Winemakers are so enamoured with making wine, they don’t always leave enough love over for selling it, believes digital marketing supremo Paul Mabray. The man credited with revolutionising Napa Valley wine marketing and giving it a progressive new digital face and force, will be the headline international speaker at this year’s Wesgro-sponsored Wine & Food Tourism Conference on 2 December.

The theme for this year’s event is The Next Decade: Wine Industry Sales and Sustainability.

Mabray, who will be addressing delegates virtually as Covid-19 continues to limit international travel, reckons the global wine industry remains very much caught in a time warp. “We’re still too production-oriented in our thinking. We haven’t become sufficiently marketing-centric and that means we’re not yet putting the customer first.

“There’s a huge thrill around big data and artificial intelligence (AI). To be sure, they are powerful tools but without first focusing on getting the basics right, they become wasted assets. Our priority as wine marketers is to deliver the best customer experience by seamlessly fulfilling a promise to wine lovers. So, even assuming we have appealing, well-priced wines, unless our logistics, distribution and processes ensure a positive experience, we’re not going to win, irrespective of whether we are selling digitally or in person.

“There’s been a lot of talk about how Covid-19 accelerated the wine industry’s move into e-commerce and that is entirely true. But e-commerce in and of itself is not the silver bullet. The user experience is.

“If our job is to sell wine successfully, be it in-store, off-premise or online, we first need to change the industry culture. While respecting and sustaining the tradition and craft of winemaking, we have to step more fully into the here and now. We must invest more in consumer-focused research and user experience development, as well as in research and development of sales and marketing tools. We must become more flexible and adaptable. We must also think differently about failure. We have to start more making space for taking risks and learning from failure.

“Get that right and we can use our greatest asset – wine tourism – to forge relationships. The beauty of wine is that when we sell it, we are in effect offering a time capsule that has the magical ability to transcend boundaries of time, geography and culture.

“Become digital and you can scale up the experience embedded in that time capsule. Wine is much like the internet. They both have the magical ability to transcend limitations of time, space and culture. Use the internet to communicate the wine stories of place, people and purpose and build relationships with wine lovers both before and long after they have visited you.

“Even if they can’t ever physically visit you, they can visit your virtually and share in who you are and develop their own special bond with you.”

Some of the many other conference speakers include local entrepreneur and restaurateur Miles Kubheka; Wesgro CEO Tim Harris; Petra Mayer, who represents Wines of South Africa (WOSA) in Germany; Romanella Paggi of Ketek Events and Tourism in Mendoza, Argentina; and Sabine Lehmann, who runs Curiositas, a specialist attractions and tourism futures consultancy. All international speakers will be presenting digitally.

The full list of speakers can be found at

The conference is being conducted in hybrid format. For those who want to attend the physical version of the event, they can do so at Benguela Cove Lagoon Wine Estate near Hermanus. Otherwise they can register for the online experience.

The virtual cost for the day-long event is R380 plus VAT for South African residents, and €200 per international delegate. Delegates who wish to attend the conference in person can do so at R1 600 plus VAT per head (including a wine tasting). Strict health and safety measures will be followed at the venue, where a maximum of 100 delegates can be accommodated.

For more details on the conference and the programme, go to To register, go to