Monday, January 28, 2008

More European Wine Bloggers

As Ryan, Gabriella (from Catavino) and I are working on the European Wine Bloggers Conference concept (get in touch if you want to know more, participate or sponsor it), I thought I'd go on a search of more UK & European bloggers.

I must say I did this exercise a few months ago and was very surprised how few UK wine bloggers there were, and I was not very successful finding bloggers from other European countries either (although that is harder if the text is not in English).

However, I have come across a few more, some of whom are now "friends" on facebook, and all of which now are listed in my RSS feed (I now have over 80 feeds - not all wine however - TOO MANY!).

Here is a list of a few, in no particular order, of the new ones you too might like to explore. I think I'll need to reorganise the blogroll to separate out the European blogs for future reference so you will not find these on there yet.

Tales of a Sommelier (UK)
InterWined (UK)
La Gramiere (France, in English)
Bubble Brothers (Ireland)
Castro Martin (Spain, in English)
Vino al Vino (Italy)
Vino da Burde (Italy)
Gare aug Gouts (UK, in French)

[UPDATES: There are a few more that are linked from these which I will add here for the next few days before reorganising the links section. If I've missed something, drop me a line]

The Winepost (UK)
Wine for Spice (UK)
The Pinotage Club (UK) - actually I am not sure why this is not already on my blogroll, but I've linked to Peter before


Free Running (Ireland) - thanks to Bubbles Brothers for pointing me there
Barrels & Bottles (UK)


Monday, January 21, 2008

ABCs never knew what hit them

Some time ago there was a lot of excitement over the fact that there are two competing films being made in Hollywood about the same event, The Judgement of Paris.

I'm sure that if you are reading this site you are already acquainted with this story. "Shock! Horror! Respected wine judges select Californian wines above French in blind tasting!"

It probably seems strange to people starting out on their wine discovery journey today that there was a time when 'New World' wines were struggling for recognition (although the term "Fine Wine" is still very much dominated by French wines). However, 1976 saw a sea-change. I won't bother commenting further on this here as it has been done to death before and will be again once these films come out.

I thought I'd comment on the films themselves. Much will be said in the official wine journals and blogs about how closely or not these reflect the actual event. I think this article covers most of the common points.

What I think is interesting will be the fact that 98% of those who watch the films will not care. However, as the Sideways effect has shown, some of the results of a film involving wine can be long-lasting even if unintended.

What I think might emerge from this, and I'm sure that there are plenty of people out there who hope it will, is a rejuvenated interest in the Chardonnay grape.

The first, and probably more light-hearted of the two, is Bottle Shock ("The French Never Knew What Hit Them" - including a tasteful image of wine bombs being dropped on the Eiffel Tower). It will focus on the winning white wine, a Californian Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena. If it gets people thinking positively about Chardonnay again, then this can only be a bonus, but lets hope the film has a little more integrity than the strapline suggests (I'd rather not see another "A Good Year" - it did very little for wine, romance, comedy or even film for that matter).

Let's hope that less detailed historical accuracy is made up for in a plot that engages its audience in a love of wine, wherever it may be from.

The second film is still in the works, but will focus on the winning red wine, the Cabernet from Stag's Leap, and I guess we will have to wait to see more about this, if and when this finally makes it out.

Who knows, but in 18 months time we may be talking about a new ABC movement in consumer drinking patterns. Maybe, instead of Anything But Chardonnay, we might have "Another Bottle shock Convert"

Friday, January 18, 2008

Stormhoek News & Speculation

Well, it looks like things are on-track for keeping the Stormhoek brand alive, if not the whole of Orbital as a company.

I'm sure we'll know more early next week once due-diligence is complete, but it is fun to imagine where they will end up.

Just imagine: Wouldn't it be fun to see it taken over by someone outside the wine business, probably by a tech company trying to reach the young, blogging, tech-savvy audience that already knows & loves the brand?

Why should they?

Well, a wine business will need to make a reasonable profit from it to justify the take-over, and we know how hard that is. For a well-funded tech business, this sort of investment would be peanuts, and so even if it made no profit at all, it would save them $/£ millions from their advertising budgets, money that they would otherwise spend anyway.

Just a bit of fun. I don't expect anything like this, but it would be a great Wine2.0 story, wouldn't it?

"Major Tech Company buys Social Object in a Bottle"

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The "its really about drinking wine" conference

OK, the cat is now out of the proverbial bag.

Ryan and Gabriella over at Catavino have just posted news of some discussions that have been going on for a few months about a Wine Bloggers' Conference in Europe.

A few months ago a group for wine bloggers on facebook suddenly exploded with creative energy and all sorts of stuff was discussed. Conferences, dinners, tastings, "pimp my blog", "am I sexy or not?" (OK maybe not the last one). But, just like most facebook groups, very little came of it, but at least the doors were opened.

One of the most interesting ideas was that Wine Bloggers should get together to share ideas, drink some wine, meet their peers and generally have a good time. Unfortunately we are not a rich bunch, and on top of that, there is a great difference between the state of blogging in the US and the rest of the world.

While our American cousins imagined exhibition stands, multi-track conferences, discussions on alternative platforms, revenue-generation, wine2.0, etc. those of us in Europe preferred to start with a dinner with lots of wine and friendly conversation, and maybe go from there (which I think is what is also now happening in the US).

Ryan, Gabriella and I took it upon ourselves to see that something would happen, however small, in Europe in 2008.

So, here we are. Do you blog? What are you doing the weekend of August 29-31, 2008?

Our plan is to gather in Rioja for that dinner, wine and conversation and maybe take the opportunity to visit this famous area and some of its wineries (in the interests of transparency and disclosure I would point out that I work for Dinastia Vivanco in the UK). Lots more details can be found here.

If you fancy joining us, or getting involved in any way, get in touch with me here or on Although we will probably focus on European issues, this event is open to anyone who blogs about wine, however peripherally, and in whatever language.

Come and join us, it'll be fun!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

French Letters - ANPAA

However hard we try to talk up the future for French wines, and France's chances of developing a reasonable attitude to wines in the modern world, some organisation manages to come along and shatter our illusions.

Hot on the heels of the ruling about health warnings on Champagne articles, here is the latest news, courtesy of Decanter (assuming you can get their site working as it keeps crashing on me):

Web cannot advertise alcohol

Of course this current ruling is aimed at Heineken, but I wouldn't rate the chances of a Vin2.0 culture developing in the land of Liberty, Equality & Fraternity any time soon.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Magic numbers: 14, 21, 35, 50, 60? [updated]

No, these are not my lottery numbers, but the sorts of numbers that appear regularly in any column about wine consumption at the moment.

In summary:
14: the weekly maximum recommended alcohol intake for women
21: the weekly maximum recommended alcohol intake for men
35: 15-35 units a week being the "hazardous" level for women doing them "long-term harm"
50: 22-50 units a week being the "hazardous" level for men doing them "long-term harm"
60: "Trebles all round"

I am not aware if other countries have similar measures, so let me deal with the UK situation for now and if it applies wherever you are, then maybe you can modify the numbers accordingly**

I have never understood where these numbers came from, and how exactly they link to scales of harm. For example, some questions that come to mind would be:

* How much worse are 22 units than 21?
* What about those who have 21 units in one go, versus those who have them evenly over the week?
* How long do you need to be staying above 21 to damage yourself?
* Can you average it out over a couple of years? How about over a lifetime (I could cash in on a relatively late start to my drinking career)?

Rather than focus on the amount of alcohol taken in "on average", and thus picking a number relatively at random, wouldn't it be better if we were encouraged to monitor our health better? A dodgy (but not yet irreversibly bad) liver test result would be a lot more motivating than simply sitting down and counting alcohol units to realise you were above the recommended level.

The recent announcement by the UK government that they would finally turn the NHS into an organisation that supported prevention of disease, rather than trying to cure those who are already sick, could be good news. Wouldn't it be better to go to the doctor, feeling healthy and discover that you have been a little too liberal with your pouring and that cutting back for the next couple of months or years will get you back on track, than to know nothing until you liver packs in and you join the transplant queue?

My worry about this is that the UK government in particular is likely to use this as a stick to beat society, setting up league tables and legislating on ways to force people to comply rather than educating and supporting individuals' choices. I can see how it would turn us all into guilty teenagers, worried about whether 'they' found out we'd been sampling from the spirits cabinet.

Whilst I totally agree that alcohol abuse is a major problem, I'm not sure that we have yet found a way of having a sensible discussion about it.

Is anyone aware of a country that has managed to have such a discussion? And anyone know where the numbers above come from?

Here are some additional links on the subject matter as suggested by Peter in the comments. I'll add more as I come across them:

Drinks Limits 'Useless' - The Times 20 October 2007
Unit of Alcohol - Wikipedia
Estimating alcohol consumption from survey data (UK) - this is an official PDF from the UK National Statistics office

** It is ALWAYS worth reminding people how to calculate these units as any rule of thumb is likely to be misleading - and a serious underestimation.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Stormy waters for Stormhoek

Lots of interest in the story about Stormhoek and Orbital going into administration that I posted recently, so I thought I would update it with a few more thoughts.

My first observation is that there has been a deafening silence from Hugh MacLeod on the subject of Orbital's problems. You'd think that the uber-blogger and chief communicator might have something to say on the subject so I am guessing that either a) he is so thoroughly ****ed off that he dare not discuss it or b) - much more likely - that there is stuff happening behind the scenes and he is waiting for that to be made public. I certainly do hope it is the latter.

Secondly, Alastair brought up the issue of the 4P's of Marketing (a subject I have covered before myself before) in the comments.

I do think that Stormhoek did manage to have a good Product, at an attractive Price and had managed to get reasonable distribution (Place) for the wine - and of course they were famous for the Promotion. Here was a brand NOT using Price as their main driver - hurrah!

The main reported reason for the failure of the business was a poor decision to upset a retailer by selling their wines cheaper to a competitor, resulting in them being delisted. Whether this is factually correct or not I do not know, but it reminds us that retailers have power over such young brands - and that without the P of Place/Distribution none of the other elements mattered enough, and the business suffered.

However, I would also suggest that there is another way they had suffered a little lately as Alastair's story demonstrates (see comment number 5). The focus had moved too far towards packaging and the image. There were regular label changes, including for Valentine's Day, special runs with new labels for facebook groups, awards dinners and Microsoft, etc. I'd suggest that all these distracted from the main business objectives and did not focus enough on getting fans to put their money where their browsers were and go out and buy the wine.

A small company cannot cope with lots of different labels and dispatching tiny lots of wines all over the place (for free!!). The key is focus, and in a competitive market like wine, to minimise costs. Instead, they started upsetting their fan base by fragmenting their product offering and making it harder to deliver on their promises.

The Wine Conversation needs to be as general and free-ranging as possible, and no brand could, or should, control it. Anyone can join in and so become interested in wine, whatever their angle is on the subject. However, as Josh pointed out, a winery or brand needs to sell wine in order to survive, and their conversation must ultimately lead people to the cash register.

I hope that Stormhoek 2.0 gets back to basics and uses its indubitable communication skills to get their product selling again.

More thoughts soon I'm sure when more news comes out.

[UPDATE: More news out now. See here. The Administrator is "optimistic" of reaching a deal next week.]

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sad news for wine marketers

This story caught my eye this weekend:

Orbital Collapses into Administration (from Off Licence News)

You may never have heard of Orbital, but if you read about wine you have probably heard about Stormhoek and their more innovative marketing campaigns, particularly online, and as a blog reader/publisher you will almost certainly have come across Hugh MacLeod at Gapingvoid who has been working with the brand.

They have managed to create great visibility and brand awareness for stormhoek, particularly in certain quarters. Unfortunately, it seems that they have not been able to match that with commercial returns, and the business has gone into administration.

This is by no means the end of the story, as it is essentially about cash flow and not the brand or the wine, but it just goes to show that we may talk a lot about what wine could do to become better at communicating with customers and the wine conversation, but margins are so tight, there is very little one can do without very deep pockets.

I trust someone will buy the business as a whole and keep these people in their jobs, and it might even be one of the big international businesses who'd love to have the brand and expertise in their 'stable'.

A sad day for marketers in the wine business.

As Hugh likes to say, and Stormhoek have recently headed their site:

"Change the world or go home"

Unfortunately, the world doesn't seem ready to change, yet!

[UPDATE] Josh at Pinotblogger has picked up on this story as well and made some interesting points, some of which I commented on on his blog. Definitely interesting times.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

First post of 2008

The first post after a break in blogging is always a pressured one -
must entertain!
must re-engage!!
must be good!!!

Well, to take away that pressure I'll simply post to wish everyone who is still hanging in there with me a Happy 2008. There are many doom-mongers out there, dragging us down about the prospects for the year ahead, but I am hopeful that they will be wrong.

I remember a little (just a little) of an undergraduate Psychology course I took which covered Behaviourism. One of the few things I (vaguely and possibly incorrectly) recollect is the idea that conscious "decisions" sometimes follow behaviour rather than the other way around.

"Do I feel happy? Well, I'm smiling, so I guess I must be!"

If I'm correct, and I will go away now and try and read up on it, it has implications relating not only for wine, but for our daily lives, including the economy. After all, if we all believe it is going to be a bad year, then by deciding in advance that we will cut back on things, we will be ensuring it is for us and for others.

So, think positive, smile, convince yourself the prospects are good, open a nice bottle of wine, and welcome the year to come.