Posted by: Thomson Vineyards | March 5, 2012

Branding Sonoma: Winegrower Tell All

A month ago a slew of news stories came online like Sonoma Seeks Wine Image and Sonoma Develops a Branding Campaign – referring to Sonoma’s “brand” and how it was being developed by a team of experts. Simultaneously Sonoma’s “brand” was being built by a little network called ABC and a “Sonoma” winemaker named Ben Flajnik.

Truth be told I watched only 10 minutes of the first episode of The Bachelor and wanted to stab myself with a pair of dull pruning shears. Hysterical chicks, sleazy Forever 21 get-ups, cat fights chronicled blow by blow, more than tearful breakups, and a guy who can’t make up his mind if his wine brand is called Evolve or Envolve or if he’s going for the rancher rustic shag or hipster mop beneath the beannie…how was he ever going to choose just one!?!

The Ultimate Bromance

Rather than go into the disparaging details of Ben’s love life, with just the final episode to go I’d like to instead reference Middle America where the 99% now have a solid understanding of just what a “winemaker” is and a brand image in their head related to the sleepy little wine town known as Sonoma – thanks to the man Chris Harrison and his boy Flajnik.

If you’ve been keeping up with World News rather than the trash Ben’s been dating the 1% is still being crucified in the headlines. In case the team of experts Sonoma hired hadn’t considered the effect on Sonoma’s wine image when the 99% are left to their own devices on a Monday night and football season is over take a gander at the statistics TV by the Numbers reported last week:

Despite facing stiff competition throughout its 2-hour broadcast, ABC’s The Bachelor grew week to week in Adults 18-49 (+4%) to match its 2nd-highest number this season.  In addition, the ABC unscripted series equaled season-high ratings with Adults 18-34 and Women 18-34. The Bachelor finished #2 in its time period with key Women (W18-34/W18-49).

Coincidentally millennials and women are two of the most influential segments fueling the growth of the US wine industry. But the Daytona 500 was on the same night Ben was hot-tubbing with who knows who, so, you know…

If the wine industry was looking to capitalize on ABC’s The Bachelor featuring a winemaker to drive sales, then perhaps these ratings may have actually put a few points on the board for the industry and a few sales through several Sonoma winery POS systems. But, if Sonoma was looking to build a reputation, I think it did exactly that. The kind your mother says you don’t want.

In the corporate communications world we would have called in the crisis communications team well before the Women Tell All Special that aired tonight. But, we all know the wine industry and Napa’s little sister Sonoma are a bit slow. Or maybe she was just busy being pretty, rather than being smart.

Flajnik was seen sporting a “Hello My Name Is: Tim” name tag at the SF Chronicle Public Tasting. He snapped photos on the tradeshow floor at Unified Wine and Grape Symposium and reportedly had a bit of a celebrity complex when asked to hold products as part of the shot. I was chastised by several girlfriends for not bringing them along to the Pinot Noir Summit in SF last weekend as Benny Boy was rumoured to have been in the house. Would only make sense, the guy lives in San Francisco, not Sonoma, but I’m part of the 1% who actually knows that.

I’m fairly qualified to judge Ben’s capability to manage racking, pump overs, additions, filtration, bottling  from San Francisco because for the past two years I’ve managed three vineyard sites in Napa from San Francisco. And while I’ve managed to make it happen it’s not ideal. I spend nights at any number of vineyard locations. I shower in the vineyard office before heading out to events. I’ve nearly rolled my ankle twice the past two weeks navigating rural gravel driveways in heels to get out the door to evening wine events after de-vineyarding myself. So perhaps Ben really does “make wine” in Sonoma, but on a daily basis, I doubt it.

Nonetheless. Without going too much further let’s just leave it at that if the 99% wanted to know more about the industry and how wine is made, Ben has now done a pretty good job of putting a face to the word “winemaker” and all of you who actually hold that title should demanding a refund right about now.

Unlike Ben, before the end of the month I’ll be closing up the satellite office and making a more permanent home with a nice smelling shower, flat driveway, closet 1/2 full of vineyard clothes and 1/2 full of smart dresses, and my own bed next to a frost alarm in Carneros; where Ben has to wait for the biodynamic calendar to dictate his move to wine country, I’m sure.

Several have suggested that after Ben’s run, I be nominated as ABC’s next Bachelorette. I think not. I care about my reputation and have too many important vineyards to manage day in, day out. Besides, way more than 24 winemakers are already trying to date me AND my Chardonnay…there’s absolutely no time for Reality TV! Think I should give you a rose? Contact me.


  1. “Ben has to wait for the biodynamic calendar to dictate his move to wine country”. Hilarious!

    I couldn’t agree more with your sentament.

    • I recently screen printed my new pillowcases with the biodynamic calendar hoping it would sink in and I’d have something to talk about with winemakers on first dates. What a waste. Thanks for reading Derek, here’s thinking of you during frost season!

  2. Is the mainstream celeb-infactuated world digging their corporate spurs into Wine World? Sounds like it… In my opinion, corporate entertainment can stay out of Sonoma. Thanks.

    • Thanks for reading Steve. Napa’s got Florence, Chiarello, and Keller. Food Network vs ABC in a duel. Who wins?

  3. Press is press, and we are all whores (if you have any doubt, ask some a certain radio pundit – he’ll set you straight).

    Ben is harmless. I’m less outraged about how “The Bachelor” portrays “winemaker” than I am about how the show portrays women and how they view relationships. Women what to know why guys hesitate to commit? Perhaps it is fear that we will get stuck with a manipulative, narcissistic neurotic of the sort waiting for their rose on “The Bachelor.”

    Rather than fretting over how TB portrays winemakers, I’m far less enthusiastic over the efforts to “brand Sonoma” by association. I’m seriously skeptical of those who seek to lump the wonderful diversity of soil and climate we enjoy under the pap and pablum banner of “Sonoma County.”

    I’m far more excited at the PR potential of Lady Gaga hanging out in our little town.

    • Well said winemaker John Kelly. I couldn’t agree more. Only to add (conversely) dabbling winemakers and men who can’t make up their minds are the reason why this woman grower is forever the Bachelorette.

      Practicing My Poker Face

  4. I wonder if the girls on the bachelor would want to be the girlfriend or wife of a winemaker if they really knew what that would involve, especially during harvest or the month before harvest. Ask my wife about not seeing me on a consistant basis for about 2-3 months, odd hours, slovenly appearance, destoyed clothes, stinking boots/feet, having to take care of all of the bills and making lunches, loads of laundry etc. Yeah, you get some discounts and bring home a bottle of wine once and a while but it isn’t glamorous like Flajnik and the PR people on the show would portray it (as you might already know).

    • Your wife gives you extra points for publicly admitting to your “slovenly appearance” during harvest! Thanks for reading and commenting Robert. Keep making wine, it’s hard work for little reward, but somebody’s got to do it.

    • Amen, brother. And very few of us are rich (and most of the winery owners who start out wealthy don’t end up that way) and we have limited job security. Yeah, a winemaker is a great “catch.”

  5. Right on Jennifer!!! I also watched the first 10 minutes of the first episode and was put off by the portrayal of the “winemaking lifestyle” of our “local” winemaker. Needless to say I haven’t watched since although I did see him making the rounds at Unified. My stance is the less credibility we give him (and the less press) the better. I would imagine that the 99% already have an overly romantic view of what we do on a day to day basis and only a tiny percentage of that actually knows how hard and dirty these jobs can be. In most cases this romanticism helps us sell wines so I’m not too quick to dismiss the value in it. Any press is good press right? 🙂

    • I think accurate press is the best press for this industry. The more the 99% know about how hard it is, the better the chances they they will begin to reach for wines at chest level rather than knee level in the local Publix! Thanks for reading and making wine Nova.

  6. Ben’s credibility as a “winemaker” has been suspect from the beginning, as no legit industry professional in his or her right mind would keep around a chick that stinks like “fake tan”. Yes, I am referring to the horsey girl, not the horse she rode in on. Looks like she’s going to take it all, though, and I’m betting one or both of them get a slot on Dancing With The Stars next season. Solely based on my observation of consumption by the cast and crew, I’m wondering how much of a bump in sales the industry recognized just during this season’s string of debacles As the whole lot of them seemed to be perpetually sloshed, you have to give them some thanks for that at least.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: