Storytelling Weekly – #001: Garagiste

I used to live in Pinole, California.

A small city just 50 minutes south of the infamous Napa Valley.

Naturally, when a friend or family visited me, I’d take them to Napa for a wine-tasting experience. 

I would also take that opportunity to stock up – by group buying a case with my companion – and secure a year of winery membership (without having to subscribe to any monthly delivery). 

Look, this is how most wine businesses sell their products:

– Wait for people to come for a tasting

– Sell them some wine in-store

– Upsell them a monthly subscription

– Send 2 to 3 bottles per month

– And hope that customers don’t cancel

But not Garagiste.

They operate with a completely different model.

Recap on Storytelling Weekly

Welcome to the first issue of my One Story A Week Series.

Here’s how it works:

  • Once a week, I’ll find an interesting brand to study.
  • I’ll break down what I like about their storytelling techniques.
  • Then, I’ll show you how to utilize these stories in email campaigns.
Full Disclaimer

I don’t have any insider info or access to their account. So, I’m writing based on studying their website, interviews, and emails. However, I don’t have proof of earning claims or results of specific campaigns.

Now, there won’t be any “hard selling” in this series, but – 

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Brand Introduction

Storytelling Breakdown

Garagiste, created in 1996, is a unicorn in the wine industry.

It’s the world’s largest email-based wine business, with over 136,000 subscribers, making (on average) $30 million in annual sales.

But they don’t run any advertising…

In fact, I don’t think they’re on any social media platform.

The founder and sole owner, Jon Rimmerman, famously sells all the wines through a daily long-form newsletter. (written in a very unique voice)

Storytelling Elements

There are a lot of storytelling elements in the brand building of Garagiste:

  • Metaphorical Origin Story 

The brand name Garagiste originated from the French winemaking movement.

It’s the shift from mass production to “garage wine.” 

To celebrate and embrace the little guys who make small batches of wine in the old-fashioned way. This is also the core belief Rimmerman talks about in many of his emails or interviews.

  • Founder Story 

The founder story is always a great way to differentiate your brand…

…especially when you’re coming up against dominant players in the market.

Rimmerman tells the story of how he spends half a year – every year – on the road hunting for exclusive wines and stories. 

He even details where he traveled, including Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Turkey, Israel, three Canadian provinces, northern Mexico, and 13 American states…

Compare this with faceless corporations that sell millions of cases per year? 

It makes Garagiste one of its kind.

  • Authority Story

Rimmerman claimed to have been given the nickname: “The Wine Whisperer. The Great and Powerful Vinous Oz. The J. Peterman of Wine.” And others. 

This is due to his photographic memory of wine. 

(he claimed he can recall the taste of any wine simply by looking at the label)

Now, I don’t know who came up with these names…

…or if the skill is actually true. 

(Hey, I’m a normal human. I can barely remember the taste of yesterday’s dinner…)

But this kind of story is a great way to establish authority among your audience.

This is the same technique Gary Bencivenga, the world’s greatest copywriter, used to establish the authority for his Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club.

  • Word Painting Story

If I were to pinpoint one copywriting technique that’s THE MOST important for e-commerce brands, I’d say it’s word painting. 

Word painting, or text painting, describes an object or an event in colorful details so that the reader can “see the scene” through your words.

It’s kind of like screenwriting.

(imagine you need to describe a scene in a movie with only text)

And Rimmerman is a master in word painting.

He does NOT use any images in his emails.

Instead, he writes long (800~1,000+ words), flourishing, self-mythologizing emails that tell vivid stories of his personal experience with a specific wine… 

Then, invites you to “taste the story in the bottle” by ordering.

To give you a few examples:

The first sip of wine you will never forget.

For me, it was my first taste of vintage Champagne (all those years ago) – “so this is what all the fuss is about”!

The experience replayed itself, night after night, dancing with my dreams.

The cycle wouldn’t end until I secured another bottle…

Rêve Récurrent!

Wine can make such an impression – it seeps into our dreams and the message is clear: find another bottle so that dream can become a reality in our tasting stem!

If a specific wine strikes such a chord with the community, we do everything we can to obtain another parcel (even if the parcel is tiny).

Whether you simply wish to secure additional bottles or the original offer was sold out when you hit the Blue Line, go ahead and toss your hat in the ring tonight as we have another parcel in limited quantities!

Dreams do come true – Rêve Récurrent!

Garagiste
Quoted from one of Garagiste‘s newsletter

And this one…

“One of the last bastions of unknown vinous Tuscany holds some of the most exciting promise this taster has come across in a long time.

Why?

Because the top wines are white, not red.

Yes, I’m serious.

This area, on the flank of hills next to Orbetello (just inland from the sea and Argentario, near the Monastero di Sant’Angelo Rovinato) is unspoiled terra firma where white wine flourishes with some of the deepest crystalline purity (and low alcohol) the taster will find outside of Belluard’s Gringet.

Said another way, what if you could experience seaside tone on par with Zarate in Rias Baixas but only trade $13+ for the exercise?

That’s what I thought.

Oh, but Zarate has accolades!

So does our subject below, what is probably the lowest $ Gambero Rosso “Tre Bicchieri” (GR3) in all of Italy at $13+.

Still not convinced?

How about the fact that our “winery of the year” candidate, Antica La Parrina, is one of only two monopole D.O.C. designations in all of Italy (the winery is its own independent D.O.C.), the other being Sassicaia?

Yes, this winery has an entire D.O.C. that is all its own.

Still not sure?

How about the fact that they specialize in a grape you may have only tasted in your Marsala – the dry white wine wunderkind known as “Ansonica”?

…and the fact that their wine is hand-made and certified BIO/organic?

Are we getting somewhere?
Quoted from one of Garagiste‘s newsletter

(When you read these stories, how can you not be entertained? 😋)

  • Objection Handling Story

Garagiste only ships wine a few times a year.

As you can imagine, this will become a huge objection for potential buyers.

So, how does Rimmerman handle this objection?

By introducing the objection-handling story –

He’s only shipping twice a year – once in the spring and once in the fall – when extreme heat or cold are less likely to destroy the wine in transit.

Brilliant, right?

Bonus: Another master of objection handling is IKEA.

They’ve come up with a “believable” reason for all their objections, including:

– Why do you have to assemble it yourself

– Why do they use recycled materials

– Why do you have to carry it home yourself

– etc

  • Enemy Against Story

The last kind of story element I’d like to talk about is:

Throwing rocks at your enemies.

Us v.s. Them

We v.s. The World

It’s a great technique to build a cult-like following by discussing your core beliefs. 

In short, people like us believe in things like these.

It’s how you create a world where your audience (& subscribers) want to return daily.

They will intentionally seek out your emails…

…and, eventually, buy your offers.

To do this, Rimmerman talks about:

How large commercial distributors often have problems with pesticides, unhealthy additives, and toxic chemicals; or…

How middlemen and retailers are the people jacking up the price; or…

NO SALES TO RETAILERS OR WHOLESALERS

Thank you,

Jon Rimmerman
Garagiste
Seattle, WA
Included in every Garagiste‘s newsletter

How most people have no idea what they’re drinking… and are only buying expensive wine for the label’s status.

These messages establish the foundational beliefs that separate Garagiste from its competitors.

(Also, strengthening the benefits behind their business models.)

Email Tip of The Week

There’s a lot we can learn from Garagiste’s emails.

But if I’m to laser in on ONE thing:

It is the use of plain-text storytelling

(Rimmerman even goes so far as to leave typos and grammar mistakes in his emails to preserve the “personal touch.”)

On the other hand, most eCommerce emails are design-heavy HTML.

It’s nothing but advertising fliers in the format of email.

It lacks personality

It’s easy to ignore.

It decreases deliverability.

Nobody wants to read them.

And it doesn’t even show up properly unless the reader “asks for it.”

Ecommerce Email Design

So, here’s my unpopular opinion:

Using design-heavy HTML emails is simply a form of lazy marketing.

Instead of spending the time and effort to tell the story…

Marketers slap a few photos in the emails and claim –

A picture is worth a thousand words.”

Yeah, but you don’t control what those words are.

If an audience finds your packaging unappealing, they’ll associate a thousand words of bad story with your product.

And here’s my challenge to you – 

You have a great story that needs to be told. 

If you tell it properly, people will relate and become customers of life. 

So, instead of dropping impersonal, over-designed emails that are only asking for money, utilize story-driven copy that builds relationships in the long term.

Remember – when the world zigs, ZAG!

Cheering for you,
Wuyen

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