Of competition and promotion

Marketing Lebanese wine in a growing landscape

All the major wineries are using both traditional and non-traditional forms of marketing (Photo: Greg Demarque)
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There are arguably few things more enjoyable than sipping on a good glass of wine after a long day. Selecting a brand of wine for that pleasure is not as simple as it seems though: from the quality to the appearance and the image that a specific wine invokes in your mind as a consumer, a lot goes into the choice of bottle.

Amidst a dynamic wine sector, Lebanese wineries are honing their marketing strategies to make sure their wine is the one that gets picked at the end of the day.     

The more the merrier

Following the end of the Lebanese Civil War in 1990, Lebanon had only eight wineries. Today it boasts approximately 50.

The playing field has certainly expanded, yet older wineries insist that they welcome the addition of boutique wineries, explaining that it has benefited the Lebanese wine industry as a whole.

According to Zafer Chaoui, chairman and CEO of Château Ksara, and Edouard Kosremelli, director general of Château Kefraya, the growing number of wineries is a positive development because it has led to the increase of wine consumption in Lebanon.

Kosremelli explains that the increase in wineries has led to curiosity about wine among Lebanese, which in turn has increased consumption. He therefore doesn’t view the new wineries as competition to Château Kefraya. “Having more wineries in Lebanon is balanced by more demand for wine so this competition is not affecting Kefraya. The market is still growing and we’re not the only ones to have growth,” he says.

[pullquote]The growing number of wineries is a positive development because it has led to the increase of wine consumption in Lebanon[/pullquote]

Still, Chaoui sees that the rate of wine consumption in Lebanon is not on par with other wine producing countries and believes that a further increase would lead to a more dynamic wine sector. “As a country, we should focus on increasing local consumption per capita as this would be the best solution to an increased number of producers and would be a huge potential for the sector to develop in the future. Each winery has contributed to increasing the consumption per capita by pushing, relative to its size and capacity, for its wine to be tried all over,” says Chaoui.

Foreign is not necessarily better

The real competition for Lebanese wine in the local market, according to those interviewed, comes from foreign wines which are being imported into Lebanon at a higher rate than five years ago, fueled by the increased interest in wine and by the growing number of specialized wine retailers in the country (at least three have opened in the last five years alone).

The wineries interviewed explain that many Lebanese still believe foreign wine is better than local wine. “Some [Lebanese wines] are not good while others are great but on average we have really good wine and every single sommelier or wine specialist that has come to Lebanon is really surprised by this,” says Ixsir’s General Manager Hady Kahale.

The power of the vineyard

While each winery Executive spoke to has its unique marketing strategy, a few common themes emerged.

To begin with, all wineries agreed that, for a marketing campaign to succeed, first and foremost the wine has to be of high quality. “Wine is not only about marketing. If you don’t have a high quality product, you will sell well in the first year but then stop,” says Kahale.

Another common theme among the wineries interviewed is their belief in enotourism, or wine tourism, as an effective means of communicating their message. Those interviewed explained that, through visits to wineries, consumers get a feel for the winery’s unique philosophy and understand how wine is made while having a good time. By association, they will be more likely to select it in a store or at a restaurant.

The wineries also have their own marketing and development strategies based on assessments of their individual strengths and selling points.

Word of mouth

For Ixsir, according to Kahale, the most efficient marketing strategy is word of mouth where the consumers themselves talk about Ixsir and essentially promote it among their contacts.

To achieve this, Ixsir made sure it was where their target consumer would be most likely to consume wine. “For me, the best ambassador of Ixsir is Ixsir itself; people need to taste wine. The way we reached people is through having them taste the wine in a good setting – not supermarkets – such as exhibitions or events when they are ready to drink or eat,” says Kahale, citing Ixsir’s presence at bistro style restaurants, private and charity events.

[pullquote]All wineries agreed that, for a marketing campaign to succeed, first and foremostthe wine has to be of high quality[/pullquote]

Ixsir also created an association for itself with the arts, explains Kahale, making sure to be present at exhibition openings and art events across the city and also dedicating a section of their winery to exhibitions.

Ixsir was also among the first wineries to become active on social media, according to Kahale, who says it was a very important step for marketing their wine to younger consumers.

Ixsir’s marketing team is made up two people, including Kahale, who describes himself as a Jack-of-all-trades. While Kahale did not disclose the exact percentage earmarked for marketing from the winery’s budget, he placed it at somewhere between 10 to 20 percent.

A terrior, a soul, a great wine

For Kosremelli, Château Kefraya’s tagline “a terrior, a soul, a great wine” sums up their marketing strategy, which focuses on communicating the fact that Château Kefraya owns their vineyards, meaning it does not buy grapes from contracted farmers. This, according to Kosremelli, allows them to better control their grapes, in turn leading to the production of a higher quality wine.

Kosremelli explains that the idea of producing wine came to the late Michel De Bustros (he passed early August 2016) following the good feedback he received regarding the quality of the grapes he had been growing and selling to wineries since the 1950s. “Until now, we use only our grapes. This is what gave consistency to Château Kefraya and allowed the brand to grow. We have full control over our terrior, we understand them and each year we have a better understanding of what they can give,” says Kosremelli, explaining how the winery invests heavily into studying their soil in order to yield to the best wine possible. “The rest can take care of itself,” he says.

[pullquote]Château Ksara’s history, and consequently its reputation, is its strongest marketing strength, according to [Zafer Chaoui, chairman and CEO of Château Ksara][/pullquote]

Château Kefraya also engages in advertisements and promotions, spending 15 percent of its annual budget on marketing which Kosremelli says is “important for maintaining market share and increasing wine consumption per capita”.

Château Kefraya’s marketing is done through both traditional means – such as newspaper and magazine advertisements and some billboards – and the nontraditional means such as social media, tastings and events.   

Banking on history

Founded in 1881 by the Jesuit monks, Château Ksara’s history, and consequently its reputation, is its strongest marketing strength, according to Chaoui. “We have an excellent quality, reputation and history and this cannot but be taken into consideration,” enthuses Chaoui.

Being in operation for almost 160 years, Château Ksara’s challenge, according to Chaoui, is maintaining their position in the market. He explains that, “We maintained [market position] through investment and continuity. We invest wherever needed in a very good marketing strategy, a committed sales team, good quality and reputation,” says Chaoui.

Château Ksara spends 8 percent of its annual turnover on marketing, a percentage which Chaoui describes as “healthy”. The winery has a marketing manager with a team of three employees who all work closely with the sales team. Château Ksara does its own distribution which has the advantage of allowing them to be closer to their consumer base compared to those employing a third party distributor, according to Chaoui. “This costs more than if we had a distributor but it allows for a closer relationship between the customer and Ksara, which wouldn’t be the case if we had a third party distributing,” explains Chaoui.

Château Ksara also invests heavily in traditional advertisements such as billboards, newspapers, TV and radio ads and magazines, but doesn’t ignore the non-traditional ones such as social media, explains Chaoui.

Nabila Rahhal

Nabila is Executive's hospitality, tourism and retail editor. She also covers other topics she's interested in such as education and mental health. Prior to joining Executive, she worked as a teacher for eight years in Beirut. Nabila holds a Masters in Educational Psychology from the American University of Beirut. Send mail