David Bower, Surry Community College enology instructor and wine industry consultant.
Photo courtesy of Surry Community College

by Courtney Llewellyn

Competition in the wine industry is horrible – so says David Bower, enology instructor and winemaker at Surry Community College in Dobson, NC. Raised and schooled in the industry, he also runs his own wine consulting business, helping both newcomers and those entrenched in the wine business make a mark.

“The first question I ask the students in my marketing class is ‘Who are you?’” Bower said. “It’s not about what you do but what you value, and when you understand that, you can identify your core values, then your core competency, and then you can hire and work with people who are good at what you’re not.

“You also need to answer the question ‘Why do I want to start a winery?’ Every single winery needs to have a story to sell its wine,” he added.

This was how Bower introduced the concept of branding to attendees at the 2019 Annual Conference of the North Carolina Winegrower’s Association early last month. He said his goal was to talk about an introduction on how to brand a winery. “You need quality. You need to be different and interesting and your wines need complexity,” he explained. “It’s about creating differentiation, figuring out what you’re good at and understanding who you are.”

Bower grew up on a farm and winery in Upstate New York, attended Cornell to major in enology and viticulture and moved to North Carolina in 2012 to begin work at Surry Community College as enology instructor and a winemaker with Surry Cellars, through which the college makes 1,000 cases of wine a year from on-campus vineyards. When he joined Surry, there was no marketing side to the program, so he immediately started the Marketing and Wine Design and Management classes. He’s also a VESTA instructor for Missouri State University and an instructor for the Wine Business Management Online Certificate Program with Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute.

The most important thing he wanted to impart to his audience at the recent conference was the fact that a brand is not just a logo.

“A logo can lead consumers to your brand, but a brand is what a company aims to be,” Bower said. “I like to tell my students their brand is like an animal, because it’s alive. It’s always changing and adapting.”

Your brand should take everything into consideration – your well-defined values, your competencies and your history. “Then you can make connections,” Bower said. “People want a brand they can fall in love with. Your optimal consumer will feel strongly about your brand – ideally, the same way you do. [Your brand and your wine] should occupy a portion of their mind.”

It is critical to note that previous branding efforts may not carry over to new audiences. “A year ago, I worked with a client who thought just because they purchased a winery they had a brand, that they had a built-in base,” he said. “They had issues in the beginning bringing people in. They were not the ‘old’ winery – they had to show who they are.”

Bower’s Lake Ridge Consulting, which focuses on all parts of the wine business, gives him the real world experience necessary to provide wineries and other spirit-making ventures strategies that will help define them. He noted he is currently working with a cider brand right now with “articulating what they’re truly about.”

“We live in an era with a lot of copycats. We can learn from others, but we have to innovate and continually move forward (especially with packaging and closures),” Bower stated. “If you’re not thinking about your branding, you’re not going to make it to the next step. New wineries really need to be disrupting the marketplace.”