Bordeaux Breakdown: Do the Big Châteaux have Social Savvy?

Social Media Ranking Research by MyBalthazar in Bordeaux released in April 2018, shaking up the way châteaux do business.

You’re a prestigious, classified château in Bordeaux and you sell 90% of your wine without lifting a marketing finger (en primeur, anyone?). So why would a region with centuries old traditions embrace social media platforms?

As it happens, the itinerary for my inaugural trip to Bordeaux was decided by a Twitter post exploring that very question.

april 25 tweet

The tweet was from the Bordeaux based digital research agency MyBalthazar and it shared the results of a newly released study ranking the top 100 Bordeaux estates using digital and social media. All told, the study measured the digital impact of 544 château in the Bordeaux area between October 1 and December 31, 2017, dissecting and deconstructing some 10 million data points.

The algorithm for the study weighted social platforms – YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and wine social network, Vivino – and then ranked each château’s level of activity, visibility and engagement on each of these key platforms*. The research also looked at coverage of Bordeaux estates in digital news media, trade press and blogs as a point of comparison. Then they threw all this digital good-stuff in the ‘big data’ hopper and pumped out an overall ranking index for the crème de la crème of Bordeaux’s digital superstars.

Shaped by many years of market and digital media research, my brain immediately shifted into hyper-drive as I dug through the data, the questions pinging faster than a Gen Z’s mobile phone.

Two observations were clear:

  • The top digital château have the inside track when it comes to targeting the next generation of wine-loving Bordeaux consumers but their overall numbers aren’t what I would describe as robust.
  • Traditional news media and the wine trade press (Decanter, Wine Spectator) have a distinct bias for reporting on the Bordeaux establishment – aka classified and tier 1 château. A look at the top names in My Balthazar’s “presse” ranking features the tried and true, prestige estates. How’s a little guy to compete?
MyBalthazar traditional news media and trade press ranking of Bordeaux Châteaux. Lesson learned: If you’re a small brand, you better be social.

I also had questions:

Why are the 1855 Bordeaux Classification first and second-growths (premier crus) like Château Margaux, Château d’Yquem, Château Cos-d’Estournel and St.-Emillion grand cru classé brands – all of which rank highly in this research – even competing in this space when the negociant and en primeur ‘wine futures’ process pretty much guarantees the sale of their wine?

Which social platforms are driving the most engagement and what demographics are they reaching? Is all brand interaction coming from millennials (anyone born between 1981 and 1996 and a group that – according to population projections – is on the cusp of surpassing Baby Boomers as the western world’s largest living adult generation)?

Who is this upstart Chateau Reignac? What do they know about video that gives them such a strong social media advantage?

And why are the overall scores for digital media adoption so woefully low across the board?

overall MB digital score
MyBalthazar worked with Agence Transversal to track the digital visibility and social media rankings of Bordeaux château

For answers to those questions, I contacted MyBalthazar’s CEO, Benjamin Sonet. Since I just happened to be travelling to Bordeaux, we arranged to meet at Aux 4 Coins du Vin, a wine bar in the heart of the city of Bordeaux.

“95% of Bordeaux’s château aren’t dynamic enough on digital,” says Benjamin rather emphatically when I ask him about his ‘big’ insight. “If there is one conclusion I can draw it’s that a lot of the smaller brands are strong on social media and many of the big brands or big château are weak.” Benjamin says Bordeaux vignerons have historically turned their back on wine tourism, and marketing to consumers has never really been done before.

“Bordeaux property owners have for centuries relied on the broker and negociant system to sell their wines,” he says. “Today, it’s a lot more challenging certainly for the smaller Bordeaux estates to sell wine on the international market. There are many more countries producing and distributing their wines and Bordeaux has a lot more competition. The savvy, environmentally aware and well-run Bordeaux wine brands understand they need to move into the 21st century and reach out to the next generation of consumers.”

Facebook – Consumption democratized!  You’re not talking to a closed community (i.e. Vivino), you’re talking to your friends. Small accrual of status but not a place where ostentatious displays are appreciated.  Skews older. Research: MyBalthazar

As I drill down into the top 100 digital visibility scores by platform, it’s fascinating to see many of Bordeaux’s biggest brands so far down the social platform lists. Famous ‘right bank’ St Emillion and Pomerol wines – Petrus (#81), Pavie (#70), Cheval Blanc (#66) do almost no consumer outreach. Clearly they believe their brands can stand the test of time and don’t need digital marketing supports.

“Some of the estates like Chateau d’Yquem took issue with our data, saying they were already very active on social media”, says Benjamin. “We had to explain the concept of engagement, and the importance of actively and consistently interacting and responding to customers, so it feels like a conversation,” he says.

my balthazar audience
Note-taking by Bordeaux digital conference attendees at MyBalthazar Digital Wine Conference.

My Balthazar featured the results of their study at Bordeaux’s first Digital Wine conference on June 28, 2018. “We brought in some of the platform companies and explained some of the fundamentals of social media and the importance of engagement in building brand loyalty and community.” Benjamin says 180 employees from Bordeaux’s top châteaux attended the event and the audience seemed keen to learn about social tools and how this rich data can help segment audiences. “But digital marketing is a new concept here in Bordeaux.”

Of course the shift from traditional brand building tools like TV and newspaper to digital is baffling a lot of marketers today, not just the wine merchants of Bordeaux. It’s clear My Balthazar has their work cut out for them as they try to help a hugely traditional industry understand the participatory culture of the Internet. Analyzing customer data, digging for trends, using data analytics and insight to support customer communication, merchandising, special events and customer relationship management (CRM) are increasingly the ROI pathways to success. Layer on all the rich digital and e-commerce opportunities in the wine industry – loyalty clubs, social media outreach, YouTube video series, e-newsletters, sponsored posts – and wine brands today have a rich toolbox of communication platforms to tap.

benjamin sonet CEO
Benjamin Sonet – CEO MyBalthazar

All good, but in Bordeaux, fabled negociants and brokers have more or less been the ROI pipeline and many…too many châteaux are resting on their centuries-old laurels.

“It’s true to a certain extent that Bordeaux is different,” says Benjamin. “The bigger brands don’t need to market right now, because their historical fame, their status and quality ensures they sell all their wine years before the wine is even available to ship. Just look at where Petrus is on our list. They do almost no marketing. But the smaller brands have to build awareness because – as you see – the traditional wine media isn’t telling their story so they have to be more strategic and creative to sell their wine.”

In his presentation to château attendees, Benjamin compared the top digital score in Bordeaux – a 68 for Château Smith-Haute-Lafitte – with the 87 score for Bordeaux competitor and prestige brand, Penfolds, the 82 score for Opus One, the 79 for Super- Tuscan Ornellaia and the 70 for Ribera del Duero’s Vega Sicilia. Compare this to the digital activity in Champagne, however, where Bollinger scores a 95 digital impact rating and the numbers take on meaning. “Overall, it’s true…. the scores aren’t very high compared to other industries and other high-end wine brands but the good news is the châteaux are now sitting up and taking an interest.”

Catching the Social Media Wave

MyBalthazar Instagram findings: the most successful châteaux understand the “push” mechanics required to make Instagram work. Historic first growth Bordeaux property, Châteaux Margaux get’s it.
Financila Times article posted
Château Margaux leads Bordeaux estates in the use of Instagram (28.1k followers).  Digital news – and apparently traditional news media – also flock to the brand’s pedigree and prestige.

Benjamin says their research indicates Instagram is the most effective platform for engagement for Bordeaux’s châteaux. “Wine is a visual and emotional category and Instagram can be a very persuasive and influential media tool.” Interestingly – but not surprisingly – it’s the classified growths and marquee properties in the Médoc, Pomerol, St Emillion and Graves which are scoring highest on Instagram’s highly visual, bragging-rights platform.

ch Pape Clement
Château Pape Clément – a classified estate in the Graves region – ranks #1 on Facebook (with help from other Bernard Magrez brands)

In 2016, only 34% of Bordeaux château had a presence on the #1 digital platform Facebook. “Today, it’s better,” he says. “In 2018, 57% of chateau have a Facebook page and I think based on the attendance at our conference, this will only improve. He points to updated data from the month of June which indicates the Bernard Magrez group of chateaus – Château La Tour Carnet, Château Fombrauge & Château Pape Clément – have seriously dialed up their digital outreach and visibility on Facebook. According to Benjamin, June is a pivotal period for wine tourism and the château communication teams seem to be mobilizing.

chateau reignac“YouTube could be very effective as well, but very few château are going on video for now so it’s hard to analyze it. Our research uses the audience size of each platform to determine their weight in the algorithm. YouTube is such an important one, which explain partially why Chateau Reignac is so high in the ranking.” Château Reignac, a scrappy upstart in the Bordeaux Superior appellation, has populated their marketing department with digital natives. The overall video score indicates a strong lead when it comes to using YouTube as a platform. “These guys are great,” says Benjamin. “Everyone at Château Reignac is given an opportunity to create content. They really understand the platform and are using it very effectively with some slickly produced videos but also DIY videos. They also have Facebook Live discussions every week.”

MyBalthazar’s Vivino rankings – on this wine social network, status brands elicit highest engagement.

When I ask about further defining the châteaux social media audiences Benjamin laughs. “This was the first study we’ve done in Bordeaux with the properties. Most of them are at the beginning of their digitalization and we don’t want to frighten them with too much data and segmentation. But the tool we used for this research is available to all the Châteaux to help them track their visibility….we hope they appreciate its value.”

As for my too short, 3 day itinerary in Bordeaux, I’m doing a deep dive into MyBalthazar’s top 10 châteaux, cross-referencing their data with results from Bordeaux’s tourism awards. I’m interested in meeting the movers and shakers. I can’t help but look at wine through a marketer’s lens. Marketing aside, I’m beyond excited to taste the magnificent wines from these château and better understand how these wine empires are weaving their history and business savvy into a consumer experience. Here’s my château itinerary……stay tuned for more:

  • Medoc – 2nd growth – Cos d’Estournal
  • Medoc – 1st growth – Chateau Margaux
  • Saint-Émilion – Château la Dominique (Best of Wine Tourism Winner 2017)
  • Entre-Deux-Mers, Chateau Reignac (Best of Wine Tourism Winner 2018)
  • Graves – Chateau Smith Haute Lafite
  • Cotes de Bourg – Château Falfas (biodynamic agriculture)


* MyBalthazar Digital Measurement Criteria (per Google translate)

“For each source, we look at three different performance indicators:

– social networks: number of fans & followers, fan’s engagement rate (comments, likes, shares), as well as the amount of publications made by the users quoting the Château’s name (name or hashtag).

– video platform: number of followers on the official channel, amount of video views on the official channel as well as the amount of videos posted by the users quoting the Château.

– digital news: amount of articles quoting the Château (France and international), the amount of shares made on this articles, and each news website’s influence (regarding the amount of fans it has on the social networks).

– Vivino : average rating of the first wine and the amount of votes made by the users to establish this rating. “

Feature Photo: Château Palmer, Cantenac-Margaux – third growth – 1855 Medoc Classification.

#18 – overall digital ranking, #21 Instagram, #30 YouTube, #17 Facebook, #43 Presse, #35 Twitter, #18 Vivino

Photo credit: MyBalthazar

Millesima winning award sealThrilled to share that this post won a 2019 Millésima Blog Award in the ‘Wine and Technology’ award category, on February 1, 2019.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. Deb.. what an interesting article..what I actually understood of it.

    Don’t you think you found your niche opportunity here? You were asking smart questions that clearly showed the Big Guy you are ahead of the knowledge curve.

    Very impressive.

    Lynne Robson


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