Blue Mountain Vineyards: Fine Wine, Top-Shelf Marketing and a Dog

  •    A freelance reporter and writer based in Philadelphia, Pa., Dinah previously worked as a staff reporter for The Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires.

Blue Mountain Vineyards draws on old-world traditions to produce small-batch wines from grapes grown on a terraced Pennsylvania hillside. To help engage customers and drive sales, the winery benefits from modern social media strategies.

Located in New Tripoli in the Lehigh Valley, 31-year-old Blue Mountain Vineyards sells its bottles of reds, Riesling and blushes online, on site and at select stores. More than sales, though, the vineyard also offers customers a variety of wine, food and musical experiences, in person and online.

The business's switch late last year to Weebly's premium service from an independent web-design firm has helped in its marketing efforts, says Blue Mountain manager Kat Collins, who handles the vineyard's website and social media efforts.

"It gives me a lot of flexibility and a lot of freedom to do what I want with the website, because the basic building blocks are there but I can put it together (the way) I want," says Collins, who produces the site's design and content. “I don't need to know the programming aspect of it because Weebly already did that for me."

Sleek, Inviting, Informative

Blue Mountain's clean, elegant site draws in visitors with a photo of a verdant hillside vineyard under a blue sky, and a succinct description of its product: "Old World Wine In The New World." A welcome message packs in information in a brief, appealing description—a micro-climate similar to France's Loire and Burgundy regions, European vinifera grapes, crisp whites, and complex reds "with bright fruits and subtle hints of earth, smoke, and spice."

The website's clear organization makes it easy to navigate to BMV's "story," which includes its history, owner and crew profiles—Joe and Vickie Greff own the business, with Joe serving as winemaker—wine recipes, and a blog purportedly written by the vineyard's popular Rottweiler, Vidal. (More about him shortly).

The events section promotes BMV's Sunday blues series, a wine tasting and comedy night, a vineyard tour and barrel tasting, and a wine and cheese evening.

Ecommerce: More Than Wine Bottles

An eCommerce platform allows visitors not only to buy bottles of Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and other varieties online, but also to "adopt a vine" and eventually receive a specially labeled bottle from the vine during a ceremony at the vineyard.

Wine lovers also can order personalized labels and gift baskets, join BMV's Barrel Club (which involves helping to make a French Bordeaux), and pay for a weekday lunch to celebrate a special occasion.

While the vineyard had eCommerce capability on its old website, "it was very cumbersome," says Collins. The new one is so easy to find and use that Collins estimates online sales increased by 30 percent to 35 percent soon after BMV switched to Weebly in November. The vineyard used to handle a couple of online orders a week, and now receives them almost every day, she says.

Other aspects of the website change have helped as well, reports Collins.

Ease in Updating

"I had very limited access to be able to change anything, and I also was not able to do many things I wanted to do to the website to update it without paying." The other provider cost more, and Collins said it didn't do some things that she knew were possible. "It was something simple," having to do with the way she wanted to post events, but the company's template wasn't flexible enough, according to Collins, who says she can do those things on the new site.

“Weebly was a lower cost alternative for us for the value," she says. And the customer service has been very helpful, with any issues usually resolved within 10 or 15 minutes, via online chat.

There's more to BMV's online strategy than its website, however. The business has worked to develop relationships with its customers through Facebook and Twitter, says Collins, who often features Vidal, named for Vidal Blanc wine, to draw people to the vineyard.

"He's a big hit," she says. "A lot of people come here looking for the dog."

Building Relationships

The relationship-building on Twitter and Facebook have driven traffic to events and increased sales, she says. BMV's Facebook page, which includes video of crew members bottling White Merlot and another of a grape-stomping event, has more than 6,300 followers. More than 1,200 people follow the business on Twitter. BMV also uses social media to advertise wines and specials.

Collins suggests that small businesses "definitely get involved with Facebook and Twitter, those are two of the biggest ones. Instagram would be another one for photography. I think the biggest thing we've discovered for Facebook is building a relationship … the story side of things."

Unless a business is very small and just starting, she also recommends they hire someone, whether freelance or a regular employee, to handle social media, which she says can be hard work and a 24-7 enterprise. She makes sure, for instance, to quickly answer messages and posts.

“We're big on customer service," says Collins.

In fact, that attention to customers is part of what makes the business successful. The award-winning wines, of course, are also a draw.

"I think it's a combination of things. They definitely keep coming back for the wine, but I think it's the whole experience here, they like the owners," she says. "They tell me it's the fact that we treat them like family."