a food/wine/marketing blog that is funny by accident, sarcastic on purpose.

korbel’s lack of an online plan.

Just a day after reading about a friend’s lack of acknowledgment at Napa sparkling wine maker Domain Chandon, I was asked by a friend of mine to visit the Korbel tasting room to pick up some Zinfandel (yes, Korbel does make some wine).

I tweeted about my experience, briefly saying that

Korbel doesn’t get a lot of wine bloggers. Staff didn’t know what I was talking about.

kor

When I asked the older tasting room attendant if she ever gets any wine bloggers in the tasting room, I was greeted with not only a blank stare, but she almost looked insulted like I was speaking to her in a different language that she was supposed to figure out.  She asked me what a blogger was and when I told her it was a person who wrote about wine online, she still continued her blank stare and simply said no.

Okay fine, this tasting room person was clearly a different generation and my experience was mediocre enough to not give it a second thought afterward.    Expect I live in a world that is centered around the internet and my mind was on the Domain Chandon experience that I just missed out on.  Interesting enough — several hours after tweeting about my experience, and even drinking a bottle of their zin at home (saying it was pretty good) I read an article in the Press Democrat about how Korbel is suing Comcast to make Comcast identify “internet customers” who criticized the wine company on Craigslist.

Without turning this post into a debate over freedom of speech or even talking about what was said about Korbel on the postings (read about that in the article), I will say that I think Korbel is going about this all wrong.

This incident happened a year ago and I remember reading it in the Press Democrat, not really thinking too much about it.  Untrue (or possibly true) and unflattering things are said about brands online and offline everyday.  While I do agree that those who said the slanderous allegations should not be allowed to remain anonymous…  It is how a brand handles the negative PR that matters.  I think if Korbel simply dismissed the allegations as false than I wouldn’t be here talking about them or my experience in the tasting room (they were playing the Bodyguard soundtrack from the early 90’s).  Instead their reaction to the allegations was to sue Comcast to get the names of the people who created the postings, just so they can sue them for slander.  This is not a good PR move, it makes them look guilty and it brings on more negative attention.

This got me thinking about Korbel and if they even have an online strategy….  It isn’t like I hear that much about Korbel within the wine-blogging community and in my daily marketing promotions emails.  Their website, though saying brand new, is already out of date and to have their flash version open in another screen is not only unnecessary, it is annoying.

korbel

It is interesting that their site has a forum that currently isn’t working.  Their Perfect Proposal Promotion link is currently not working as well.

Altogether, my perceived image of them is that they are out of date, and Korbel people, if you are reading this (which I hope you are because it means you at least have done something right online aka Google Alerts) these are not allegations, just one person’s experience at your beautiful, yet boring tasting room.   I am a fan, especially of your blanc de noir sparkling wine.  And, hey, if you need some online publicity help, call me…  It is what I do.

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19 responses

  1. Great article Shana. I think this is a quite typical example of how there is often a disconnect between Marketing/PR and the tasting room. It often happens that the tasting room staff has NO idea what marketing activities the company is conducting. It comes down to a lack of training.

    February 24, 2009 at 4:56 pm

  2. I think you sabered the cork right off the bottle, Shana. Doing more than a simple denial long ago has turned this into a Public Relations problem for Korbel. All I can think is that they hope that they can catch employees that might be doing this in order to attempt to nullify labor violation actions against them that may be in process. Their legals want to earn their retainers or bill more hours. Just a dumb reactionary move on the part of Korbel.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:03 pm

  3. Nice post but I believe companies should be able to sue for slander without the public feeling negative about the process. This right goes back many hundreds of years to the old Courts of Equity in England and is critical to freedom of speech.

    In our legal system we require that accusers present evidence. We also require at least loose evidence as a responsibility with freedom of speech.

    This isn’t a public service whistle blower issue. This is a case of disgruntled individuals seeking revenge or making myths. That behavior, without evidence, is not acceptable in a democracy. Freedom of speech has never been completely free and shouldn’t.

    – jim

    February 24, 2009 at 5:05 pm

  4. Hey Shana, I was recalling the same thing this morning about Korbel (i.e. that I read the story some months back about them suing anonymous critics). I believe the circumstances surrounding that were a family scandal/split amongst the Hecks, but I’m either too busy or too lazy to go back and check. Perhaps Lew Purdue will come up with something. :-)

    Anyhow, I agree that Korbel is out of touch with the anything other than the generation they are targeting (that is, your parents or grandparents). They have shown themselves to be well behind the curve when it comes to marketing toward the upcoming generation of wine enthusiasts, whether that be through their main brand (Korbel) or their boutique winery brands (Kenwood, Valley of the Moon). They appear to be too focused on the 50+ demographic to be concerned with upstarts like wine bloggers.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:28 pm

  5. I am definitely not disagreeing with you Jim. I agree that cowardly accusers should not be able to freely post slanderous items such as acquisitions as serious as sexual harassment.

    I look at this incident and ask myself, what could they have done better from a PR standpoint to not turn this whole mess into an even bigger mess. My opinion is that they could have addressed it better and not turned it into a case about freedom of speech, thus making themselves look like they have something to hide (and look like they are attacking the internet). I just did some research on what else they did to address the situation and from what I found (i.e., nothing) it looks as if they could have done some type of reactive publicity to help turn the story into something positive about that brand.

    February 24, 2009 at 5:29 pm

  6. These are the problems that older, less tech savvy companies fall into. They believe, as did those before them that what the corporation does with it’s time, money and direction is not up for anyone else to discuss or decide. Then they plant themselves behind a shield of foolish decisions that they pretend are in the best interest of the company. In the long run they are not. All companies older than 15 years old should hire professional marketing firms to introduce them and the world to what they have to offer. If you do not step up to the future, the future will step over you.

    February 24, 2009 at 6:27 pm

  7. I may be mistaken, but didn’t Korbel recently receive an award from one of the Wine Porn magazines for how successfully they are reaching out to the African American market? After reading about that, I was thinking “here is a winery that really gets it!”

    February 24, 2009 at 9:18 pm

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  9. The only thing I could find online about that has to do with the inauguration and serving Korbel at the White House: http://news.prnewswire.com/ViewContent.aspx?ACCT=109&STORY=/www/story/01-09-2009/0004952177&EDATE=

    Let me know if you find something else.

    February 24, 2009 at 9:33 pm

  10. …and there’s the whole Jackie O. connection–that’s a PR campaign with some legs! I actually have a soft spot for Korbel but, you’ve raised some excellent points Shana. Companies can’t just bury their head in the sand and pretend the internet doesn’t exist, and that no one will talk about them online if they don’t have an online presence… I agree with you that they need some professional PR help as pertains to how they handle the “new media” stat!

    February 24, 2009 at 10:21 pm

  11. Nothing slanderous about a consumer posting about ignorance, neglect or just plain Failed Hospitality. It is what they are supposed to do…well. Sad that a couple sparkling houses in Northern California feel so successful that they can offer poor service.

    I sure hope Mumm, Domaine Carneros and Schramsberg are much better. Perhaps we’ll let you know.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:17 am

  12. While I understand what Jim is saying, in this case I think Korbel missed a great opportunity to address the slander directly and put it to rest quickly. Instead they are perceived as a bully, even though they are within their rights.

    The online criticism can only go as far as people believe the critics – an issue of credibility that mirrors other debates about the credibility of online sources. I suspect that the damage done by the lawsuit will far exceed anything those online critics dished out.

    February 25, 2009 at 12:51 am

  13. Lisa- The slander went a bit further than a bad review. Korbel was accused of punishing employees who reported sexual harassment.

    El Jefe- exactly! There are so many other things that Korbel could have done to address the issue vs. looking like a bully who is trying to silence the internet (regardless of that is what they are doing or not, that is the perceived notion to many).

    Thanks for the comments!

    February 25, 2009 at 12:59 am

  14. I see lots of mentions that they should have done something different but no substance to the posts. Just what should they have done? If you think there was another course then why not explain it? I’m curious. This isn’t Tylenol.

    By the way, often bad PR is better than no PR. I’m ready to visit the next time I’m in the area. Kind of forgot about them until this came up :-)

    – jim

    February 25, 2009 at 1:07 am

  15. hi Jim – With all respect, I’m not going to write the PR copy for them. A simple statement of what happened, what was alleged, and why the allegations are without merit. Post it up on the web site, even release it to the press, and be done with it.

    I do agree that bad PR is better than no PR, in most cases!

    February 25, 2009 at 1:16 am

  16. Farley

    I am a bubbly fanatic and have been to most sparkling producers, minus Korbel, in the Napa, Sonoma, Anderson Valley areas.

    in my experience, Domaine Chandon gives chilly service at best, while the others are much better: Mumm, Schramsberg, and Domaine Carneros (where I’m a member) ARE much better. Roederer and Scharffenberger are also quite nice. Gloria Ferrer, mixed experiences.

    What are people thinking when they treat people in the industry, or anyone for that matter, badly? Who can afford to miss out on any sale these days?

    February 26, 2009 at 2:54 pm

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