MUSCADET CASKS OFF: SHIP UNLOADS FRENCH WINE, IMPRESSIONIST ATMOSPHERE

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Consumers with a thirst for 1800s France will get a taste of it this summer in an experiential marketing effort by France's Nantes Wine Bureau.

Striving to raise awareness of its Muscadet Sur Lie white wines from the western Loire region, the bureau has created a re-enactment of the French Impressionist art movement by outfitting a 19th century ship with costumed crew and entertainers from the period to showcase its products.

The "Impressionist Moments" promotion, aboard the Notre Dame des Flots, is sailing across the Atlantic after several stops on the European portion of its tour and this week docks at New Orleans' Bienville Wharf for a promotional festival July 30. On Aug. 12, the ship docks at Manhattan's South Street Seaport for a daylong festival before heading to the conclusion of the tour in Montreal Aug. 30. (A second ship, the Peking, will dock in Manhattan for several days prior to the event for trade promotions.)

ROLL OUT THE BARREL

Events in each market include VIP tastings of the 1998 vintage of Muscadet Sur Lie, with barrels of the wine rolled onto the pier according to French tradition. Wine will be sampled and sold, along with seafood and other delicacies at open-air cafes; merchandise and art themed around the Impressionist era also will be sold.

Each tour stop includes real-life demonstrations of period French culture with strolling winemakers from the city of Nantes, plus actors, musicians, dancers and Impressionist-style art displays. There also will be a painting contest open to local artists.

The promotion, which has existed for the past three years in Europe under a variety of themes, is using the Impressionist theme for the first time and is making its debut in the U.S. under the execution of Teuwen One Image, New York, a 4-year-old promotion agency specializing in upscale food, wine and travel.

"The Nantes Wine Bureau has found that putting together a series of high-profile events gets the same results as a major advertising campaign at one-20th of the cost, and it's proving very effective in targeting upscale audiences," said Stephanie Teuwen, a native Frenchwoman who has spent many years in the U.S. promotion and marketing industries, often specializing in European products.

PROMOTION HAS EVOLVED

The promotion was the brainchild of Christian Chabirand, director of the wine bureau, and has been evolving steadily each year.

"The ability to communicate our image and messages through direct experience to consumers and trade professionals is very powerful . . . our goal is to create an atmosphere of fun, simplicity and conviviality," he said.

In addition to the event in New York, dozens of area restaurants and retailers have joined in the promotion in the weeks leading up to the ship's arrival with in-store events designed to promote sampling and purchase of Muscadet wines; promotions will run throughout August.

RETAILER INVOLVEMENT

Another agency, Food & Wines from France Inc./Sopexa, New York, is executing the retail and restaurant promotions. A total of 65 retailers in the New York, Long Island and Connecticut areas, will each promote at least two Muscadet brands via print advertising or in-store features. Also, 35 restaurants in New York and New Jersey will each promote at least one Muscadet wine with promotions including local print ads and T-shirts, menu inserts, custom corks and banners for in-restaurant activities.

Authenticity in promotions is becoming increasingly important in wooing consumers, said Philippe Ruskin, marketing director at Teuwen One Image, which inaugurated the first-ever consumer Chocolate Show last year in Manhattan, attracting 10,000 enthusiasts with a strong emphasis on the creation and experience of gourmet chocolate.

ENHANCING BRAND EXPERIENCE

"People are really looking for a way to experience products within an environment, and being near real chefs, real winemakers and real chocolatiers enhances their brand experience," he said.

This year's Chocolate Show, slated for Nov. 26-29 and with an admission fee of $12.50, is expected to draw more than 10,000 attendees, plus dozens of

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