Affiliate Programs—The New Wave in Wine Marketing


With the growing interest in the digital space, more wine brands may shift their marketing efforts to affiliate programs.

brooke heron

When it comes to online marketing and advertising, most wine industry businesses are familiar with advertising channels like Google, Facebook or Instagram. Far fewer people are familiar with the concept of affiliate programs or affiliate marketing, which is a type of digital advertising that allows brands’ content and advertisements to be displayed by partners (or affiliates) on their own websites, online channels or digital publications.

While affiliate marketing has been around since the early ’90s, it wasn’t widely used until 1996 when Amazon launched its first publicly available affiliate program, Amazon Associates.

Affiliate marketing concept image with text and related symbols.

Historically, affiliate marketing has primarily been something that large, high-volume online retailers like Amazon have leveraged. These programs made more sense for businesses that did a high volume of online business, had the technology, and the budget and ability to create and manage these programs.

In the wine world, businesses have traditionally focused on on-site sales or orders placed via phone or email. The implementation of e-commerce software became more popular in the early 2000s but only really embraced with the 2020 pandemic.

Over the last five to 10 years, technology has become more advanced and cheaper at the same time, making it more accessible to businesses of all sizes. The wine industry has come to a unique moment in time. A business of any size can launch its own affiliate program using a software application on almost any website platform.

Currently, the types of wine businesses that offer affiliate programs are almost always online wine clubs, wine club businesses, or wine retailers. There are several wineries in the affiliate advertising space for a number of reasons. First, there are concerns about potential violations of affiliated house rules that come with all manner of online marketing and advertising for wineries. Second, there are concerns about violating the ABC guidelines that any wine and spirits industry business participating in online sales must watch out for.

Bahaneh Hobel /
Bahaneh Hobel /

Alcoholic beverage law and compliance attorney Bahaneh Hobel stipulates that, in theory, use of affiliate programs by wineries is acceptable if business is conducted and payment is made in accordance with all applicable laws.

The other issue: compensation. “This is similar to third-party marketers of brands and, at least in California, compensation from third-party marketers is permitted as long as it is reasonable and complies with ABC’s 2011 guidelines in Third-Party Provider Industry Advisory,” Hobel explains.

However, the small number of wine businesses that have benefited from affiliate programs in the past is also largely due to the general lack of focus on e-commerce. But since 2020 things are different. The urgent need to do more work virtually has led to rapid evolution and adoption of more modern technology solutions. In addition, businesses quickly became more willing to seek new and different sales and marketing channels to reach new audiences.

New wine and spirits industry brands are surprisingly at the forefront. They have matured in a digital age and have been working with modern and flexible technology and tools from day one rather than dismantling and reinstalling old systems. Even small businesses today can easily launch their own affiliate programs using low-cost and easy-to-manage software applications available through website platforms.

Maker wine created a community
Maker wine has built a community of “fans” through its affiliate program. Pictured: 2020 Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc by Chris Christensen / Courtesy

Sarah Hoffman of Maker Wine, a world-class canned wine company founded in 2020, recently launched its new “Cannoisseur” affiliate program. “We saw the incredible value that genuine endorsements from creators and influencers can bring,” says Hoffman.
An affiliate program allows us to monitor the effectiveness of these efforts, build a community of “love fans” and ensure that creators receive compensation for the new work they bring to Maker.”

Digital marketers and PR agencies are also starting to have conversations about affiliate marketing with their clients and prospects. “As someone who works in public relations with wine and food customers, I have seen a growing interest in affiliate marketing, especially since 2020,” says Laiko Bahrs of Laiko Bahrs Communications. “Smaller brands are becoming more aware of affiliate marketing and are considering investing or planning new online marketing and advertising channels. And that now extends to potential integration with product promotion strategies.”

While the majority of wine industry businesses do not yet have an affiliate program, the trend towards this form of online advertising seems to have finally reached the wine realm, as evidenced by the growing number and diversity of brand launch programs, including leading companies. Like Stags’ Leap Winery, HALL Family Wines, Maker Wine, Bounty Hunter Wine, Treasure Wine Estates and Coravin – in the last 2-3 years. Given the wine industry’s shift to more e-commerce-based sales, it could be a form of advertising that we’ll see increase in 2022 and beyond.


brooke heronBrooke Herron is an OMCP certified digital marketer, online sales strategy consultant, and part-time freelance writer based in Sonoma County. When not doing digital audits or working on client marketing projects, Brooke writes for Decanter Magazine, Somm Journal, The North Bay Bohemian, and a few other publications. She can be found in her spare time on a hiking trail or somewhere with ocean views.

IG: @a Differentkindoftravel LI: @herronbrooke


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