Winery owner Beth Nagengast’s “we’ve made it!” moment came in 2008, when Cinquain Cellars won a Best of Class of Region award at the California State Fair for its flagship Reserve Meritage wine. (It also received 94 points.) It was the same year that Cinquain Cellars debuted its first wine release, made from grapes grown on their Paso Robles, Calif. vineyard.
Cinquain Cellars is one of the newer wineries in the Paso Robles appellation. It focuses on estate reds, including Bordeaux, Rhone and Port varieties. The 14-acre Nagengast Estate Vineyard has nine varieties of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec, which recently received a Double Gold medal at the 2014 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
There were six long years in between planting the first 10,000 grapevines, in 2002, and selling their first case of wine in 2008. Beth and her husband/winemaker, Dave, knew they needed to stay in touch with interested potential customers early on, so that there would be buyers lined up when the wine was ready to be sold.
Another challenge? “We both had full-time day jobs, we don’t have a tasting room, and our winery can only be open to the public seven weekends a year,” says Beth. “So, reaching people via email was my ‘virtual storefront’ to make sales without a tasting room.”
During the winery’s early years, Beth kept her job as a marketing executive at a software company. She had worked with Janine Popick, VerticalResponse founder and CEO, in the past at another company and saw great potential in the email marketing platform.
“Janine was just getting VerticalResponse off the ground, and asked if I’d like to use it for my day job,” says Beth. “I knew that if she was involved with it, it was going to be a great thing! So we did, and we never looked back.”
When it came time to promote Cinquain Cellars, VerticalResponse was the obvious solution to help the winery keep in touch with customers as well as direct people to the website and buy wine. Beth also loved the platform’s ease of use and immediate feedback on email results – both very important to a small business owner with a long to-do list and very little time.
“I started collecting email addresses on our website when we first planted our grapevines in 2002, even though we didn’t have any wine to sell,” says Beth. “We started sending out email to keep people up to date on our progress in 2004, four years before our debut release. My first email went out to 84 people, and now our main list is nearly 2,000.”
These days, Cinquain Cellars sends a newsletter every month with news, awards, vineyard notes, upcoming events and special deals.
“Within minutes of sending each newsletter, customers start responding,” says Beth. “Instead of waiting for customers to come through a tasting room door, VR allows me to knock on my customer’s ‘virtual door,’ keep them engaged, informed and, of course, well-stocked with our wines.”
In particular, the monthly emails with special deals are critical to Cinquain’s business, since those directly drive sales. Beth is sure to keep a balance between offers and news and believes that she’s found a great balance to keep customers both engaged with what’s going on at the winery and in the vineyard, as well as motivated to take advantage of specials.
“The top advice that I would tell any winery starting up their email marketing programs is to send at least one email each month that includes a mix of vineyard news, awards, tasting notes, upcoming events and a special offer with an expiration date,” says Beth.
“And be sure to promote the special offer on the last day it expires,” she continues. “I’m still amazed at the amount of orders I get on the last day an offer is available. People are busy and don’t always have time to respond to an offer the first time they read about it. I have had many customers thank me for the reminders so they wouldn’t miss out on the special.”
After nine years of using VerticalResponse for email marketing, Cinquain Cellars continues to be pleased and delighted by the platform.
“From our first dollar in 2008 through double digit growth each year thereafter, VerticalResponse has been at our side every step of the way,” says Beth. “They deliver everything I need and more.”
Biggest challenge being a small business owner?
Having opened our winery in May of 2008, one of the worst economic times and the beginning on a long recession, I can honestly say that VerticalResponse helped us weather the storm by helping our business continue to grow each year.
Biggest lesson you’ve learned as a small business owner?
It’s not just small business but any business, and that is: Delight your customers! In our case, it’s delivering great wines, at great prices, with great customer service.
What do you like best about your industry/category? What keeps you going?
Just seeing so many people get such pleasure from our wines and meeting so many new friends that we probably never would have met otherwise. Wine has a way of bringing people together, and they’re usually on vacation when we meet them so everyone’s happy, relaxed and fun to be around.