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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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Okay… so… we stirred the pot a bit with last week’s lament on the state of wine writing. To the tune of a couple of hundred overall reactions in comments, emails, and social media.
One of the emails I received was from wine biz alumnus Les Hubbard. Les had happened to read that post, and almost simultaneously (while doing some house cleaning in his files) stumbled upon something nearly thirty years old that he thought was related to the topic of wine writing, and what we can hope to achieve from it (if not being able to achieve green-tinged paper with drawings of previous U.S. presidents on them).
In that email, Les recounted the main themes from a talk on wine writing given by John Frederick Walker in November of 1985 (I would’ve been all of thirteen at that time, and so more qualified to write about orange juice…).
Walker’s themes are eerily resonant today; in fact, they sound as if they could’ve been written last week, let alone twenty-eight years ago. Les gave me permission to share his email, for which I’m quite grateful; I desperately wanted to share them with the 1WD readership, because they feel so pertinent to the craft of wine writing, and because they comprise a fairly awesome exclamation point of sorts to last week’s discussion in the comments section about what it means to be a (underemployed) wine writer.
And so, courtesy of Les, here are Hubbard’s own words paraphrasing what I would consider some of the key points that are still at the heart of good wine scribing, as delivered back in the `80s. So dust off your Jams, Swatches, big-rimmed glasses, skinny ties and Galaga-playing skills and join us for a trip in the dialectical Way Back Machine…
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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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