“The one with the back label on the front”

[The new Stormhoek front labels. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

[The new Stormhoek back label. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

After many months in development, Stormhoek has finally got its new label designs.

The front label is a fairly classic look [our customers like that a lot]. We had a ball, however, with the back label. Notice how we put both the Blue Monster logo on the back [without any explanation], and also, the Unofficial International “Hacker” symbol. Oh, yeah, we also borrowed the “Change the World or Go Home” tagline from the Blue Monster [Disclosure: gapingvoid is more evil than Microsoft. Just so you know.].

The vast majority who see our wine on the shelf have never heard of us before, have never read gapingvoid, and don’t know us from Adam [The same is true for the vast majority of other wine brands]. So most of the marketing is done on the supermarket shelf. It’s actually pretty intense, thinking about it all.

The funny thing is, people in the trade like the back label SO MUCH there’s already talk happening about Stormhoek being the first wine to have itself stacked on the shelf with the back label facing frontward.

So the Stormhoek hook becomes: “The one with the back label on the front”.

I love that idea… We’ll see what happens.

[UPDATE: Stormhoek Twitter UK Promo:] I’ve been allowed to send sample bottles to anybody who wants one. The deal is, you have to be UK-based, of legal drinking age, and on Twitter. Send me an email if you’re interested, Thanks. Rock on.

(The above was originally posted by Hugh at )

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Spring is time for a trim

suckering  11 07

There are 3 embryonic bunches of Cabernet Sauvignon in the picture. Two are top right and one is on the smaller stem, lower left.

The lower left stem has been removed. Its has one bunch with pin-head sized grapes, only a tenth the size of the grapes on the right.

Even this stem is too short, with too few leaves. Even if this stem were longer and leafier, these grapes would ripen 2 weeks after the other bunches.


We have been busy with a summer form of pruning for most of November (the normal annual pruning cycle happens in winter, which is July around here).  We are removing any growth that will not contribute toward the best wine that can be made from these vines.

All of the grapes we harvest from each vineyard have to have grapes with the same level of ripeness. If there’s one green bunch in the middle of 10 ripe bunches, all of the juice (and also the wine) will have a bitter, green flavour in it. So while we can spot the difference (when all of the berries are smallish), we take away the bunches that are sure to give green flavours, when we pick the grapes. 

We also cut off some of the bunches on slimmer or weaker vines, once more to enable all of the ripeness to hit the same peak, at the same time.

In addition, we strip away branches that don’t have any bunches of grapes on them. It is important that all of the nutrition coming from the ground and up the trunk of the vine goes to the well-being and flavour content of the grapes.

We do these with every vine, one by one, on the property.

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Looking for a new friend on Facebook ?

big love Banner_1

South Africa’s fastest growing grocer has embraced web 2.0 with a little hand from Stormhoek, and is giving away wine.

Checkers, with over 120 stores in South Africa’s more affluent suburbs, first pioneered the people-friendly service of a wine route in a store. By selecting half a dozen of the better small vineyard wineries in each of the top 10 wine-tourism destinations, Checkers brought the opportunity to explore South Africa’s wine terroir to the wine drinker’s home turf.

Now with Stormhoek, they are helping Facebook to increase its penetration in the South Africa with an on-shelf promotion, on Stormhoek wines, incentivising Facebook memberships with a chance of free wine for a year as well as weekly Stormhoek prizes. You can only win if you’re a Facebook member. If you’re from the the pre-Facebook generation, the entry form shows you how to become a member.

( If you are outside of SA, join our Facebook group for news on any promotions or offers in your country)

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Stormhoek in the new Times multimedia

Brought to you by: The Times Multimedia

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Stony patch

Blog pic Cab Franc 10 07

There’s a weak spot in our Cabernet Franc vineyard. These vines were planted in the year 2000 and so every one is 7 years old. Fifty seven of these vines have not grown to the same height, dimension or strength as the others.

This doesn’t suit us as we need every vine to produce grapes that ripen at once, just the way female impala buck have their calves on the same day as each other.

Vines that have different growth patterns ripen their grapes at varying rates. Grapes on strong vines may be ripe today, but the weak one, next in the row, will only reach the same state in a week’s time. To make wonderful wine, you can’t pick both vines on the same day and make all of the juice into wine. One vine with grapes that have green, unripe flavours will reduce the pleasure of the total.

Before we harvest this block, the grapes from the weaker vines will be cut off and dropped on the ground, and will play no part in the winemaking.

Fortunately, the weak ones are all together in a small group. We have isolated them.

Why are they different? We don’t know. The soil preparation and vineyard care were the same for all.

The vines of course are all virtually identical cuttings. It’s possible that there is more broken shale stone in the soil under this patch than elsewhere in the vineyard.

If that is so, then the roots will grow down into lower-lying soil and these vines will strengthen and one day catch up the rest.

We’ll have to wait and see.

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Damn. There goes the dam

 Nelson's dam 11 07

The hazards of farming can be severe. It’s summer here, or at least supposed to be. We’re in a winter rainfall area and it doesn’t normally rain much in summer.

One of our Wellington neighbours was worried about the requirements of his new olive grove in a very dry summer and decided to build a substantial dam to hold reserve water. The dam was just about complete, night before last, when the heavens opened. When sunrise brought light, the breach in the dam was dramatic.

The dam wall will have to be removed and rebuilt, this time a bit stronger.  

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Marketing judges make about-turn


When the smallest company in the marketing competition wins a prize, most people are pleased.

If this same company has the tiniest budget in the competition, it raises eyebrows.

When the marketing show’s main sponsor is a giant newspaper and this little trader has spent nothing on print (or broadcast, or display) it is a revolutionary surprise.

Especially when the prize is the Grand Prix of Marketing in South Africa sponsored by SABC, and the overall sponsor is The Sunday Times.

Stormhoek, the winner, is a tiny business, based on a beautiful farm in Wellington, with half a dozen employees and no conventional advertising budget.

Stormhoek is a ground breaker in new media. is far and away the best known wine brand in the world of wine sales and consumption. In the high budget world of international wine club e-commerce and national and corporate wine marketing, Stormhoek rides at the top. According to Google, after Stormhoek, the second most talked-about wine brand is in a second division, with far less activity.

What did Stormhoek do to impress the judges?

The 4 year old company has taken a major share of the medium priced market for SA wines in the UK and the USA, has made a significant impact in SA’s share in the Scandinavian market and is rising fast in South Africa, while brand exposure is exclusively through

Second, third and fourth prizes in the Marketing Excellence Awards went to brands with mega-budgets, the kind that the sponsors just love to read.

Will this kind of irreverence be allowed next year?

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the “smarter wine” idea


[Official "Smarter Wine" logo etc.]

At Stormhoek, the wine company I work for, our basic schtick is this philosophy we call “Smarter Wine”. This is what Mark Earls would call the “Purpose-Idea” of the company; i.e. the reason we get out of bed in the morning and go to work every day. Here are some thoughts on what Smarter Wine means, in no particular order:

1. Smarter Wine does not imply that we’re “smarter” than anywhere else. It’s an ideal that we aspire to, not that we embody. The idea is not something Stormhoek will ever “own”, like a tagline in an ad campaign. It’s an idea I think EVERYBODY in the trade should get their head around, be they makers, sellers or buyers, large or small. But hey, I would say that.

2. Everyone’s definition of “smarter” will be different. I’m OK with that. To me, it means continually engaging the customer at a higher level, continually raising the bar.


3. The brilliant thinker, Russell Davies identified four keywords that will govern the future of the advertising business. About as succinct a list as I’ve ever seen:

Blurry. Useful. Interesting. Always In Beta.

“Always In Beta” is a popular term in Silicon Valley. In an ideal world, it would be equally popular in the wine trade as well. It’s unfortunate that this is not the case.4. A word people like using in the wine trade is “innovation”. Some companies pay it only lip service, some companies actually try to embrace it full-on. But it’s harder than it looks. Wine is one of the oldest products in the world; change happens slowly and with great reluctance. Sure, putting wine in funky-dunky plastic or aluminum bottles might be technically “innovative”, but does the average wine customer actually want that? A more interesting question for me is how the wine connects with people on an emotional and intellectual level. That to me is where the real action is.

5. Big ideas start out as little ideas, and lots of them. What do companies like Apple, Nike, Innocent Drinks and Starbucks have in common? Superficially, very little. But one thing you’ll notice about them is that they’re constantly coming up with new stuff. Constantly trying out new ideas, seeing what happens, and if it doesn’t work out, they move on quickly. Their schtick is all about taking frequent small steps in the right direction, as opposed to betting the farm on the annual Superbowl ad. Creating a constant stream of “Social Objects”. We take a similar approach at Stormhoek [We're a small wine company, frankly, so we have no other choice]. Different branding ideas, different cartoon label ideas, different sponsorship and PR ideas. On one level it’s a highly unpredictable way to go about it. On another level, it’s amazing how certain we are that SOMETHING good comes out of it eventually.

6. Eighty per cent of vineyards in the world do not make a profit. Eighty. Per. Cent. Other fun stats: There are 50 countries in the world that have wine industries. Italy alone has 500,000 vineyards. Sicily has ten times the vineyards as Napa Valley. Conclusion: The competition is off the scale. Besides making good wine [obviously], the only way forward is to somehow figure out, by any means necessary, how to rise above the clutter. The only way to do this is to speak to people in a way our industry has never spoken to them before.

7. I am not a wine expert. I am not a wine snob. I am not a wine bore. I am not even a wine geek. When I think of the business I’m in, I do not think of the vineyards, the lifestyle porn that’s famously attached to the industry, the “hummingbirds gathering nectar in the morning dew” palaver. My thoughts are more prosaic. I think about a person pushing a shopping cart through a supermarket, a teacher or a nurse, perhaps, who’s there buying food because she’s cooking spaghetti for her boyfriend that evening, who just wants a good bottle of wine for under ten dollars to go with it. Her needs, as simple and basic as they are, interest me FAR MORE than satisfying the vast sea of social pretentions that lives inside the wine trade.

8. Not everybody inside the trade will “get” the Smarter Wine idea. In marketing terms, it not that big a deal. As Oscar Wilde once quipped, “A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”

[This was originally posted on my personal blog, gapingvoid.]

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This is Sound of the Subu… ‘Stormhoek’.

A little while back our inbox here at Orbital Wines received the following; ‘The Stormhoek Song’ and we blogged about it at the time. Now with the miracle of a little flash embedding you can listen to it on the site.

Rob Lane, aka Weekend Wino, hasn’t even had his Stormhoek dinner yet, but couldn’t resist trying some. He cracked open a bottle of Pinotage and it was, apparently, a hit. He loved the wine so much, he wrote a song about it! Genius.

We’re thinking it will become our official anthem. We may even try to release it. What do you think Rob, can you hear the Ka- Ching of the royalties… ?

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Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve

[Yon standard pack shot. Indeed.]

I mentioned previously that I would be announcing my “Next Big Project” sometime today, the 17th of September.The Financial Times beat me to it.. “Social Object”, Baby:

Microsoft launches a tipple for techiesTonight, a select group will gather in a bar in London’s Soho to quaff a crisp, South African white wine bottled in their honour.

The hand-picked guests toasting the new vintage are not, however, wine connoisseurs but techies. The gathering marks the launch of the Blue Monster Reserve label, created by winery Stormhoek for Microsoft and its employees.

Own-label wine and personalised bottles have become increasingly popular in the corporate world, particularly among investment banks, as gifts to clients and offered to guests of corporate events. The companies hope the corporate vintages will add an air of class and sophistication to their image.

But unlike customised wine bottles given by banks and law firms to clients, this label did not originate in Microsoft’s corporate communications headquarters.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

Mr MacLeod met these “Microsofties” through his day job. “We sponsored a series of ‘geek dinners’ for bloggers and techies in the US and the UK,” he said. “I met a lot of people from Microsoft through these dinners, and they all said the same thing: we want to change the world.”

That notion of a kinder, gentler Microsoft is at odds with its cut-throat corporate image. Critics have accused the software giant of abusing its dominant position and of stifling innovation in the industry. In 2003, the European Commission found Microsoft guilty of uncompetitive practices and levied a record €497m ($689m, £342m) fine. The result of its appeal against that decision is due on Monday.


The cartoon of a sharp-toothed blue creature and its tagline, “Microsoft – change the world or go home”, has now been adopted by some Microsoft employees and fans as a symbol of the company’s innovation.“People see Microsoft as a big, bad corporate monster,” Mr MacLeod said. “Yet all the Microsofties I’ve spoken to say they just want to make great products and do good works. It was obvious that Microsoft had to get better at telling their story.”

“Wine is a social object, and so is the Blue Monster: they both inspire conversation,” he said. “And we thought the cartoon would look really cool on a bottle.”

Steve Clayton, chief technology officer at one of Microsoft’s UK affiliates and a nine-year veteran of the company, said Blue Monster reminded people that Microsoft “has a sense of fun and humour”.

Mr Clayton has been at the forefront of the Blue Monster movement: he uses the image on his business card and is the administrator of a “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group.

“[Microsoft’s HQ] has been very supportive of us using the Microsoft name alongside the Blue Monster image,” Mr MacLeod said. It makes sense; they’ve been around for about 30 years and are trying to reinvent themselves to embrace a new generation.”

Blue Monster-branded bottles will be available only to Microsoft and its affiliates. “We have no intention of selling the product outside Microsoft,” said Jason Korman, Stormhoek’s chief executive. “The wine itself only went live last week, and already we’ve had massive interest from different parts of the company.”

[A bottle of Blue Monster Reserve sitting on my desk. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

Mr Clayton readily admits the Blue Monster movement, despite his involvement, is outside any influence from Microsoft: “[The cartoon] has encouraged a whole new series of conversations by people who are passionate about Microsoft, both internally and externally. Blue Monster is a community which has developed its own distinct identity.”For Mr MacLeod, the Blue Monster represents a revolution of sorts. “We started an underground movement within Microsoft, and we knew one day the guys in suits would finally take notice. That moment has finally arrived.”

If so, it will be marked in true internet-era style: not with an act of anarchy but a clink of glasses.

[Blue Monster backstory here.] [Blue Monster blog archive here.]The wine is not a commercially available product, just a wee “social object” for geek dinners and people inside the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and I are still working on the final details of how we’re going to get the wine to people who want it, but for now, we’re just limiting its availability to [1] people who belong to the “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group, and [2] geek dinners we’re attending and/or sponsoring.

Personally, I like this idea because it directly connects to a lot of different things I’m interested in. “Social Objects”, Microsoft, cartoons, Stormhoek, Marketing 2.0, corporate-reinvention, geek dinners etc etc.

Hopefully, other people will like it, too. Watch this space etc.

A special thanks to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to this project. Rock on.

[Originally posted on my personal blog, GapingVoid]

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