By Mark Scott
Great wine is an extension the vintner’s soul. So those serious about the wine they craft are also serious about the brand they build. Which should mean they want to build a timeless brand.
Timeless brands remedy human problems. They improve human experiences. They communicate in human ways. Branding is soulish.
So let’s talk about 3 BIG things timeless brands do...
1. Timeless brands connect emotionally
A timeless brand seizes on the reality that people aren’t in the market for products as much as they are for experiences. Especially wine brands. Smart brands make their touchpoints less about a product line and more about quality of life. So subjective and emotional connections are what ultimately makes their messaging work. Think about how brands like Southwest and Progressive build a human connection and present themselves as down-to-earth and approachable. In what ways can your brand build emotional connections? Figure that out and you’re on your way to building a lasting brand.
2. Timeless brands tell meaningful stories
If any product should tell a story, certainly wine should. Meaningful narratives are far better than tired product claims. Kind of like how Willie Nelson’s beat up old road-worn guitar is more believable than a spankin’ new guitar off the shelf.
For Maryland Wine Cellars, the big idea is “putting Maryland wine on the world map.” You know that’s a crazy idea, right? Because see, while there isn’t anything about Maryland soil or climate that prohibits fine winemaking, let’s face it, the Old Line State isn’t historically known for noteworthy wines. So the story Maryland Wine Cellars is telling is compelling. It’s a story about creating something where there’s a void. A story that is determined to rewire common thinking. A story that kicks against history and defies stereotypes. How is your brand using the power of story?
3. Timeless brands don’t sell. They educate.
It’s one thing to have a product that meets a desire. It’s another thing to establish yourself as an authority. That’s why enduring brands aren’t all that interested in short-sighted gains. They invest long term by building the currency of trust and authority. Brands that consistently impart value to earn the trust of consumers tend to keep those customers for life.
Connecting emotionally, telling meaningful stories, and educating in the marketplace are 3 surefire ways that businesses build timeless brands. Do it in long form and then make it fit on a napkin. Whether it’s a book or blog post, documentary or a Tweet, choose language that connects emotionally, tells stories, and educates consumers. That’s how your brand will endure.
So produce wine that is an extension of your soul. Then build a brand worthy of that -- a brand that truly endures.
By Drew Baker
The pursuit of “perfection” in winemaking is often elusive and fraught with many ups and downs. Wine has to be one of the most critical artforms known. There are millions of variables and winemakers everywhere know how bipolar things can feel. Nurture in tandem with nature is fickle enough. Nurture in tandem with a highly critical wine culture is an adventure into the ultimate meritocracy.
That’s why we’re so excited about what we’re hearing from the critics.
Jon Bonné is Senior Contributing Editor for PUNCH and author of The New California Wine. He recently set out to write about Pétillant Naturel (Pét Nat) and made it a point to give Old Westminster Winery -- our flagship winery -- a sparkling review in PUNCH.
This is super encouraging because Maryland Wine Cellars is serious about putting Maryland wine on the world map and because PUNCH is serious press from authoritative writers that offer the kind of critical truthfulness we need to hear in order to realistically measure our progress. We want to give all our clients at Maryland Wine Cellars the ability to replicate the quality we’re producing. All ships rise with the tide and we invite you to rise right along with us.
Says Bonné in PUNCH’S latest edition, “The gang at Old Westminster, in Maryland, is having almost too much fun with their range of pét-nats, including a beautiful sparkling albariño. (Anyone who doubts that America is, indeed, great again need look no further than a fizzy albariño made outside Baltimore.)”
He went on to describe us as “The Outlier” for our 2015 Old Westminster Home Vineyard Maryland Albariño Pétillant Naturel:
“This is where homegrown pét-nat gets interesting. ‘Home’ indicates Westminster, Maryland, between Baltimore and the Pennsylvania border, where the Baker family is trying to make a case for serious mid-Atlantic wine. Trained in chemistry, winemaker Lisa Hinton may not be an obvious pét-nat poster child, but her efforts are refined and subtly flavored, impressive for anywhere and downright groundbreaking for Maryland. Their albariño is the most pleasurable of the lot (a grüner veltliner was interesting but a bit mild in its flavors), with the grape’s quintessential peach and talc aspects on full display.”
See the full article here.
Our vision for “Putting Maryland Wine on the World Map” was never just a grand cluster of words pulled arbitrarily from the sky. The world map is more than where Maryland wine could be. It’s where Maryland wine should be. Our terroir is more than capable. It’s up to us to make it happen.
If you have or are starting the kind of winery that seeks press-getting attention and noteworthy quality, contact us to learn more about how a partnership with us can ensure just that.
By Drew Baker
Value-added Agriculture is the future of farming. Especially for small, local farmers who find creative ways to use their resources to create new brands and revenue streams.
Value-added agriculture is the transformation of a basic farm product into something more valuable.
Some examples include dairy farmers diversifying into artisanal cheese and ice cream production; or ranchers making new designer clothing from raw wool; or grain farmers buy a still to make spirits; and of course, my favorite: grape-growers producing great wine.
If a farmer can transform a raw agricultural commodity into a marketable product or brand and sell directly to the end-user then the entire value-chain is captured.
But farmland is expensive. Many small family farms struggle with cash-flow. This is scary for their future.
Despite these daunting challenges, I believe the future for family farms is bright. Particularly in Maryland.
Millennials seem to recognize the value in locally farmed and thoughtfully produced products. Yes, their innovative products and brands may cost a bit more than their counterparts (those farmers who profit from basic agricultural products in high volumes) but the value of emerging new trend-setting brands and products is there for the taking. It just takes creativity. And often… cooperative resources.
That’s why we’re here.
Maryland Wine Cellars was created to help grape-growers transform their grapes into delicious wine.
The barriers to entry in the wine industry are high. Without getting into specifics, establishing and managing a vineyard, equipping a state-of-the-art winery, and building a beautiful tasting room are expensive.
But the resources are now within reach.
By Drew Baker
Maryland Wine Cellars has one objective: To put Maryland wine on the world map. It’s a tall order and to some it might seem impossible. But we think, why not? Maryland offers great terroir -- a splendid mashup of rolling hills, rocky soil, breeze and sun to grow grapes fit for the production of truly worthy wines.
This past week our flagship vineyard, Old Westminster Winery, won “best in show” at the Maryland Comptroller’s Cup for our 2014 South Mountain Vineyard, Malbec.
This Malbec, grown in the rocky foothills of Maryland’s South Mountain, offers an authentic expression of this variety’s richness and complexity. A timely harvest on October 2, 2014 captured balance and ripeness from the vineyard. This wine was fermented with wild yeast, crafted with minimal intervention and aged in French oak barrels for eighteen months. Just 88 cases bottled April 25, 2016.
That’s right. This wine hasn’t been in bottle for two months! Drinking a wine of this style that young is practically criminal. Yet, beyond barrel aging, this wine will of course improve with years of bottle aging, which is why we have decided not to release it to the public anytime soon.
Our team has set out to craft delicious wines that are uniquely Maryland. Everything we do in the vineyard and cellar is directed towards this goal. Winning the Comptroller's Cup is a great honor and evidence that we're onto something special.
So this begs the question – is this Malbec the best wine made in Maryland? I would suggest it’s not. We firmly believe that, more than anything, this award is a sign of many amazing wines to come. Maryland wines have yet to reach their full potential and we’re excited about putting them on the world map.
So our Malbec may be the wine of the moment, but the best wines are still to come.
We extend our commitment to award-winning wine production to all Maryland Wine Cellars clients. Is your winery interested in producing prestigious wines of renown? Then we’re here to help your labels gain the notoriety you desire. Our state-of-the-art facilities and well-studied cellar practices can help establish your brand as a leader in Maryland wine. Contact us to learn more.
By Drew Baker
Winegrowing is an ancient practice that has evolved over centuries. While ideas and technologies may change, there are some things that can never change. To understand the timeless aspects of winegrowing, we have to know and appreciate the way grapevines are hardwired. So we acknowledge our part in the process, but we see the natural aspects as sacred.
Our aim is to work with the vine with as few inputs as possible. We view great winegrowing as nurture in tandem with nature. No great wine is “manufactured.”
Grapevines are asexual. This means grape seeds only contain the genes of a single vine. Grape clusters begin as flowers containing both male and female reproductive structures. During bloom, these flowers are pollinated by the wind without need for pollinator insects. Each pollinated flower becomes a colorful, sweet berry that attracts animals to eat and disperse the seeds in hopes of propagating a new vine. That’s it. Everything else a grapevine does is a function necessary to ripening grapes for reproduction.
A grapevine that fears a bit for its own existence produces grapes fit for exquisite wines. Drought and nutritional deficiency spur a vine to ripen fruit in an attempt ensure their future. Grapevines that have abundant access to water and nutrients are less concerned with reproduction and more interested in growing lots of leaves – fat and happy, if you will. This is precisely why terroir and site selection is a common denominator of delicious wine. Ripe grapes are the key ingredient in extraordinary wine.
The hard work is done in the vineyard. Ripe, balanced, clean and delicious grapes are the primary ingredient in any noteworthy wine. If you grow beautiful grapes, the winemaking process is nearly effortless; like it’s supposed to be. With flawed grapes, it seems as though no amount of determination can save the wine.
Grapevines thoughtfully cultivated on a site marked by rocky, well-drained, low-fertility soils yield grapes fit for delicious wines.
Put simply: the best wines are made in the vineyard. So we see ourselves as farmers, not “manufacturers.”
By Drew Baker
Our mission is to put Maryland wine on the world map. One way we achieve this audacious goal is by making delicious wines that compare favorably with the best in the world. The other way is by using our wines to address world needs. Like lack of water, nutrition and education.
Since my family founded Old Westminster Winery in 2010, we’ve had a vision that we would use our business to provide people in need with access to water, nutrition and education. Nearly 800 million people around the world lack access to clean water and 775 million adults are illiterate. Daunting statistics that are troublingly correlated. I’m honored to report that we’re working to make a difference.
Since the beginning we have set aside $1 from each bottle of wine retailed for philanthropic work. The winery’s new tasting room is projected to facilitate retail sales of 30,000-50,000 bottles annually. We’re excited to use earmarked funds to dig wells, install rainwater harvesting systems, build classrooms, sponsor and feed students, supply books and pay teachers in socioeconomically challenged regions, both nearby and around the world.
We talk a lot about the importance of buying local and supporting small farms. This is a worthy cause. A very palatable cause. But there are many more issues facing our world. Like thirsty children without access to education. As a society, we’re selling ourselves short if we don’t leverage our resources to help others. It’s not an obligation; it’s an opportunity.
We decided not to publicize our altruistic projects until now because we didn’t want it to be front and center. We want to produce wines that speak for themselves and to cultivate a community of customers who purchase our wines because they love them. But we can achieve this AND tackle serious issues in our world.
The timing of this post is simple: this summer, my brother-in-law, Zach Hinton (Lisa’s husband), and I are visiting the school in Uganda that YOU made water-sufficient. You made this possible by purchasing Old Westminster Wines. We’ve leveraged your purchases to give over 300 students the water they need.
We hope this inspires more people to discover a way to give back to their communities and leverage their influence to meet the needs of others. The world is counting on us.
By Drew Baker
There is a debate in the beverage industry today surrounding one simple question: What qualifies a product as “local”? Is it the origin of the ingredients or the place of production? What proximity or percentage is acceptable? This question can be for the mid-Atlantic brewers using hops grown in Oregon, distillers using rye grown in South Dakota, or winemakers using grapes grown in California.
To maintain my credibility, I will speak only to grape growing and winemaking – a topic I can cover from experience.
I believe that the origin of the ingredients and the place of production should match. For example, a Maryland wine ought to be made by a Maryland winemaker from Maryland-grown grapes. This may strike you as stating the obvious, but the fact is that there are wines being marketed as local that are grown, produced and bottled elsewhere.
Maryland law requires a wine to be made from 75% Maryland-grown grapes to be bear the “Maryland” appellation. If it is made from more than 25% grapes grown out-of- state it can be labeled as “American” or bear the disclaimer “for sale in Maryland only” on the back label. Like it or not, that’s the extent of the law. The onus is on conscientious producers to educate consumers on a product’s origins and to differentiate truly local products from pseudo-local products.
If a producer makes no local claims about foreign grapes – and their customers don't care – that's one thing. It's misrepresentation that's a larger problem. And misrepresentation isn't unique to the wine industry. See investigative reporter Laura Reiley's findings on farmer's markets and farm-to- table restaurants.
The best wines made in Maryland are made from Maryland-grown grapes. There is an idea circulating that east coast wineries can buy grapes from California and make equal or better wines than what we can grow here. My personal experience says otherwise. California grape growers aren’t loading their best grapes into tractor-trailers bound for the east coast. If you want the best grapes – the singular ingredient of great wine – your best bet is to grow and manage it yourself.
In our first year of production at Old Westminster Winery, our home vineyard was not yet yielding a crop. So we purchased grapes from local growers like Links Bridge Vineyard in Frederick County and also from growers in Virginia and California. It was the perfect experiment. These small lots of grapes from numerous sites and regions proved to be an excellent learning experience; it honed our skills, began to reveal our personal style, and exposed that premium wine grapes can’t be purchased from the other side of the country. You guessed it: the best wines we made that first year were from grapes grown in Maryland. Since then we have committed to making the best wines Maryland has to offer from grapes grown here.
The only prerequisites for great wine are a good vineyard site, meticulous farming and personal commitment. The rolling hills of Maryland offers just the right mix of elevation, sun, breeze, and rocky soils to grow grapes fit for remarkable wines. Purchasing grapes from California isn’t a long-term solution – we need more farmers to recognize the potential to grow beautiful grapes in Maryland. It’s the only way to produce world-class wines that are truly local and uniquely Maryland.
By Mark Scott
I’ve visited hundreds of vineyard and winery websites. I’ve scanned the landscape from Italy, France and New Zealand to California, Virginia, and yes, Maryland.
If there’s any one niche in business that requires robust branding and a web presence with function and feng shui, it’s the wine business. To be seen as serious, wine culture demands beauty and excellence of its winemakers -- and its webmasters.
One bad wine can ruin a winery’s reputation. And a bad website doesn't help matters either. In order to lose every negative stereotype that plagues Maryland wine, we’ll need to be full-package players. We’ll need to step up our game to make a name for Maryland wine.
This means 3 essentials for Maryland Wine websites…
The rules are always changing. And perhaps the single most important change in web development is the demand for sites to be “responsive” which simply means that a website must be functional across all devices: desktops, tablets, and phones.
The number of people seeking businesses on smartphones has topped 60%. Websites that aren’t navigable (and beautiful) on smartphones may never get a second look. Not to mention it hurts your standing in search.
There are many other elements of function, and for that I encourage business owners to read my article on “7 Elements of a Great Business Website.”
The production of great wine is a delicate, nuanced, and complex artform. It only makes sense that a vineyard’s website should reflect that. If any industry should lead the way in aesthetic beauty, it’s wine. Like it or not, people will judge the quality of your wine before it even hits their noses if the website that represents it is dated and substandard.
The subtext of every ugly website is, “This can’t be a serious business.” On the other hand, the message that every beautiful site sends is, “This place gets it.” Digital marketing is the new traditional marketing and your brand deserves the best. A website is to wine what body language is to speech. It’s telling.
Andre Agassi famously said, “Image is everything.” But.. is it? Everyone concedes that “branding” a businesses is about image in some ways. But the best brands aren’t solely relied on beauty. They are built on substance.
This means that the content of a winery’s website should be as excellent as the wine it seeks to describe. And that means well written pages and a blog that is filled with authoritative information about product, process, trends, and events. And let’s never forget story.
Let’s Raise the Bar
The big idea here is that for Maryland wine to make its way onto the world map, it’s going to take a thoughtful and artful approach to our wines -- and our digital impressions. It’s yes/and.
If you'd like to talk about it, feel free to reach out to us at Maryland Wine Cellars. We love to help Maryland wineries and vineyards. We believe all ships rise with the tide! Let's put Maryland wine on the world map.
By Drew Baker
Our winemaker, Lisa Hinton, was recently featured in a series called Tastemakers by The New York Cork Report. In it, author Lenn Thompson said, “Maryland is a state on the rise in the wine world, and Lisa (with her family) is one of the people leading the way.”
We get excited when we think about the potential for winemaking in Maryland. Our state’s burgeoning wine industry is full of opportunity and young talent. Nothing energizes us more than replacing prevailing negative stereotypes with wines of renown.
Historically, Maryland has not been known to produce world-class wines. At least not consistently. But we happen to believe that the Old Line State – particularly the rolling hills of the Piedmont Plateau – offers distinctive terroir. We have just the right mix of elevation, sun, breeze and rocky soils to grow grapes fit for remarkable wines.
We’re occasionally asked, “Hey, do you think Maryland can compete with California?” Our answer is typically along the lines of, “who cares?” That’s not our goal. That’s not to say that great wines aren’t made in California. They are. It’s just to say that our singular goal is to produce delicious wines that are uniquely Maryland – wines that display complexity, character and, most importantly, are a pleasure to drink.
Delicious wine can be made in surprising places. The only prerequisites for great wine are a good vineyard site, meticulous farming, thoughtful cellar practices, and personal commitment. At Old Westminster Winery, our fingerprints on every grape, every vine, and every bottle. This approach isn’t the easy way, but we believe a bottle of wine reflects its maker’s passion.
In a young wine region there are no rules. We get to play with over a dozen grape varieties grown in small vineyards all over the Old Line State. We use wild yeast, rarely make additions and craft pét-nat sparkling wines from Albariño and Grüner Veltliner. We blend grapes that never play together in the “old world,” like Cabernet Franc with Barbera, Merlot with Blaufränkisch and Viognier with Sauvignon Blanc.
The big idea here is innovation. Trailblazing sometimes means breaking out of old ideas. Be they old stereotypes or old systems of thought. It’s a willingness to take a zero-based, blue sky review of things and challenge everything. It’s a willingness to scrutinize the status quo, and attempt bold new things.
We love the audacious nature of our mission to put Maryland wine on the world map. If we didn’t, we’d move to a place where it’s already been done.
We’re excited about putting Maryland wine on the map!
And what makes this even more thrilling is that we aren’t the only ones. The timing is aligning with a lot of interest in the press and it confirms to us that we’re well on our way.
Maryland is ready for the production of noteworthy wines.
Are you ready?!!
We’re grateful that news outlets like The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, New York Cork Report, Penn Live, and The Daily Record have all taken notice, and are sharing THE STORY.
Here’s what the publications are saying…
The Washington Post
The Baltimore Sun
New York Cork Report
The Daily Record
Wine & Business
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We're putting Maryland wine on the world map.