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Napa Storytelling: Why So Serious? A Research Study

By James A. Downing, PhD and MGMT 454 researchers, California State University – Chico

We all love a good story, and the wine business has long recognized the need of good stories to sell wine. Stories differentiate wineries in the stories’ plot, persona, and person. How these stories are crafted is meant to appeal to a particular audience. Winery stories can be classified into the classic wine archetypes developed from psychologist Carl Jung’s categorization of the human psyche.  We had a discussion in my Family Business class at California State University, Chico which got us thinking that if there are particular types of stories to appeal to certain audiences then what are the elements of those stories.  Wineries seek to differentiate themselves between geographic area and within their clusters (Downing and Parrish, In Press).  Archetypes are the universal elements of the collective unconscious that reside in all of us and can be summed by twelve classifications: The Innocent, The Explorer, The sage, The Hero, The Outlaw, The Magician, The Regular Guy or Girl, The Lover, The Jester, The Caregiver, The Creator, and The Ruler.  So how does Napa Valley wineries tell their stories?  The Family Business class at Chico State reviewed a 175 sample of randomly selected Napa website winery stories to identify their structure of archetypes, persona and plots. 

The overall results of the archetypes show the largest percentage of wineries are looking to connect with their audiences by using The Explorer (Innovative, adventurous, pioneering) with 21.7% followed by The Sage (expertise, credibility, wisdom) of 16%.  Overall, Napa wineries are telling their stories in a wide variety of archetypes which on the surface does not indicate a preferred approach to storytelling.

Chart 1: Archetype Percentage Distribution (n=175 wineries)

We then looked to identify the storytelling persona traits.  A stories persona can take one of five traits including; openness conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism (Barrick & Mount, 1991). These traits are described as:

  • An openness persona reflects creative, imaginative and variety-seeking traits.
  • A conscientiousness persona is hardworking, ambitious and responsible.
  • An extroversion persona is talkative, passionate, active, dominate and sociable.
  • An agreeable persona is good-natured, soft-hearted and trusting.
  • A neuroticism persona is worrying, emotional, vulnerable and anxious.

The persona of Napa winery stories are also diverse in describing their traits.  However, the stories do lean towards a conscientiousness persona (37.1%) followed by agreeable (21.7%), openness (19.4%), extroversion (18.9%), and neuroticism (2.9%).  Interestingly, sixty-one percent of those stories that use the Sage archetype and forty-three percent of the Creator archetype take on a consciousness persona.  While the Explorer and Magician archetypes utilized all but neuroticism personas almost all of the Jester archetypes had an agreeable persona.

Chart 2: Persona Percentage Distribution (N=175 wineries)

The students also read the stories again to subcategorize them into eight different key plot foci (Mills, 2016):

  • Farmer-family, Stories about the farms and farming families from which the product originally came
  • Founder-brand, Stories about the founding and history of the brand or company
  • Founder-family, Stories about the family that started or founded the company
  • Founder-person, Stories about the individual person that started or founded the company
  • Histronic, Over-the-top stories that are clearly exaggerated for dramatic flare
  • Ingredients, Stories about the origins of the ingredients used to make the product
  • Process, Stories about the historical process used to make the product
  • Region, Stories about, or that refer to, the part of the world the product came from

Chart 3: Plot Percentage Distribution (N=175)

We found a wide distribution in all categories storytelling plots.  The Founder-Family plot was the most used at 28.6% followed by 17.7% for the Founder-Person and Region in each category.  The Founder-brand was used 16.6% of the stories reviewed.  While most of the archetypes use different plots in their stories with a wide distribution, the Jester category had majority of the stories focusing on the Family-Brand. 

Finally, we looked at the bottle price range of the wineries to see if there are any similarities.  The wineries where classified as low-medium-high by their posted bottle price with missing data filled in using winesearcher.com.  Interestingly, a large majority of high priced wineries have an Openness or Conscientiousness Persona using a Region or Founding Family/Person plot.  The middle-priced wineries use the Founder Brand/Family/Person plots with any combination of persona to develop an archetype of The Explorer, The Creator, The Sage, or The Hero.  The low-priced wineries tell stories with any persona (except Neuroticism) that fit the Regular Guy/Gal, The Sage, The Explorer, The Innocent.  Interestingly, the Innocent archetype category is almost completely dominated by the low-priced bottle category.  The plots used for low-priced wineries include the Founder Brand/Family and then by Geography.

Practical finding:

The review of Napa winery stories provided interesting practical implications for winemakers and winery owners.  Here are the collective thoughts from the students:

  • Don’t confuse the story with a sales pitch. Too often the story read like a sales pitch in a car showroom.  The story is to connect with people not to make the sale.
  • The most effective stories highlighted the experience of visiting the winery and less about the wine.
  • While the majority of the stories included the family and the geography, the most interesting stories did not mention them.
  • Why so serious? Be humble and more fun with the stories.

References:

Barrick, M. R., & Mount, M. K. (1991). The big five personality dimensions and job performance: a meta‐analysis. Personnel psychology, 44(1), 1-26.

Downing, J.A. and Parrish, D. “Welcome to My House, Do you Like the Neighborhood?  Authenticity Diversification within Strategic Groups of Wineries.”  In, Managing and Marketing Wine Tourism and Destinations: Theory and Cases, edited by M. Sigala and R. Robinson. Palgrave. (In Press, 2018)

Mills, A. J. (2016). Silent Salespeople: The Stories Packages Tell (Doctoral dissertation, Beedie School of Business Faculty: Segal Graduate School).

Jim DowningExpert Editorial
by By Jim Downing, PhD. and the students of MGMT 454: Family Business at California State University – Chico.

Jim Downing, PhD. is an assistant professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at California State University – Chico (jdowning2@csuchico.edu). The research team was composed of eighteen upper-division students receiving a degree in Entrepreneurship.  They include:  Abbott, S., Classon, A., Dunlap, C., Godinez, C., Hines Jr, D., Jensen, N., Johnson, B., Johnson, B., Johnson, P., Lopez Vazquez, O., Marquis, A., Massa, W., McMath, P., Mottram, J., Stiver, S., Stone, S., and Turrell, B.

1 Comment on "Napa Storytelling: Why So Serious? A Research Study"

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  1. To tell a story- I poured for Carvalho Winery in the Old Sugar Mill in Clarskburg. Last wine poured was a Muscat Canelli. Here was my approach. (By then they knew a bit about the winery and the building) I poured the wine without giving the varietal. I asked them to use their noses and tell me all the florals and fruits they could identify. Then they tasted. I gave very specific tasting instructions- a sip, let it sit, swallow, bigger sip, swirl around your mouth & swallow. Then I start my story- “This is the last time you will taste this wine!” Odd looks. I said pour it into Dixie cups and put it in your freezer, more odd looks. When it is slushy like a Slurpy pour it over the best French Vanilla Ice Cream you can buy! Their eyes would light up and one out of every two customers would buy a bottle!

    Unfortunately, actually fortunately we sold it all. If you know of someone who has a nice bulk Muscat Canelli please let me know. Thanks

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