Storm in a Wine Glass

For the past couple of years Stormhoek Vineyards was making online news for all the right reasons. They had managed to turn their vineyard from a small South African winery into a global success by implementing a social media strategy. They went about this in 2005 by hiring UK blogger Hugh Macleod  to develop their strategy for them. Within one year of Macleod working for Stormhoek they had managed to double their annual sales.

Stormhoek’s strategy included adding a quality blog to their website. But the real ingenuity of the campaign came from the tactic of supplying 100 free bottles of wine to 100 bloggers in the UK, Ireland, and France. This simple gesture resulted in most of these 100 bloggers first drinking and then writing about Stormhoek Wine, therefore dramatically increasing the brand’s awareness among its online market.

In 2006, Stormhoek continued with their blogger awareness campaign, but this time in the United States. Stormhoek organised “Geek Dinners” and supplied free wine to these events. “Geek Dinners” were targeted for bloggers, leading to greater online publicity for the brand.

The net result of the first two years of Hugh Macleod’s blogging campaign was that Stormhoek went from selling around 40,000 cases of wine a year to selling 40,000 cases of wine a week!

Believe it or not, the point of this post is not to praise Stormhoek’s social media success but instead to alert the readers of how this unbelievably successful brand, within a matter of months, has managed to find itself bankrupt. Stormhoek Vineyards have had the rug pulled from under their feet because Orbital Wines in London (site currently under construction), which owns the rights to the brand in the UK, has gone belly-up.

You are probably wondering how this is possible with the huge success of Stormhoek – Orbital tried to emulate the success which they have had with Stormhoek by investing in 8 other vineyards around the world. This was quite a drain on resources and ultimately the credit crisis in the UK meant that those with a high credit risk were re-evaluated and Orbital found themselves in the red.

Stormhoek can therefore no longer distribute their wine to the primary market (the UK). Worst of all is that Stormhoek were owed a vast amount of money for the operating costs of the winery which they will now not receive. And the individuals who are going to suffer because of Orbital’s poor management are the staff at Stormhoek.

Unless Stormhoek is able to receive funding for the winery they will have to retrench their farm workers and therefore put those workers and their families at huge risk.

But they have come up with an ingenious way of receiving the required funding – they are offering the public a chance to purchase an individual vine and therefore save the vineyard one vine at a time.

If you purchase a vine (each individual may purchase a maximum of two), you will receive a certificate with a photograph of your vine and your name, plus a bottle of wine made from the crop of the vineyard block containing your vine.

Each vine will cost R2,000 ($270), with your deposit recorded under your name. Stormhoek will allocate you a vine (you can choose the variety, on a first-come-first-serve basis). Your name and location will be displayed on the vine. There are only 3,000 units available, so if you are interested you’d better act quickly.

Have a look at their website for all the payment details and any further information which you need.

My first impression of this is that it could be a great idea for a gift. It’s rather like giving a ‘star’ to a friend, but instead this would be a gift for (or I should say, from) the slightly more affluent amongst us! And even if you can’t afford to purchase a vine, you can still support the Stormhoek employees by simply purchasing a bottle of their wine here in South Africa…

Each bottle counts, so drink up South Africa.

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