"Brought to You By…" How to Get the Most out of Sponsorship

Sponsoring events can be exciting for wine producers, but all aspects need to be carefully considered. Roger Morris reports.

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Sponsoring events, such as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Madrid, supports targeting the desired audience.
Sponsoring events, such as Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Madrid, supports targeting the desired audience.

Penns Woods, a small winery on America’s East Coast, is one of three companies sponsoring the local Summer Solstice annual celebration. Co-owner Carley Razzi is happy to pour her wines at the event, but that is the extent of her financial commitment. “Events often ask for a fee to sponsor,” she says, “and we always decline, beyond providing our wine.”

California’s Anaba winery is now in its third year as one of the sponsors of the Sonoma International Film Festival, and Anaba owner John Sweazey says he budgets “around $14,000” for everything – fees, wine, entertaining and staffing – but has no travel expenses as the festival’s venues are local.

Joan Jolley is director of corporate sponsorship for the much-larger Toronto International Film Festival, one of the most important annual film events, right up there after Cannes and the Oscars. She estimates, “Most corporate sponsor budgets range between five to seven figures,” as in $10,000 to $1 million. Of the 32 corporate sponsors lined up for the September event, Jolley has on board a beer sponsor (Peroni) and a tea sponsor (Pure Leaf), but as yet no wine sponsor.

Brand image. Marketing potential. Size of the annual advertising and promotion budget. Personal commitment by the owner to a particular cause. The owner’s ego. All reasons to sponsor an event... 

The decision for any wine producer of any size to sponsor an event, whether a local bicycle race or the Emmy Awards, is based on many factors. Brand image is one. The marketing potential is another. The size of the annual advertising and promotion budget certainly figures in. Personal commitment by the owner to a particular cause is certainly a consideration, especially for nonprofit organisations. And the owner’s ego is not to be discounted – the possibility of rubbing elbows with actors, race car drivers and other celebrities is a strong pull.

Yet the criteria for deciding if and how to be a sponsor is the same for wine producers of all sizes and for any size event.

What are your reasons for considering sponsorships?

For Razzi at Penns Woods, the calculation is simple – as the event is local, she wants to reinforce ties with existing customers, grab the interest of those who don’t know about her winery and lure back those who haven’t visited recently.

On the other hand, “Mar de Frades has participated in several different sponsorships in the past 10 years as part of our expansion strategy,” says Sandra Baena Rodriguez, senior brand manager of wines at Zamora Company, which owns the brand. That has included sponsoring the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Madrid as well as the San Sebastian Film Festival. “The goal is to expose the brand to the highest percentage of our target audience,” Rodriguez says.

Justin Vineyards is a returning sponsor.
Justin Vineyards is a returning sponsor.

Swallow the whole thing or take a bite?

Ferrari Trento, the premium Italian wine producer, bought the rights to be “the official sparkling wine Formula 1 racing,” an example of being a major niche or category sponsor. Domaine Clarence Dillon, headlined by Château Haut Brion, was this spring the official “red and white wine partner” for the Academy Awards or Oscars ceremony. Owner Dillon further explained his involvement in an interview at the time: “‘For me, personally, it’s also fun to be back. I was, at one stage of my life, a screenwriter, and I started working here in Los Angeles back in 1992.”

On the other hand, Anaba decided to be only a partial sponsor of the Sonoma festival. “We were one of five wines poured at the giant gala dinner with chefs from around the world,” Sweazy says, “but we also had a cocktail party at the winery for about 100 guests.”


The Trentodoc winery is the new beverage partner of the Formula 1.

What is the true cost of your sponsorship?

Before making a final commitment, be sure you’ve budgeted for everything, especially if it’s your first time. Costs will vary, but major budget buckets should include sign-up fees, production and product costs, agency fees, any activities promoting your sponsorship, staffing costs, travel expenses and post-event evaluation. 

Rodriguez estimates, “The split of expenses is usually 70% sponsorship, 25% production and 5% travel and so on” and notes that sponsorships make up about 40% of the brand’s total consumer promotions budgeting.

The Toronto festival’s Jolley says that event personnel should be transparent in helping an interested sponsor figure out what they want and what it will cost. “We listen to what their interest is, what their timing is, what their budget is, what their marketing plans are, and then it becomes a consultancy between the two of us to work a plan.”


The split of expenses is usually 70% sponsorship, 25% production and 5% travel and so on.

Be innovative in getting the most out of your investment.

The La Crema Winery, a part of Jackson Family Wines, has been very innovative in its approach to sponsorship by seamlessly integrating it into its other trade and DTC activities, as well as proactively targeting the kinds of events it wants to support. The vehicle for this is a traveling tasting space called the La Crema Tasting Room Experience, which, according to La Crema’s SVP for marketing, Shilah Salmon, the company uses “to complement our sponsorships at select consumer events around the country. This year marks the third consecutive year of our tour.”


Being able to market an event in a non-traditional format, such as the wine aisle, is one of the unique ways that we bring value in a partnership like ours.

Sponsorships can be strategically leveraged to proactively drive sales, as exemplified by the Emmy Awards.
Sponsorships can be strategically leveraged to proactively drive sales, as exemplified by the Emmy Awards.

Understand what you can and cannot do.

Most big events warn companies not to misuse the event’s brand image or to try to be a bigger part than what they purchased. But Toronto’s Jolley says this should be a two-way street. “Most sponsorships,” she says, “have clauses as to how we can use their brand as well as how they can use ours.”

Although most events will welcome late-minute sponsors with open arms, it is important that the sponsor get in early – a year to 18 months in advance, Jolley recommends – so that they have time to understand what sponsorships allow them to do and to have the time to do it well.

Sponsorship: Carley Razzi, Penns Woods
Sponsorship: Carley Razzi, Penns Woods

One-time stand or wedded to it?

Some marketers with advertising experience sometimes want to “pulse” their spend, as they would with TV commercials, heavily promote the brand for a season or two, then taking a season or more off. But being “last year’s sponsor of” is not something promotable, so one of the considerations before entering into a sponsorship is whether you can sustain it for more than one time, although that may be a viable strategy if you are only introducing yourself into a market.

"Into our third year, we are dialed in to the type of events we want to appear at,” Salmon says. “It’s just making each year more exciting for our consumers.” Sweazey adds about the Sonoma festival. “This is our third year in a row, and I think we are wedded to it.”

When the [Emmys] celebration begins, we like to raise a glass and cheers to the hardworking team who has helped pull everything together.

How personally involved to you want to be?

Kathy Joseph, owner of the high-end Fiddlehead Cellars on California’s Central Coast, believes in being actively involved in cultural events she sponsors such the Solvang Theaterfest concert series and Pence Gallery activities in Davis, events where “like-minded people who appreciate our wines are likely to be.” Razzi agrees something is missing if other people are pouring and explaining her wines.

"When the [Emmys] celebration begins, we like to raise a glass and cheers to the hardworking team who has helped pull everything together,” Chia says. “Justin representatives, whether it’s our founder, Justin Baldwin, or Master Sommelier Joseph Spellman, are always available to speak to the wines.” Plus anyone practiced in the art of networking knows that one often meets like future friends and even collaborators at celebrity events.

American actress Elle Fanning expresses appreciation for the sponsors.
American actress Elle Fanning expresses appreciation for the sponsors.

How are you going to measure success?

Was it really worth it all? Unfortunately, trying to measure success may prove as costly as sponsoring the event. Still, there can be indicators.

"In 2022, we surveyed 450 consumers on tour,” La Crema’s Salmon says, “and we found that 40% who came in were not aware of La Crema, while 75% were ‘very likely’ to purchase after tasting and 54% were ‘very likely’ to recommend it to a friend.”

While Sweazey is confident the $14,000 or so Anaba spends each year for Sonoma festival is worth it, don’t ask him if he can prove it. “How do you measure if it’s worth it?” he asks. “Only God knows, and even he probably doesn’t.”

And for those considering getting their brand involved, don’t forget that Jolley still has wine sponsorships open for Toronto.


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