Michigan Grapevine: Vintner group uncorks partnership with promoters

The Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association has a new marketing face for the first time since the wineries organized seven years ago, but the same challenge: Convince wine drinkers the Grand Traverse region is as good or better than Napa, the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and other renown wine regions around the world.

Last month, the LPVA affiliated with a trio of marketers including Leelanau Communications owner Andy McFarlane, Jennifer Hutchinson of Lake Ann, who is also a Realtor, and Plainwell-based Dianna Stampfler, whose other northern Michigan clients include the Traverse Tall Ship Co. and the Homestead Resort. They succeed Rick Coates, who left to pursue other Leelanau County tourism initiatives.

The biggest operational changes are the team approach, which members said allows each to focus on their strengths, and Stampfler's base just south of the state's second largest media market. Currently the new players are in evaluation mode, discussing what's worked well and not-so-well in the past, and hesitate to get specific about strategy until that's finished. But they and the LPVA know that whatever tactics are employed – websites, special events, wine media tours, press releases-the goal is the same it's always been.

"We all believe we're making world-class wines here. The world just doesn't know it yet," said Adam Satchwell, winemaker at Shady Lane Cellars in Suttons Bay and LPVA president.

"You're really not a world-class wine region until you can get people to agree that you are," said McFarlane. "That's one of the biggest things we have to get over is the validity thing."

He said he hopes to expand the LPVA's budget, which is derived mostly from admissions to the organization's four wine trail events. Because attendance varies, depending on time of year the budget can range widely, from $10,000 to $70,000, Satchwell said.

One thing Satchwell hopes to tweak is the LPVA's spring event, this year the Women's Wine Weekend held May 5. It's the weakest of the four, drawing about 300 this year, compared to between 600 and 700 for the pre-holiday Toast the Season event and more than 1,000 who come for the Harvest Stompede fall run through vineyards.

Satchwell said he hopes to keep the focus on women, noting they account for the majority of wine buying in the U.S. But he said the event might have been perceived as exclusively for women, and needs to become more inclusive.

The wineries of Old Mission, meanwhile, are also trying a girls' night out event for the first time on June 22 with Divas Uncorked.

Women were out in force at the second Wine, Women and Wheels event at Brick Wheels in Traverse City on May 9, however. The bicycle shop's sale/party/breast health benefit featuring discounts to women and-not insignificantly, wine-drew between 300 and 400 people on a Wednesday night, organizers said.

Allison Beers of Idea Stream, the Traverse City design and advertising agency that runs the event with Brick Wheels, said the event was created based on the store's goal of targeting female customers.

"The wine just seemed like a natural tie-in," she said. "I think it lends to the festive atmosphere. 'Women and Wheels' just didn't sound as fun."

Wine for the event and its winter sister, Wine Women and Wax, is donated by Chateau Grand Traverse. President Ed O'Keefe III said he's found the event valuable. After Chateau Grand Traverse introduced their gamay noir at the event last year, they did notice an uptick in sales of the variety, he said.

Kaye Krapohl, founder of the Women's Winter Tour, an annual cross-country skiing and snowshoe event that will mark its tenth anniversary in 2008, knows the power of wine to draw women, too.

"I think a big part of the success of the women's winter tour is having that little sassy element," said Krapohl, who drew some 700 participants to Crystal Mountain Resort for this year's event. The last snack stop on the tour's routes features local wines, usually Larry Mawby's sparkling wines.

Krapohl now licenses the WWT to other locales. In her event management kits, she suggests that organizers partner with a local vintner to offer wine. The suggestion has been a hit at WWT events as far flung as Montreal and Lake Tahoe.

"Wine has been a key element for the last four years of our satellite events," Krapohl said. "Women do respond to it. Not just in Michigan but in Colorado, New Hampshire, California."

Wineries may not have figured out the age-old question of what do women want-but they've figured out it pays to ask.

Cari Noga has covered Michigan's grape and wine industry since 1999.

Send news and column ideas to her at cari@michgrapevine.com.