Wine entrepreneur marketing secrets

Just two full-time staff, global brand recognition, healthy $5 million turnover* and wines that have the critics falling over their superlatives, is Rick Kinzbrunner running the world’s smartest wine business? BY EMILY ROSS

Rick Kinzbrunner Giaconda

Just two full-time staff, global brand recognition, healthy $5 million turnover* and wines that have the critics falling over their superlatives, is Rick Kinzbrunner running the world’s smartest wine business?

The Giaconda approach

  • Never compromise on the quality of the product
  • Support and cultivate loyalty
  • Foster private clients and premium retail relationships
  • Use technology to keep close to customers and create a sense of community
  • Maximise the value of your assets
  • Cultivate exclusivity
  • Fiercely guard IP
  • Constantly innovate
  • Run your own race

Rick Kinzbrunner is walking around barefoot, his work trousers splattered with shiraz stains. It’s vintage time, just under 100 tonnes of handpicked grapes are in various early stages of the winemaking process.

The plan is for this vintage to be released in 2010 and become part of the Giaconda legend, destined for the best cellars and wine lists around the world. The wine has already made its mark, with its chardonnay recognised by Decanter magazine this year ranked one of the top 10 in the world.

The 2003 Giaconda roussanne is on the wine list at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s restaurant for 115 POUNDS ($250), alongside the 2004 Giaconda pinot noir (110POUNDS/$240). That is a long way from the $13 a bottle Kinzbrunner made for his first vintage in 1985.

Demand far outweighs supply for Giaconda so Kinzbrunner has had to perfect a distribution system to keep his loyal clients happy, satisfy the top Australian restaurateurs such as Neil Perry (Perry has even put Giaconda in Qantas first and business class) and supply premium wine suppliers around the world.

One of the first things Kinzbrunner did when Giaconda got on the wine radar was halve the size of his wine boxes. What was the point in using dozen-bottle boxes if clients were only able to purchase a few bottles? These demi-boxes are now as well known in wine circles as Tiffany & Co’s blue boxes are in retail.

In the early stages of e-commerce, Kinzbrunner trialled different ways of selling online. He tried a tender process where customers could make an offer for his chardonnay. “I was thinking’ will I get more than $10 or less than $10’,” he says.

He also tested a way of selling wine known as ‘en primeur’, where customers buy the wine before it is released. He updated en primeur, doing it online. In the case of Giaconda en primeur offer, customers buy the wine for a 10-15 per cent discount 18 months before it is released.

The trial worked so Kinzbrunner has kept to the en primeur approach, now selling one third of Giaconda’s 3000 cases this way. Every year, the ‘en primeur’ release sells out in less than a week, creating an annual buzz about the vintage.

Just as the Giaconda winery is in a frenzy at harvest time, the website has its own annual frenzy when the offer goes live. If there is such a thing as a seasonal website, Kinzbrunner has created it. There are now more than 3000 on the Giaconda mailing list.

Another third of Giaconda wines are sold to the Australian trade for retailers and restaurants, the other third for export to the United States and United Kingdom.

Claridge’s is a long way from the outskirts of Beechworth on north-west Victoria. Former mechanical engineer Kinzbrunner planted five varieties of grape here in 1982, releasing his first vintage in 1985. He fell in love with the area whilst working as assistant at nearby at mega winery Brown Brothers.

He bought a house and land for $40,000, spending $20,000 to get the vineyard established. Kinzbrunner didn’t even get a soil analysis before he bought it but the terroir turned out to be ideal, a perfect mix of granite, gravel and clay.

Kinzbrunner has kept Giaconda operations bare boned. Whilst the yield has tripled from its first vintage, the winery only employs two permanent staff and some part-timers when needed. The six-hectare vineyard now produces just fewer than 3000 cases of wine.

The winery does not have cellar door sales (there is no wine left to sell), visits are by appointment only. There is no parade of Australian winemakers coming through “because everybody is trying to find out what you are doing,” says Kinzbrunner.

As well as the wine, Kinzbrunner and his wife Ros have a wine barrel distribution company Sirugue Australia that sells $1150 Sirugue French oak barrels in Australia and New Zealand. Giaconda is also involved in a joint venture with prestigious French wine makers Chapoutier in a winery next door. ”It’s a bit of fun in a way,” says Kinzbrunner.

The whole operation runs so smoothly, Kinzbrunner and his family are able to spend several months in France each year, part work, part pleasure.

Former mechanical engineer, Kinzbrunner, 60, remains a strict traditionalist when it comes to wine making (he’ll stick to French oak thanks) but on the business side of Giaconda, it is a different story.

The business continually innovates. From its online sales strategy, to distribution, to finding new ways to store the wine, Kinzbrunner is always up to something new. Innovation is a way of thinking and Kinzbrunner seems to do it naturally, by instinct.

His next big project is completing a new granite tunnel for storing wine. It is being blasted out of the side of a hill in the property and will offer the perfect temperature for storing wine without the use of air-conditioners that keep most wine cool around the region.

After the disastrous 2007 vintage plagued by drought, black frost and fires, vineyards are bringing in record hauls of perfect grapes. Giaconda’s 2008 vintage should be a corker. Kinzbrunner isn’t taking anything for granted though. The man with an obsession for detail secret weapon for succes? “Staying home and doing the work.”


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