems, you can't just charge one flat rate for every state you ship to....and let's not even get into direct shipping permit and licensing costs, and the additional taxes you pay on each bottle of wine you ship, all different depending on where it goes)....A lot of this requires custom features that are not easy to afford or obtain with out-of-the-box sites. There are a few companies out there who offer really great sites for a small investment (under $4k) but again, $4K is a lot of money when you're spending money on barrels, fruit, rent, labels, bottles, corks, staff, etc.....but one could argue that all of that stuff doesn't matter without putting a great face to your product.

    I think websites are critical to getting people to take your brand seriously, so I agree with Sean, but also offering the side of "this is why it doesn't happen"....the wine business is certainly not an inexpensive venture to be in, and when you consider you invest a ton of money up front and have to wait up to two years in order to sell the product, you can understand why many websites fall below priority.

     
  34. Anonymous Says:
  35. Sean, way to stir the pot! Well done Merlotman

     
  36. Anonymous Says:
  37. Good article Sean - and I agree with you. I'm in an Australian wine region and your comments are just as valid here as they are in the USA and Canada: great wineries let down by awful, obsolete and often broken websites.

     
  38. Anonymous Says:
  39. I would appreciate your feedback on our own website please.
    www.919wines.com.au
    We have tried to make this personal without being amateurish - not sure if we have accomplished this.
    Regards
    Jenny Semmler
    919 WInes

     
  40. Ruby Andrew Says:
  41. Oddly enough, I wrote a very similar post on my own blog last week with reference to the state of New Zealand winery websites! Here's the link: http://www.vinovitis.co.nz/

     
  42. Angela Lloyd Says:
  43. Cape Town, South Africa here. This is a subject I've banged on about for several years. Too many singing/dancing features on websites that have little info to offer, then it's often out of date and takes ages to download. An example I cite as doing what a website should do is www.saronsberg.com. Apart from informing, a good website could entice visitors both local and foreign; after all, an increase in wine tourism is something everyone who lives in the winelands is after.

     
  44. Lisa Says:
  45. Wow, an awful lot of gutless Anon posters. You do realize Sean is not a team right? That this site is not the work of a professional designer or design team? Should I mention that it works even with adaptive devices for the visually impaired--something almost none of the Winery Web sites manage, though they do have designers and Web masters.

    Sean has a point; there are an awful lot of Winery Web sites that have almost no content, and that are woefully out of date. There are also a lot of winery Web sites that are built with Flash; this is beyond stupid. A Flash Web site does not work with the screen readers visually impaired customers use; moreover, a Flash Web site can't be indexed by Google and other search engines, and generally, a Flash Web site will not allow direct linking to specific pages—like product pages.

    If you don't have the time or expertise to write about your winery on a regular basis, there are a lot of experienced writers for hire who would love to help you out; lack of time isn't an excuse that makes sense when you are disenfranchising wine writers and other wine buyers.

     
  46. Sue Courtney Says:
  47. You haven't mentioned winery websites on facebook that require one to login to facebook before the winery info can be viewed. As I don't have a facebook ID (and at this stage don't want one) I lament this practise by wineries. If they have to resort to a free site on facebook, they could make it a 'fan' page at least.

    I clicked on the tannick deals link above. That is one of the facebook sites.

     
  48. Ruby Andrew, great minds think alike! Nicely written post. You also highlight something that I think deserves mention here. If you aren't going to keep your site updated, make sure not to put a lot of date-specific references in there (such as "Coming in Spring of 2009.") I see that a lot. Here's the direct link to your post for folks who are interested: http://www.vinovitis.co.nz/2011/07/18/wake-up-call-for-websites/

    Angela Lloyd and others who have touched on this, it is interesting to see how industry-wide this issue appears to be with folks saying they see the same in South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia. Houston...we have a problem.

    Folks who asked me to check out their sites, I'll give em a look!

     
  49. Websites are still a recent addition to the marketing portfolio and lots of people, including wineries, decided to 'jump on the bandwagon' with no thought as to what they wanted. Consequently they've been persuaded by snakeoil salesman to buy unmanageable and ridiculous website designs which scare them into not doing anything with them and keeping them up-to-date.
    As you say, Sean (in this very good post), the main object of a winery website is to provide information, genuine information.
    There are ways and means to build a simple but attractive website at not much cost which can be kept up-to-date easily.
    And don't talk to me about Flash websites - what a waste of time and money!

     
  50. The key to enabling your website to communicate effectively with your audience, is to know your audience. Don't design a website and fill it with content you like, stop and sit in your customers, suppliers, friends, staff's position and build it from there. Think about what questions they would ask, prioritise based on that. Both the design and the content, which could range from very traditional to ultra modern and from straight talking to wildly humorous, may stem from this too, providing you balance it with the personality you are trying to get across. If you are a fun, hip winery - that needs to be communicated. If you are serious deep thinkers, then make that interesting. And as Brett says above, it should not cost you the earth and it should be aimed at giving you some form of return, even if that is as simple as increased visitors or page views at the basic level.

     
  51. stellastreet Says:
  52. @Dayna - The Figge Cellars site is indeed beautiful except not in an iPad. The entire site is done in Flash and there isn't a link for an alternative version/html. Since many of us are only using tablets and smartphones these days - Flash is definitely an issue.

     
  53. Debbie Frol Says:
  54. Hi Sean,
    We just launched our new website in June. It was a long and arduous process - from beginning to end just over six months. Our new package redesign triggered the website project. However our former website had become dated, so the timing was perfect. We are excited about a new website feature, our CONNECT page, which is a dynamic tool used to stay in touch with our customers via facebook, twitter, and our blog. We also post photo tours and video clips to this page. We're still fine-tuning the details, but confident it will be a new, fun way to stay in touch with L'Ecole fans. We consider our website to be one of the winery's primary marketing tools. We cannot afford to ignore its power - from a positioning, education and sales perspective.

     
  55. Christopher, well put. I couldn't agree with you more.

    Debbie, haven't spent much time on the new L'Ecole site yet. I look forward to checking it out!

     
  56. Sean, you are dead on with this post. I've been having conversations with Ohio wineries along these lines, and its frustrating to hear some of the reasoning behind bad websites. I've seen wineries spend millions of dollars on a tasting room/event venue and have little to no web presence. Wine drinkers are on the web. They are researching winery sites to determine which places to visit. They want to know who is behind the wines, and they are doing all of this on tablets and smartphones.

    I understand that the small business end of the wine industry is behind the power curve in many ways on the marketing side - but I really have trouble seeing that as an excuse. We've had websites, and web designers for 20 years. Its the piece that can in many cases make or break your visitor traffic.

    I won't name names, but I actually ran across a winery website that had varietal misspellings throughout their site. (Johanisberg Reisling and Chardonney) If this is the public image the winery wants to portray, I'd be scared to taste their wines.

     
  57. Mike Duffy Says:
  58. Hi, Sean.

    I linked to your post from my blog. You might want to consider a follow-up post about the qualities sites that don't stink. Added bonus: you can give examples without pissing people off. :)

    Thanks for a great title (and post)!

     
  59. SWT, I see spelling errors all the time on websites. A definite downer.

    Mike D, I'm working on just such a follow-up post but have been having quite the time finding examples!

     
  60. Ali Harvey Says:
  61. So much truth in here, but also hilarious. Thanks for the chuckle, Sean.

     
  62. PaulG Says:
  63. Sean, you are right on target, my friend. Nice to see you getting critical enough to take a few arrows in the back! Welcome to the wonderful world of journalism. BTW, I just moved my entire wine cellar and had to toss away my collection of misspelled varietal wines. I had a half dozen or more – actual bottles whose labels had passed through the TTB and been approved. Reisling... Temprenillo... Cabernet Suavignon... and more...

     
  64. Thanks Paul! Was tempted to order a nice wine from the Colombia Valley the other night at a restaurant. ;)

     
  65. Anonymous Says:
  66. Sean, one our early concept was not to invest into a tasting room but into the website - sometimes you have to prioritize and obviously many wineries decide it is not a priority for them. Works for us:

    Rieslingrules.com

    And please become a fan and Facebook!

    Nicolas

     
  67. Anonymous Says:
  68. There is no excuse for dead links; unlisted prices, however, may be a winery's choice. Perhaps not a wise one, but still a choice.

     
  69. great article Sean...thank you!

     
  70. Hi Sean,
    I am in the middle of writing a college paper on eBusiness and chose Winery websites as my topic. Your entry from 3 years ago is still relevant today. Many of the websites I visited and reviewed recently reflected exactly what you described in this article. Thank you!

     
  71. Wine Traveler, quite welcome though I am sorry to concur that three years later things are more the same than different in this regard!

     

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