EVENTS & PROMOTIONS: WINES' NEW VENUES: UPSCALE LOCALES FOR SAMPLING HELP VINTNERS TO STAND OUT

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Major vintners are bringing wine tastings out of the cellar to reach more upscale customers where they shop and play.

The Robert Mondavi Winery, Sutter Home Winery and Korbel Champagne Cellars are among major winemakers adopting a more strategic approach for their promotions, including linking with upscale department stores, cruise lines and fashion magazines.

"You can stand out more and make a real statement, rather than just pouring wine at shotgun promotions attended by 50 or 60 different wineries," said Martin Johnson, senior VP at Mondavi.

AT BARNEYS, NEIMAN MARCUS

Mondavi through this spring is hosting a variety of samplings and wine tastings at bridal events at upscale retailers Barneys and Neiman Marcus Co.

The winery also plans to take its tastings aboard luxury Crystal Cruise Lines in the near future. Mr. Johnson explained: "We want to target the adventurous consumer, not just surf the premium wine world."

The events provide a good fit because customers of the upscale retailers and cruise lines fit the same profile as Mondavi consumers, he said.

"One thousand four hundred chardonnays are produced in California alone," Mr. Johnson said. At the same time, 16.8% of wine drinkers consume 88% of the wine. "Loyalty is the name of the game," he said.

At Barneys events held in New York, Chicago and Beverly Hills, Calif., customers will be offered a glass of Mondavi wine while they try on dresses, sign up for the bridal registry or browse. The Beverly Hills event included a bridal fashion show for award-winning designer Vera Wang hosted by winery CEO Michael Mondavi.

The Mondavi winery also serves as a backdrop for an eight-page section appearing in April's Vogue, in photographs by Arthur Elgort. The section features actress Maxine Bahns and fashions from various high-end marketers.

At Neiman Marcus fashion shows planned for March 25 in Dallas and April 3 in Westchester County, N.Y., Mondavi will host wine tastings.

TYING IN WITH COOKBOOK

Not to eschew the food category, the winery also is backing a Mediterranean cookbook signing tour by gourmet Joanne Weir at kitchen specialty store Williams-Sonoma. Tastings of Mondavi's Vichon brand will be featured.

Patrick Promotions, St. Louis, is handling the cookbook tour, but Mondavi uses a number of sales promotions agencies to help with its programs, Mr. Johnson said.

Over the past 10 years, as wine marketers have cut back on mass-media marketing, more money has become available for merchandising and point-of-purchase promotions, said John Gillespie, executive director of the Wine Market Council. "Getting wine to people who otherwise wouldn't be paying attention is very healthy."

Sutter Home, for example, conducts an annual "Build a Better Burger" competition. This spring, it launches a "Nice Things for Spring" loyalty program in which consumers can earn discounts on garden tools, picnic baskets and other catalog items by collecting Sutter Home bottle tops.

CHAMPAGNE AND SINATRA

The promotion bug also has spread to the champagne industry. Korbel this month is promoting a limited edition Frank Sinatra-designed Korbel bottle for Valentine's Day, along with a collection of Sinatra items such as a necktie and

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