Social Media – Why Spanish Wineries are Failing, and Why Portugal Might Be Heading Toward the Light | Catavino
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Doug Frost MS/MW

Social Media – Why Spanish Wineries are Failing, and Why Portugal Might Be Heading Toward the Light

Rioja Grapes

There is a part of me that regrets having to write this post, while the other part knows that it has to be done. Social media around the world is changing how consumers relate to wine. The idea of using social media to sell wine is working and is being

taken very seriously by wineries who want to engage new consumers and those individuals just turning to wine for the first time. We still suffer from the inability to fully measure its results, but those that have embraced it at the least anecdotally have acknowledged that is does have an affect.

Here in Spain, we’re missing the boat. And I’m afraid in the short term, Spain will continue to fail to size up. And before any of you start pointing to individual examples of winery blogs, or other social media campaigns that you feel are examples of how I’m wrong,  allow me to explain my thoughts.

Social media is about sharing ideas, sharing stories, and communicating with people on the consumer level. It’s removing a hierarchy of who is more important than who, yet social media really shines and succeeds when people using these tools begin talk to every consumer as an equal, not a subordinate. Successful practioners of Social media even work with their competitors, or rather as I call them, collaborators in an effort to amplify their message. The best social media campaigns realize that we all are aiming for the same targets of openness, new ideas and a better world. To do this, the most successful practitioners of social media hold no secrets. If they succeed, they share the steps they took to achieve that success within the social networks they’re active in. If they fail, they also explain why they failed and ask for help, knowing that others like them, as collaborators or competitors, will lend a hand.

A bit utopian, but it’s true, and here are some examples. Seth Goodin publishes his books for free online and than outsells his competitors by leaps and bounds when these same books come out in print. People hire him because they can see he knows his stuff, and he knows it well. Gary Vaynerchuck has shared his philosophies, and if you ask him a question, he’ll probably answer it in a video on his site; whereby giving you, and everyone else the answer for free. He “tells it as he sees it”, and for this his audience rewards him. El Jefe, from Twisted Oak Winery, posts photos of his vines coated in a thick layer of ice on his blog, and strangely enough, people are still buying his wines. In fact, they do it not only because he makes great wine, but to support him as a friend. Tapas (Tempranillo Advocates Producers and Amigos Society) is a group of wineries who work together to promote their wines. They host tastings as a team and do promotions that help everyone within the group sell more wine. They know that as individuals they will struggle but as a group they can shine.

So why will Spain fail? Simple. Wineires in Spain refuse in most cases to work together. If you have a good example where this is not true, please let me know, but there is a serious case of “cutting one’s nose off to spite one’s face” going on here in Spain.  Example: I sat down with a producer in Ribera del Duero many years ago who told me that they could not get their wine tourism initiative off the ground. They had few visitors, and of the visitors they did have, it was difficult for them to motivate wine sales. I asked him if he knew of any other interesting wineries close by, to which he replied, “yes”. I then suggested that they team up with those wineries to rent a bus and provide tours for visitors to the nearby town of Aranda del Duero, to all of those wineries. With their logos plastered on the side of the bus, they could visit 3-4 wineries, and then end up at a wine shop where all the wines were available for purchase. Affordable, tourist friendly and easy to set up. Their response illustrates my point: “Well, what if we sell our neighbor’s wine?

UGH. I would hope you did, but with that attitude, you won’t sell your neighbor’s wine or your own wine. Good luck!

socialmedialandscapeSo why do I think Portugal has a chance? Although they might prove me wrong, and at times, I honestly think they are trying purposely to prove me wrong, but they do have a few nice examples of success. The Douro Boys have done a great job of working together to sell all their wines. Their “Douro Boy Dinners” are legendary and the meals are filled with jokes and stories as each individual teases the other about who’s wine is the best. We all fall in love with the wines, and when out and about, we never hesitate to recommend any of the wines when asked. It helps that they make great wines, but the point is that they are happy to sell some of each others wines for the collective good. There have been other attempts like the now crumbling G7 group, and the stable Independent Wine Growers Association, which features the wines of Luis Pato among many others. These groups are offline social media communities, that work well to spread the cost of promotion within a group of like minded individuals.

Social media is about sharing ideas and stories. If you have a winery blog and only talk about your own winery, please don’t tell me about it, because I won’t be reading it. If you get on Twitter and only tell me how your new wine is being made, once again, forget you know us, as we won’t follow you. If you fail to tell me about what inspires you, which wines make you want to be a better winemaker than I really don’t have any reason to talk to you. Create a webpage where I can’t see it if I don’t have Flash installed, and I won’t bother waiting for it to load. Send me a press release without my asking for it, and I’ll make sure to ignore everything that comes from you going forward. Oh and if you bother me about how you were the first to do x, y, or z, I won’t be able to get my finger to the “spam” button in my email inbox quick enough.

That said, if you tell me about your region, the wineries that you admire within it, the restaurants that you eat at every day, and the people you talk to as you travel about promoting your own wines, well then, I just might lend an ear. If you do something original where you were the first to think of it, please show me how you came up with the idea and tell us how others can benefit from it. Explain what you did right and wrong in developing the idea. If you do this, I’ll follow you with interest. I will talk about you to others, and I will buy your wines when I find them. The more I know about you, holistically, the more I will want to do everything I can to support who you are and the wines you make. Tell me honestly when the harvest is difficult, because if I turn on the news and see from the weather report that you are lying, I won’t bother turning to you again. Or best of all, ask a question, and then listen to my response. Do that you will gain an evangelist for your brand, who you won’t have to pay.

I have yet to see anyone in Spain embrace these ideas, though I trust there are those who believe they exist, prove me wrong. Spanish wineries need to stop thinking they are the best wine producing country in the world. Here’s a very true statement that might help you out: “There is no perfect wine”. You are one among many, and that is what I like about wine. Help me to get to know you, your wines, all while discovering other wines in the process. Trust me, we the consumers will reward you for it.


Ryan Opaz

  • Justin

    Shall we open a book on how many Spanish wineries reply to this post? I bet fewer than 3 wineries…

    • WOW, your optimistic! 🙂

  • Ryan…you are going in the correct direction…social media is so much to do with sharing but in the current economic environment many wineries are scared of the future. Where we bloggers need to focus out thoughts is how the new world will help them achieve their goals of gaining sales that hey won’t have.

    Check on the video by Clay Shirky talking about the fifth revolution of communication. Pamela Heiligenthal wrote about it and embedded the clip. It is a general speech (not focused on wine) but talks about how the is a tremendous change is how “we” communicate via the social networks. This is what the winery owners need to grasp, then how to use it to help themselves.

    • Mark I agree it’s about sales, and learning a new language of communication. I did watch the Clay Shirky video, but need to find it again, it’s been awhile. Either way, with or without social media, change is happening and trying to sell wine without collaborations and connections to others is just plain silly. 🙂 Thanks for the comment

  • Andrea Smith

    Amen Ryan! I might even get in on the bet with Justin about the number of Spanish wineries 😉

  • We are definitely on the same wavelength Ryan! Great article.

    Here is a link to my post which has the embedded Clay Shirky video.

    ~Pamela Heiligenthal @ enobytes

  • Ryan, great post! Unfortunately you bring up a sad but true reality in Spain. However, I am a bit biased- as an importer of Spanish wine in the US, our company has been fortunate enough to work with an export consortium of 7 bodegas working together- yes you heard correctly- working together. Exba 7 is a group of bodegas throughout the Rioja Alavesa region who promote their wines together at wine fairs throughout the world and throughout Spain.

    There is a catch however- The Basque Government funds the company as Rioja Alavesa is part of the Basque Country, so any Nationalist will tell you that it’s not a Spanish company, but it’s a Basque company. This is another sad truth in Spain which I believe makes the issue worse- people are always going to be Catalan or Basque or Gallego before they are Spanish. That being said, I’m afraid it will be next to impossible to have different regions collaborate for the sake of “Spanish Wine.” I sincerely hope I will be proven wrong…….

  • Excellent article Ryan. Thank you for sharing with everyone. The two pieces that speak most to me:

    “…work with their competitors, or rather as I call them, collaborators…”

    “…work together to promote their wines. They host tastings as a team and do promotions that help everyone within the group sell more wine. They know that as individuals they will struggle but as a group they can shine.”

    This ideal is exactly why I’m in the wine business. I don’t want to work in a cut-throat competition for market share. I think the fraternal aspect that can be achieved within our industry is refreshing and important to our continued growth. The wineries of NE Ohio have taught me a lot when it comes to this philosophy.

    I’m 200% behind you on this, and while I love Spain and many of the wines there, I also know what Michael mentioned to be true. Micro- Nationalism can kill any possible growth. Hopefully we’ll see something change in that area though eventually.

  • Hanee

    Excellent post. We work with a lot of Spanish clients and we experience the same struggles re: Flash, non informational sites, and generally not caring what the site visitor wants.

  • Pablo

    I wish you were wrong,oh how i wish you were wrong!!

    This is about ultra-micro-nationalism were people literally hate the people from the next town. The great thing about people that have been doing something for a long time is that they are great at it. At the same time I would like to know how high is the percentage of people that live exactly where they were born, this immobility allows for grudges to go for ever.

    Great people, great wines but a bit silly for certain things. I wonder if this has to do with being a closed country to the rest of the world for the 40 years of the dictatorship.

    However I think/hope that the same way I found new frontiers many younger entrepreneurs would be able to excel at this too.

  • marcio

    only if WE were as big as THEM…
    best wishes!

  • Justin

    So it’s been a week and no Spanish wineries commenting. I should have bet money…

  • Then I shall be the first one!!! Dios mio, it’s sad but true and it’s a fact: Spain is far behind most European cities in terms of vamos almost everything! They barely speak English, they have a crap institutional system, they are sceptical with new tendencies, and most important they lack a work ethic. Maybe I am too German here but I can’t stand this 3 hours lunch siesta. So while they are eating and eating and eating I am working a little bit, trying to improve at least a tiny bit of this sad reality Ryan has described so well.

    I am one German “against” too many Catalans, who ignorantly or as they would say accidently update me in this forgotten and useless Catalan language. Then I think what’s happening here? It’s them who want to be international not me. It’s them who want to sell abroad and it’s them who don’t want to adapt themselves to the globalization.

    However little by little things are improving and maybe with foreign people employed at Spanish wineries Spaniards will get a broader and more global view of what is happening out there. I am working on it but you have to be patient; Franco only died some 30 years ago.
    My aim is to internationalize Montau de Sadurni, hopefully with some help of a few friends ?

    • Justin

      Hooray! Good to hear from you Barbara. Good luck!

    • carlos

      i can understand your comments regarding the spanish bureaucracy, its fair to comment about goverments, policy, etc., but sorry i think you are working on the wrong country, you dont like the mediterranean way of life? what in earth are you doing there?, quickly go back to Germany!!!

      • Actually we’re working the in the right country! We love it here and the laid back lifestyle, the problem comes when someone here asks us to help them to export their wines to a different countries and they can’t figure out how things work differently outside of Spain! Then it’s important to leave some of the mediterranean ways behind in this case, they may work great here, just not always where your consumer is.

        Also I have never been to Germany, though I have wanted to go there sometime, I hear it’s beautiful.


  • The Portuguese (and without a doubt the Spanish) wine world is in a great period of transition at the moment, exacerbated by the global economic crisis. We wineries must completely rethink our marketing strategies to survive the next years, and many will not pull through. As wineries are forced to lower ex-cellar prices to try to stay competitive with global trends, we no longer have the excess funds to pay for extravagant marketing trips, global wine tastings, or expensive advertising in traditional media. Use of social media is a simple and cost effective solution available to all wineries, to communicate our stories about our wines directly to the wine drinker, directly from the winery.

  • Ryan, I just wanted to add a thought about your comments about sucessful ‘offline’ social media communities. I agree that we should forget the now disfunctional G7, and focus on the highly sucessful Douro Boys phenomena, which has been a brilliant marketing idea, and done heaps to sell Brand Portugal globaly. Here, it is interesting to note that without the dynamism and inspiration of Wine and Partners’ Dorli Muhr, the Douro Boys would have never existed. This is readily admitted on their own website - Wine and Partners is not just any PR firm, among other big-name clients, they handled the Europe-wide communications for Mondavi until 2005. A high-flying company like that is out of reach of most wineries, even if we group together.

    At the time Dorli was conceiving the Douro Boys, she visited Cortes de Cima and made a proposal to promote our brands. For costs reasons we declined, as it was at the time, and it still continues to be our policy not to invest in expensive advertising or promotion, when we through the internet can do it ourselves. In today’s even tougher economic environment, this decision makes more sense to us than ever.

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  • Hey Ryan,

    I have written an article on my blog based on your affirmations and linked it to this post. Let me know what you think.



  • Hi, I’m a Spanish wine producer based in Madrid Region. I think I’m the second one to reply, so you may lose your money yet, Justin! (had you bet any). Bear in mind that not all Spanish wine producers speak English though! More like next to none!!!

    First of all, I should point out that we are a very small local operation, with no international presence at all (yet!). We produce about 2-4000 bottles per year and we sell 95% of them locally in Madrid city and 5% in other provinces, and planning on doubling production next year. We have a blog and will have a webpage next year, and then the new social media things after that. Our English version of the blog is here:

    I think that, sadly, you are right, Ryan, and that in general Spanish wineries will fail to size up. Maybe a few of the more savvy one in La Rioja or Catalonia who actually know what marketing and social media is will do OK, but the rest? Forget it! This is the case not just for wineries, but for all Spanish companies in general, no matter what sector they are in. Take olive oil, for example. Most Spanish olive oil is exported in bulk to Italian companies who blend it, put it pretty bottles, market it effectively and sell it for a fortune!

    Spanish wineries (bodegas) not only have the problem of not knowing how to market their products, but also have the heavy negative cultural baggage of being associated internationally with cheap nasty table-wine (partly due to historical circumstances of the 40-year period of dictatorship, poverty, hunger, etc when quantity was more important than quality. Incredible as it may seem, this is still relevant today for many wineries! in the 21st century! This can be seen from the fact that there are many winery websites (written is Spanish only mostly!) where they are proud of the fact that they actually put their wine in bottles and actually have stainless steel vats!!!! It will take them a generation to find out what marketing is, and then another one to do something effective!

    There are of course exceptions, like La Rioja, where the regional authorities have been promoting and educating for years – ask any non-Spaniard to name a Spanish wine region, and the reply will be ‘Rioja’!

    En fin, I hope to be up there at the cutting edge this time next year.

    Good post, very interesting.


    • Fabio great reply. A few points though.
      1)A blog is a website. So you already have one!!! 🙂 COngrats and glad to see it, we’ll get it listed on Catavino. One suggestion though having 2 blogs is detrimental to building your brand and your google juice. I would look at another solution(free), they do exist.
      2)Actually Rioja is one of the ones who I think is having the most trouble integrating social media. They tend to think it’s not important for them. It’s the small guys who are going to succeed in the end as they try to reach consumers in new ways.
      3)Olive oil is great example! Look forward to learning about the one you produce!
      4)Keep working at the wine and telling your story with your blog and you will be rewarded. Just because of this comment I will seek your wines out when I head to the store. Where are they available??


      • Ryan,
        1)Thanks for the ánimos! and for listing it! I know that technically it’s a website – what I meant was that I’ll be creating a website AS WELL AS keeping the blog. And yes, having two blogs (one English and one Spanish) is tricky. I’m very new to this, and am sort of feeling my way forward, and experimenting, as I go. I’m aware that it’s far from optimal, but I decided that I’d rather have something live, even if sub-optimal, than fiddle and optimise endlessly off-line. It took me almost a year just get that simple blog on-line!!! What solution do you recommend? or where could I learn about possible solutions?

        2)Oh! Interesting! I didn’t know that! (my comment was based on intuition, not any actual facts!) Things are worse than I thought then!!!

        3)Ahi! If only I had time to produce my own olive oil too!!! I’ve been thinking about doing that for years, and there are good olive groves in my area available too. Maybe next year I’ll take the plunge!

        4)I certainly will keep on telling my story. Gracias por animarme! I’m afraid we’re all sold out, and we won’t have any wines available until December when we release our Blanco Joven (young white) and Tinto Maceración Carbónica. (Even the Crianza 2007 which we released last week is either sold or reserved. I could ship you a bottle (from my own personal secret lot!) through the post, if you like. It’s 100% Tempranillo, 10 months in oak, unfiltered. It needs to spend more time aging in the bottle)


  • Great article, not only on the topic of wines and social media but on online marketing in general. Unfortunately, a model like Seth Godin’s is totally strange for most companies, especially big ones. As for Portuguese wineries, I hope you are right about them, but the individualistic you see in their Spanish counterparts is unfortunately prevalent here too, maybe in a higher degree. Would wineries be immune to it for some reason?

  • Paulo

    Hi all,

    Even though I’m not from a winery nor in the industry, I do feel this is a very interesting post. As a portuguese this is areason to be happy. 🙂

    I’ve been reading the comments and I can help noticing that you are right. I had the opportunity of living in Madrid for some months and to know a lot of spanish people and the cultural ” I don’t like the guy next door” is completely true, unfortunately. My spanish teacher (who was spanish) said spanish people were only happy when they were “fighting” with each other. I belive that this might be having a greater impact on economy on a time of crisis and especially in the wine sector.

    As for the portuguese example, we don’t have this “problem”, fortunately. We like to drink, eat and laugh, which makes the mindset to be more likely to be open to “partnership”.

    However, I do feel that, even though Douro Region is a perfect example of the idea you are passing on your post Ryan, I believ there’s still much to do here too.

    I do hope that in both countries of Iberia we really get it going because it’s one of our main assets and that we can explore much more.

    Once again, I’m not someone from the area nor with specific knowledge, I’m just a normal citizen.


    • Paulo,

      Even normal “citizens” have an opinion based on hubris. Clearly you have experiences from your day to day interaction with the Spanish culture, which allows you to potentially see things both as an expat and as a resident. Add to the fact that you are Portuguese, and you have a very interesting point of view.

      Thank you for sharing your opinions, and we hope you don’t stop sharing them on!

  • Ryan & Gab great post! 100% agree! the Spanish wineries must completely rethink the marketing strategies, but also the Sapinsh SM users, business companies and wineries have to change their point of view and how to use the social media attitude.

    Fabio says, one of the bigest problems is the “ultra-micro-nationalism”and in the SM is the same (beeeep wrong) Everyone in Spain have “the secret of success” but nobody shares their ideas. It’s like the goblin from the Lord of the Rings (MY TREASURE) :S I can´t say anything until the big Premier (beeeep wrong) :S

    so basically we have two big problems in Spain, the way that companies and wineries continues to seeing the social media as an enemy, and the attitudes of self-absorption in the social media circles.

    you already say this, but I wanted to reaffirm this point of view. Sorry about my bad English and congrats to Portugal, thats the way 😉

    Saluts Catavino

  • Straight to FF then Twitter after reading…

    Great advice on how Social Media should be implemented in this Industry…

    Thanks for sharing Ryan 🙂

    • No worries glad you enjoyed the article, coming soon part 2, What Spain can get right when it comes to social media!

  • Looking forward to it!

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  • Very well written and neatly presented. Keep posting interesting and informative articles like the same.