Social Media Success Story: Tinhorn Creek

I met Sandra Oldfield back in February at the Eat.Drink.Tweet Conference in Penticton. A special conference held for foodies, winemakers and other folks in the culinary tourism industry, it was a blast, and I have been keeping in touch with many of them since.

Last week, with my son away at his Gramma’s I found myself without plans, and decided to head up to Pentiction in search of sun, and to visit some of the peeps I’d met a few months earlier.

One of them was Sandra Oldfield, who is the winemaker at Tinhorn Creek in Oliver. I have to say, for the record, that Sandra is one of the most prolific twitterers I know. She has been on Twitter only a little more than a year, and has already surpassed 20,000 tweets, and has more followers than I do, and I’ve been on Twitter for three years.

Part of the reason why is because Twitter allows her unprecedented access to the people who are buying her wine, and vice-versa. Twitter is an incredibly powerful tool, because it gives you direct access to people like Sandra. If you are a wine buff, how amazing is it to be able to have a direct conversation with the winemaker? Some people don’t use Twitter like this: if you tweet them a question or a comment, they may not reply, but Sandra will. It is that openness and authenticity that has made her a very successful user of Social Media.

I visited the winery for the first time last week, and Tinhorn’s new restaurant, Miradoro, and was totally blown away. You can read about that experience on CookingByLaptop, but this post is dedicated to the success of a 16-year-old, family-run business.

RC: Tell me a bit about how Tinhorn came to be.

SO: Our business partners Bob and Barb Shaunessy from Calgary came out to the South Okanagan valley in 1992 with the intent of purchasing some vineyard land and starting a winery.  They enlisted the help of a college friend to get it started and run it–Kenn Oldfield.  In order for Kenn to get the proper education (he was a chemical engineer in his previous life), he was sent to UC Davis in California to learn grape growing.  While there he met me while I was getting my Master’s in Enology (winemaking).  I ended up moving to Canada once I graduated, and we built Tinhorn Creek.  There was nothing on site when the land was purchased except for about 15 acres of planings.  Now we have a main building, a barrel cellar, a restaurant, 4 guest suites (only used for charity auctions and private use), 130 acres of vineyard land and 20-50 employees at any given time of the year.


The main Tinhorn building, from the back.

RC: What have been your major growths/successes over the past 16 years?

SO: Growth–we have planted over 120 acres since 1994 and have gone from an initial production of 1000 cases in 1994 to 35,000 cases today!

Some successes:

  • We are all estate grapes, meaning we grow and farm all of our own grapes (rare these days).
  • We are Canada’s first carbon-neutral winery and strive to be more sustainable each year by setting goals in all areas of our business; we also work closely with the local conservation and stewardship alliance, acting as their guinea pig for all their new initiatives that find solutions between how farms interface with the natural environment.
  • We are BC’s first small employer in the Food and Beverage industry to become COR certified–a certificate of recognition for implementing an extensive Health and Safety program.
  • We were the first winery in Canada to bottle with a Stelvin screw cap and do the complete change-over from cork to cap.
  • We have had an outside amphitheater for about 12 years now, hosting concerts with all Canadian bands each summer and attracting bands like Blue Rodeo, Colin James, Spirit of the West and K-OS.
  • We have incorporated a hiking trail on our property to the 1895 Stamp Mill ruins (mining ruins) behind our property.
  • Our charity of choice is the Boys and Girls Club of Canada and in the last 5 years we have donated over $75,000 to that charity in Alberta and BC.
  • We were one of the first BC wineries on twitter and our use of social media is pretty extensive.
  • We have remained focussed and family-owned since our inception in 1994 and are very very proud of that.

RC: How did you get introduced to social media (specifically Twitter)?

SO: I was on Facebook personally and Lindsey White (who runs our Tinhorn Creek marketing on site) was getting the winery more into Facebook and Twitter etc.  Once I discovered Twitter during a media tour here in Spring of 2010, I never went back to Facebook.  I cannot do both, and in either case I like the Twitter platform much much better.  Since then, I have become a big believer in social media’s reach and effectiveness and have promoted the winery to move into even more social media interactions with our customers.  I guess now the value of social media at Tinhorn Creek comes from the top and we all see its importance so that kind of culture keeps our Tinhorn Creek presence always expanding.  Twitter allows me to make much more immediate and meaningful interactions with people than Facebook ever did.

RC: What role does social media play in your business?

SO: We are able to tell our story through our people who are on social media–me (@SandraOldfield), our assistant winemaker, our vineyard manager (@Andrew_Tinhorn), our Tinhorn Creek (@TinhornCreek) account.  Through telling a story we are connecting to customers and are more trusted–we are seen as people and not just a business.  After that, then it becomes easier to tell them about the next wine release or the next concert (i.e. sell).  I don’t really think I personally do Twitter to sell more wine.  I personally do it because I love connecting with people.  The wine sales become an offshoot of that.  The important thing is… if the winery collapsed tomorrow I would still love being on Twitter–I am not on it for business reasons but social reasons.  It is amazing though how much it tells our story and markets for us and it is amazing how many sales it does generate when  you approach it this way.

RC: What has the impact of social media been on your business?

SO: Again, brand building is telling a story consistently and social media, by letting our customers in on what we are doing and not always selling to them, allows them to see us as people, not just a brand.

There is not one day that passes that someone doesn’t tweet a bottle they just bought or opened and I or the winery is typically thanking them for that sale personally.  How can you quantify that kind of good will?  How often does the winemaker thank a person they don’t know for a $17 purchase they just made?  How much is that kind of interaction worth?  It is priceless I think.

We even get people tweeting pictures of the wine shop they are standing in and asking me personally which varietal they should buy.  Of course I am not always on line to answer them, but I certainly always do respond at some point and even if it is after they made the purchase they know that I know and that I have commented to them personally about their purchase. It is also a great way of handling complaints because we are able to respond back right away, with a personal touch to try to rectify the situation and that impresses most people.  They expect no response when something goes wrong but we are able to take negative situations and turn most of them into positive situations through social media.  Again, priceless.

RC: Thanks, Sandra!


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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 3

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    Thanks for sharing this interview! I really enjoyed it. It’s interesting to hear from a winery that was one of the first in the region to embrace Twitter. It sounds like Sandra and the rest of the Tinhorn Creek team have a solid social media strategy that has resulted in a lot of successes. I love that Sandra views social media primarily as a way to build connections and trust and has found both personal and professional value in developing these relationships.

    Zoe Geddes-Soltess
    Community Engagement, Radian6

  2. Great piece connecting perception of ROI and the role of social media in an overall marketing package. Like any other initiative, lip service alone won’t equal successful – not until there’s depth to it. Great take-aways: integrity, honesty, authenticity. Well done!


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