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As if we needed any more evidence that consumer perception of wine isn’t all that materially different than how they interact with every other produce available in the market today, the results of a study titled In Vino Veritas? Social Influence on ‘Private’ Wine Evaluations at a Wine Social Networking Site published by Wine-Economics.org provides more proof that wine is not immune from the same type of crowd-sourced review influences that have become the norm of on-line product searching.
The study was conducted by staff from Seton Hall, Oxford and the University of Exeter, from their departments of Diplomacy and International Relation, Experimental Psychology, and Psychology departments, respectively (if you want to go up against their level of smarties, be my guest; I know when I see a battle not worth fighting). Their subject was an analysis of Cellertracker.com reviews, which makes sense since it’s currently the largest such repository on planet Earth.
To the tape (emphasis mine):
“We conducted analyses based on 6,157 notes about 106 wines posted by wine drinkers at a wine social networking site. Our findings suggest that social influence on private wine evaluations occurred by communicating a descriptive norm via written information. We provide empirical evidence that there is social influence on private wine evaluations that is greater than the effect of experts’ ratings and prices combined. This influence comes mainly from the first few group members, and increases as a function of source uniformity. “
Hmmmm. Science and data deal uninformed, incumbent opinions a blow yet again…
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Peabody’s Wayback Machine has got nothing on the steep, two mile drive from Napa Valley’s Bale Grist Mill State Park up to Stony Hill Vineyard. Brave that vertical, moss-covered tree-lined climb between St. Helena and Calistoga, and in many ways you’re transported at least forty years back in Napa time, and to what seems an entire world away from the Disney-fied scene of the opulent temples of vino-ness that pervade Route 29.
Feel free to insert your own clichés about technology being the only indication we’re living in a modern age when touring this winery’s weathered but functional buildings and it’s gnarled old Riesling vines. They’re pabulum, sure, but in this case also apt (I was warned to plan on no cell phone coverage when I reached the top of their road; the Wayback machine renders that inoperative, I suppose).
“This is the land that Napa Valley Time forgot,” mused Sarah McCrea, the former corporate marketing brand director who, in 2012, stopped fighting the inevitable call of becoming Stony Hill’s third generation proprietor. “And we like it that way.”
McCrea’s grandparents, Fred and Eleanor McCrea, bought this little chunk of Spring Mountain in 1943, when it was a former goat ranch that “nobody seemed to want.” The first plantings happened “in `48, `49, after the war,” according to McCrea. Some Riesling vines from that era still remain on the property. A small winery was completed in 1953, and trust me when I tell you that, while charming and unquestionably setup in a beautiful place with a beautiful valley view, it would hardly qualify as garage-sized for some of the polished-with-gobs-of-cash winery façades just a few miles farther south on Route 29. Since that time in the fifties, almost nothing (thankfully, blessedly, miraculously) seems to have changed here. Case in point: in sixty years, Stony Hill has employed fewer winemakers than the venerable Pittsburgh Steelers have head coaches.
To put Stony Hill in perspective, one has to understand that when they started in the wine business in Napa, there was no perspective. There wasn’t even much of a Napa fine wine business. There’s is a tale that, as Morrissey sang, starts “from before the beginning…”
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One of the criticisms most often levied against wine blogs is that they don’t “move the needle” in terms of wine sales.
Let’s forget for a moment that where I come from, coverage that costs me next to nothing for a product that results in even a handful of additional sales (and additional exposure) – that I otherwise would never have seen – counts for something.
The crux of this criticism is that coverage of wines on the virtual pages of wine blogs does not result in materially meaningful and/or measurable differences in the purchase volumes of those wines. Presumably, this is in comparison to similar mentions in print media (however, it’s worth noting that I’ve yet to see any hard evidence in the form of real data to support print media coverage having a sales bump effect, but I have anecdotal evidence from some California winemakers showing that it does not, as well as some from small producers indicating that some wine blog mentions have in fact increased DTC sales… which I can relay to you privately some day if we ever meet and you buy me a beer…).
The counter argument is usually a combination of two things: 1) that it’s extremely difficult to measure the impact of any media coverage on wine sales, regardless of the type of media, and 2) it’s the aggregate of blog and social media mentions (outside of concentrated special events, promotions, and the like) that amount to an increase in mindshare and small, one-consumer-at-a-time sales that otherwise wouldn’t otherwise have happened. In other words, wine blogging and social media mentions result in a stream of sales that are aggregated from tiny, rivulet-like trickles in combination, and so wouldn’t generally amount to a perceivable spike but do, in combination, make a difference. [ For an example of these arguments, see the mini-debate generated on this topic generated in the comments section of one of my recent posts here ].
I can now supply some data in support of that counter argument, by way of one example: namely, 1WineDude.com.
While I will not supply exact numbers (only because don’t have permission from all of the parties involved to do so), I can give you approximations that I think lend some credence and strength to the counter argument, though I strongly suspect it will be ignored by the wine cognoscenti, who have in my experience demonstrated a severe allergic reaction (sulfites got nothin’ on this!) to facts, data, and evidence if those things do not already support their own already-entrenched beliefs…
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