There’s probably only one winery who has truly embraced the power of social media marketing in this era, and as the pages of of time have begun to turn into the era of millennial-dominant wine purchasing power, that winery is Red Cap Vineyards.
If you take a look at social media (especially instagram), there is no Napa wine more dominant in terms of social presence than Red Cap. Sure, you have all the buzz of people posting the cult wineries and all the prestige that comes with it, but we’re not talking about the number of followers (which really means nothing) or hashtags that go with it, but instead a presence of social interaction among wine lovers over the specific wine. When a Red Cap post appears, the instagram wine community gushes over it, and that post garners praise from strangers all over for acquiring or opening such a bottle. As a stranger, you might look in (very much like how we did a few years back) and wonder, “wow, this bottle must set me back a fortune” and then do your research to find that their Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon will only set you back $27 and $75 respectively. Surely this has to be a mistake right? A wine adored by a wine community (that drinks exceptionally well) sets off a child-like excitement on Christmas morning every time they see a bottle. Well, it is definitely no mistake, the success that Red Cap Vineyards has had up to now has propelled them into almost selling out of all their wine, foreshadowing a future of possible allocation only! When we first visited Red Cap Vineyards for the first time, we were already all aboard the hype-train that was already full steam ahead to what it has become today. However, after a few years of hanging out with their Marketing Director Michael Nguyen, we truly were able to understand that the rise to greatness for Red Cap was definitely formed from a solid foundation of humbleness and embracing innovation.
If you ask Michael today, yesterday, tomorrow, what his favorite wine in the world is, he will tell you Red Cap Vineyards without hesitation. Naturally you assume that since he represents Red Cap Vineyards, naturally he would say something along those lines. But when you ask again, he will happily double down on his words and then in turn ask you to name a wine that you think is better. While wine preference is certainly objective, it’s Michael’s tenacity and firm belief in his product that really sets him apart from your regular salesman. So how exactly did this carry over into spearheading the most dominant wine instagram sales page? Let’s go back a bit.
When instagram first formed, not a lot of people really knew what it was about, perhaps it was just a platform to share pictures instead of statuses. The idea of social media marketing was still probably an idea if at all even one. Yet as the community grew, Michael saw the potential for a platform that could connect strangers together over a shared passion, and it was destined that he would eventually find his favorite wine in the hands of Tom and Desiree Altemus. It was then, the idea of creating sales through a channel of social media began to take shape for Red Cap Vineyards. Of course, the success didn’t happen overnight, starting off was probably the hardest thing about it all. Imagine yourself in the position of Tom and Desiree, a sales kid from the tech world telling the future of wine marketing would be shaken up by posting pictures on a platform, and by that hiring him, he would turn that into a channel for sales. Now compound that idea with the fact that the winery’s success would be the lifeline of paying the bills and putting the kids through college. In any owner’s eyes, this would have been too crazy of an idea and improbable one, but Tom and Desiree took the chance on Michael. Like most business and projects, it started off slow, but the Red Cap Family would happily attribute the success to the support of the early instagram community. By being able to connect strangers to the same passion, Michael was able to jump on a platform and really sell the idea of building relationships between wine lovers. What started as a slow back and forth chatter between strangers eventually became the introduction of Red Cap Vineyards to big OG wine influencers such as Richard Miyake (@richardmiyake), distributor Nathan Kunzman (@nathankunzman) and Julio Blanco (@juliaoblanco69 & @howellmountainwines). With a visit to the winery, each of these influencers found a hidden gem, and naturally began to spread word to their own friends, and perhaps it was then the instagram community began to hear whispers of Red Cap Vineyards. Yet, at the end of the day, even with Michael’s ability to strike up a conversation and have a good time with just about anybody to Tom & Desiree’s warm hospitality, the wine must have been able to speak for itself among the refined palates. For that, we go back even farther.
What created Red Cap Vineyards’ excellence was Tom & Desiree’s vision of creating great wine, and the help of an extremely talented but humble winemaker Rudy Zuidema. When Rudy entered the Red Cap family, he had already had experience with mountain fruit at the very esteemed Robert Craig winery, and with the farming practices of Tom, they would create something amazing. Balance is perhaps what Tom was seeking, and Rudy truly excelled at bringing out the essence of the Red Cap Vineyard into the bottle. A wine that spoke of the Howell Mountain AVA, a wine that was built to last, a wine of power and finesse, and most importantly, a wine that spoke to drinkers of what Red Cap was all about. Following suit of producing the wine came down to the humble pricings of their wine which really made it unique. At $75 for a pure 100% Howell Mountain Cabernet, and at $27 for a delicious Rutherford Sauvignon Blanc, the prices spoke well to wine aficionados, and as the years went on, the price remained steady, creating an easy buy. However, it wasn’t just a humble pricing that really set Red Cap Vineyards apart from the rest, but the environment where you would experience the wine that really added to the wine.
We are firm believers of that wine is an experience, and where and when you have it, can determine the difference between a good or great bottle of wine. What Tom and Desiree set up for their environment really helped contribute to the expression and enjoyability of their wine. From sitting at a picnic table or being inside their house, to the fresh baked duck fat pizza or charcuterie plates, to chatting with Tom and Desiree about just anything, the environment really made anyone there feel like they were being welcomed into the family, all while enjoying a beautiful glass or glasses of wine. However, what really speaks volumes is you will never hear Tom say he has the best grapes or vineyard. Perhaps he believes it (Michael certainly does), but the humbleness that flows through the entire family doesn’t let that show. There’s something about that type of humble personality that is so refreshing from the big shot wineries that often tout that their piece of land or grapes are by far superior to any that exist (to some extent, they are deservedly so). With Tom and Desiree though, there is a family that is happy to just show you their best effort, all the while making sure you are enjoying yourself.
Let’s move forward again, back to how exactly the success was built through endless innovation on Michael’s end. While we spoke of the hospitality earlier, the true marvel of all the success was Michael’s ability to portray this type of environment through social media. His constant effort to get to build relationships between the consumer and Red Cap Vineyards was nothing different from something you would learn in a sales book, but his execution was at a high level. It would be simple for anyone to say that maintaining a relationship with a customer is super easy, but Michael really put in the effort to getting to know the customer to the level of where you felt that you gained a new best friend, not just some representative from a winery. Whether it was through text, instagram, phone calls, Michael somehow juggled the responsibility of getting to know all of his clients, and from the resulting relationships, sales came easier. Yet, that was never enough, and he pushed for Tom and Desiree to get behind their Red Cap instagram account and get to know their consumers as well. What resulted from it was something of real beauty, where each comment from the family, you almost felt like you were being pulled back to that picnic table enjoying a chat with either Tom, Desiree, or Michael. However, knowing Michael, a personal connection with consumers was only the tip of the iceberg, he went a step further to build relationships with neighboring wineries in Howell Mountain. Michael’s love for the Howell Mountain AVA pushed him to make relationships with big names such as Robert Craig, Retro Cellars of the Dunn family, and Robert Foley. That allowed almost a cross promotion between wineries on instagram with the endless back and forth chatter between them. While still competitors, this level of collaboration between wineries was unheard of, but in the end it paid off, as wine lovers were introduced to new wineries and delicious wine. Instead of alienating the competition, Michael embraced it, and that really set the precedent for the next wave of success.
With these foundations and worth ethic, it was only a matter of time before Red Cap slowly and surely gathered a cult-like following to the point of today where the problem is having not enough wine to sell. Yet, despite all the success, nothing really changed, every visit to Red Cap was still as magical as the first. The same smiles, warmth, great wine, and a sense of family that spells out nothing but Red Cap Vineyards. Funny enough, all it took was having a humble and honest foundation, and trusting a boy with a shaved head and covered in tattoos that a social platform would be next great thing for wine marketing.
As I sit here writing this while enjoying a glass of the Red Cap 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon, I think back on the recent tasting I had at the Red Cap Vineyards party, an absurd vertical of almost all of their vintages and future ones to come, and the future looks bright. The future of the ‘13 vintage is already superb, and the older vintages were all drinking beautifully much like the 06’ aging gracefully, with some still beaming with youth like the ‘09. At the same time I’m hitting myself for not buying more when I had the chance, but as I put my nose to the glass and take a sip, none of that matters anymore. Among the notes of dark fruits, mocha, chocolate, and currant, there’s one I can’t readily identify. An umami note that’s so fulfilling and indescribable, perhaps the note of everything that Red Cap Vineyards represents. Perhaps it’s fine that I can’t identify it or ever will, because at this moment, I’m taken to the picnic bench sitting with Tom, Des, Rudy, and Michael having the time of my life.
Written by Phil of TheWineGuys