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By now, you’ll probably have heard that alleged fine wine counterfeiter Rudy Kurniawan has been found guilty of fraud in court (well, he was found guilty of wine fraud during trial in court, not found guilty within a court, although technically actually he was found guilty within a court room… oh, forget it).
You’ll also, no doubt, be nursing a raging New Year’s Eve hangover. So I’ll try to make this pithy since most likely I will also be nursing some manner of raging NYE hangover.
In the event that you’re a self-professed wine geek who hasn’t yet gotten up to speed on the whole Kurniawan Kerfuffle, I recommend taking a quick diversion over to the fine summary of Kurniawan’s alleged fraudulent activities at NPR, so that you can do a rapid catch-up.
All set? Good. Now I can explain why Kurniawan’s guilty verdict means almost nothing whatsoever to the fine wine market, and why I think it will almost certainly not even make a dent in the purchases of fraudulent wine worldwide.
But, in order to do that, I first need to explain why the collecting of rare fine wines is like having sex with animals…
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[ Editor’s note: the following screed is nearly 1500 words long. The Cliff Notes version, for those who are in a hurry: be very careful about where you take your advice regarding wine and social media, lest you miss out on worthwhile authoritative voices/resources (as a consumer) or miss opportunities to build brand awareness and acquire customers (as a producer). ]
There’s no delicate way to breach this topic, and so I’m going to risk pissing off a lot of people by jumping right in and starting it this way:
From whom should you take your social media advice? Choose one of the options below:
1) Someone who ran Internet web hosting for some of the most successful brands in the history of social media (including Skittles, Snickers and M&Ms), who makes $0.00 from social media consulting, and who bootstrapped his way from total unknown to authoritative in the wine space completely via online channels,
2) A traditional media outlet source that has little or no experience operating in social media channels, has a vested fiscal interest (advertising) in pushing wine brands away from inexpensive social media channels and into (more expensive) print advertising spending, and who publicly decries social media / blogs while at the same time advertises on those online channels and repeatedly asks those same blogs it decries to cover its events and press releases?
Hello… Paging Ralph Nader…!
The answer seems ludicrously straightforward, and yet I regularly watch wine brands go with #2, potentially to the detriment of their long term bottom lines. And yes, for the record, I’m the guy in the first example above, but that’s not central to the point – you could substitute anyone in the #1 slot with both social media and wine experience, like Paul Mabray of Vintank, for example. The point is that wine brands accord far, far, far too much weight to the social media prognostications and pontifications of OpEd pieces, newsletter introductions, and blog posts from staff members of traditional wine media. These media folks are often fantastic tasters, great writers, and immensely intelligent people who routinely, somehow, manage to make themselves sound like complete idiots by holding a bully pulpit sermon on topics about which they know almost nothing. It’s like eighty year old men talking about teenage girls’ high school fashions, or ten year old boys talking about prostate health or political voting strategies.
Seriously, people, this is getting embarrassing…
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By now many of you will have heard that Sommelier Journal is ceasing publication.
The news came to me via SJ editor David Vogels, who several days ago issued an email to those writers who had contracted work with the magazine. I happen to be one of those writers, having only weeks ago completed a featured story / regional overview on Crete, an article that was to appear in SJ’s November issue. Here’s what Vogels wrote in the email:
“I regret to inform you that Sommelier Journal has suspended publication. We are currently negotiating with a group that hopes to purchase the title and resume publishing the magazine at some point within the next year. In the meantime, we have arranged with Wine & Spirits Magazine to complete the terms of our current paid subscribers with the same number of issues they have remaining (whether in print or online-only).”
The news is sad for several reasons. Sommelier Journal was a bright light among wine publications over the last six years, as any long-time 1WD reader is already well aware. It was probably the only publication that catered specifically to sommeliers, beverage directors, and others in a similar vinous vein who actually cared deeply about building a taste profile for their clientele.
But among the reasons for why the shuttering of SJ’s glossy covers totally sucks, the reason vying for number one in line for the suck-a-thon as far as I’m concerned is the fact that I’m now not going to be paid for the article I wrote for them. That’s work I sweated and bled, based on a journey I took to the region under the auspice that I was on assignment (I’ve reached out to World of Fine Wine about taking it up, but they seem to move pretty slowly, unless they have something they’d like me to promote to you, of course!).
I’d like to say that this development is probably a fluke, but I think it’s actually indicative of a larger issue, which is that paid content in any form is a tough sell, period. Paid content for a niche is even tougher. And as a result, building wealth by writing content about a niche topic like wine is a bit like talking about unicorns or the Easter bunny (or about Easter bunnies riding unicorns): fun to discuss, but ultimately a figment of our collective, wine-soaked imagination…
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