No Wine? Sorry, No Story.

Vinted on December 9, 2014 binned in commentary

A troubling trend is starting to appear in my Inbox.

[ Editor’s note: I wonder how many cheesy detective novels now begin with that premise… ]

Somewhat ironically, the troubling trend seems to mostly be coming from very well-meaning wine producers and their various public relations arms / firms / etc., and with very well-meant intentions. But the gameplan execution is all fumbled-at-the-five-yard-line.

What’s happening is that I am seeing a lot (LOT!) more wine brands clue into the fact that what differentiates them in what has become the single most competitive wine market in the history of mankind is, in part, their stories. So far, so good.

Some of them have even clued in on the other great differentiator in a market in which we are deluged with mostly non-human, robotic, advertorial interactions: the simple act of caring enough to deal with customers and consumers as real people, and giving them the extra love inherent in good service.

What they seem to be forgetting, however, is that the price of entry in this intensely competitive marketplace that is the modern wine biz is quality. If we in the media don’t get a chance to check out the wine, we cannot answer the fundamental question of whether or not the service and story are worth getting into in the first place.

The troubling trend? I am getting inundated with requests to talk about wine brand stories, connected to wines that I’ve yet to taste. Whoops!…

This is so obviously stupid, it’s almost like asking someone whether they’d rather have a coffee, or get kicked in the teeth. Well… DUH

Sorry, folks, but 1WineDude readers are not stupid. They love the stories, they love the real people and real activities behind authentic wine brands. But the juice has to pass muster to even step into the stadium.

The very first question out of the mouth of anyone with properly-functioning brain cells who is reading about fine wine is going to be this: “So… how is the wine?”

If I (or anyone else in the wine media) cannot provide an informed opinion on that, the rest of your offering – the stories, the people, whatever – doesn’t mean jack. I’m sorry, I know that those things are important to you wine producers, but nobody will care about them if your wine stinks. If I cannot answer the fundamental question of whether or not I think a wine is worth attention for a particular audience, then the utility of anything else I say about that wine is limited. “Limited” as in approaching zero.

Now, I need samples like I need a hole in my head, or like I need a larger dog. But the bottom line is that if a wine brand is offering their story in the hopes of coverage, but is not offering some chance of having their wine tasted beforehand, then they are not really offering anything at all. They are trolling for lazy media coverage, which is almost certainly the kind of coverage that you do not want when it comes to hawking fine wine.

Wine peeps, it’s okay for you to reach out and offer those stories, but don’t delude yourselves into thinking that those stories are somehow a substitute for your product; they’re not, and if there was a time when they ever where, that time has long, long passed us all by.

No wine? Sorry, folks – no story!

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Jeff


    You nailed it, Joe.
    Even for my teeny, tiny, not-so-great wine blog, I usually get around ten emails a week from wine PR companies with similar requests for coverage.
    "Lazy" is the right word for the coverage they are asking for… especially when they ask for one to just copy and paste the story that they've already composed.
    Now, look… I'm no sample whore. Not even close.
    But…
    I will say that not too long ago, I was intrigued enough by one of the stories that I felt compelled to dig deeper. I replied, stating that I'd be glad to review any samples they'd like to send my way. They responded by staying I wasn't getting enough page views for them to send anything out.
    Um… Okay…
    You contacted me, guys.

    • 1WineDude


      Jeff, yeah, nice message they’re sending there :-P

    • SAHMmelier


      I'm perplexed by that as well. I responded recently and got the email requesting that I send them my numbers. How about checking that before you bombard us?

    • Kayla Koroush


      WOW! Thank you for sharing this. Being on the PR/Marketing AND the Wine Blogger side of this picture I can't help but see a window of opportunity. PR/Marketing firms are looking for a certain kind of media coverage. Bloggers (pro writers and amateur) can help fulfill the small niche that isn't be covered by the wine writers of the "authority publications" like Wine Enthusiast or the Huffington Post food and wine column. I have asked myself, why hasn't one single firm or winery stood up, taken wine bloggers by the hand (in seminars, webinars, twitter chats, meet ups, weekly e-blasts ect) and said, "Here! Here is what wineries want covered, this is the kind of reach firms and producers find valuable and here is how you get that kind of reach". Amateur wine bloggers are out there floundering because no one (excluding the Wine Bloggers Conference) takes an interesting in cultivating this small but active citizen/consumer wine media community. It is only in my opinion that I believe wine bloggers do not need to ALL aspire to be wine reviewers and published wine writers. Bloggers can serve and fulfill industry needs if only the industry and bloggers work together. I'm making it my cause to close the gap as best as can be done. PR managers and wineries need to know how they can best utilize and work with bloggers. Bloggers need to understand how they can be useful to the industry. (Hint: It's not ANOTHER wine review and score) As well as how to work professionally with wineries/brands. Wineries have the luxury of being very selective, generous or with-holding with their sample disbursement. Provide "value" is the advice most people out there are giving. Does anyone know what that "value" is? Has a winery come out and told you? Do wine bloggers know what a PR pitch is? How do you respond to a PR pitch? These are all conversations we as wine bloggers and PR managers could be having together to make sure everyone gets something of value in the end. I keep seeing the wine bloggers and industry butt heads trying to delineate roi, value, reach, authority ect. While I look over and see the food/wedding/fashion/mommy bloggers of the world being featured in Martha Stewart, Food and Wine Magazine and Parents Magazine. Can the PR people and wine blogger people please just sit down and have a conversation please?

      • 1WineDude


        Kayla – the better ones on both sides do have those conversations, I think.

        • Kayla Koroush


          Agreed, the same could be said for Kitchen Aid and The Pioneer Woman but imagine if the wine bloggers had some kind of PR savvy knowledge or training. Don't you think that training/education could benefit the blogging community? A few PR firms might publish "10 Tips for Pitching to Wine Bloggers" "How wine bloggers can pitch writing piece to a winery" , " How wine bloggers can grow their audience/readership".

  • Blaise


    Joe, Are you getting this from a particular region or from a PR group? Do you reply and ask for the samples but get a “huh?” from them? On other hand: wine = story?

    • 1WineDude


      Blaise, it’s not confined to one group or region. Wine <> story, bit that’s kind of stating the obvious, isn’t it?

  • Blake Gray


    I actually like these inquiries. Just like many readers, I'd rather know the story first; it gets me interested in the wines. Like you, I already get more wine samples than I can handle. I'd rather prioritize tasting the ones that have good stories behind them.

    • 1WineDude


      Blake, sure, that makes sense. But would you tell stories without knowing if the wine is any good? That wouldn’t make sense to me.

  • The Drunken Cyclist


    But Joe, I would bet they would be happy to send you along some copy about how great the wine is–just take their word for it!

    • 1WineDude


      DC – ha!

  • @RichardPF


    And it is not confined to just wine. I get emails from spirits brands, food companies and others, all presenting their story without offering a sample for review. Sure, the story is good, but rarely will I write about it unless I get to sample the product too. A good story does not guarantee a good product.

    • 1WineDude


      Richard, sad but true. Hopefully this little tirade helps to minimize it on the wine side of things.

  • Charlotte


    I 100% agree. I've seen the same recent trend. I have been introduced to a number of wineries with great stories but the wine isn't at the quality level I seek to share with my readers. I have a feeling this trend won't last long as I'm sure the results they seek are not being accomplished. Time will tell.

    • 1WineDude


      Charlotte- exactly.

  • Alison


    Also — if the wine is not available locally (if you write for a local audience), then sorry, not interested! Not going to tell our readers about a wine they can't go out and buy themselves. This happens all the time, too.

    • 1WineDude


      Alison, fortunately I don’t have that restriction, but to tie point they need to know the audience.

  • Steve Heimoff


    I always was amazed at the same thing: Tell our story, write about us, but we're not sending you wine! Well, then I'm not writing about you. Period, end of story!

    • 1WineDude


      Steve, I suppose it amounts to them looking for free publicity..

    • Bob Henry


      Steve,

      Were the "non-providers" expensive, low production, mailing list allocated California "cult" Cabs/Cab-blends and Pinot Noirs . . . or fairly decent sized producers who were simply tightwads?

      ~~ Bob

      • Bob Henry


        Addendum.

        Did Wine Enthusiast ever buy expensive, low production, mailing list allocated California "cult" Cabs/Cab-blends and Pinot Noirs for review by you if the bottles weren't proffered by the wineries?

  • Michael Larner


    As a producer, your story is one we (fellow producers) should take to heart. However its is a symbiotic relationship, you exist to write stories on wine, we exist to make it. We both have to be good story tellers. If I were to send a wine to every blogger that asks, I would have none left to sell, so I participate in bloggers conferences to get more bang for the buck. Yet again location is key, small producers cannot and should not have stories told if there is no way to get their wine outside of their zip code. So what us producers need to do is bring you into our spheres, so to that tune I will gladly pour you or any other blogger/writer all they wine I produce, if you visit me – that is as virtual as we get.

    • 1WineDude


      Michael – well said.

    • Kayla Koroush


      Michael- Would you consider selling a bottle of wine to a wine blogger at a valuable discount and throw in free shipping?

  • Fredric Koeppel


    The problem with all these releases that want us to tell stories about wines we have not experienced is that the stories behind the wines are not very interesting anyway, consisting mainly of cliches about how the proprietor is passionate about the land and the winemaker is passionate about the grapes and they all have a passion for excellence. Spare me, please! You want me to review your wine? Sure, inquire first about sending samples; then send me some wine to taste. And that's my story.

    • 1WineDude


      Fredric – yes, too often those canned winery stories stink :)

  • SAHMmelier


    I usually reply, if I reply, with a thank you for reaching out but I cannot recommend something I haven't tried. I am glad to know that it isn't just me. I thought that it was just because I didn't have the cred to get more from them. At least now I know it isn't personal? But I guess that is also the problem…hope you are well!

    • 1WineDude


      SAHM – I think the issue is that it's not at all personal; they've put no effort at all into those communications.

  • Bill Smart


    This is an interesting conversation Joe. You know me, I sample everyone. No problem. I believe in getting wine in the writers' glass. But I've also seen/heard about some backlash from other wineries (mainly small producers) who feel they are sending out wines to bloggers/writers that are simply stocking their cellars or putting wine on holiday tables.

    • Kayla Koroush


      Bill- I'm enjoying this conversation myself. Seeing how bloggers and wineries are interacting with each other and measuring the expectations from both sides. I would agree with the backlash you're hearing from small producers but then I would pose this question, did the producer get that blogger/writer on the phone? Did they discuss or at least read any sample policies? The winery is also responsible for taking steps to build that media relation. Bloggers on that same note should explain their intentions fully if they're requesting samples or accepting them. Professional media is very good about being up front about their writing habits, preferences and coverage. How long do you think before wineries either A.) Throw up their hands and give up on bloggers or B.) Say to themselves, "Am I really nurturing this relationship in the best "mutual" way possible?"

    • 1WineDude


      Bill – well, I am sure that's happening, but homework needs to be done beforehand on whether or not the person to whom the samples are being sent is the right kind of media for those wines, etc.

  • Alan Goldfarb


    The answer is simple; the execution is not: Both sides — writers/flacks — have to know what makes an authentic and compelling story (not easy with so many spinners out there i.e. "passion" don't mean nuthin'); and then the flackoid needs to put the client's wine in the writers' hand. It's fundamental. Oh, and BTW: There are no guarantees for the client i.e. they gotta like the wine, they gotta like you, they gotta like your (true) story. Let's talk to each other and make it real.

    • 1WineDude


      Alan – actually, passion means a lot, when it's legit.

  • Randy Caparoso


    As a fellow journalist, my good friend, I can obviously feel your pain. As much as I love the people and stories, there are many wines that I find less than enchanting. But then, though, I always have to remind myself: perception of quality is indeed a slippery slope. You might, for instance, check into a lovely country cottage in Provence in the late spring, and find bottles of local wines generously furnished by your host. Those wines might very well taste nondescript 2000 miles away in your own home, taken out of a sample box, but taste utterly enchanting in that particular setting, Provence in spring.

    This is why stories are important, and I'm glad wineries and P.R. companies are finally "getting" it: it can't be all numbers and the usual glowing descriptors accompanying samples. I would submit that most wines would taste enchanting in a given context. Especially, of course, when tasted in a winemaker's cellars alongside the vines where that winemaker's wines come from, but also under any number of circumstances — a candlelight dinner with a lover, on the side of a tub filled with aromatic oils, or after a tiring hike when you're just so damned thirsty. The most ordinary wines can taste fantastic, just like the most ordinary man can look exceedingly handsome and an ordinary woman can look irresistibly sexy in any kind of situation. How do you think we find spouses?

    That, my friend, is why stories matter; even as much as pure, unadulturated "quality." There can be beauty in many things precisely because beauty is very much a human, perceived value.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Randy. I guess what I'm saying is that they both matter, and I for one cannot separate them (and think I'd be shortchanging the audience here if I could/did).

  • Ingrid


    Sometimes I really don't understand why people in the wine industry think they're so special in certain ways. In any other product market, samples matter. You would never buy a car without a test drive, and you would never trust a car review from someone who's never driven the car, regardless of how compelling the story is behind that car.

    • 1WineDude


      Well put, Ingrid. I think wine is weird because the three-tier system puts too many levels of indirection between wine production and its ultimate consumers.

  • Bob Henry


    As a marketing guy, let me broach a delicate subject here.

    "Numbers" do matter when it comes to establishing your bona fides as a wine blogger, when you assert you have an "audience."

    These unnamed wineries who withhold wine samples: from their perspective, how "big" is "big enough"?

    Do they quote "threshold" statistics back to you?

    • 1WineDude


      Bob – Sure, there needs to be a threshold, but it could be different for different brands, certainly.

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