A model of German wine marketing

Credit:  A. Hanami
Ernst Loosen in his library

Successful wine marketing in today’s modern wine industry centers around value-for-money (low price and high quality), public relations and distribution, all driven by a strong brand.  Ernst Loosen of  Germany’s Mosel wine region delivers on all fronts.  His face and brand are everywhere, whether promoting his wines, riesling wines or opining on climate change.   His riesling wines are exported to 63 countries around the world and in different styles to meet local demand.  Dr. Loosen is widely distributed in the U.S., from retail chains to specialty shops or as exclusive label to the French Laundry and to make sure he doesn’t miss penetration, Ernst makes the domestic Eroica, a joint venture with Chateau St. Michelle of Washington State.   Brand-building did not come about without a lot of time and investment.  He struggled for the first 10 years after taking over the family business in 1988, not turning a profit until 1998.  He travelled extensively around the world to learn how other producers achieved quality and cultivated international media relationships early on which has helped him to this day. 

When we met Ernst Loosen in the spring, he was a bundle of boyish energy and enthusiasm but apparent underneath the charm was a sharp mind and astute businessman who could engage you on almost any topic, with passion.  And he impressed me with his strategy for dealing with the recessionary economy – simply giving consumers what they want.  In 2008, sales volume in the US – the world’s #1 market by value and #2 by volume behind France – increased by .9% (Gomberg & Frederickson) while value fell 1.3%.  These figures imply that Americans are buying more wine but at cheaper prices, with an emphasis on value, a trend that distributors and retailers have been confirming all along.  Dr. Loosen delivers on value; the Fall 2009 special edition of  Wine & Spirits  features “Champions of Value” which includes 41 German wines recommended over the past two years, and Dr. Loosen has the leading number of wines on that list – five to be exact.  Mind you, this is not a list of “cheap” wines, but of quality relative to price.

Now, most producers in the world really refrain from lowering the suggested retail price on their wines because it can damage the “perceived value” to their brands but many have had to do so in this recession.  Loosen’s planned approach for part of the 2008 vintage was to move volume to a price point where it was selling – in his case  moving high quality wine to a lower tier label and price-point.  This is not  de-classifying wine, such as a Bordeaux chateau might do if the quality was not up to snuff or if they could not meet the legal limits for yields or alcohol.  It is extreme value that doesn’t change the existing price structure of the various tiers but allows the cash to continue to roll in.   Brilliant.  Loosen discussed different scenarios in a very practical manner, dealing with the recession without the apparent angst that others seem to.  Loosen doesn’t need the help of the national marketing bodies or constantly evolving German wine labels intended to simplify sales.  He does quite well on his own following the most basic tenets of marketing and instincts.