Successful events have wineries bursting into song

By Bianca Turner

More than ever Australian wineries are hosting music events to build their wine brands. Just this week Pokolbin producer, Hope Estate, announced it was in the final throes of its $3 million project - which includes the completion of the region's largest amphitheatre - covering 2.5ha with seating for 19,000 people. No doubt there will be some big-ticket performers heading to Pokolbin in the next few months and over the years, putting Pokolbin in the national, and international spotlight. In this exclusive article for, Winetitles' journalist Bianca Turner speaks with some of the nation's pioneers of concerts and events, to learn more about how event marketing works to build their profile and sales.

Leeuwin Estate held its first annual concert in 1985 after it was approached to sponsor the Australian tour of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Leeuwin agreed with the condition that the concert was to be performed at its Margaret River vineyard. The concert was such a success that Leeuwin is now preparing for the concert's 25th anniversary in February next year.

The event is now staged over two consecutive nights attracting 6500 people per concert, and has helped the winery win a National Tourism Award. Since 1993 Leeuwin has also held an additional concert on Australia Day, featuring top Australian musicians.

Leeuwin Estate chief executive, Tricia Horgan, said the winery held the events to support the arts, increase tourism to the region and to gain publicity, although Leeuwin does not specifically promote its wine at the event because "they like to allow the wines to speak for themselves".

Horgan said the cost of staging an event varies according to the fee paid to the artist, which is the largest cost.

As the concerts are an outdoor event, complete with the picnic atmosphere, the risk of rain is always present but Horgan said the rain has failed to dampen the crowd's enthusiasm.

'We are always prepared with 12,000 disposable ponchos at the ready in the rear of the winery,' Horgan said.

To guarantee the success of the event and to ensure the crowd leaves satisfied Horgan emphasises that you should never choose an artist who will fizzle. Leading artists who have performed over the years include Tom Jones, Jack Johnson, Simply Red and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.

'We choose performers that appeal to our wine clientele. No heavy metal is likely to appear at Leeuwin!

'A waiting list for our corporate marquee, our restaurant and our general space on the ground is testament to a satisfied audience. I would never want to under-deliver and hope I can never talk about it from experience.

'Attention to detail, providing easy access and a minute by minute schedule for all 350 volunteers and staff to follow on the days of the events are the keys to ensuring the event will be a success for both the winery and the crowd,' Horgan said.

Wine marketing academic, Professor Steve Goodman, a senior lecturer at the University of Adelaide Business School, said holding events is a valuable tool for wineries building their wine brands, although wineries need to thoroughly prepare themselves for the event and the 'mishaps' that may happen along the way.

'A successful wine event should be something that consumers really want to go to and gives them something they can't get though a normal cellar door visit,' Goodman said.
'If you can bring a consumer into the brand it increases their understanding and involvement with the brand - they know more, can share stories and have something to carry out with them.'

Goodman suggests for wineries interested in holding events to make sure it has a purpose within the overall scheme.

'Get a running sheet and stick to it (religiously), resource it properly, invite people and get firm numbers, tie it in some way to a cycle that people will expect to come around again, anything from budburst or new wine releases.'

Goodman also suggests using vouchers. For example if the ticket to the event costs $35 then give people a $30 voucher for any wine case purchased.

Another success story is Ballandean Estate's Opera in the Vineyard. The event, which was organised in conjunction with the Stanthorpe Rotary Club as a fund raiser for charities throughout Queensland 16 years ago, has successfully raised brand awareness of the winery.

'The event has increased our profile in our target markets and has also been a great way to promote our wines, the estate and the products we offer,' Ballandean Estate client services manager, Leeanne Puglisi-Gangemi said.

The cost of staging Opera in the Vineyard varies from $60,000 to $150,000, depending on the number and status of performers. Other major costs are hiring of the marquee and equipment, crockery, cutlery, and purchasing drinks - other than wine - for the bars. Catering is carried out by a local catering service and labour is performed by the Rotarians who donate their time.

'Without voluntary labour, holding an event such as this would be very difficult and not very profitable,' Puglisi-Gangemi said.

'The event is about raising as much money as we can for our beneficiaries. The event makes money after about 500 guests.'

Puglisi-Gangemi said their insurance from bad weather is a marquee.

'Over 16 years we have had three rainy days. Our marquee is a huge expense but is also our insurance against bad weather so no matter what the weather is like, the show will always go on. The event is also pre-booked, so we always know how many guests are attending on the day.

'To ensure the quality of the performers, we use the services of a musical director. This person also donates his time for the charity and is an expert in the field of opera. His choices have never disappointed!'

Ballandean Estate said the performers are not the only reason guests come to the event as often it is nearly booked out even before the names of the artists are announced.

'Although we believe this has occurred because we started the event with fabulous artists and have never waivered from that, our guests know they can rely on the quality of the performers.

'With our Jazz in the Vineyard event, however, we have found that having a 'name' to the event seems to bring greater numbers to it.'

As far as promoting the winery on the day, Ballandean only sells its own wines and doesn't advertise their wines at the event - deliberately keeping it subtle. Puglisi-Gangemi has noted an increase in sales after the event, especially in the days following the concert.

'The next day it is busy in the cellar door and the sales certainly increase. However it is our experience that people remember the great day they had at the event and will either order through the wine club or visit the cellar door regularly. It is not easy to measure, but we are sure the benefits of holding events are huge.'

Bimbadgen Estate's largest event held in its Hunter Valley vineyard is A Day on the Green. With past concerts reaching to a capacity of 7500, and tickets selling out in a number of days, the winery recently won the Tourism Wineries section of the 2007 Qantas Australian Tourism Awards.

Bimbadgen Estate marketing executive, Karen Evans, said events such as A Day on the Green provides an experience appealing to all the senses - great wine, food and music within a wonderful atmosphere, underlining the true nature Bimbadgen Estate.

'The winery's main goal is to achieve a positive brand experience within its consumers' minds. We are looking for the long-lasting brand awareness that only comes with positive experiences and memories associated with a particular product,' Evans said.

'We have housed concerts within Bimbadgen from 2000 people to 7500. Some events offered on the Bimbadgen calendar are specifically tailored to smaller crowd sizes, however, some acts demand maximum capacities, with Steely Dan selling 7500 tickets in two days in 2007.'

Like Ballandean and Leeuwin Estate, Bimbadgen Estate's concerts are an outdoor affair and therefore the risk of bad weather is always possible, however, over the eight years the concerts have been held, only one show was cancelled.

'Australian performer, Pete Murray's show was cancelled but he agreed to return and play again for the audience on another date.

'We all know too well you can't please all of the people all of the time, and this is relevant to the quality of the performance as well. Our aim at Bimbadgen Estate is to provide an unforgettable event in a relaxed outdoor setting. We find most negative comments have come from a general misunderstanding of the style of the event - we are completely involved in the process of performer selection to ensure an event suited to the Bimbadgen brand.

'Any negative comments received are taken very seriously and issues covered within our constantly evolving event plan, with the patron notified of the outcome wherever possible. At the end of the day, the positive feedback received from our events dramatically outweighs any negative comments that cannot be rectified, leading to undeniable advantage in terms of brand recognition within the Hunter Valley and Newcastle regions particularly and extending to Sydney and other regions.'

Evans said A Day on the Green is a success due to its dedicated team within Bimbadgen, and a production team associated with the event promoter to ensure all areas are covered prior to each event.

'Another important factor is supplying sufficient staffing and amenities to ensure guests can move between facilities with a minimum waiting time,' Evans said.

After the events Bimbadgen experiences an immediate increase in sales with its cellar door trading the day after events always exceptionally larger than usual.

And what if your special guest has a 'brain fade' just prior to your exclusive event and is caught out in some embarrassing scandal? Could it damage the brand? Professor Steve Goodman says: "If the guest performer were to create negative publicity as a result from their personal or professional life before the event, I would still advise the winery to go ahead with the performer but strengthen its event publicity. The winery should also emphasise they stood behind the performer and looked forward to a great time at the event."

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