Thursday, December 20, 2007

Where to with Wine Blogging?

Travelling again, and had some important milestones on my other blog about Forest Hill to deal with, so it has been quite quiet around here.

Here is a quick link to prove I am still around.

If you fancy listening to some interesting discussions on wine blogging from some leading figures in this sphere, check out Tim Elliot's Winecast discussion: Unfiltered 7: Wine Blogging Today

If you are a blogger, or are considering joining in The Conversation, check it out.

[UPDATE: you might want to wait until this evening, open a nice bottle of wine and settle down in a comfy chair first. It is a long one!]

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Wine & Photography - some further thoughts

My previous post solicited a few responses which I felt I had to respond to here and here.

The interesting thing is that photography could do lots of different things for wine. It COULD be about the tasting experience. It COULD be just about selling the product and packaging recognition.

But I think it COULD be so much more. I should point out that the whole reason for this blog is not to sell any wine, but to talk about how important wine is, or could be, in our society.

Let's take them separately so I can explain my thinking, and the differences.

PHOTOGRAPHY AS A TASTING NOTE
As we have discussed, there are those who are already trying this, in particular Chateau Petrogasm. The point of the image is to express something unique or descriptive about what is INSIDE the bottle. They do not need to pick a brand for this as this concept applies to any wine. This is a very useful addition to the communications armoury of any winery or retailer.

The limitations of this, in terms of adding to the general perception and role of wine, is that it targets those who have pretty much already decided they could buy this product, but they would like to know a little more about exactly what they will experience when they open it.

But what about the undecideds?

PHOTOGRAPHY AS A SALES DRIVER
mince pieThe important point that Andrew made was that selling wine requires context. I agree. He mentions the kind of photography he likes, and happens to be very good at, which is wine and food. The photograph acts as a means to communicate an ideal occasion and partnership for the wine, be it food or location.

There may be people out there who had not yet conceived of buying wine, but whose occasion matched the image (dinner party, specific food match, ...) who would be influenced by the communication of this image.

The trouble is, neither of these reasons does what I set out to do, which is to use photography to say something about the role of wine, or a SPECIFIC brand of wine, in an individual's life or generally in our culture (the wine conversation).

[Photo by Wine Scribbler (Andrew Barrow) :: Unfortunately for a post about photography I do not have access to photos of these topics as I have simply made them up, so to brighten up this post I am borrowing one of Andrew Barrow's excellent photos for you to enjoy.]


PHOTOGRAPHY AS BRAND COMMUNICATION TOOL

Lots of wines will taste of brambles and spice. Many of these wines will be a great match for lamb and lentils. But which would you choose?

How about the one that is drunk by a George Clooney look-alike, whilst resting in a large leather armchair in an oak panelled room, and being served his food on a silver tray?

"I'll have what he's having!" It says 'I like old fashioned luxury'.

Or maybe it is a wine that has refreshing citrus and exotic fruit flavours? Maybe you'd choose one that was matched to a grilled fish with cous-cous and aubergine tapenade drizzled with olive oil and set against a Greek sunset?

But how about the one that has diamonds drizzled in a glass instead, and shows the sunset from the deck of a yacht whilst the pristine white towel sits on the deck chair awaiting its mistress' return from her dip in the sea?

"I'll have what she's having!" It says 'I'm a modern, independent person used to always getting the best'.

This is branding. I could go on and maybe vary the target groups a bit more. How about a message about an active, independent retiree enjoying a moment of well-deserved relaxation with the family? Or how about a young woman surprising her partner with a bottle of wine as a little bit of just-affordable-luxury with their fish & chips to celebrate them buying their first apartment together?

The message does not have to be about the wine or even how it is consumed. It should be about what makes this wine different from all other wines, and what buying it, or consuming it, says about that person (even if they do not like it).

Champagne does exactly this. Spirits do this. Why not still wine?

Wine has not really come to terms with this and continues to focus so much on the product itself rather than these 'extended' features of the brand, something which is second nature to anyone in most other consumer marketing fields.

I am not advocating selling wine solely on this basis, as one of the things that separates wine from many other products is its "agricultural/natural" authenticity and individuality, and its continuously evolving nature. However, wine is a luxury, whether we like it or not, and there is a LOT of competition in this field from people and products who can do this better.

Whilst thinking about this topic I have browsed through the latest wine magazines on my desk and the quality of imagery in the advertising, other than for champagne, is woeful. I thought about it, but decided I will not even bother to reproduce them.

If wine producers ever want to sell their wine for more than simply the cost of production, and sometimes not even that, then they are going to have to start communicating some of the 'other' benefits of their brands.

So, is there a photo out there that says some of these things above about wine (ANY wine) without actually having to involve a glass or a bottle? Or at least only peripherally?

What emotions, actions, associations ... do we have with wine that could be expressed visually so as to say something new about wine?

Maybe this is a meaningless quest, but I think it is worth at least asking the question. No?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Wine and Photography - some thoughts

Andrew Barrow from Spittoon is, as I have said before, a great photographer of wine 'occasions', particularly setting them off against food matches. Check out his photos here. He also pointed me to a friend's photos here.

He and I have had a brief conversation about this some time ago, and I thought I would share my issues with this subject here in case others have any suggestions.

If you ask someone for a "wine" photo, you will get:

- a bottle shot, with or without props
- a vineyard shot
- a glass of wine (funny angle not required); swirling or dripping extra
- a smiling couple/group at a table with glasses raised

However well executed these shots are (and some are better than others), they have been done before by someone else. What is happening in 2007 with wine that we want to communicate? Is there nothing different today than there was 2, 10, 20, 50 years ago? I think there is, and we need to think about the visual language of how we get this across.

Let me give a comparative example culled from about 45 seconds searching on flickr.com

If wine were ... snowboarding, then this is the photo we are using (This photo by Anh Quan). There is nothing wrong with it. It shows boards, the design alternatives and the set up is fine.

However, snowboaring enthusiasts might use this type of shot (Photo by T A K K):

Relevant, active, engaging, atmospheric, fun, modern, youthful, ... good!

You might even go so far as saying that if you removed the board from the photo, there are still enough clues for the target market to say "Snowboard!" (or whatever a cool snowboarder actually says).

This is exactly what the perfume business and soft drinks markets already do. Perfumes are all about beautiful people being terribly attractive.

Soft drinks are the same. A can is boring, but Wayne Rooney draining a can after a tough game whilst condensation drips from the can or bottle is not. Of course we cannot, by law, do many of these same things for wine at least in the EU, but the concepts are there.

So, if snowboarding or perfumes were wine, what photos should we be taking to make it relevant, active ... and all those other nice words up there?

Now, Chateau Petrogasm has attempted to move in this area, although not directly. Their concept is to link a photo (or an image more generally) with a tasting note. This is radical, and fun, but it is about the taste of the wine. I am still thinking a little more broadly about how photography might capture the essence of a wine brand.

Tom Wark at Fermentation also mentioned a similar issue recently, although relating to the graphics for the entire catalogue and not about a single wine or brand.

I believe that this area is ideal fodder for more creative bloggers who have a decent artistic streak and mastery of a camera.

Question: How would you 'capture' a wine brand WITHOUT showing a bottle, a glass, winery or vineyard? Has it been done? Any suggestions for specific brands (polite only please!)?

And then (you knew it was coming), how might we communicate the Wine Conversation and therefore the role of wine in our culture(s) in general using photography (bottles and glasses allowed this time)?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Binge drinking and tax

I want to comment on the latest moves to increase the tax on alcohol in the UK ostensibly to address the issues of "problem" drinking.

Unfortunately I don't even know where to start and I am rushed.

I've commented before that governments seem to be unable to think straight when it comes to alcohol. They need to be seen to do something because the media (in particular) loves to act all puritanical when it comes to bashing politicians (whilst simultaneously celebrating the outrageous lifestyles of certain 'celebrities').

This means that politicians can use very simplistic solutions that both please the media hacks and generate revenue for the Treasury whilst claiming to be acting in the public good. Unfortunately it is usually rubbish.

Raising duty on alcohol even further will not do anything to stop underage drinking, or weekend binge drinking, or even to reduce alcoholism. All it does is tax the vast majority who do drink sensibly. Not only that, but it perpetuates the drive towards low-cost, mass produced drinks brands that can afford to counter the price increases and build market share. These drinks do not have the kind of history or role in our society that encourages responsible enjoyment of the alcohol. Their goal is bigger volume so as to generate the necessary economies of scale to justify their investments.

The effect is to kill off any independent producers' & retailers' markets, and with them the chance of a mature drinking culture.

PLEASE lets have a sensible discussion about WHY we drink too excess in the UK, and other parts of the world (because we do) before we kill off the most sensible way out of this situation.

Monday, November 12, 2007

A better attempt at wine in Tetra Pak

[... or my revised title: "Thinking of Outside the Box" - see comments]

Le Village du Sud is a new brand concept from the well respected Mont Tauch cooperative in the South of France (specifically in Fitou).

It caught my attention as, once again, they are being pretty innovative with their branding and their route to market. They have usually provided wines that are a cut above the competition, and they have also been much more willing to take on marketing activities, such as bringing wine makers and grape growers (who speak no English but really look the part) to wine tastings across the UK, including the BBC Good Food Show where I saw them.

This time it is the Tetra Pak, something I have written about in the past. Once again it is available from The Coop. They are certainly keener than most to do something 'sustainable' and positive for the environment - whether environmentally friendly or fairtrade.

The wine in question is an Old Vine Grenache in a 1 litre tetra pak. The packaging itself is a little different, with extra angles and a "prism shape". However, what I found intriguing is that they have managed to move the design away from being a pseudo glass bottle. They have realised that a tetra pak allow you to do a lot more with the packaging than simply copy the information from a label (which is always extremely limited) or to show a picture of a bottle or glass (the usual cop-out).

This one has a series of cartoons that give the wine an extra dimension of personality not usually associated with Vin de Pays d'Oc, especially as it is in English. This is very bold, forward-thinking and fun.

Shame about the wine!

As I always point out, this is not a site for tasting notes, but I did try this wine to see if I could detect something specifically "tetra pak like" in it, just to see if the packaging affected the taste. Now, I admit this was not done blind, but I have no problem liking wines in other packaging, so I was not negatively predisposed. However, I found a very unpleasant aftertaste in the wine which I assume must come from the packaging as I do actually like their wines normally. I'd love to read more informed views on whether this is a truly inert packaging format for wine.

Finally, a niggle. If you look at the front of the packaging, you'll see a badge which I also saw on the previous tetra pak I reviewed called masterpeace.

"33% free" and "33% more wine free compared to a standard 75cl bottle"

FREE? There are lots of objections to this statement, chief of which is that this wine is NOT available in 75cl glass bottles, so how can it possibly be compared? Also, this wine was already discounted, ostensibly for the launch, from £4.99 to £3.99. Quite how much of a cheap and "drink loads" mentality do they want to associate with this wine?

I do hope that 1L formats will not keep using this statement.

Overall review; nice idea, but once again more show than substance, largely due to the final quality of the wine.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Wine Show

It is very last minute I know, but if you are keen to explore more wines from around the world you might want to check out the show going on RIGHT NOW at the Business Design Centre in London.

The Wine Show is a consumer event that I believe is in its third year already and attracts over 10,000 people to try all sorts of wines.

Last year it was quite exciting (some interesting Greek wines stand out in my memory) and I must admit I think this year's show is a little dull in comparison, but for consumers who want to learn about wines, it is always worth seeking out opportunities to try wines like this.

I did see a number of smaller producers and specialist importers had small stands that I'm sure would be worth exploring, but unfortunately I did not get a chance to linger.

I believe today (Saturday) is sold out, but there may be tickets for tomorrow.

If you do go, let me know what you think of the show.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Vintage time


Vintage is a great time, ... for spectators.

I am not exactly getting my hands dirty (although I can claim to have picked 'some' grapes this year at least), but my day job has certainly kept me busy recently.

The great news is that it has taken me to the vineyards regularly throughout the last few weeks as this is when the 'real' business happens - grapes are picked, wine is fermented, winemakers are sweating and shouting, and the vineyards themselves look fabulous.

It has made me realise quite how fraught a business it is, with the stress of the entire year's work, and the next year's revenue, resting on the result of these few weeks. However, I wouldn't have missed it.

It has meant that more philosophical meditations on wine & the culture of wine, beyond "which of those bottles I drank last night was responsible for the way I feel this morning?" (probably the last one), have been beyond me. However, things will start to settle down in a week or two when I plan on re-attacking my preferred subjects with renewed gusto having made some interesting discoveries, and new friends, over these weeks.

A presto!

Friday, October 05, 2007

A hole lot of wine - for fun

I was playing with the Google Maps tool the other day and noticed a cool little widget.

Dig a hole through the Earth. Point your icon at anywhere on the globe and it will burrow straight through the Earth and tell you where it came out.

I thought I'd try it for a few wine regions, finding out how close the Northern/Old World hemisphere regions were to their Southern/New World counterparts.

Surprisingly, there were almost NO matches where a region somewhere in the world was precisely "the other side of the world". I did get a couple of close matches. Any guesses what they might be?


...


just giving you a chance to think about it


...


Well, the closest was an area between Galicia and the Rias Baixas region of North West Spain, and the Douro in Portugal which is almost exactly opposite the Nelson & Marlborough regions in New Zealand (well, close)

Drilling through from the main wine producing regions of Chile and Argentina you'd land in China. Unfortunately I have no idea where wine is made in China and it is a BIG place, so chances are it is way off.

Just a bit of fun.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Delicious Irony

I just can't help seeing the ironic side of this.

Here I was, quietly blogging away in relative obscurity about bits and pieces that came to mind about wine and slowly realising that this blogging lark is just as intense and time-consuming as people had warned me it would be. So, I gamely wrote about how tough it is to keep it all going.

Then what happens? One of the top wine blogs in the US, and therefore the world, gives me a very encouraging write-up. Tom Wark, over at Fermentation in California knows a thing or two about blogging. Not only does he have one of the most widely read wine blogs and probably consults for wineries about Wine2.0, but he also hosts the American Wine Blog Awards (more on this name in a future post - yes, you knew I wouldn't let it lie, didn't you Tom!?) and regularly interviews some of the top names in this field

[I would like to stress I am not in that category, my mention was much more charitable].

The result, as you would expect, is that I had as much traffic on the blog in the last three days as I had seen for the last 3 months. Not bad, but of course, ooooh little irony, is that I now feel even more pressure to say something interesting and spend time making sure it is well written.

As you can tell, I failed!

Actually, I have a few thoughts already in my drafts folder, but getting them finished and sending them on their way into the world to fend for themselves is still just as difficult.

In order to give you an idea of what I am working on so that you might give me the benefit of the doubt and keep on checking out this site in anticipation, here are some of those topics:

- Buying better wine, and the "Cost per Pop" calculation
- Appellations as Brands
- Is wine simply a commodity?
- "Glass of sherry? No? Thought not!" (but you should)
- Wine & Photography
- The Growth Imperative
- "Why are you in the wine trade, Daddy?" (This was my first topic and I still have not got around to publishing it)

If any of these tickle your fancy, then keep scratching for a little bit longer and I'll get them posted soon.

If there are any wine bloggers out there looking for ideas for their own blogs, please feel free to steal any of the above topics so we might start the discussion (remember this is about the Wine Conversation and building the culture of wine), but please do link back to this blog. If anyone at all wants to post any thoughts on these topics, or anything else, in my comments box below, I would be most indecorously grateful.

p.s. Tom, despite this I don't seem to appear in your blog roll :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Am I qualified to give advice?

Yesterday I was asked THE inevitable wine blogger question.

Wulf (real name), is a friend of mine who happens to have an eclectic mix of subjects on his blog Down in the Den (!), from his jazz band & compositions, to gardening, programming, photography and religion. His latest theme is wine, so I thought I'd chip in, and quite naturally he responded by asking:

"...any advice about developing my palate for tasting and evaluating wine?"

Thoroughly reasonable question, but it fills me with dread. Whilst I like wine and know what interests me, I have no idea where to recommend others should start. I feel like I ought to ask hundreds of questions about his tastes in food & travel, his mood, his knowledge of history, what he had for lunch, ... all those things that in one way or another influence my own choices.

Of course, I did what any sensible blogger would do, and sent him to read someone else's blog (in this case a relatively new blog to me, called Wine Ministry where Rev. Jeff writes about wine with "a theological slant". Perfect!)

Why do I feel unable to respond to perfectly valid requests for advice like this? I guess it is that as you get realy deep into a subject, you become immersed in the nuances, things that for most people don't matter but make you "the expert". They don't care whether the white wine was barrel fermented. They just want to know if it will it taste nice. Will they like it?

But this is precisely the issue. I know that it makes a difference to the taste, but feel supremely unqualified to tell them whether they will like it or not. I know that I like it.

Do any other wine bloggers out there feel this?

The best wine bloggers, or wine educators for that matter, are not necessarily those who know the most, but are those who know how to communicate with those wanting to learn, without putting them off. Maybe this is why I prefer not to post tasting notes - I can't make myself believe it matters what I think about the wine. I'd rather tell you about the winery, the region or the country and if it appeals to you, let you choose to try it.

The great thing about blogging, in any subject but wine in this case, is that there are a vast range of blogs, and one or more are certain to have the sort of information that a reader, whether novice or expert, is looking for.

Now the only problem is finding them.

Of course, the simple answer, as I believe Alder Yarrow over at Vinography points out, is "Try lots of them".

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blog fatigue and thoughts on wine online

I am sure there are many out there that will recognise this feeling:

When you start your blog you think you might, just, find the time to keep it going. Then you start to get into your topic, especially after a few encouraging comments and your first few subscribers. The excitement starts to build when you make new contacts, new friends, new connections. All of a sudden the blog has created a new network to interact with. You read your comments and reply, read others' blogs, comment on them, discuss ways of working together on facebook, join other forums, ...

Finally you get to a point where that interaction, that new network based on having started a blog, is taking up the time you have available to write it and in fact you no longer blog at all. I am beginning to wonder whether I should be entitled to comment on wine blogging and the future of wine on the web (as I am doing on facebook and elsewhere) when my own blog has been given so little attention?

So what might this imply for online wine culture?

This is an important lesson for those contemplating the future of wine on the internet. Where will consumers find the time to interact on the web as much as these business models demand? There is only so much time one can spend in front of the computer - checking email, reading, posting and commenting on blogs, facebook, mySpace, twitter, etc.

Somehow, the wine 'communities' need to get their members to buy, drink, rate and write about their wines as well as all this. I love wine and I even earn my money from it, but even I cannot be bothered to write tasting notes on these sites and spend too long discussing it in forums. I know these are just my own preferences, but surely this applies to the vast majority of wine drinkers? The Wine Conversation is not just about online forums, it is about making part of everyday life.

I wonder whether the future for wine is not more individualistic. Rather than creating online social interaction around wine, maybe the most important job is to deliver information to buyers at the point of purchase. After all, this is where the money is anyway, and it is also where the average consumer is looking for advice.

The solution is not obvious, but time really is the rare commodity around here, and the job of wine sites should be to give us back time to enjoy better wines, not to use it up in endless data entry.

One to think about in more detail.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bloggers in competition

Over on facebook, Richard Auffrey asks a pertinent question:
Are wine bloggers in competition with each other? If so, how does that affect our interaction?
As it happens, this links in to things I was considering myself. As I posted a few days ago, Wine 2.0 is about interaction, and this interaction creates (in my mind) ... The Wine Conversation (see how I managed to link it back to my own subject?).

"The Wine Conversation" is about the many discussions that happen about wine because enjoying it is a common, shared experience. As the experience of wine increases in our country, hopefully so does the Conversation.

In this view of the world, bloggers are very much collaborators rather than competitors, involved in sharing information about wine and getting others involved. You can see this quite clearly in the facebook universe. Although very few, if any, of the wine bloggers have met, there is a very strong bond between them. Many have linked to each other, becoming "friends" in facebook terminology simply because of the shared interest in wine and blogging.

Before blogs, the only way to discuss wine was face-to-face, or by reading others' words in magazines and books. The former is limited and quite daunting for some people, particularly those just learning to enjoy wine, while the latter is potentially very dry (excuse the pun), so generally reserved for the real enthusiast. How were everyday drinkers supposed to get involved with the Wine Conversation?

Blogging allows individuals to put forward their thoughts not as pronouncements (as per the magazines), but as points for discussion. Everyone can get involved as much or as little as they wish by reading, commenting, or even starting their own blog. This is the interaction that makes it different from what has come before, and bloggers are as much consumers of others' blogs as they are publishers, so the Conversation metaphor is particularly apt.

By their nature blogs are limited in scope so we NEED more blogs and bloggers, and we need to read, share and converse on them, otherwise we either fall back on the old publishing models, or we become an irrelevance.

So what about the alternative view, that we might be in competition? What would bloggers be competing over?
  • Limited numbers of readers? I guess that the potential readership is unlimited for bloggers prepared to do something new (check out what Chateau Petrogasm are doing)
  • Limited advertising dollars? This is possible, but the vast majority of bloggers do not try and make money from the blogs, so this is currently irrelevant
  • Stories? Well, there might be some truth here, but in most cases this is not relevant to those blogging about wine as opposed to news
  • Ratings? On the contrary, as ratings are based on the numbers of links to your blog as much as readers, networking and cooperation are more important
  • Prizes? They do exist, but there aren't many of these yet, and in theory they are based on quality rather than content, so getting help is a winning strategy
In short, wine bloggers have a shared goal and mission, to spread the love of wine and support the Wine Conversation in their country/region/business/community, and this is done by supporting others, linking to their sites, reading their stories, sharing views and, eventually, sitting down to drink a nice bottle of wine together.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wine and facebook; all very two point oh

Web2.0, Wine2.0, Life2.0

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that just as anything and everything became eAnything, then iAnything, we now have Anything2.0.

The simplest way to make your product sound 'hip and with-it' (unlike that phrase) is to add that 2.0 at the end, but what does it really mean? Wine2.0 is something that is being quoted more and more often, especially by bloggers who see themselves as those leading the new revolution in wine. I have recently joined various groups of fellow wine bloggers on facebook, and this is one of the topics for discussion.

Well, actually it isn't. It is apparently assumed we know what this all means, and this is what lets such developments down. If we don't know what we are doing, how can we do it together?

Some of the leaders of this group, and organisers of an event actually entitled Wine2.0, have described the reasons for it as follows:

"We set Wine 2.0 up to draw a line in the sand that divided the first batch of wine companies founded during the dotcom boom (most died a horrible death, some several times over), from a new generation of entrepreneurs rejuvenated by their love of wine and the prospects of fresh, new and creative thinking."

I find that uninspiring, as it would seem to boil down to "we are doing the same as before, just better".

What is it that characterises truly "new" developments in wine, worthy of a "next generation" label such as Wine 2.0?

Interactivity.

Most of the past developments, even on the web, were really just new forms of retail. They may have included more information than before and new ways to select preferences (e.g. Virgin Wines as was), but essentially they did the same job as before the world wide web arrived in the wine world.

The real differences are emerging in the areas of wine blogs, community tasting note sites, interactive cellar management, and even collaborative wine making schemes.

The difference is the involvement of the consumer in many more aspects of the business of making, branding, tasting and selling wines. It is very difficult to actually make your own wine (well) so the vast majority of consumers have absolutely no understanding of this process. It is magic. As long as wine retains its mystique, this might be a positive thing, but it also helps to keep pressure on prices.

Now, anyone can read the thoughts and about the daily routines of winemakers on their blogs, and even ask them questions. There are videos to watch about viticulture and the harvest, sites to read, watch and share tasting notes, and even schemes to allow you to make your own wines. I suspect that this will transform wine in a much more fundamental manner than the wine trade currently expect; it is ever thus with revolutions.

The missing link is how to make this a seamless part of everyday life (not a chore), AND KEEP IT FUN. Also, any site that wants to build on trends and links needs to reach a critical mass, fast.

This is where facebook comes in. Whatever brings you to facebook (scrabble, finding old school friends, searching for a date, political activism, ...) the power of the site is its ability to build communities from shared interests. If you want to find someone else who likes music by Imogen Heap, simply click on her name in your profile (I got over 500 matches in my London network). The Last.fm application even logs all the music I play and builds a "neighbourhood" of people that have similar tastes to me which I can share through facebook.

It is quite easy to see how this could, in theory, translate to wine. Wine has not got there yet, but it will. Those who establish themselves early are likely to become highly influential and it will be very interesting to watch it happen.

One tip, look out for a certain Mr Vaynerchuk as he is likely to be a player.

Next, some thoughts on how wine bloggers are using facebook.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Systembolaget to the rescue

Interesting update on my previous thoughts about state monopolies on the sale of alcohol.

There was a report commissioned in Sweden on relaxing these laws whose results were reported in just-drinks recently, entitled; "End Systembolaget control, more drinkers will die - study" (here is the link, but I think it may be subscriber only)

"A report by the country's National Institute of Public Health warned yesterday (28 August) that alcohol consumption would rise by 14% if sales were allowed only in privately licensed speciality stores, and by 29% if sales were permitted across the country's grocery channel.

...

The institute warned in the report that
"With grocery stores, the estimated additional annual toll would be 1,580 deaths, 14,200 assaults and 16.1m days of sick leave, a 40% increase""

Not scaremongering then!

It just so happens that it makes loads of money for the state and, as with any bureaucracy, would resist the change.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Posting in Vayne

OK, my turn to add to Gary Vaynerchuk's celebrity.

If you are reading this post I am guessing you will have come across this name on numerous other wine and internet sites (as well as TV and magazines), particularly in the last few weeks.

If you haven't, read this then watch one of the episodes of winelibrary.tv.

I watched episode 303 on Sherry yesterday as suggested by Ryan at catavino.net and I don't think it was one of his best. However, it did demonstrate something quite interesting. There was a definite disparity between how he described and reacted to the sherries (and, as it happens, some Montilla-Moriles) and what his ratings were.

What was funny was that my wife walked into the room as I was watching the episode and after hearing some of his desciptions, her reaction was: "he sounds like an American Jilly Goolden".

Ha!

THAT is a "celebrity deathmatch" I'd like to see: "Gary Vaynerchuck vs. Jilly Goolden". MTV, if you are listening, PLEASE make this.

(for European readers, there is some sort of block on the videos on the official MTV site but you can see a sample episode here instead [Warning - there are not for the faint-hearted])

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

What is a wine blogger?

I have been well and truly bitten by the facebook bug, and there are lots of things I still need to explore there. However, one of the groups I came across recently was brand new and it was specifically set up to gather together wine bloggers from around the world.

[If you are wine blogger, I encourage you to join us in the Wine Bloggers group as the more we gather, the greater expertise we access and the more we can do to build the profile of wine in the blogosphere.]

"Wine bloggers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your isolation."
[hat-tip to Karl Marx]

One interesting result was that I have made contact with some very interesting bloggers I had not explored before. One of these is Ryan Opaz whose wine blog is catavino.net and focuses on Spanish and Portuguese wines. Ryan is also a budding community builder though and one of his sites is trying to define what we mean by a "wine blogger".

Most wineries are, quite rightly, primarily focused on making great wines, so posting on the web does not feature highly in their daily routine. However, this is changing (I think of Pinotblogger for example), and trying to explain what it is we do and how we might be useful, and more importantly how it might help them, is not an easy thing.

Most wine bloggers are not trying to replace 'proper' journalists, but do we have an influence over what people buy or drink? I'd like to think so, but maybe others have a different view. Are we really only talking to ourselves?

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Hand over your corks, no questions asked

When gun crime, or knife crime more recently apt, gets out of hand, the media and police often concentrate on creating "amnesties" where repentant gun & knife owners can hand over their abominable weapons with no questions asked. Better to get them off the street they say.

I've never been totally convinced about this, but anyway it looks good on television and sometimes gets unexpected results (one less rocket launcher on the streets of Devon!) such as this.

So I was intrigued by a neck tag on a bottle of wine promising a "cork amnesty". As a proud owner of quite a few corks, mainly because I collect them for a mysterious project my sister is working on, I wondered if I might have to visit a local police station to assuage my conscience. Alas, the truth was more prosaic.

[I bought the RH Phillips 2003 Zinfandel, but I believe there are/were other wines out there too]

RH Phillips, a Californian producer from Esparto, CA, USA (erm, time for the Wine Atlas I think), HAD created a site at www.corkamnesty.com that gave ideas of all the many things one could do with corks EXCEPT put them in the neck of a bottle of wine. This is a slightly aggressive form of evangelism for screwcaps, and it certainly got my attention.

Their neck tag as well as their back label are all about how cork is associated with TCA (cork taint, musty cardboard and walnut smells in wine) and should therefore be avoided.

Now, there is a big debate about corks, screwcaps, TCA, reductive wines, etc. that I will probably have to write about at some stage, but is probably FAR too dull for most people out there. I applaud RH Phillips for making a virtue of their packaging, but like with my politics, I prefer a positive message rather than a negative one. I happen to think that cork has a very important role to play, but screwcaps do too, and any radical position is unnecessary.

Unfortunately I delayed writing this post for some weeks and in that time, RH Phillips' new owners (Constellation having acquired Vincor International) have closed down the site and redirected it to their corporate page.

Not only is this dull, it is silly as they lose any valuable traffic them might have got. It also means I cannot post any clever suggestions they may have had.

I'd like to think that unlike automatic weapons and Rambo-style hunting knives, there is no need to be concerned about corks. In the right hands they do serve a purpose and can benefit humanity. However, if you feel at all ashamed of your collection and you have not yet created your own cork trivet, notice board or wreath, then maybe you could decide to turn them in to the authorities and hope they ask no questions about how long it took you to accumulate such a collection.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Origins of UK Wine Culture

Hurry!

While it is still available, check out the recent BBC Archive Hour with Jancis Robinson. She (or rather the BBC Producer) has dug out all sorts of audio clips showing how our view of wine has changed in the UK over almost a century.

I need to listen to it again in detail, but there are great insights into the emergence of supermarkets, the role of women as decision makers, scandals and frauds, and much more.

Well worth a listen - I hope they keep it up for a while.

(and some of the accents need to be heard to be believed - and I don't mean JR's)

Monday, August 13, 2007

Alcohol Monopoly

I have been visiting Nova Scotia in Canada for a number of years (it is absolutely beautiful by the way) and usually I am critical of the concept of the Canadian state (well, the Provincial governments) having a monopoly on the sale of alcohol. You can check out the range here.

For those of us living in the UK or most of Europe, the idea that the state should control what wines or spirits should be available, where, and for how much is extraordinary (if you live or visit Sweden this is probably not such a shock for you).

[Some might argue of course that this is exactly where we are heading in the UK because of the retail strength of the supermarkets like Tesco - but even here we at least have a number of alternative ranges to choose from]

My reaction is usually - "How could one organisation tell us what wines we can drink?", especially when the result, at least in Canada, is a pretty limited range of branded wines?

The reason for this structure is most likely still a hang-over (!) from Prohibition (yes, they had it here too), and there is a sort of puritanical streak to the management of this 'vice' which I personally disagree with. It also means that there is a form of "lowest common denominator" effect at work which determines that all wine have to be available in minimum quantities to supply all stores, have to be consistent and also be able to comply with the kinds of red-tape only government departments are able to create. This often results in a pretty bland range.

However, there is one small silver lining to this was pointed out to me which I had not considered. In the UK we have such a high density of population that we can pretty well guarantee access to supermarkets or shops wherever we are, with a few exceptions of course. This means that the market can operate quite freely and there will be someone who can sell you what you are looking for within a reasonable distance.

When you take a country like Canada, this is definitely not the case outside of most large cities. So much of the infrastructure here depends on government support to reach tiny communities in distant areas, that if the government did not step in, certain items (especially luxury items such as wine) would either be impossible to get, or prohibitively expensive.

OK, so wine is probably not the main justification for this type of system, and I'm sure they make a pretty penny or two in tax from selling and taxing all that alcohol, but at least they can get it. Hopefully in time, and with a little popular pressure, the range will improve further.

I'm sure the local "liquor commission" would tell you that a monopoly also means that there are clear & limited channels for reaching consumers, giving the opportunity for 'managing' consumer alcohol consumption. I still think that in the longer term education works better than restricting access. However, thinking positively, it does mean there are obvious places to start reaching consumers with information on wine to educate and inform them and improve their experience.

Still, I'll take Tesco's range over the NSLC one any day!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Cultural truths and myths

Sometimes articles come along that remind you that the full wine message has still not got through to all corners of the wine drinking world.

The BBC magazine site has a pretty good and well researched article on wine and wine appreciation. Kate Thal at Green & Blue helps to explain that understanding wine is not as complicated as many think, nor as many 'TV celebrities' try to make it.

It also points out that even a wine producing country like South Africa may not actually have an evolved Wine Culture because there are lots of people who have no knowledge or access to the stuff. Wine production and wine appreciation are not strictly linked (there are some countries that seem to forget this).

What is most interesting about this article, however, is not the main body but the way it ends, and the comments that readers make following it.

At the end of the article it feels the need to have a dig at (French) sommeliers saying:

"Ms Overton also suggests that there has been a hangover from the days when sommeliers were rather haughty and French and the wine trade was filled with posh Oxbridge types."


Sometimes it seems that when you are down, you get kicked no matter what. However much the French, or for that matter the Germans, do to improve their wines, their presentation or their communication, the old truths just seem to hang around for ever. When was the last time you REALLY met a 'haughty French sommelier'? Why dig it up again even if it was true?

Then we go on to read some more prosaic 'home truths' (amongst some other pretty good comments):

QUOTE: "The bigger the dent in the bottom of the bottle, the better the wine (so I've been told)"
RESPONSE: No! The dent in the bottom of the bottle, or punt, has nothing whatsoever to do with the quality of the wine. It often represents a more expensive bottle, so you could argue that pound-for-pound with another wine, it is probably worse value (with more of your money being spent on the bottle and not the wine). It may be that a good producer has chosen a more unusual bottle, but this does not reflect directly on the quality of the wine.

QUOTE: "I go for three things:
1. Full bodied
2. New world
3. Half price
It's served me well so far."

RESPONSE: Lucky you! Half price wines of good quality do exist, but you really are not experiencing the true possibilities of wine with this formula.

QUOTE: "My criteria: 1. must be between £5 and £10; 2. must have an animal on the label; 3. must be from S. Africa, Chile or Australia and 4. definitely not French."
RESPONSE: Oh dear! It started so well with number 1.


and my personal pet hate:

QUOTE: "I always choose my wine by the alcohol volume."
RESPONSE: Would you ever say: "I choose my holiday by the plane I'll be boarding". Of course alcohol is a factor, but it tells you NOTHING about the quality of the wine on its own. And what does this mean anyway? Do you aim for more alcohol per pound, or less? It reminds me of 20 years ago, with impoverished students trying to squeeze every ounce of alcohol from the weekly budget. Unfortunately I thought, or hoped, that wine had moved on from those days. There is so much good wine out there, even on a budget, that this kind of statement really needs to be consigned to the quote bin of history.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wine Therapy

"Anti-wrinkle cream there may be, but anti-fat-b*stard cream there is not" Dave

What is "Wine Therapy"?

This is a detox treatment for the serious oenophile (wine lover), but with a difference. Instead of focusing on the consumption of wine, this is about those parts your regular tipple just can't reach.

Wine Therapy (Oenotherapy, Vino Terapia, ... etc.) claims to take the health benefits of wine to a new level by slapping them on your face, rubbing them on your skin or reducing them to a pill format that you can swallow without having to swirl.

Sound like fun yet?

I was recently invited to such a treatment whilst visiting Rioja. My treatment involved turning up at a spa, dressing only in the flimsiest shorts on Earth, and lying on a plastic sheet on a heated bed. Pretty dodgy so far.

Next, my therapist slathered my skin with a mixture made from honey & the tartrate deposits from wine barrels. How these "polyphenol rich deposits" (or something like that) are supposed to pass their antioxidant, and therefore anti-ageing, properties to me I'm not sure. However, having gritty goo rubbed all over you for 40 minutes is surprisingly enjoyable.

Next comes the wrap. Feeling like a certain overweight character about to do a Full Monty, I lay there wrapped in that plastic sheet to "absorb" (and sweat) whilst more vinous treatments were applied to my feet.

Next a strong mit and a shower, ready for the oil rub (I think there was some grape must extract there somewhere). Finally, feeling all rosy and fresh, I was served a delicate infusion (no grapes, and certainly no wine) and told to swallow a Resveratrol pill made from the concentration of grape skins and pips.

I must admit I felt good, but any form of massage and skin treatment would do that. As for any "health benefits" from the natural properties of grapes ... well, maybe there was, and maybe there wasn't, but I think I'd still rather take my grape-based medicine by the glass-full instead.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Cost of wine on the High Street

Once again Peter has challenged me, so here is my response on excess drinking and the cost of business. Thanks Peter!

I mentioned that I thought the Threshers "3 for 2" campaign was a good thing, to which Peter asks:

"So you don't agree with recent claims that such offers encourage binge drinking?"

In general terms no, I don't agree that a "3 for 2" encourages binge drinking. I am still of the opinion that all consumers (who can legally buy alcohol) should be treated as reasonable and responsible adults. I really don't like this government's campaign to control personal decision-making in all sorts of areas and not just alcohol.

Do you think that Majestic insisting on people buying a case of 12 is 4 times as bad as Thresher? Of course not. Binge drinking is an issue I'm sure, but restricting the sale of these products is not the answer.

So, assuming people can buy more than one bottle without drinking them all at once, why should we encourage this?

"The real problem with Threshers is that the single bottle price is so inflated. With Tesco, their instore prices are equivalent to the discounted Threshers price, and so an additional 30% is a deep discount."

The issue is cost and convenience. Threshers operates out of small shops on high streets. They specialise in certain types of wines, those the consumer is familiar with and wants to buy fairly regularly. This means that they are not competing with independent wine specialists whose niche are small production, probably higher cost wines, but directly with the supermarkets who sell the same wines. Of course the supermarkets can afford to get prices very low because they have bulk buying power and other economies of scale.

So where does it leave Threshers? We cannot really expect them to be able to sell the exact same wine as Tesco for the same price can we? Why should they? We really ought to be prepared to pay a premium of some sort to be able to buy that single bottle of wine on our way home without having to negotiate all the aisles and checkouts of the supermarket.

They could have left it at that, and maybe survived, but the pressure would have been ongoing (arguably what is happening to Oddbins). So instead, they have a contract of sorts with their customers that goes something like this:

"If you are prepared to buy in slightly greater volume (thus increasing our cash flow and turnover of bottles), we will reduce our total price to you to be in line with those places you might otherwise shop"

That is obviously too complicated a message, but anyone can understand "3 for 2" and it is therefore a good marketing concept. Do I begrudge them trying to survive? Not at all. You can still buy that single "emergency" bottle on the way to the party, or after a tough day or whatever. If you think that premium is too much, you can still go to the supermarket instead.

No-one criticises Majestic in the same way for a vaguely similar model, quite the opposite. In fact their prices are also more or less in line with other retailers but only because they demand that you buy in volume. They won't even allow that single bottle purchase. Surely this is something we could praise Threshers for?

When Tesco, Sainsburys et al offer a further 25% or 30% discount, Threshers and other smaller retailers simply cannot compete and still make money. However, they have to find ways to stay in touch as they still need to trade. Where I have the problem, as I have raised elsewhere, is when they try to do so by 'bamboozling' customers by talking about percentage discounts instead. I would like to see them try and find a differentiator that was not price and discount driven instead (as discussed many moons ago here and here) - it seems a sensible suggestion for longer term differentiation.


I should state for the record that indirectly I am involved as a supplier to Threshers (as well as Tesco, Sainsburys, Majestic and many others), but that my views on this are quite definitely my own and presented in the spirit of improving wine knowledge and discussion rather than promoting or knocking any specific retailer or wine.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Threshers' incredible disappearing discount

Now this is the kind of thing that brings marketing a bad name.

At Christmas Threshers started a viral campaign that offered a discount voucher worth 40%. It seemed a great deal, until it was pointed out that they ALWAYS offer a "3 for 2" deal which equates to 33% discount anyway. Of course, many of those receiving the vouchers were not regular customers and therefore were probably unaware of this.

The reaction was mixed. Some saw this as a "rip off", others as a genuine additional discount even if not nearly as substantial as at first glance. Either way, it seemed to work.

My own view at the time was that this was still a good deal as it represented the equivalent of a further 10% discount on the "normal" price*.

As of today, Threshers are offering 35% off 6 or more bottles until 22 July. "Get the Barbie out of the shed" they say. Hurrah!? That lot at Tesco are only offering 30%.

But, hold on a minute. This is apparently also instead of the usual "3 for 2" offer. Therefore, the additional money you save for buying 3 more bottles is ... 2.5%. We all like deals, but this one is rather small.

This time I can't help the feeling that the only justification for such an "offer" is to dupe customers into thinking they are getting a better discount without actually offering one. They are not actually ripping anyone off of course, they are offering something of genuinely greater value to the customer, but in this case it is very small.

For example, if you pick up 6 bottles of a wine worth £5, the additional saving is worth 50p. Hardly the kind of thing worth creating a poster campaign about or updating the tills for is it?

Whilst I applaud their "3 for 2" campaign to encourage high street shoppers to buy in slightly greater volume, I suspect that the outcome of this campaign could be to damage the reputation of Threshers as offering a good deal, and once again equate "marketing" with "rip off".

Or have I missed something here?

Of course the reason they are doing it is that consumers are so addicted to "deals" that they are now probably losing out heavily to Tesco and others who are currently offering large discounts of their own. Selling wine on the high street in competition to supermarkets is a tough business. I wonder how long Thresher will be able to try and play the same discounting game, or whether it is time for some more of that creative thinking that created the "3 for 2" in the first place.







* the "normal" price is 66% of the single bottle price, so the 'extra' discount is calculated as a % after the initial discount, therefore:
(.4-.3333)/.6666 = 0.1 or 10%

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Varietal labelling - some clarifications (Varietals: 3)

Peter May, of the Pinotage Club and also the author of a site and book about wine labels that is definitely worth checking out, made some comments on my pet subject which I thought I ought to post here to clarify a few points.

You can read his comments on my posts on varietal labelling here. In response, I would say:

First of all, I have nothing against listing the varietal make up of a wine. Whether this should be 85% or 100% of the wine is open for debate but it isn't the fact that it is listed, but rather that the wine packaging focuses too heavily on this one element to speak to the consumer.

Second, with regard to the "flaw in the argument", I would have to disagree. It is EXACTLY because Stellenbosch, Napa and Margaret River cannot be linked to one style that I argue that the old world countries SHOULD do more to focus on regions. Although this is often regarded as negative, this could be a positive thing. A (protected) regional name is unique, uncopyable, defensible. However, it must be made to be meaningful through proper quality systems and common agreement otherwise it will be eroded.

If, as many believe and you seem to agree, the right (or even best?) varieties are planted in such regions, then there is no need to change the product itself, but maybe focus on the other elements, especially communication. They may not have done it well to date, but that is not in itself a reason not to do it.

I agree that my points were made with a very "old world" view of the world, and you rightly point out that the same argument does not necessarily transfer to New World regions. However, there are many regions of the world that are trying to replicate this model, so there is a future for it. Hunter Semillon? Barossa Shiraz? These regions do try and associate style with the regional name.

Let me make it clear that I am not advocating removing the varietal information from labels. I just think that marketers should be willing to consider relegating it a little further down the order of importance. The current mantra in the industry seems to be "varietal above all else" and I'm only trying to raise a possible counter argument.

I may, of course, be totally wrong.

Isn't that the wonderful thing about blogs?

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Correction: Wine Blog Watch

Derrick Schneider has corrected me and pointed out that Wine Blog Watch is not his creation but rather that of Jarrett Byrnes (whose other site can be found here).

I apologise for the error, and as one of the idea of Blogs is the permanence of the content over time, and adding to the sum of knowledge, I thought I would correct the original post.

However, for future reference you might want to check out Derrick's food site anyway.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wine Blog Watch

According to this article in Harpers from about 18 months ago (about the start of the Stormhoek phenomenon), there were 56 WINE blogs.

This number was according to the list on the Wine Blog Watch, a useful site created by Jarrett Byrnes in the US.

As a foodie with an interest in wine he helps to bring some order to the chaos of the blogosphere by listing all those wine blogs out there (there is a sort of arbitrary "must be 75% about wine" rule, which is fine by me) and even when they were last updated. Pretty nifty!

This site has just been added (I think the list must have refreshed recently) and now can be found amongst the other 448 currently listed.

448 represents pretty substantial growth for the category, but is a tiny fraction of all blogs. In fact, according to BlogPulse, "wine" is only mentioned in an average of about 0.35% of all posts.

Must do better!

UPDATED & CORRECTED 28/06/2007

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The ultimate compliment?

From the back label of a bottle of Pizzicato Pinot Noir 2005, Coney Wines, Martinborough, New Zealand:

"Once in a while, in a blue moon they say
The weatherman smiles in a fatherly way.
Instead of capricious with night frosts pernicious
A hot sun shines bright making wines more delicious.
Two thousand and five was just such a year
Which is why Pizzicato is better than beer"


?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Read more about ... women



Is it a cynical ploy by Harpers to generate more traffic? Or maybe a case of watching how you tag your articles in future? I'm guessing the latter.

On a serious note, although I do not think that the entire business ought to be split between the sexes - with "wines for blokes" and "wines for women", it would be interesting to see how two panels, male/female, would rate a similar selection of wines. Is it a case of different palates or is it a case of drinking occasions being different or "social factors" coming into play?

Read the whole article here.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Not Whiter than White

Interesting developments in varietal labelling and branding in recent days. (I have read about it in Harpers but for some reason it has not been posted to their site)

It appears that the EU authorities are finally catching up with the issue of the labelling of rose, or blush, wines labelled as "White X" - White Zinfandel, White Grenache, etc.

Once again this raises the question of clarity on labelling. From an EU perspective where NOTHING is allowed on the label unless it has been specifically approved, there is no such variety as "White Zinfandel" (interestingly enough there are mutations of otherwise black grapes called White Merlot and White Tempranillo) so it cannot be used on the label.

But in reality this is a classic example of where a phrase on a label has become a brand rather than a technical content description. Whatever you think of whether these should be sold as wine or alcopops, getting rid of the term "White Zinfandel" will only cause confusion for those for whom this is their only knowledge of wine.

White Zinfandel is a recognised brand/category of wine and useful beyond the description of the main variety of grape used to make it. It is all about simple, medium sweet, fruity, probably reasonably alcoholic, rosé wine.

What will the result be? Will consumers ignore the change and buy the same wine whatever it is called? Probably, but not all of them.

Will some move on to try and discover other wines (as some in the EU probably secretly hope)? I very much doubt it.

Will it simply confirm to many that wine labelling is too complicated and confusing and turn them off wine again? That is my worry.

Whilst I have every respect for those who need to enforce a level playing field and basic health and safety, I think this move is simply ridiculous and wrong.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More on varietal labelling (Varietals: 2)

A few posts ago I posted a question about how important the use of varietals on the label was. Andrew replied:

"Important. Various reasons but mainly as an indication to the novice (even the intermediate) on what to expect. A Pinot Grigio is different to a Chardonnay. Having said that how many could tell the difference between a New World Shiraz and a Cabernet Sauvignon?"


Good point. I was following a specific train of thought and ignoring some other important issues.

If a particular producer has several different wines, made from different grapes in the same region, then of course it makes sense to label them as such if only to differentiate one from another. If I happen to want to buy something from "Montana", it matters whether I pick up a Sauvignon Blanc or a Riesling.

However, my "beef" (argument / issue / hang-up) is with the "tyranny" of varietal labelling in principle not simply as a differentiator, but as the main sales cue.

Producers from well established regions in France and other parts of Europe, are being told that one of the reasons they cannot sell their wines is that they don't list the constituent varietals on their label.

The issue is, for example, would the label "Chenin Blanc" be any useful indicator for a novice consumer of Savennieres? Would the blend of Carignan, Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache really enlighten a potential consumer of St. Chinian? In either case the consumers might get a shock.

What I wanted to get at is that if we restrict the entry level wine education to learning the "basic" grape varieties it is very difficult to broaden people's horizons beyond the usual suspects. It also makes selling blends more difficult (when these might actually be more approachable for beginners).

Most importantly, it perpetuates the dominance of "New World" brands that can market whatever varieties they want or are popular. If they can extend their range to include anything the consumer might recognise, why should the consumer look to a lowly regional European producer whose local laws and limited access to vineyards only allow him or her to plant one or two?

This question is almost too broad for a blog, so I apologise for the length and the ranting tone. However, I think that if we could address this issue we would see a way for a re-energising of quality wine sales that would benefit producers and consumers alike. Wouldn't that be worth it?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Wino-dynamic

How is a consumer expected to care about Bio-dynamic or Organic wine?

According to a study, consumers are confused. I wonder why?! With regard to why they purchase:

Biodynamic is less important than Organic
Organic is less important than the vintage
Vintage is less important than the winemaker
Winemaker is less important than the region
Region is less important than the country
Country is less important than the Varietal
Varietal is less important than the price
and finally,
Price is less important than the "deal" or "offer"

How is the average wine buyer to even start to consider whether the wine is either organic (which they at least have heard of) or bio-dynamic (which they certainly haven't)? They aren't even quite sure if the varietal name they have heard before is red or white.

The problem with marketing in the wine trade to some extent is explained by the fact that the differences, if any, between any wines are all at the top of that list, and therefore far beyond the interest levels of the consumer.

Therefore we have the following options:

Give them a(nother) deal
Join the me-too brigade focused solely on the varietals
Spend millions in the hope to increase wine "education & understanding" amongst consumers
Give them another, very different, reason to buy YOUR wine

Stormhoek are doing this last one. Magners have done it in cider. Levis did it for jeans.

As Hugh says, "go after the magic".

Unfortunately, in the commercial arena, bio-dynamics are still just hocus-pocus, not magic.

Friday, June 08, 2007

How do you ask for Banyuls in Spanish?

Currently sitting in an internet cafe in Logroño, the capital of Rioja. I am here for a friend´s wedding tomorrow night which inconveniently sits on the same day as my Aunt´s celebration in Edinburgh and 2 days before my next wine test.

It is rather frustrating to be in this beautiful part of the world but have nothing but fortified wines on my mind so I can´t even properly enjoy the Rioja. My current worry is that I really ought to be trying to taste some Vin Doux Naturel, particularly a red like Banyuls, in case it comes up in the exam on Monday. Unfortunately I am not even likely to find any Sherry here, never mind Banyuls, so I think I will have to simply drink through the guilt barrier.

... oh, and before you ask, no I will not be seeking out any Moscatel de Valencia! I don´t care if it is on the syllabus.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

all quiet on the blogging front

Sorry! Back on my WSET course, including two exams this week, so not much time to post, but will be back next week to answer Andrew's point and follow up on this story too.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Love at the bottom of a bottle

Seems like my ideas on love and wine were simply not daring enough for some.

There have been several stories (see here, and here) about a new French initiative called Soif du Coeur (Thirsty Heart) to use wine to get you a date.

I particularly like Alder's take on it.

Coming to a wine shop near you if you live in France, USA, Canada or Russia - which could make the "can I walk you home" offer a dangerously extended affair!

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Varietals on wine labels - 1


I have started numbering these posts right from the start as I am sure this is a theme I will return to in future.

In brief, conventional wisdom states that the "New World" succeeded in bringing wine to the masses, certainly in the UK, by eschewing all that boring and confusing regional stuff and telling it like it is by stating right up front what varietal(s) the wine was made from.

Consumers, by definition, were interested in purchasing more and better wine but were put off by all those regional and quality indications, such as "Bordeaux Superieur", "Denominazione di Origine Controllata Chianti Rufina" and "Qualitätswein mit Prädikat". Too many words, languages and funny letters.

So in marched the honest speaking Aussies and Californians with their Chardonnays, Cabernets and Merlots. Sales of these wines took off and now they out-sell the Old World wines that are "stuck in the past" and "don't understand branding".

But how true is this really? More importantly, if people do believe in the pre-eminence of the varietal as a brand to sell the wine, how useful is it, and has it led us down a blind alley?

On the positive side, it is certainly true that simple, well designed and consumer-friendly labels made a big difference. The new wines were specifically designed to appeal to new wine drinkers, not those who knew, or pretended to know, about these things. This was true of the wines themselves as well as the packaging.

These new wines changed all sorts of conventions at the same time, not just the varietal labelling, so analysing why they worked is complicated. The label designs were fresh. The names were pronounceable. The styles were easy drinking and fruity. The alcoholic content from these warmer climates was often higher (and was still being used as a shorthand by consumers for better value in wine). There was even some consumer marketing and sales promotion and they were available in new kinds of wine shops like Oddbins and even, god forbid, the supermarkets. And, of course, they were "new" and "cool".

However, the easiest thing to point to is the listing of the grapes on the front. But does this actually help?

My own view, and something I realise I will have to come back to if I am not to post a whole essay, is yes & no, but mainly No! I think that they are driving us to a blind alley from which the only escape is to return to the original ideas of regional labelling.

But I think I had better save this for another day.

A question

A question for a dreary Wednesday morning:

(I am trying to get my head around this and I am sure many people will have different views)

How important is the varietal on the wine label?

Any thoughts? Has anyone come across any diverging views?

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

LIWSF

LIWSF?

Not a lot of time to blog or read others' posts as this week is the London International Wine and Spirit Fair - LIWSF - at ExCeL

Worth a visit if you can justify being "in the trade" in any way. Surely blogging is a form of journalism and entitles you to a Press pass?

More news in a week or so.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Alcohol makes people lose their senses. Shock!

Although this topic has been & gone in the media recently I thought I would add my 2 cents'/pennies' worth as it does relate to my thinking on Wine Culture.

Should "children" under 15 be allowed to drink at home whilst supervised?

Unequivocally YES! The whole discussion is ridiculous. The alternative is unenforceable, a complete over-dramatisation, focused on the wrong problem and also, simply put, wrong.

They key is supervision and sensible parenting. Do we want to start assuming parents are not generally sensible and issuing "baby licences" before allowing anyone to have a child? Sound like an invasion of privacy to you?

What are they trying to address? Stopping reasonable people from educating their children or increasing teenage alcohol and drug abuse? Does anyone really think that home consumption is to blame? If you are trying to involve parents in the issue, is positive support not better than meaningless threats of legal action?

We cannot remove the allure of getting pissed on too much alcohol to try and impress peers or as escapism from boring lives. However, we can demonstrate our own mature attitude to alcohol by talking about it and sharing it, with an understanding of its negative effects on children of course. Hopefully this will then encourage the younger generation to have a more sensible and mature attitude to alcohol.

We are bombared routinely by nanny state style announcements like this which are encouraged by the media, then further sensationalised for their own purposes. They only serve to further enflame extremist commentators, which of course gets even more media attention. Eventually they move on leaving confused parents in their wake.

I will leave others to discuss the power and responsibility of the media, but it makes me wonder, both as a parent and a member of the wine trade, how we can have sensible and positive discussions about alcohol without such silly headlines.

Which brings me on to wonder about the legal drinking age. What should it be? 15? 18? 19? 21? Can anyone remind me of the justification for Americans being the only ones to have to be 21 to drink (but not join the army, vote, pay tax, etc.)?

Alcohol really does get people to lose their senses, but it seems that it has that effect on some people whether they are drinking or not!

Monday, May 14, 2007

On glassware and wine experience

I have never been a big believer in the Glassware cause. When I read that Riedel has launched their latest glass design especially for drinking Mavrodaphne or whatever, I usually ignore it.

However, I have been away for a week staying in what was otherwise a very nicely furnished cottage in Cornwall. Unfortunately, their choice for wine glasses was limited to a heavy glass beaker in the shape of a martini glass.

I didn't really care as we were not drinking expensive wines most of the time. However, when we did buy some better wines (including a Pipers Brook PN from Tasmania with thanks to David McWilliams at BinTwo in Padstow) the wines were obviously great, but really struggled to show their true colours.

It makes you wonder how many people are put off wine by a combination of selecting the wrong wine for the occasion (Zinfandel with Fish & Chips?), poor storage (reds stored next to the cooker!), wine faults and poor glassware. Any one of these could be enough to turn away those who did bother to open a bottle, and they are more than likely to turn up in combinations.

Of course glassware is the least of these, but it nevertheless shows that you need to consider many different issues if you are to understand how others see and interact with wine, even potentially minor and uncontrollable variables such as the choice of glassware.

Next time I'll pack some better glasses, just in case!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Wine in VOGA

Continuing the theme of new wine packaging, some Italians (who else?) have taken wine packaging into areas usually reserved for perfume, and more recently branded water, with the launch of VOGA.

I like the packaging. It is simple, elegant and modern. We have seen things like this in water, and to be honest I like them, but I do usually think that those that use them are probably offering style over substance. However, it appeals to those with an eye for fashion and design, and therefore probably the younger fashion-conscious adults that establish trends (i.e. not me).

It seems that it uses a standard cork under there and that the cap is "resealable". This is something new as well. They have also designed interesting POS materials to help to promote it, and sell it in a 15(!) bottle triangular case, although that last part is just silly.

As for the wine, the white is (surprise, surprise!) Pinot Grigio, and the red is a rather odd blend of international varieties from Sicily which seems to be designed to tick all the boxes (consumers should recognise and like at least one of them).

All in all, if this has actually made it to the market, it looks like something daring and inventive and I wish it luck. It does rather smack of a design student's fantasy project rather than a proper commercial proposition, but then new ideas sometimes do.

Apparently it sells in the US for about $12 which isn't bad, but the only stockist in the UK that I could find only sells it as a gift, and at over £20 at that.

If anyone comes across a bottle, please let me know.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

bursting the expensive bubble?

As a further follow up post on the subject of better wines in supermarkets, I see that The Telegraph (online at least) has recycled their previous news story with a funny, and unintended, contrast:

Quote from today's article - exactly as per the page:

"Sales of bottles costing £10 or more are up 74 per cent in the past two years, said Tesco. The chain is stocking bottles of wine priced at up to £100 each for the first time.

[...] The supermarket's beer, wine and spirits category manager, Jason Godley, said more shoppers are treating themselves to expensive wines.

"This would never have happened in a British supermarket even a few years ago and it suggests that Brits are fast shaking off their reputation, especially with our European neighbours, as a nation of plonk drinkers," he said.

• South African brand Arniston Bay is launching wine in resealable pouches.

The pouches will launch in Britain this month, according to The Grocer magazine."


Presumably those pouches are full of 'quality' non-plonk at over £10 then?

Jancis and the Blue Nun again

Although she fails to go with the Blue Nun part of the story, Jancis Robinson MW has also written about the spurious data about wine sales above £10.

It must be said that spreading the rumour about others spending a lot on wine could be useful. As Mark Earls points out on his 'Herd' blog, we are heavily influenced by what others think and do, so "if everyone else is paying £10, then maybe I should too" might have an effect.

Maybe some independent merchants could do a follow up on this story and recommend a series of £10 wines that would demonstrate how much better wine was at this price.

I quite like the idea of copying the diamond marketing concept, you know the one ... "everyone knows you should be spending at least the equivalent of one month's salary on your diamond engagement ring" (I noticed that a few years back they tried a campaign that said two months!!). If style mags and newspapers picked up on Decanter editor Guy Woodward's comments and established £10 as the minimum to spend on a wines as a present or for a dinner party, it would at least raise the bar (so to speak).

Monday, April 30, 2007

Losing the Blue Nun habit?

Headline from The Telegraph, "Wine lovers kick the Blue Nun habit".

The gist of the story is that sales at £10+ are increasing at a fabulous rate in Tesco while Waitrose's average wine spend per bottle is £8 and Jeroboam's is £10.

Great!

So why is the average price of wine still below £4? This is because the main outlets for wine sales are continuing to sell cheap wine at a discount. It is great to hear that Tesco's sales of wine above £10 increased 75%, but they hardly sold any in the past and now they have created a Fine Wine area. It would be much more interesting to see what their average price per bottle had done over the last few years. I doubt it has increased.

However, it is heartening to hear that a greater number of people are buying a decent quality wine, and, according to the article, finding good wine fashionable rather than elitist. If this is true, and I don't see hard evidence of the fact, this is a pretty major breakthrough.

Unfortunately there is a long time to go before I quite believe the hyperbole of certain supermarket chains, as quoted in the article:

"Jason Godley, the wine manager for Tesco, said: "Britons used to be perceived by the rest of the world as a nation of beer drinkers, but this is changing fast. Many Brits think nothing about spending £10 for a bottle of wine at a supermarket and if the occasion is really special then perhaps even £100."


£100 for a bottle of wine in my local Tesco? I think not.

And as for kicking the Blue Nun habit, I think Blue Nun sales figures might dispute that conclusion.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Conversation starter

I have been looking for ways for conversations to kindle the love of wine, but maybe the place to start is where wine conversation kindles love.

My wife pointed out an article in one of those free papers for commuters last night. The centre spread, apparently a regular feature, looks at dating in London. The main article yesterday was about wine speed dating.

I have heard of a number of such events. Basically, take speed dating, add wine. The wine is the conversation starter. You learn a little about it at the start, then go around comparing notes and preferences. Not only do you get an excuse to talk to potential partners, but you get the wine and wine education thrown in as part of the deal. Excellent!

This one was organised by Grape Vine Social, apparently a big organisation, but I have also seen the WSET organise its own events (well done Nicolla!).

It may seem a little silly (unless you are single and looking for a better way of meeting people), but it says something about wine that it works in this context. I can't imagine Gin, Bacardi Breezers or Absinthe would work the same way or have the same appeal (although there may be a niche market for each, especially for Beer).

My only quibbles about the reported date are 1) the wines chosen (Hardy's, Banrock Station, Kiss Chasey?) and 2) if you are looking for a relationship, would you give all the details to the paper so your potential partner can read them the next day??

Maybe I'm old fashioned that way.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Copy cat actions

Thanks to mark e who left me a comment on my post about motivation.

"btw I suspect the trick is to get people doing something neat that others can copy. The enormous social signal of a pint glass with ice in it is just such a behavioural meme.

On wine suggestions:
Hugh at http://www.gapingvoid.com and his Stormhoek have blended something to suit the ice-cube usage occasion."


That story came out the day after I posted my thoughts I think (I regularly read gapingvoid, although he is more focused on Microsoft's Blue Monsters at the moment). Copying an action is one thing, copying a "trademark" action is another, as it will always strike the consumer of the copycat that they are being manipulated in this second case, possibly making them re-evaluate the original.

Some of the pre-teen-friendly pop groups succeded by creating dance routines that the teeny-boppers could copy (e.g. Steps?). Many others followed, with greater or lesser success, but ultimately it becomes part of the marketing repertoire and therefore loses its power.

When it comes to alcoholic drinks, I assume that the target markets are probably aware of this and therefore that the "tail" of this copying action will be short, however I may well be proven wrong.

I don't know this, but I imagine that "Herd" memories are short and that is why we keep making the same mistakes, so I guess ice manufacturers are going to be in business a little while longer.