How wine stained my life.
In 1999, a mere infatuation turned into a near-obsession. When a corporate takeover (and the resulting “package”) relieved me of the need to go to the office every day, I took the opportunity to return to school. A pilot program called Vintners’ Enterprise was the key to a new career that would allow me to bring my marketing and communications skills to bear in the wine world.
Our key instructor, Linda Bramble, ignited a fire in all of us. For me, I discovered that wine is a wonderful vector for meeting fascinating people, appreciating the environment, and for lifelong learning.
As I quoted in my Vintners’ Enterprise valedictory address,
A bottle of wine contains more philosophy than all the books in the world." ~ Louis Pasteur
In vino veritas.
My first opportunity to make a difference in the wine world came when I started on the ground floor of a game-changing gravity winery start-up in Beamsville, Ontario.
Malivoire Wine Company (Marketing Manager)
The challenge here was to create and execute a comprehensive marketing plan for a brand new ultra-premium winery. Starting from scratch, I worked with very engaged owners and winemaker to develop the corporate identity, branding and packaging. Then came marketing collateral and the care and feeding of media. And all the while, delivering the on- and off-site customer experience. I created a database and an email strategy for Malivoire that allowed us to market our wines with sales results that were envied in the industry. We also worked hard to develop relationships in the wine community and in our neighbourhood. The result of all these efforts was Malivoire’s consistent recognition as an innovative and responsible winery with a desirable product.
Southbrook Vineyards (Director of Customer Experience)
The next challenge was very much like another start-up, but with an intriguing twist. Southbrook’s owners had decided to move their 14-year-old winery operation, from off the beaten wine path north of Toronto, to the heart of the action in Niagara-on-the-Lake. The winemaker was hired, a vineyard was purchased and an architect was selected. The role that I was offered included the responsibility for marketing, sales and hospitality. But first, we had to re-brand and re-position from the old farm-based winery, and design and build the new, contemporary hospitality building.
The re-branding process was a joy. I initiated the search for a creative partner, and Messenger of Toronto was our choice. Along with Messenger principal Laura Wills, I led our management team through a process that helped us get a clear grasp of the “personality” of the new Southbrook. A well-defined creative brief and a sincere respect for the talents and contributions of our designers resulted in gorgeous, award-winning packaging, consistent interior finishes and point of sale materials, as well as a content-rich and customer-friendly website. Have a look.
A particular thrill was the development of the "Poetica Project." As part of the rebranding, we decided to reposition Southbrook's limited-edition wines. What would be better than to honour our two newly-discovered archetypes (the Lover and the Creator) where they intersect - with Poetry. The Poetica series won an award, was featured in a book, and even contributed to one woman's journey to embracing her own name! (Listen to the Rosie Fernandez story on CBC Radio - at 31:30.)
To underline our customer-centricity, I created a new title for myself – Director of Customer Experience – that was, at the time, the only such title in the Ontario wine industry. (It’s been copied since – but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!)
In the beginning.
My career in public relations and communications started shortly after I moved to Toronto from Montreal and found a job working with the Public Relations Manager of CAA Toronto. She encouraged me to pursue an education in PR, first at Humber College and later I received my certificate from the University of Toronto for a program endorsed by the Canadian Public Relations Society.
A subsequent move brought me to Niagara and within a couple of years, an eventual return to PR and communications, this time at the Ontario Paper Company (later to become QUNO). I took on a variety of assignments within the Human Resources Department at Ontario Paper, and was ultimately tapped to become the Communications Coordinator for a very exciting project when the company went public in 1992. We launched a new name and brand for a company operating in two languages, in two provinces. We also undertook the rigours of shareholder relations including financial annual reporting. I created a database to handle all financial mailings. As a two-person corporate communications team, my boss and I also offered communications consulting to company departments on topics from paper recycling to tree-planting to a new employee benefits plan. Variety is the spice of life!
After my boss’s retirement, I was also in the unenviable but important position of presiding over the financial and employee communications during a corporate takeover and subsequent lay-offs. I was encouraged to take a position in the new head office in Montreal but chose to stay in Niagara. The resulting package was the key that allowed me to reinvent myself, and move into the wine industry.