Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

Finding Tips for Social Success at the Bottom of a Wine Bottle

I stood in the hills of Le Plan de la Tour, in Provence, France, just a short drive from Saint-Maxime and 20-minute ferry to Saint-Tropez. I looked over the beautiful vineyard that sat just steps from the small cottage my wife and I were renting with another couple for a week last October. The air had the perfect morning chill that required only your most comfortable sweatshirt, but implied that the day would be beautiful and warm, as it seemed every day must be in such a beautiful place. I could only imagine the stories that each grape held about its journey from vine to glass.

Although I’ve had the great fortune to travel to southern France, I don’t know much about wine. I know that there’s red, white, and my wife likes a good Riesling. But I do have a special place in my heart for the wine we drank that week in France, celebrating good food, friends and conversation. Of course it’s highly unlikely that the wine from the local vineyard in Plan de la Tour tastes exponentially better than whatever I could find at the liquor store down the road, but without the story, it’s just not as special.

That’s my personal story. But don’t think it has nothing to do with content marketing. It’s stories just like this one that have allowed one man to sell millions of dollars of wine over email.

From Email List to Empire

Jon Rimmerman is whatever you want to call him—maverick wine enthusiast, taster, businessman, content marketer, emperor, great and powerful Vinous of Oz—but if nothing else, he’s a captivating storyteller.  

Rimmerman (whose success was recently featured in the New York Times) didn’t build a wine empire by harvesting acres of vineyards in southern France or by creating an extensive ecommerce site. Instead, over the last 16 years Rimmerman has carefully nurtured and multiplied an engaged and loyal community of email subscribers from a handful of friends to 130,000 followers. He did this by creating an email newsletter, entitled “Garagiste,” featuring stories about his favorite wines from his hands-on wine tasting adventures throughout the world.

Interestingly, in order to be an early adopter, you couldn’t just sign up on a website (he’s only had a website for a few years). You had to hear about it through word-of-mouth and politely ask to be added. Now you can now subscribe online, but resellers and wholesalers are still not welcome. Keeping it as authentic as possible, Rimmerman types the emails on his mobile device, spur-of-the-moment (complete with authentic spelling mistakes), and never includes photos. It’s not a wine club and there’s no obligation to buy, though there are limited quantities and he rarely (if ever) features the same wine twice.  Oh, and you have to be patient. He only ships twice a year to ensure an optimal climate for transit.

The Pursuit of Truth

Rimmerman is certainly not the only wine critic with access to the Internet (see Vaynerchuk, Gary), but what makes his emails so special is the way in which he spins captivating stories about each wine he offers. In fact, to make sure each email comes through in as personal a tone as possible, he deliberately asked his assistant to leave typos and grammatical errors in. It’s a refreshing concept for the wine industry and helps differentiate his brand (to say the least) from other top critics. It reeks of authenticity.

In an age of technologically advanced email marketing and CRM systems, this approach seems too antiquated to be successful. But Rimmerman cites a broader cultural shift working in his favor (from the aforementioned New York Times article):

“It’s almost like ‘everything old is new again.’ Or the music scene going back to turntables or . . . vintage 1960s tube amplifiers — people crave warmth, whether it’s auditory or in business, and eventually they come around to what makes them feel good, what keeps them warm — sensory or mentally.”

Success stories like this are admittedly more the exception than the rule, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned. Rimmerman’s refusal to play by common email marketing rules seems to connect him even more closely with his subscribers. By breaking the mold of standard email newsletters, the email reads like a note sent to a select few of his wine-loving friends.

4 Key Lessons To Learn from Garagiste


1. Be authentic, even if it means imperfection
An audience doesn’t require its performer to be perfect. In fact, imperfection helps humanize the performer. Slight imperfections are a well-known presentation strategy. Don’t strive to make mistakes, but don’t act like the sky is falling if you do.

2. Understand what keeps your audience warm, in both their minds and hearts
Effectively connecting with your audience means you have to do your research. Why are they subscribing to your email list? How can you help them? What will make them smile, nod and share your content? 

3. Don’t be afraid to exclude
Social media has led us to judge success purely by the numbers. But what does having a million fans, followers or subscribers mean if they’re not targeted, engaged or relevant to your brand? In the beginning, Garagiste’s exclusivity helped the groundswell. Being selective can have its perks. 

4. Storytelling matters
Garagiste is so successful because of the stories Rimmerman tells about his experiences traveling to taste the wine, the setting of the wine tasting, the demeanor of the wine maker, and all the other arguably pointless details that make his stories so interesting. Leading with a story before the offer can add that extra value to what you’re selling. Brand + Story = Value. 

As long as the content captivates, even something as simple as text-only email messages can work. I’m not advising you to ditch MailChimp, fire your copy editor and shut down your e-commerce site. Rimmerman’s successful brand isn’t a blueprint, but rather a source of insight into the power of storytelling.

Do you have any good content marketing success stories to share? Or just stories about wine, for that matter?

Image via Flickr

  • Pingback: How To Get Traffic To Your Blog – My Simple Strategy | Per-Erik Olsen - The Home Business Selection

  • Deborah Anderson

    Wow! The part about authenticity and leaving grammar errors to create that human feel. Interesting! It reminds me of how the drum machine lost favor because it was “too perfect” and there is a more human feel and warmth when drummers are just a tiny bit “off” in their playing. Thanks for the great post -Deborah

  • Jon Thomas

    Thanks for the comment Deborah and you make a great point. Imperfection is a human trait, and we’re drawn to the humanity in others. Often you’ll see directors intentionally leave mistakes in movies to add that feeling of authenticity, because we don’t all deliver our lines perfectly in real life. I think it’s also why reality television, while very scripted and manipulated, is still wildly popular.

  • Sabina Varga

    I really enjoyed this story. Loved the beginning of the article – created an atmosphere that just made me want to read more :) .

    I especially like lessons 2&3. And I’d add ‘Be patient’. Nothing like Rimmerman’s story can happen overnight. The detail that till not so long ago you had to hear about the newsletter WOM – wow!, growth was probably so very slow in the first years that it would make some content marketers go mad for sure.

  • Jon Thomas

    Thanks Sabina. As soon as I started reading the NYT article, I began to think back to that trip to southern France.

    Patience is truly a virtue, especially in content marketing. You’re quite right. It’s never an overnight success. It’s a slow climb to the top!