The direct wine sales business model – the growing success of Weingut Clauer and Champagne Tribaut

I have long been an admirer of the US “wine club” system, where customers sign up at the winery to receive a (mixed) case of wine every so often. The reason WHY I am so impressed by this system is that it is a nifty way to encourage repeat direct sales and create customer loyalty whilst cutting out the middle men. I never quite understood why here in Europe wineries seem shy away from this concept of direct sales… Having said this I have found two very different places which have given their own twist to exactly this concept and I would like to share their story with you today :-)

Weingut Clauwer

Weingut Clauwer

In November of last year, I visited Weingut Clauer in Heidelberg as fellow wine blogger Thomas Lippert and Weingut Clauer‘s winemaker invited me for the yearly Rotweinfest. The Rotweinfest literary means red wine festival – and it is a German twist on the Beaujolais nouveau concept. The aim of the festival is to launch the Estate’s Junger Heidelberger – a young fruit forward wine made from Pinot Noir Precoce (or Fruhburgunder in German), which is an early ripening Pinot Noir clone. The grapes are harvested towards the end of August, the wine is vinified in stainless steel and bottled towards the end of October and then released at the festival. In typical “nouveau” style the wine is very easy drinking and approachable, with flavours of ripe strawberries and cream and the winery generally sells out of it well before Christmas. From what I remember I believe that a serious dent was made into the 1500 bottles produced at the festival where the bottles were sold for 10 Euro’s for on premise consumption. To take out the price was €5.50 per bottle or €31 for a carton of 6 bottles.
Setting up for the Rotweinfest

Setting up for the Rotweinfest

The Rotwein festival is the smallest festival Weingut Clauer organises – yet it was still very well attended by the local community as about 1500 people showed up to join in the festivities. The night started off with a live jazz band playing, in the large tent which had been added to the Gaudeamusstube – a restaurant/tasting venue which can be rented out for private events. There was a variety of food for sale as well as the other wines made by the winery. After midnight the festivities continued inside where people happily danced the night away :-)

Thirsty people queuing up at the Rotweinfest bar

Thirsty people queuing up at the Rotweinfest bar

The main event organised by Weingut Clauer is the yearly wine festival which takes place in September (8-9 September this year). This event attracts more than 5000 people and again a lot of wine is sold as a direct result of the event. From spring till autumn the Gaudeamusstube is rented out just about every weekend for weddings, family get-togethers or corporate events.

By integrating so well in the local community, Weingut Clauer created a special place for their wines in their customer’s hearts. And as the quality-price ratio of their wines is excellent customer loyalty has become a given. More than 95% of Clauer’s wine is sold within the Heidelberg area and most off trade sales are done directly from the winery. Whilst this is a bit of a pity for people like me who don’t live in Heidelberg it is one of the best commercial and profitable winery marketing models I have ever seen – hence probably the continuous success and growth of this fairly new (a little older than 10 years) winery. Instead of investing in expensive international marketing activities – they focus on their local community and innovation of their wine offer. Clauer currently produces just over 93,000 bottles and they have 40 (!!!) different wines on offer – from sparkling (Sekt) to white, to red, to rose to desert and ice wine -so plenty of choice and a wine to suit every occasion!

Champagne Tribaut

Champagne Tribaut

The other example of clever direct marketing I found right here in my village (Hautvillers) at Champagne Tribaut. Champagne Tribaut are a third generation Champagne grower and maker – who originally started to produce their own champagne as part of a co-operative (RC). In 1975 Ghislain Tribaut invested in a Coquard press and the family became an independent grower (RM). That same year his wife opened the first tasting room in Hautvillers and Tribaut launched their direct sales campaign. In 1993 the family started the first of their delivery trips when they drove a truck down to Calais to better serve their English clients before Christmas. This way customers can order their champagne and pick it up at the delivery point which will save them the shipping costs. The system has proven to be highly successful as today the family makes deliveries to 9 different places several times of the year. By bringing the wine to their customers Champagne Tribaut has invested in an unusual but loyalty effective marketing technique: they have made the access to their wine as easy as possible. Needless to say this technique created a loyal customer base and has stimulated regular repeat orders.

Personalized labels for the Hautvillers Cartoon Festival

Personalized labels for the Hautvillers Cartoon Festival

Another way Tribaut stands out from the crowd is through personalized labels and muselets. For parties or special events Tribaut will dress a bottle to order something which again has proven to be very popular. A personalized label can be purchased for just under a Euro for a minimum order of 24 bottles – a reasonable amount for a private party. For the Jeroboam format the personalised dressing is included in the pricing.

Champagne Tribaut is also actively involved in local activities and events. Just this weekend they hosted a drawing exhibition by Gradimir Smudja as part of the Hautvillers Cartoon Festival. It gives festival tourists the opportunity to visit Tribaut’s winery and learn more about the Champagne making process whilst the enjoy the exhibition and it exposes Tribaut to potential new customers which allows them to grow their business in line with the production.

Champagne Tribaut wines

Champagne Tribaut wines

Last year Tribaut’s total production increased to 160,000 bottles, which is more than double of what they produced in 1993. 95% (!!!) of their wine is sold directly to the customers – just over 70% is sold from the cellar door and 25% through the delivery system. This direct sales system has allowed them to over deliver on price/quality. The price range of their Champagnes is between €14.80 for the regular NV Champagne (Cuvée Reserve) and €20.50 for the Vintage, which is extremely reasonable for the quality produced. The minimum aging of their wines is 3 years up to 7 for the Grande Cuvée Spéciale and the Vintage Champagne.
Tribaut is open every day for tastings and purchases and cellar visits are available upon appointment.

In my opinion, the main reason why both Weingut Clauer and Champagne Tribaut have been so successful is because they have invested in their customer base rather than in distribution. This has allowed them to profitably grow their business to meet their customer demand. In a time where so many wineries struggle to pay their bills I do believe teir are valuable lessons to be learned from this model:-)

About Caroline

Caroline is a certified Sommelier (by the CMS) and WSET diploma student. In order to specialize in the wines of Champagne she moved to the region and currently works as a wine consultant, wine educator and wine writer. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and writes for several international publications including Palate Press, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Decanter and Vinogusto; further activities include teaching Champagne related courses at Reims Management School and organizing personalized tasting experiences at http://www.tastingswithatwist.wordpress.com as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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  • Denisemedrano

    Great examples of using direct marketing, why don’t others follow, esp. small family owned wineries. I love the personalised labels, gonna see about getting some for my birthday next year! :)

    • http://www.missinwine.com/ Caroline Henry

      Thanks Denise! Will definitely take you to Tribaut the next time you are here in Champagne – which I hope will be soon!