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One of my favorite “pro” gigs is penning the In Focus section of Publix Grape Magazine, which I will happily continue doing for so long as they’re willing to ask, because I have so much freakin’ fun doing it. I learn more than I’d otherwise suspect every time I write for the seasonal magazine, both in researching and in trying to take complex wine topics such as yeasts, oak, and acids, and make them palatable (see what I did there?) to non-geeks. You know, normal people!
For the 2013 Winter edition of Grape, I solicited the help of my winemaking bud Steve Matthiasson in breaking down the topic of wine sugars, much like yeasts break those suckahs down in real life (see what I did there?… whatever…). Corkscrews are the topic for the Spring, so go subscribe (for free) if you don’t want to miss it.
But I’m not blogging to talk about that, I actually want to talk about another aspect of the Winter release of Grape, in which I’m quoted on the topic of cute wine labels. Namely, are they good or bad for wine, and would they appeal to Millennials?
I’m one of a few wine geeks quoted in that article, which understandably but unfortunately didn’t quote my lengthy caveat that if wine brands like Skinny Girl and Cupcake are selling, then there must be good reasons for that and it doesn’t really matter what I or any other critic-type-person thinks about them. Interestingly, the article also mentioned Gnarly Head and Smoking Loon, which I don’t consider as “kitschy” as Skinny Girl or Cupcake (loons are not cute, and neither are gnarly old vines), but I’ve long considered them decent bargains because they’re getting nice old vine fruit from places like Lodi at suppressed prices, which translates into really decent wines in some cases…
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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 reading this will have come across a handful of articles on the Global Interwebs proffering the idea that the current style of high-scoring, high-end fine wines (prominently oaky, complex, high on the alcohol and low on the acidity) will always reign supreme in fine wine sales, and that it’s only a matter of time before Millennial consumers “grow up” and stop buying higher acid, inexpensive imports and trade up to the “real” stuff.
Many of these arguments are well-written and intelligently presented. But to me, they don’t read like the Queen’s English; they look more like this: “Blah blah, blah-blah-blah, BLAH-BLAH!!!”
Some of the crystal ball gazing has been done by those with a vested interest in prolonging the reign of the current style of high-scoring, high-end fine wines, but I don’t really have any issue with that potential conflict of interest. Also, I’m willing to ignore the fact that one of the key pillars of their arguments – that an entire generation will “grow up” to fundamentally change how they interact with brands – has no previous viable example in the entire history of luxury goods consumption on planet Earth.
The real nail in the coffin of these arguments is that no data are ever offered in support of them.
Meanwhile, we have examples of exactly the opposite happening; younger consumers buying fresher, higher acid wines, because that’s what they can afford and therefore it’s the style on which they’re cutting their wine loving teeth, informing their future purchases and tastes from this point onward.
What examples, you ask? How about roughly eight million bottles, is that a good enough example for you?
8 million is the annual bottle production of Mednoza’s Luigi Bosca, a producer I visited during my stint earlier this year judging the 2013 Argentina Wine Awards. The results of that visit – aside from yielding a handful of tasty recommendations for you (more on those in a few minutes) – underscored nearly every aspect of the speeches I and my fellow judges gave to the Argentine winemaking community during the AWAs, and yielded one of the most telling illustrations of the changing tastes of younger wine consumers I’ve yet encountered…
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