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Tenacious Three: Exploring the business of social with Three Brothers Wineries & Estates

For Dave Mansfield brand is sacred and evolution is key. “I cut my teeth in branding way back in the 90s,” says Dave. The former major league sports professional was a founding member of Branding America in 1994. Their efforts towards co-branding fast food chains with convenience stores gave Dave invaluable experience with consumer trends, and a vision for the future. In 2006, Dave and his co-partner and wife, Luanne, purchased land to build their dream on Seneca Lake.

He says the premise was simple: “something for everyone. That’s what we used as the catalyst to our brand.” Within a year, the land was transformed into Three Brothers Wineries and Estates. Featuring three distinct wineries (Stony Lonesome, Bagg Dare, and Passion Feet), this multi-building and brand experience was the first of its kind at the time. Warhorse Brewing followed in 2009 and the later addition of Iron Heart Cafe solidified the property as a destination less than 15-minutes outside downtown Geneva.

Photo provided.

2022 marks the company’s 15th anniversary and the team has worked tirelessly. “We put 15 additions on in 15 years,” Dave highlights. “We want things to be different every year when people visit. We want to give them a real big reason to come back.” 

Some changes are out of necessity, like the Bagg Dare rebuild or the new welcome center to help guests maximize their visit. Others are to optimize an experience, like the Passion Feet Winery redesign or additional outdoor seating to accommodate guests safely. The team is constantly pitching, executing, and modifying ideas in real time and this process has become integral to their success. 

Extending reach and humanizing brand

The company was an early adopter of social media marketing, deciding to experiment with Facebook in 2009. “It just made sense because of our age,” says Erica Paolicell, who graduated in ‘07 and joined the team as the first employee. Today, she and her husband Justin are co-partners alongside Dave and Luanne. She is also COO and president. 

Erica and Marketing Coordinator Katharine Warner are a super team, working together to broaden Dave’s goal of something for everyone by removing location as a barrier to entry. After tackling Facebook, Instagram followed. Through entertaining and engaging content, each account grew to over 47,000 and 17,000 followers respectively.

“The funny thing about Three Brothers is we’ve never really done any print advertising. It’s all word of mouth,” says Erica. Instead, the team is creating review-worthy in-person experiences worth sharing. “We focused hard on making sure that the experience here was noteworthy for people to leave and go tell other people.” 

Katharine, who oversees the brand’s digital footprint, believes curating an online experience is equally important as in-person. “If you’re on social media, they’re expecting you to respond just as much as if they pick up the phone and call the business. It’s really important that that communication line stays open.” On travel websites like Tripadvisor and Yelp, Katharine monitors and responds to reviews and comments.

Three Brothers Team (Photo provided.)

On Facebook and Instagram, she shares looks at the land, product, and the staff, diverse in both gender and race. Katharine’s efforts, which are tailored to each platform, are lighthearted, educational and fun. Her continued work is nurturing a community of ultra loyal fans eager to share content with friends. “It’s another form of word of mouth, just on the internet.”

Moving at a social speed

The speed of business on social media is daunting for the business owner who wears many hats. Erica gestures towards the stacks of blueprints, moodboards and fabric samples on her desk. “I have three construction projects and over 100 staff. How can we do it all?” She recommends outlining needs and delegating the work. The creation of a Marketing Coordinator role at Three Brothers was recognizing a business need alongside talent in Katharine. In turn, Katharine collaborates with a videographer, photographer, a newsletter designer, and a content creator to help her generate original, entertaining, and on-brand content in bulk.

The team has even experimented with partnerships like the recent Bravey Dry Rosé launch in collaboration with Olympic Runner Alexi Pappas, which resulted in “a ton of new eyes on our brand,” says Katharine. A co-hosted online giveaway brought 2,000 new Instagram followers. The bulk of bottle purchases came from new customers introduced to the brand by the Olympian.

Katharine says trying is essential to success. “The basic philosophy when I started was just to test it out. See if it works. Nothing’s going to happen if you do nothing, or if you just play it safe. If it didn’t work, then you learned something.” 

Erica smiles and adds: “we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our failures.” Even in tragedy, the team demonstrates that energy is best spent moving forward. 

December 2021 brought heartbreak with the devastating fire at Bagg Dare Winery. With news traveling fast, Three Brothers turned to social media to speak with their customers directly, first with a post, then a video featuring the owners. “Communication through social is the fastest way to get the word out with your story–in your words,” Erica stresses. As time progresses and updates are shared, the brand’s resilience is also on display.

In March, the New York Wine & Grape Foundation recognized Three Brothers with a Unity Award for “major contributions to advancing the image and reputation of the New York wine industry.” Ironically, Erica was at a tech-free retreat when she learned the good news and promptly used technology to share with the team. 

September marks the official anniversary of the business and the future looks bright. “15 years later…” Dave smiles. “It certainly is a lot bigger and a lot better than I thought at the time.”

For more information about Three Brothers, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, or check out their website.

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Maiah Johnson Dunn

Maiah Johnson Dunn

Maiah Johnson Dunn is a writer based in Rochester, NY. Visit maiah.com for more.