Editor’s note: Author Jonathan H. Newman is pictured above with Mr. Wonderful.
Wine has become a popular investment for celebrities. But it’s not always a profitable one.
There is an old adage: The best way to make a small fortune in the wine business is to start with a large fortune.
Making money in wine can be challenging. You must purchase (or source) the right vineyards from the right appellations, have the right winemaker, plant the most-marketable varietals, have the right marketing and sales team — and Mother Nature must cooperate. It is very expensive.
One of the wineries that I represent in my portfolio has been selling Kevin O’Leary Fine Wines. I was asked to represent the brand in Pennsylvania. Readers will know Kevin O’Leary as Mr. Wonderful from his 10-season tenure on CNBC’s Shark Tank. I sampled his wines, which were delicious, and it was clear that they were making a significant commitment to the brand.
In November I met Kevin at the Harrisburg Airport to work the Pennsylvania market together. The most-interesting thing about him was how engaging he was, and down to earth. He is an all-around good guy, but maybe that doesn’t fit with his rough-and-tumble TV persona. He never got distracted during the entire day and worked the market hard. He was knowledgeable about all aspects of his wines: choosing the right grapes, nailing the right taste profile, and the best approach to marketing wine. He said to consumers, “I have your back” on purchasing this wine — and he meant it, as the wine overdelivers.
He spent hours in Harrisburg signing bottles and interacting with PLCB members to help sell and market his wines. Kevin set forth a dynamic and detailed social marketing strategy. Within a couple weeks of his visit, he implemented that strategy, cutting several videos and following through on commitments. He studied the Pennsylvania market and tailored his videos to be consistent with the Pa. Board’s marketing plan.
Kevin did a tasting and signing in Ardmore, PA, at one of the largest superstores in suburban Philadelphia. The crowd fell in love with him. He spent a lot of time with each consumer. His $26.99 Napa Valley Cabernet was on fire. At times, we had to move things along because Kevin was engaged with each consumer as they took their picture and talked about their favorite episodes of Shark Tank. Just about every consumer that sampled the wine at the store purchased a signed bottle.
A few hours later, he did a wine dinner nearby, and again the crowd couldn’t get enough of Mr. Wonderful. Naturally, a lot of questions were about Shark Tank. For example: Does he really dislike Mark Cuban? His answer was that he doesn’t agree with Cuban on most of his business decisions, but that he personally liked his fellow shark, and they were supportive of each other.
Kevin also enthralled his 60 dining guests with his genuine love of wine. He is a true wine enthusiast, from the great whites and reds of Burgundy to classified Bordeaux and big Napa Cabs.
His brand has been performing so well because he is connecting with the consumer and created a dynamic marketing strategy that is focused on entertaining social media. Many celebrity wine personalities have come and gone during my 20-year tenure in the business. Kevin O’Leary isn’t going anywhere, and I have a feeling his wine empire is just beginning.
As chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, Jonathan H. Newman was the nation’s largest wine buyer. He has received significant industry accolades during his career. Follow him on Twitter at @NewmanWine and visit his website: newmanwine.com. Read his recent piece Evaluating Napa and Sonoma’s 2018 Vintages.