Wine Business

Ladder Branding in the Wine Industry

Ladder Branding: Yalumba and Viognier

Ladder branding is central to appropriate wine marketing. Yalumba’s wine marketing of Viognier is a good illustration of successful ladder branding.  I will explore that in this article.

Yalumba is a successful winery which has occupied the Australian Viognier space. They have done this in a convincing fashion since around 1970.  There are strong sales into the UK.  The flagship super-premium member is “The Virgilius.”  This is a very serious wine. The other members of the ladder gain brand equity from it.  One criticism however might be that the ladder can seem to contain quite a lot of members.  This could be a symptom of a tendency to overexploit a successful approach to the market. 

Ladder Branding: the Members

Y Series £11Entry level — affordable
Organic Viognier£11 — £15Affordable / Stretch
Eden Valley Viognier£21Stretch
Yalumba Virgilius Viognier£30 — £35 Flagship ladder brand member
Different price levels of Yalumba Viognier wines

The entry-level member Y Series is still not cheap.  Certainly, Yalumba wish to avoid the opposite of a ladder brand benefit occurring where a super-premium member would not be credible if the entry-level product shipped at £5.

In addition, Yalumba have included a member (Organic) which could act as a bridge between the entry level Y Series and the pricier Eden Valley.

The ladder brand is co-marketed. Other products feature with it. This runs the risk of reducing the ladder branding effect.  The Botrytis Viognier is really a separate product.  Technically it is more expensive often than the Virgilius but this is a niche entry with limited supply available only in 375ml format.

Other Products

There is also a Shiraz/Viognier product range which has only two members. They are also clearly located at distinct price points. Y Series is located at entry level and Hand Picked is located at premium level.

Also, Yalumba offer an Eau de Vie named V de Vie. This product uses Viognier grapes. V de Vie is co-marketed with the ladder brand even though this is really only coincidentally made from Viognier.  There will be few varietal characteristics visible in a spirit.

The straight Viognier range does not really include these other products. However, they all go towards giving Yalumba a strong mind share of the Australian Viognier space.

The Eden Valley product is located just south of the premium slot. The name is well-chosen because it emphasises a sense of place but also there are positive associations between “Eden” and quality.

The Virgilius is available in Magnum. It is suitable for ageing. It is one of few Australian wines to be given a flagship location in the main wine displays at 67 Pall Mall, for example.  So it has clearly established its premium nature.

Main markets

Yalumba is not a listed company. It is therefore not required to provide extensive public data on revenue generation.

However, Wine Australia provide some statistics on Australian wine exports generally.  Australia’s top five export markets by value as at year ending March 2020 are:

  1. Mainland China (40 per cent of total export value)
  2. United States of America (14 per cent)
  3. United Kingdom (12 per cent)
  4. Canada (6 per cent), and
  5. Hong Kong (4 per cent)

Clearly China is of extreme importance in general. Nevertheless, there may well be an opportunity for Yalumba to move more Viognier there.  Wine Searcher lists only one stockist in China. Eden Valley costs £75.  This suggests there is effectively no supply and no information available to consumers in China.

Target consumers

The various rungs of the ladder brand are aimed at different consumers.  

Above all, the Y Series is appropriately placed at entry level. It is interesting, fresh and approachable with decent levels of complexity without excess complexity. Most importantly, there is no sticker shock.

Consumers who are new to the brand will find nothing to put them off. So they may trade up to the upscale members on an appropriate occasion.

The Y Series

Many novice wine drinkers have moved from casual to serious interest in wine as a result of noticing the unassuming yet defined qualities of Y Series.

Placing a member (Organic) just north of entry level but still reasonably priced enough to be a potential step up is intelligent marketing.  The customer is therefore more likely to step up the ladder.  This is especially likely perhaps when a consumer has had the entry level product a few times or it is unavailable.

Making this wine organic and being very clear about that feature is also wise since Millennial Treaters will be a key segment here. That’s because the term “Organic” features prominently on their wish-list for products.

The pricing overlaps with the entry level product which again is intelligent because it encourages switching.  The entry level product is sometimes available at a discount. Great care should be taken here.  One should avoid the discounting of the Organic product so as to maintain its identity as “just slightly premium in a premium range.”

Eden Valley aims at consumers celebrating a special occasion.  It is the “stretch” entry within the ladder branding. So customers who would normally stay on the lower rung might be tempted.

The Virgilius is the “aspiration” product within the ladder branding. Serious wine drinkers are the target. It is attractively priced in comparison to Meursault, for example.

Sample marketing materials

The marketing materials include an immediate link to the wine club.

Moreover, there is an effective strapline. “Thoroughly captivated by this elusive, luscious and complex white variety, a visit to Viognier’s spiritual home saw the beginnings of a journey that would define Yalumba’s white winemaking future.”

This provides a strong brand story showing the roots of the product in the past.  And the strapline also makes strong and clear statements about the qualities of the varietal. The consumer knows what to expect.  The streamline also bootstraps from Old World experience with the variety.  Consumers see that the product is made with care and experience.

In sum, we may conclude that Yalumba have very successfully employed ladder branding within their range of Viognier wines.

See also:

Wine Business

Wine Brand Story: Optimal Marketing


This article illustrates how to create a Wine Brand Story. It uses Château Musar as an example. Creation of a story is the most important element of marketing wine.

Marketing A Premium Bordeaux Blend From Lebanon

Suggested strapline: The Most Ancient Region for Winemaking — Begun by the Phoenicians at least 6000 years ago.

Our history

We are the most prestigious vineyard in Lebanon, famous since 1930 for producing premium reds. These are based primarily on the equally famed left bank Bordeaux blend of grapes. We lead with Cabernet Sauvignon, supplemented with Carignan and Cinsault. This selection combines French tradition with attention to local conditions. This unique combination of advantages allows us to make wine of the highest quality in global terms and yet with relatively modest pricing.

We have continued to produce wine throughout difficult times in Lebanese history. We produced throughout the second world war and even during the civil war in Lebanon which began in 1975.

Our wines have excellent ageing potential. We are confident that we will be able to celebrate our centenary next decade while looking forward to another 100 years. The spectacular Roman ruins nearby at Baalbek show the depth of history on our doorstep.

Wine Brand Story: Location of Vineyards

The location of the vineyards is already something of a talking point among wine lovers. They are located some distance away from the winery — about a 2.5h drive. People ask why this is. They know that Lebanon is a hot country and grapes can be damaged by heat stress in transit. While we take every precaution to prevent this, including picking in the cool hours of the morning, the question remains as to why the distance between vineyard and winery is relatively large.

The answer to this again lies in history and the difficult history of our land. Our founder was unsure of what the future would bring. He felt confident in siting the winery close to Beirut, near to workers and customers, handy for shipping links and definitely likely to remain Lebanese territory for the foreseeable future. The vineyards are in the agriculturally favoured Bekaa valley.

This area is still in Lebanon today. But no-one knew this at the time.

Wine Brand Story: Vineyards in Harmony with Land and People

Our vineyards are amongst the most spectacular and remote in the world.

They are located in the quiet Bekaa Valley, at around 1000m above sea level. This relatively high altitude offsets what would otherwise be excessive heat for winemaking in the Lebanese climate more generally.

Musar vineyards in the Bekaa Valley

A striking mountain range with snow-topped peaks makes up each flank of the valley. To the east of the valley is the Anti-Lebanon mountains.  To the west, Mount Lebanon separates the Bekaa Valley from the Mediterranean Sea. The Bekaa Valley is the north-eastern most part of the Great Rift Valley, which runs from Syria to the Red Sea.

The vineyards see 300 days of sunshine a year making for a leisurely growing season. Fresh mountain breezes from two directions cool the grapes. We have quite a high temperature range despite the mediterranean climate elsewhere in Lebanon: we will often see snow in winter.

The remoteness of the valley has kept it unspoilt and perfect for winemaking in a historical style.

Winemaking: Methods and Philosophy

We aim to be natural and in harmony with nature and people in everything we do. We have a minimal intervention strategy without being afraid of adding value where it helps and does not cause damage to the land, the vines or above all the wine.

Bedouins harvest our grapes between August and October. We choose not to move to mechanised harvesting. This is because we want to continue to do things the way they have always been done. We will not abandon our communities of pickers merely to address the bottom line. Many families depend on us in a region which is short of work.

We use ambient yeasts rather than adding cultured ones which can lead to homogenous wine production. Our winemakers keep sulphur additions to a minimum. We are not afraid to use what is necessary but we do not keep to a pre-set schedule.

We do not make wine in a hurry. The premium red is released after seven years. We ferment relatively cool: below 30C. This gives us gentle yet effective extraction of colours and flavour compounds such as tannins. After six months, we give the wine 12 months of ageing in French oak. There is then some blending and four years of bottle maturation.

Musar was the first vineyard in Lebanon to achieve organic certification (2006). We maintain the organic approach throughout the process: from grape growing to wine making.

Conveying the Wine Brand Story: Marketing

We now outline the principles on which the above marketing piece was constructed.

The marketing leads on history. That emphasises continuity and quality.

The campaign should be highly visual in nature, using such sites as the Baalbek ruins. These are a USP for Musar since the ruins are only reasonably usable by wineries in Lebanon and Musar is easily the wine with the best brand equity in Lebanon.

The marketing focuses on the way the winery has continued to produce despite difficult circumstances. This gives consumers a sense of connection and history stretching forwards into a bright future. The winery also has strong roots in the past. Showing this resilience is especially necessary in the current circumstances.

We bring out the relative good value of the wines. The idea might be Bordeaux quality at Lebanese prices.

The marketing emphasises natural winemaking and environmental strengths. These qualities are highly fashionable and likely to remain so.

All of these factors highlight that Musar is unique. It has unusual grape varieties. The wine comes from a less-well known region. This also represents an opportunity to gain greater exposure for the whites, which use grapes which will be unknown even to many experts.

Avoid Diluting Brand Equity

Brand equity should not be diliuted. This is less likely to be a problem with the Arak, which is high quality and a product with a clear distinction to the flagship premium red blend. This is probably also true of the rosé product, though this is starting to encroach on the central territory. There have been efforts to broaden the appeal of the products to younger consumers by launching easy-drinking ranges of wines (“Musar Jeune”) which have less age and power. This is a highly questionable strategy and if it continues, should not feature heavily in the marketing.

The flagship brand, while relatively inexpensive in comparison to Bordeaux, is still premium in pricing. This means that customers will be high-involvement. They are likely to fall into marketing segments of either “Experienced Explorers” or “Millennial Treaters.” The age of the former means that a social media campaign will likely be ineffective, but this is probably a group which in any case already has good familiarity with the brand. There is an opportunity nevertheless to reach Millennials via social media and a highly visual campaign based on the above parameters is recommended. A wine brand story is especially important for Millennials.

Conveying the Wine Brand Story: Social Media

Short form video on Instagram are the best near term opportunity. Use “Stories” to promote Baalbek and the vineyards. Focus on younger demographics (already partly accomplished by choice of platform) with interest in wine. Emphasise quality and USPs.

Consider joint ventures with bodies promoting tourism to Lebanon. However, one must remain pragmatic since this is not the right time and resources are scarce.

Look at offering free trips to the winery to influencers who will contract to produce Instagram stories in an “organic” way. It will be helpful if at least some of the resulting posts can avoid the “paid post” tag. This should be possible since the actual experience can be documented by the influencer. Not every aspect of it will in fact have been paid for.

Consider chartering private jet for super-influencers. This will be extraordinarily expensive. It will though result in literally millions of page views and will be widely shared by the right influencer. Product placement in the jet is an appealing option. This also adds interest to the region in general and since Musar has a good cellar door operation already. This can benefit from increased high-involvement customer traffic. Again, current circumstances make this operation sadly impossible at present. In addition, there is a risk that the wine brand story starts to look inaccessible to the ordinary customer.