The CEO of Silver Oak Wine Breaks Down a Winning Ecommerce Strategy All Entrepreneurs Can Use


5 min read


David Duncan’s portfolio includes Silver Oak, Twomey and Ovid wineries — brands that any winemaker (and drinker) would kill for. As his company ramps up for the launch of his new winery, Timeless, Duncan shared his thoughts on wine trends during the pandemic, building wine brands digitally and millennial insights for the industry.

On targeting the right audience

“The future of luxury wine are and soon , and they have brought about a new era of ephemeral, limited-edition retail that will become the norm in luxury and craft. The Supreme, streetwear model. What it says, is that the customer looks for brands they can trust to deliver on their needs and values and that they are open to curation from the beyond one specific product. Both luxury and craft are viewed as an experience by these next generations, and so the uniqueness of each limited product enhances the memorability of the experience.”

Related: If the Black Crowes Adapted to Ecommerce During the Pandemic, So Can You

On inspiration             

“Our audience knows that across all our wine brands, we only find the best sites, we focus on capturing sense-of-place, and really balance American innovation with French pillars, so they come with us for a journey. Taking our new brand Timeless as an example: I wrote a song called ‘Timeless’ about my late Dad – our founder – and once it was written, I knew that it had to become a wine made at his beloved vineyard, Soda Canyon. With our experience making single-vineyard Pinot Noirs firmly in hand, our winemaker Nate Weis rose to the occasion with this Bordeaux-style blend. What makes Soda Canyon so unique is that it’s the meeting of four microclimates, and you can taste that in how the bright acidity meets minty dark fruits. The wine stays true to what our audience wants in new wine experiences while teaching them about this site and my father’s essence.”

On building a successful ecommerce site

“As a starting point when you’re thinking about DTC, the product should stay with you throughout the experience. You may find that your experience concept doesn’t lend itself to the product doing this, which is a good sign you’re forgetting what the experience is supposed to be about. This is the shopping moment, it’s not a prelude to it.”

“Next: Don’t think ‘edgy,’ think ‘clear’ — the diagonal axis or futuristic tech usually doesn’t work out long-term. Make sure you’re balancing focus with fluidity — each page of the site should be framed to stand alone, but then to seamlessly transition into other pages. When someone is shopping, they want to be able to equally take a product off the shelf AND look down the aisle.”

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“On this framing point: generously and confidently use negative space for each page. There is always going to be an inherent Tetris/column structure to digital design, but you can to a large extent remove its limiting effect with enough negative space around the images.”

“Finally: Just do it. There will always be marketing spends to lure you into delaying the investment in a full ecommerce site — we pushed our own site back a year and then spent the past year building it. And then a pandemic came, and we realized how fortunate we were that we hadn’t delayed any longer.”

On converting new buyers

“One thing we’ve learned so far: millennials and GenZ-ers want to discover a . What is your secret?  For Silver Oak: is the secret that American Oak is something they already know through bourbon, tabasco? Is your secret that Twomey is a quietly-kept love letter to Pinot from the Silver Oak people? That Ovid is the best American wine brand and they haven’t heard of it or Pritchard Hill, the best mix of soil and elevation in the world? That David wrote a song called ‘Timeless’ about his dad and guess who’s doing covers of it…”

Related: How Ecommerce Companies Can Grow During a Recession

On pandemic buying trends

“Before the pandemic, 96% of wine was consumed within three hours of purchase, but now people are stocking up, so wine purchases become a multi-leg journey and the consumer looks at what they’re ordering as more of an album than a bunch of singles. Gifting is up hundreds of percent, with a huge amount of gifting to family. Again again, I always say that wine tastes are very much passed down, so we also see people sending the same shipment to themselves and their parents. This period has certainly made clear which shared activities are optimal for virtual experiences, and drinking wine is definitely one of them. We’ll report back if we find any others.”

On the path forward  

“First, I hope for health, safety and calm for everyone. We are all in 2020 together and I believe there will be an increased focus on learning skills, languages, hobbies. I think we’ll see a new crop of sommeliers, gardeners, chefs, artists, homebrewers, and innovations emerge from 2020. On the wine front, with people starting to build at-home collections, we’ll see a lot more pairing foods to wine rather than the other way around. There’s certainly a growing emphasis on both wellness and time outdoors wherever possible. Again, with family and close friends.”