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Hey, wanna talk about ethics in wine media?
Chances are, if you’re in wine media, the answer is “Yes! Please!”
If you’re not in wine media, I’m willing to bet the answer is “Huh? Who gives a sh*t?!??” I suspect that the population breakdown looks something like this:
So, when I title this “Last Word…,” I don’t mean it’s the final statement to end all navel-gazing debates when it comes to the ethics of covering the wine world. I just mean that it’s the last time I’m going to touch the topic.
I do have a vested interest in all of this ethics-debating, mind you. I was myself the target of an ethical stone or two thrown last year, and there’s been some damn fine writing lately on what constitutes ethical behavior in the world of wine coverage. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I do write about wine. Sometimes. When I’m not drinking it, I mean.
I’ve long been an advocate of moving the wine writing ethics discussions off of wine blogs and onto other forums. Of course, in order to make that argument, I need to dredge up the topic here on my own wine blog. The irony…
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You really like my limousine
You like the way the wheels roll.
You like my seven inch leather heels
and coming to all of the shows.
Do you love me?
– KISS, Do You Love Me (from Destroyer, 1976)
The American Association of Wine Economists has released another working paper, which often is great fodder for wine-related discussion, unless of course you want to talk about the wine itself. And it might piss some women wine lovers off…
This particular working paper, No. 25, is titled “WHEN DOES THE PRICE AFFECT THE TASTE? RESULTS FROM A WINE EXPERIMENT” and details an experiment performed on approximately 130 people (average age: 29) to measure how knowledge of a price of a bottle of wine impacts people’s perception of that wine (good or bad). The experiment gave three different scenarios to the subjects:
- Taste then Rate the wine with no price info. given (control).
- Give the Price, taste, then rate the wines.
- Taste the wine, give the price, then rate the wine.
There were some interesting findings from this little study, including a reinforcement of the subjective nature of tasting wine:
“Objective measures of wine quality are not easily defined, and consumer tastes with regard to wine are highly heterogeneous…”
as well as what seems like the AAWE’s obligatory dig at professional wine tasters and judges (they love to do this, I think):
“Tasters are only marginally better than a random guess at distinguishing vintage years from non-vintage years from the same vineyard, or reserve bottlings from regular bottlings from the same vineyard and year, despite very large differences in price.”
and an underscoring of a not-so-revolutionary finding that seems to have been proven for nearly any kind of marketed consumer good:
“…extrinsic information provided prior to first-hand experience with the good in question has a significant effect of how the good is experienced, whereas extrinsic information provided after the experience does not.”
WARNING: Some women may want to stop reading at this point.
The most interesting finding was the gender bias that the AAWE claims resulted during the study.
“…an expensive wine gets considerably higher ratings when tasters are informed about the high price before tasting, relative to tasting “blind” – but only from female tasters. By contrast, women that taste the wine before being told the price do not assign significantly higher ratings, suggesting that once they form a first-hand opinion the attribute information has little effect.”
It seems that some women at least think that they prefer expensive wine, even if the wine they’re given is not really expensive. In other words, Chicks dig pricey wine (even if it’s not really pricey)!
The finding is interesting but I’m guessing it would hardly prove a revelation to any guy who has ever lied to a date about the price of wine and dinner.
Now, I know what some of you guys are probably thinking.
“Egads! Does she really love me, or just my expensive wine?!??”
Take heart, guys – the wine doesn’t have to really be expensive, she just needs to think that it’s expensive!
But seriously, before any wineries out there up their prices, put a picture of a shirtless hot guy on the label, and contact their marketing department to start running commercials during Desperate Housewives – you all need to know a few things about this AAWE study.
As far as I’m concerned, the study isn’t scientifically reliable, and supports no real conclusions, until such time as it’s repeated (possibly with larger & larger subject groups). Otherwise, it’s just guessing based on a very small sample size.
So – guys with deep pockets and deep cellars, don’t dump your better halves just yet. Because chances are they are really just that – your better halves!
(images: hollywood-elsewhere, wine-economics.org)
The latest issue of Wine Enthusiast has some advice for wineries and wine wine marketers on how to handle the next generation of wine consumers – and it’s probably wrong.
Well, it’s at least incomplete.
In the May 2009 issue of Wine Enthusiast, which I received as a sample from the recent TasteCamp East in Long Island, has an interesting article by Kathleen Buckley titled “The Millennial Effect.” I’m not a Millennial myself, but I can appreciate the challenge that PR in general will have to overcome to engage that target market. After all, they don’t respond to the mindless, unidirectional marketing tactics that have been the staple of the “traditional” marketing machine.
Apparently, according to the WE article, Millennials think about wine first and foremost as fun, don’t drink to get drunk, want a story and a compelling value proposition if they are to be a marketing target, and they love sparkling wine.
In my book, all of that simply means that the Millennials aren’t morons.
The advice from WE?
“Get into Social Networking. Think Facebook… Flikr a label or Twitter a wine recommendation… If your phone does tricks, use them.”
In my book, that simply sounds like a recipe for disaster.
At least, it’s not a complete recipe for engaging Millennials about wine.
In fact, it doesn’t say anything about actually engaging wine consumers. Twitter, Facebook, Flikr, even blogs… last time I checked, these are just tools. If you want to engage Millennials – hell, any wine consumers for that matter – here’s some advice that you can take to the bank: actually engage us about your wine / clients / products / etc.
Yeah, it’s that simple.
In fact, if you’re in the wine world and you were serious about how to get your message across to the Millennial generation, you’d already know how to do it, because Millennials regularly give this advice away for free nearly every day. Don’t believe me? Check out millennier.wordpress.com.
Sure, use the tools that everyone is using to engage each other, but don’t use the tools without having the desire to engage in a two-way conversation. Otherwise, that marketing-savvy next generation of wine consumers will eat you for lunch on Twitter.
The WE article doesn’t mention much about wine blogs, but there’s plenty to talk about on that front now that Vintank, the wine and technology think-tank firm headed by Inertia Beverage founder Paul Mabray, has released their new report, titled The state of Wine Industry Social Media.
The latest Vintank report is one of the few available that has any meaningful statistics on the influence of wine blogging, and it shows that if you’re in wine PR and you’re ignoring wine blogs, you’re probably making a big blunder.
Some highlights of the Vintank report findings:
- Every blogger that has an audience over 20 people has influence that is relevant.
- Wine bloggers in aggregate may be more powerful than traditional online outlets.
- According to data from Compete, the top 20 wine bloggers in aggregate have a larger audience than the Wine Spectator online.
That last one is my personal fave.
Vintank has confirmed what many have suspected for a long time, and it’s something that sponsors of events like the Wine Bloggers Conference and TasteCamp “get,” which is that wine bloggers may have small reaches individually, but collectively have a potentially enormous reach. Ignore us at your marketing peril.
(images: babble.com, winemag.com, vinfolio.com)
“Lay your seedy judgments, who says they’re part of our lives? I heard your promise but I don’t believe it –
That’s why I’ll do it again”
– Notorious, Duran Duran
Robert Parker can’t leave well enough alone these days, at least when it comes to bloggers.
Which is a shame really, because ultimately, in his attacks on other blogers and wine writers, he undermines his own credibility, gaining nothing as he lashes out at shadows that don’t even care about his existence. He’s either chasing ghosts, or his own demons – either way, it’s fruitless.
Parker, the oft-celebrated, sometimes-maligned uber-critic of wine, might be seeing a slight wane in his near-dominant influence on fine wine prices, but his words are still capable of moving mountains of wine at retail. So it would be logical to conclude that he has little to fear from most other wine writers, especially bloggers.
Unfortunately, no one seems to have told Parker that his place in wine lore is as secure as ever, and as a result he has, with his latest essay in the Wine Advocate, made a complete ass of himself to the wine blogging community.
Parker’s essay, “In Vino Veritas – The 2008 Red Bordeaux” begins:
“While heading to Bordeaux for my first look at the 2008 vintage, I was worried that at best, quality would be average to above average. …I wondered what the point was of putting my nose to the grindstone for 10-12 hours a day for ten long days, not to mention the enormous expense involved in travel, lodging, transportation, etc. Would this be 10 days wasted tasting an unexciting as well as unsaleable vintage? …When I was in the Rhône Valley in early September, several French newspapers came out with stories about the deplorable quality of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. These pre-harvest reports resonated in other areas of the world press, as well as on those notorious blogs that can be authored by anybody who can string a noun and verb together, and by many who can’t. …as I have learned for the last thirty years, you taste and judge with an open mind.”
Notorious? I didn’t know we had that kind of clout, to be honest. Let’s read on…
“It did not take me long to realize that the 2008 vintage was dramatically better than I had expected… When you look at all the facts (not the rumor-mongering from irresponsible bloggers), it seems clear that after the vinifications were done in late October and early November, something excellent had been produced… So why has the quality of the 2008 vintage turned out to be excellent?… The facts, not second-hand reports or rumors bereft of careful analysis, are:…”
Parker then proceeds to basically give us a weather report to explain the positive impact that the favorable climate conditions had on the 2008 red Bordeaux vintage. That’s fine, but it doesn’t help his argument about being more reliable than rumor-mongering bloggers, since he could have called any number of Chateau there and gotten that information after harvest. Tasting, of course, is another matter, and Parker is a master at that – all the more reason why he doesn’t need to act like a jerk to bloggers when writing up his Bordeaux assessment.
But act like a jerk he has. This was Parker’s first mention of bloggers in the Wine Advocate (so I’ve been told – I’m not a subscriber), and it happens to be wholly negative.
If I had to summarize Parker’s credibility argument in this most recent essay, it’s basically that his Bordeaux 2008 assessment is superior to those previously offered in the French press or by the unnamed notorious bloggers, because:
- He works hard, grueling hours tasting top-end Bordeaux, at his own expense
- He actually goes to Bordeaux to try the finished product firsthand, and doesn’t make a premature assessment based on regional vintage weather reports
- He concentrates on facts and not upon rumors
- He’s been at this for 30 years (presumably longer than almost anyone else)
- He has made his assessment in the most objective way that he knows how, without the influence of any outside factors
And he’d be right, except for the slight problem that his statement about the misinformation spread by blogs is almost comically illogical.
- Logically, it doesn’t follow that Parker’s assessments are immune from influence – whether it be positive OR negative – by the hype that was proffered by the French media and, supposedly, the unnamed wine bloggers. He admits this in the very first paragraph. In essence, Parker is saying that after being influenced by the reports of the French media and wine bloggers, he then was able to impartially and objectively assess the 2008 Bordeaux vintage without their influence.WTF?? That’s like saying that after getting on the elevator, you were able to get to the 120th floor without getting on the elevator. It simply makes no sense. It follows then that it’s at least possible that Parker tasted without a truly open mind, with his expectations so low as to make the vintage seem superior.
- It also doesn’t follow logically that he would cite the non-non-influence of bloggers and the French wine media as being irresponsible and second-hand, while he offers a second-hand synopsis of their assessment of the 2008 Bordeaux vintage. Quoting the offending media would have resolved that, but he doesn’t do that here. So by lambasting those that offer second-hand information on the 2008 Bordeaux vintage, he makes the case for his own credibility in assessing the vintage by offering second-hand information himself? WTF? Now I’m really confused.
Parker should have just stuck to the fact that he has been at it for 30 years, spent a lot of money and time, and gave his analysis. Simple, credible, perfect. Instead, he undermines all of that great work by dragging bloggers and the French media through the mud, totally unnecessarily.
Why would someone like Parker do that?
There is a logical explanation to that one.
One option is that he wants to offer up a good old fashioned “I told you so.” I can respect that, actually, even if I cringe at the way that it was done. But there’s another explanation.
Maybe Parker notices the growing influence of blogging and alternative media on the wine industry. He may not like it, but it’s clearly influencing things, including him. Why else even bother mentioning it in the Wine Advocate?
The worst part about all of this is that most wine bloggers and wine drinkers don’t give a shit about Bordeaux ratings, they aren’t collectors, and they want to drink great wine at good prices without waiting 30+ years. Great Bordeaux is an amazing experience, deserving of deep coverage, but Parker’s eating away at his own credibility this time around by lashing out at the blogging community without any compelling reasong to do so. It’s as if he’s getting spooked by the shadows of newcomers, of spirits that he thinks are in his pursuit but in reality aren’t even chasing him, who don’t read The Wine Advocate, wouldn’t read the Wine Advocate even if there weren’t any wine bloggers, and who don’t care at all about the prices of 2008 Bordeaux wines because they’re already too fucking expensive anyway.
I hope Parker is making himself feel better by dragging blogging through the mud, because there’s precious little other value involved in doing so.
Most of the bloggers that he is lambasting in the Wine Advocate likely won’t ever read his words, anyway.
On second thought, maybe he does have something to be concerned about after all.
(images: tripadvisor.com, slate.com)