Livermore Valley constantly struggles to receive the attention of both wine drinkers and wine press. In spite of our best efforts, we remain left out of most conversations, an afterthought in the world of wine, recognized if at all by our past.
Quite a few locals, I know, will take issue with this. After all, Livermore is a happening place to those fortunate to live here. But travel a few miles down the road and you will find that most wine consumers are unaware that there are wineries in Livermore. And the situation in restaurants is no better. Try finding a Livermore wine from any of our boutique wineries on a wine list – even in restaurants actively promoting farm to table local cuisine.
Our obscurity is not for a lack of advertising. The Livermore Valley Winegrowers’ Association is constantly organizing events, interacting with social media, and issuing press releases. Gold medal awards for Livermore wines at the San Francisco Chronicle Competition overwhelm competing wine regions as a percentage of the number of entries. And several of our local wineries consistently receive high ratings in the important wine publications. Yet none of this work has gained traction with wine enthusiasts outside of our local community.
So what gives? Why is Livermore failing to relate to a broad consumer base? I believe it is because, as an association, we don’t know who we are. We have yet to position Livermore as a brand with its own identity. Instead, our events and advertising define our valley as a collection of independent wineries. I am not speaking to the larger winery brands, but to the brand of Livermore “wine country” itself.
We confuse consumers by not thinking of Livermore as a unique brand. Each winery has its own story and style, and simply packaging the stories of multiple wineries into a single marketing message lacks the coherency needed to attract awareness. Where Napa defines itself as the land of “bottled poetry,” Livermore is a cacophony of mixed messages.
Mixed messages are apparent in the way we have defined ourselves over the years. Tag lines like, “What are you doing this weekend?” “We are closer than you think.” “Live a little more.” These messages are ambiguous at best. Worse, they raise comparisons to other regions or activities. The uniqueness of Livermore Wine Country will not be established by comparison, especially when the comparisons are often vague and misleading.
So how do we establish a brand identity for Livermore Valley? We should be defining the unique attributes, qualities, and ultimately the personality of this historical valley based on fact, rather than popular legend. In other words, what is brand Livermore’s DNA? I would like to suggest two words to start our thinking: genuine and diverse.
By genuine, I mean that we are what you see – sincere. Livermore is unique in that all but one of our wineries is still family owned. The owner is often the winemaker, and is likely to be somewhere around the winery or even in the tasting room during open hours. They are part of our community. In the day of corporate takeovers, how many wine regions in California can still make this claim?
Diverse refers to the unique terroir of Livermore Valley. Soils that range from limestone and gravel to clay loams, and climates that run from cold to warm, make Livermore Valley one of the most diverse terroirs in the state. In the right soils and climate zones, Livermore can grow a wide number of grape cultivars successfully. At one time, more than 130 different cultivars graced our valley. When properly harnessed, this diverse terroir can influence and give each and every wine a truly Livermore signature.
The ownership of our wineries is also culturally diverse, yet regardless of many unique backgrounds, each is united by an insatiable passion for wine. It is what fuels us, and makes us a strong and united force.
In closing, I have offered the words ‘genuine’ and ‘diverse’ as a way to begin thinking about our valley as a brand. There might be more and better words to express who we are. But we must start somewhere, and soon, or we risk losing one of the world’s great treasures – the heritage wines of Livermore Valley.