Bill Hatcher
November 22, 2011 | Bill Hatcher

The Evolution of Industries

Industries tend to develop in four stages. While the particulars vary from industry to industry, there is nevertheless a common warp and weft on which the designs are woven.

The first stage is the birth of an idea or the knowledge phase.  It may be the natural progression of an existing technology such as the laptop computer, the mobile phone, Blu-Ray or digital photography. Or, it may simply be a better mousetrap requiring little or no technological leap like roller bags, quick release ski bindings, or parking garage systems that use LED lights above the parking spaces to tally the open spots in a row or on a floor.

The leap doesn’t have to be a manufactured product.  Overnight delivery, urgent care centers, multiplex cinemas, food courts and Southwest Airlines’ boarding system are all examples of low-tech or no-tech methods of better delivering a service.  It took until the 1960’s for someone to visualize the efficiency of a single queue at banks, government offices and ticket booths.

Some inventions create needs people didn’t know they had.  These too may be high-tech or low-tech.  Examples are the VCR, the answering machine, GPS navigation systems, truck bed liners or Post-it notes.

The knowledge phase typically doesn’t last very long, particularly in the digital age where information spans the globe overnight.  Ideas and products are readily pirated, tweaked and presented to the market as knock-offs.  Despite the enormous resources companies employ to protect trademarks and patents, the protections are porous.

Thus emerges the production phase as competing technologies sort out.  The VCR contest between Beta and VHS lasted for years, which is unusual; more common was Blu-ray supplanting conventional CD’s by dint of superior quality.  Cellular-based and satellite-based portable phone technologies waged a titanic battle for supremacy with cell becoming the U.S. standard and satellite the European standard.  The adoption of cellar technology in the U.S. despite the greater capacity of a satellite-based system demonstrates that the best technology doesn’t always win.  It also explains why we remain in the drunk tank on fossil fuels.

Technologies can win out only to be challenged anew later.  The PC dominated Apple with Microsoft’s relatively open architecture operating system, which permitted far more software applications to be developed for PC’s than for the tightly proprietary Apple operating system.  While PC’s still vastly predominate, Apple has developed its own applications around avant-garde products that have captured an increasing market share.

Typically, the production phase is also short-lived if only because product life is similarly so.  The marketing phase that emerges next usually endures longer because it is more asymmetrical.  Virtually identical products may be marketed entirely differently.  Current ads for the Volkswagen Passat are cast around wry humor while those for the Honda Civic tout history and engineering capability.  Those for Miller Lite beer mock the manhood of one of a group of friends with his beer choice (not Miller) being “the second unmanly thing you’ve done today.”  By comparison, Coors promotes a party atmosphere.

Beyond personality, the array of marketing elements taken together determines the lifespan of the product.  Which features will customers pay for and which are superfluous?  How are these features bundled?  Bundling that cannot be easily compared has become the fundamental selling strategy in industries such as computers and new cars.  How are products serviced or are they?  Most electronics are discardable because of obsolescence.

How and where products are sold can be a major determinate of success.  Beyond the innovative prowess of Apple, sleek freestanding stores in upscale shopping areas with ‘cool’ salespeople have complemented the products themselves.  By contrast, the web-based build-it-yourself approach of most PC makers can overwhelm the average buyer.  Schwan’s, originally a home delivery ice cream company in the 50’s, has sustained a niche long after home delivery went the way of telephone operators by capitalizing on small-refrigerated trucks to deliver a wide variety of frozen and refrigerated foods.

Products that survive the foregoing stand to become brands, the most enduring phase of the product life cycle.  Of the first three phases, knowledge and production, while critical to reach the marketing stage, are the least important to brand.  What makes a brand?   It is the quality of permanence in consumers’ minds.  Peanut butter, mayonnaise and tuna fish enjoy the greatest brand loyalty among grocery shoppers—of the two, it might be said that peanut butter was once innovative when the process for emulsifying the oil was discovered.  Otherwise, they exist as fixtures in the consumer’s minds; even discounts rarely spur brand switching.

The anomaly of the wine industry is that the knowledge phase lasted 10,000 years.  As recently as 20 years ago, the knowledge of winemaking was a sufficient competitive advantage unto itself.  Today, however, good wine is simply the ante to play poker and, at the risk of offending artistic sensibilities, wine is now a marketing driven business.  To the point of whether quality is still a differentiating factor, how many can remember a score from the Wine Spectator other than their own?

Bob Higgins, a founder of Highland Capital Partners in Boston, observed that when he invested in technology, he tended to lose money but when he invested in business models, he tended to make money.  Applied to the wine industry, all wineries worldwide employ roughly the same methods to make wine.  The successful ones persuade the consumer that they do something different.  Persuasion is marketing.

Time Posted: Nov 22, 2011 at 2:24 PM Permalink to The Evolution of Industries Permalink
November 8, 2011 | REX HILL

Big fish, small pool: why being the best wine isn’t always so hot.

He Said...
- Mike Willison

I very recently came across a bottle of wine that bore so many little gold medal icons on its label that it looked like that iconic photo of Mark Spitz after the 1972 Olympics without the moustache and spectacular bathing costume. My first impression was one of a kind of unknown reverence for achievement not unlike hearing that someone holds a doctorate degree, but in Phys. Ed., or Blacksmithery, and from an online university. "How impressive, I think. Wow, right?" I mean, should Pabst really still be peacocking about the blue ribbon they earned in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition? A more deserving blue ribbon might go to you readers that knew that the event was held during the Grover Cleveland administration. Two blue ribbons if you can name his VP.

It seems that the modern day wine competition is a bit like modern day little league. True competition has been replaced by a kind of careless socialism wherein all of the best players stop caring because they aren't allowed to excel and thereby smite the egos of the less talented, and the worst players are all permitted to exist in a fantasy land wherein they are as excellent as Albert Pujols and get 11 strikes before they just get to go to first base. Ultimately, no one is keeping score and everyone either goes home a winner or, for the more cynical at heart, a loser. Double Gold, Gold, Silver, Bronze, Best of the Best, Outstanding, Exemplary, Notable, Neat-Looking, Explosively Mediocre, Fine; one can win a medal for just about everything at a wine contest, and usually does.

The question must also be asked, "Who was entered in this thing?" The answer usually is, "A bunch of people desperate for some kind of positive, marketable plaudits to sell to people impressed by sparkly things." Very rare is the competition that piques the interest of the best producers, like the Decanter World Wine Awards. More often than not the competitions are designed to draw in the locals, showcase smaller, folksy producers, and lure one of the regional showcase wineries into the competition to give it a bit of believability, thereby creating a viable, sustainable event for the sponsors and producers.

If, as a matter of coincidence, the winning wine happens to be one that you enjoy, thank the grower and winemaker, they did all of the hard work and make a wine you find appealing. Don't bother heaping praise on the judges of the competition, who are likely holding very impressive credentials in the field of wine-judgery, who I'm sure were cobbled together like a posse in the old west, or the wines at the competition: representing the best of what we could muster up.


She Said...
- Carrie Kalscheuer

I'm not in love with the idea of anything used solely for marketing purposes. There must be viability to the outcome in order for me to be on board as a rule. Any competition held exclusive of the so-called "best players" doesn't qualify, in my opinion. And that is often the case, as you mentioned. I, too, am frustrated by arbitrary gold medals and “best in show” awards. It’s all beginning to look like Little League these days where every kid gets an award just for showing up.  But you’ve only touched on the greater issue – that larger international competitions like the Decanter World Wine Awards – can make a significant difference not just in the marketing schemes of the individual winery, but in the wine world as a whole.

Consider what is now famously referred to as The Judgment of Paris: the 1976 Paris Wine Competition. Without this game-changing competition, American wine may not have achieved the status that it currently has, or this may have been at least delayed by many years. Already behind the game thanks to Prohibition, Napa’s win in this competition may very well have saved the industry as a whole. What it certainly did was pave the way for other wine regions around the country to succeed on a global scale.

Each wine region has their own story of glory on the competition front and, although none have achieved the status of the above example, that isn’t to say they have no merit, or at least the potential for merit. Again, it’s up to both wine professionals and more importantly, the consumer, to weed out the b.s. and not be swayed by a pretty blue ribbon tied around a bottle (or can as it may be).

Time Posted: Nov 8, 2011 at 10:35 AM Permalink to Big fish, small pool: why being the best wine isn’t always so hot. Permalink

The Tasting Room will be closed on Thursday, November 3rd for our annual hospitality summit. We will reopen on Friday, November 4th from 11am-5pm.


The health and safety of our customers and staff are our primary concern as restrictions on our county are relaxed. We are currently assessing how we will again open to the public in a safe and healthy way and will continue to post updates on our website as our plans solidify.


In the meantime, we are still able to take your calls, answer emails, and pack wine to deliver to your door. To arrange a wine delivery, please reach out to Jamie, our Wine Club Manager at 


Stay well. We look forward to seeing you again before too long for a toast!


The REX HILL team