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Do winemakers use customer feedback to improve their wines?

This is a guest post by Bill & Claudia Small of Small & Small who are releasing their newest New Zealand Sauvignon this month.

You might notice that the ratings have reset on this wine (while they normally carry over from one vintage to another) and there’s a great reason for that.

The Smalls have poured over feedback from their Angels in three different countries and realized something important… but I’ll let them explain:

Bill & Claudia explain how they incorporate feedback from wine drinkers:

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Bill & Claudia Small, Angel-funded winemakers

If you asked us, when we embarked on our naked adventure six years ago, whether we’d ever change the way we made our wine based on customer feedback our response would have been “No Way!” At that time, we felt that with our level of training and experience, our customers couldn’t possibly tell us anything about our wine that we didn’t already know.

But since then NakedWines.com has grown to be one of the world’s most engaged and active online wine communities, and our wines are part of the reason why that community exists. Since we got started, our Small and Small wines have received over 118 k ratings and 13 k written reviews. To give these numbers some relevance, that’s about the 2000 more reviews than you’ll see listed for the first Harry Potter novel on Amazon.com.

“That’s about the 2000 more reviews than you’ll see listed for the first Harry Potter novel on Amazon.com”

Even today, when we tell our non-naked friends about the amount of time we spend on-line reading and communicating with Angels about our wine, we suspect they think it’s all a little weird. But we’ve come to learn that it’s probably the most powerful winemaking resource that we have.

The first thing we learnt from our reviews was that for every bottle we produce, another unique wine drinking experience is also created. And even though our production size is modest by most standards, we’re still creating hundreds of thousands of those experiences every year. It’s a compelling reminder that we must make wine for the people who buy it – not to please our own whims and certainly not to target influential critics or show judges.

We then began to take note of these experiences. En masse our customers were telling us when and where they drank our wine, and with whom and with what. Best of all, they were telling us if and why they liked it and whether they’d buy it again. And this is how we ended up making two different Small and Small Sauvignon Blancs in 2015.

Up until 2015 our Small and Small Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was the same wine, sold by Naked in the UK, Australia and the USA. Each year we carefully scrutinized our customer reviews and interpreted them into winemaking steps that helped make the next vintage a little bit better.

It was a technique that seemed to work: the 2014 Sauvignon had a 96% angel buy-again rating in the UK- our highest ever. It even made a few appearances in top ten lists outside of the Naked community. At the same time our top shelf Sylvia Reserve Sauvignon (unavailable in the USA), was selected as one of just 34 international trophy winners across all varieties in the Decanter World Wine Awards, one of the world’s largest and most rigorously judged wine competitions. But there was one worrying trend – our numbers in the States were heading in the opposite direction. Initially we thought it was because our American customers were more cautious with their ratings but, with closer scrutiny, we began to see some patterns emerge.

What a UK customer found to be crisp and refreshing was often referred to as ‘too tart’ in the USA.

Perhaps most important were those comments illustrating that the aspects of our wines that our UK and Aussie customers found most appealing were often a turn-off for some USA angels. What a UK customer found to be crisp and refreshing was often referred to as ‘too tart’ in the USA. Similarly when our UK customers said our wine was ‘full of flavour’, the same aspect would be described less enthusiastically as a “strange, overpowering flavor” in the States.

It was then that we realized that the grape growing and winemaking techniques that were making wines that wowed our non-US angels were probably working against us America.

So prior to this vintage we asked ourselves whether we were really making the best wine possible for all our customers. We concluded that if we made two wines, one exclusively for the USA and one for the Brits and Aussies, we’d have the opportunity make a greater proportion of all those wine drinking experiences positive ones.

To make the changes we’d envisioned, it had to start with the grapes in vineyard. For the USA, we chose grapes from our warmer vineyard sites, and grew them under a regime that gave more tropical flavours with gentle acidity. For the UK and Aus, we selected cooler sites, and grew the grapes in a way that gave more pungent Sauvignon flavours and aromas along with a crisper acidity.

Most important for us was ensuring that each wine captured the spirit of the place where the grapes were grown – after all, who wants to drink a wine shipped halfway around the world that tastes no different than stuff grown closer to home?

Fortunately, the thing that makes Marlborough Sauvignon special is that although it can produce a great range of styles from the diverse soils and climates of the region, there’s always a signature character telling Sauvignon lovers that what they’re drinking could not come from anywhere else. We feel that two wines we’ve produced – while different – are still distinctly ‘Marlborough’. We’re proud to be able to offer them both.

A respect and understanding of the place the grapes come from is always at the heart of good winemaking , but we’re thankful to our angels for helping us realize that the place the wine is going is just as important.

Cheers,
Bill & Claudia Small

Getting thirsty yet?!

If you’re intrigued to try the new Small & Small Sauvignon you can order it from the website (if you’re an Angel that is!)

We’re all eager to hear your feedback.

The reviews are already pouring in and they’re quite fantastic:

Todd Wilber Archangel – 2 days ago

Wow! What an excellent SauvB. Everything I love about SauvB is represented — from the fruit-forwardness to the grapefruity goodness to the great price.

Kevin Keegan Angel – 4 days ago

Fruity, as expected from a NZ sauvignon. But well balanced, nice acidity and not to sweet.

Leave your own comment once you’ve tried the wine. You know for a fact that Bill & Claudia are listening!

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Chilled Small & Small Sauvignon Blanc with a nice cheese tray

2 replies on “Do winemakers use customer feedback to improve their wines?”

Very interesting. Thanks to Naked Wines and especially your wines, I’ve learnt a lot about wine. I trust you will continue making the UK vintages of SB, Sylvia, Theodore etc.(Geoff Massey, Cambridge UK)

Hi Geoff – Thanks to you too, it’s always gratifying to know that we have customers who care so much about what’s in the bottle. And yep, we’ve no intention of changing what we do in the UK – we know it works!

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