Thursday, July 31, 2008

Blogging Matters to Harpers

I had a piece published on the Harpers, or should I say Talking Drinks, web page yesterday.

I had been talking to their web editor for some months as I knew they were looking at this area, and we had similar views. He invited me to write a short piece about the state of blogging and introducing the concept of blogs to their (probably sceptical) readers.

Hopefully I did the latter, but there wasn't room enough to explore all the sorts of conversations that are going on in the space available. That's what I do more of here.

If you are interested, please take a read and let me know your thoughts on "Why does wine blogging matter?" and pass on the link to others as well.

The wine business has always sought ways to reach out to consumers and communicate the personality and individuality of their wines, and now blogging - whether it be by the winemaker, the consumer with first-hand experience, or the trade professional offering a trusted review, makes this possible.

Lots of fun stuff to discuss at the upcoming European Wine Bloggers Conference

See you there?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A very social media

It seems I am spending more of my time socialising than writing about social media at the moment.

Last week I was off to Windsor to meet Joe Roberts and Andrew Barrow, then on Friday I met up with the "Lewisham Bloggers" (a local grouping of bloggers on a whole range of topics, living in this part of London), and last night it was the London Bloggers.

Wow! What a night for someone who spends so much of their day involved in social media sites like me ("My name is Robert, and I'm a SocialMediaChat-a-Holic")

One of the great things about blogging, as I have mentioned before, is that you meet all sorts of different people around the world who share your interests and passions. But one of the other aspects is that, as bloggers, we are in the business of building communities, and we are therefore, it seems to me, interested in all sorts of other communities as well.

Last night I had great conversations about wine (amongst other things), but none of them with other wine bloggers. There was the digital marketing consultant, the Food & Drink Editor, the Digital PR strategist, the Underground blogger (I was particularly excited to meet Annie Mole, I must admit), the Digital Brand & Marketing Commentator, and many more.

One of the things I learned is that if you want to be taken seriously in these circles there is one "must-have" item.

Not a 3G iPhone.

It is a Moo Card.

I started picking up a few of these last night, and by the third or fourth, I felt like apologising for only having my "boring, traditional" cards to give in return. So my Moo cards are on order right now!

It was interesting to meet all sorts of people, and all levels of bloggers - from the A-listers to those starting out, and generally just have fun without having to explain (again) why I spend so much time on these sites.

A particularly big thank you to Stella Artois for sponsoring the evening, not only with some drinks for everyone, but also offering a prize in their airship.

Oh, I should mention THAT I WON A TRIP IN THE AIRSHIP!!!!!

I'll be posting photos here after the trip, currently scheduled for this Friday.

[I wish I had an airship to use for promotions!]

Thanks to everyone for the evening, and I'll update this post with links to other round-ups as I come across them.

Some other round-ups:
London Underground Blog

Social PRobiotic

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wine Investments

I would NEVER suggest anyone invests in anything, let alone wine, without a THOROUGH knowledge of what they are getting into. Despite my reasonable levels of knowledge about wine in general, one area I really do not feel I know at all well, is Fine Wine. But there are plenty who (think they) do.

It used to be the kinds of wines that most people simply couldn't afford, and the rich bought, stored in their country houses' cellars to drink after their retirement. However, Fine Wine, and in particular Bordeaux, has become a 'market' - a commodity to be bought and sold purely for investment purposes.

In these difficult financial times, is it a better, or worse time, to get involved in this?

I have no idea.

However, someone thinks they do, and he has a radio programme dedicated to Wine tomorrow, so if you are interested, check out Alvin Hall's World of Money: Wine tomorrow, 26 July, 2008 at 12:04 on BBC Radio 4 (or Monday, 28th July at 15:02 for a longer version, apparently).

For those not in the UK, this is during a programme called MoneyBox which is available after the fact as a podcast.

[UPDATE: The BBC have added some further interesting content related to the show here. Not an answer to the question, but further background and interesting quotes]

You can't share a bottle online

I really enjoy building online relationships and keeping in touch with a great range of people through blogs, comments, facebook, twitter, Open Wine Consortium, etc., but the ultimate goal, really, is to make 'real' friends.

So when I saw a 'tweet' by @1WineDude, otherwise known as Joe Roberts who blogs at out of Philadephia, mentioning that he would be in the UK, I jumped at the chance to meet up with him and share a glass, or two, of wine.

Andrew Barrow from Spittoon joined the party and we met up at The Two Brewers in Windsor.

We talked about wine, blogging, US vs. UK, music, food and all the sorts of stuff people who have known each other for a long time would talk about, yet we'd only met an hour beforehand.

It was fun, and if any other wine blogger out there is planning on passing through London, or its environs, do get in touch so we might arrange a get together of our own.

Two of the topics we discussed which are worth bringing up here, were:

The serving temperature of wine, particularly reds. The Two Brewers is a great place to go for wine as it has a limited, but adventurous wine list. However, the UK is not built to deal with heatwaves, and our bottle of Chateau Musar 2000 arrived too warm (as did the later bottle of Astrolabe Pinot Noir 2006). No problem! Drop them in the icebucket left over from the Rose (from Provence, but label had washed off). We did get a reputation from the staff for "liking chilled red wine", so I had to point out we were only lowering it to where it ought to be, around 18 degrees. The idea that serving at 'room temperature' does not mean "whatever temperature your room happens to be" has yet to filter down properly. This is Confessions of Wino's personal crusade, and I'm happy to support it.

Bloggers need to work together more. This one was more controversial, and I must admit it is my own agenda. I do believe that we need to find ways of doing things together that go beyond links and comments if we are to have real impact. This is the subject for what is going to be discussed at the European Wine Bloggers Conference, as well as the North American one, so expect to see more on this.

My thanks Joe and Andrew for a great evening. Let's do it again soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Wine Biz Radio

Oooh! I'm a radio star!

Well, in truth I was allowed to babble on well beyond my due 15 minutes of fame on Wine Biz Radio - a great radio show emanating from California

For anyone involved in the wine blogging community, Wine Biz Radio, and its hosts Randy & Kaz, will already be well known.

This is Randy in the photo - a perfect face for radio, wouldn't you say? :)

For everyone else, this is a two-guy radio show that airs every week on live radio around California where Kaz (winemaker, sound effects maestro and all-round entertainer) and Randy (resident geek [sorry Randy!], lion tamer [sorry Kaz!] and winemaking student) look at stories of interest to wine folk.

Mostly this is US & California specific, but as Randy in particular is linked in to all the online communities on twitter, Open Wine Consortium, Wine Blogging Wednesday, and more, then it touches on wider issues as well (Kaz gets dragged kicking and screaming into these too from time to time).

This week, in an (unusually) pre-recorded show, I called in and got a chance to share my thoughts on UK wine drinking, Dinastia Vivanco, Garnacha, the European Wine Bloggers' Conference and even babies and growing up in Italy. Yes, pretty random!

If you get a chance (and have a little time spare - you can always forward to my eventual arrival at around 25 minutes in), check it out!

Wine Biz Radio - A new Paradigm

Thanks Randy & Kaz

Interactive Wine Sites

Over the next few days, thanks to their well established brand and their PR muscle, you'll probably see several headlines like this one:

Roederer champagne launches new interactive website

I don't know about you, but the interaction I want with my wine involves drinking it!

I don't understand these Flash-based websites (you might want to go off and start the page loading, then return to read the article while you wait - but remember to turn the sound off).

The vast majority of people browsing the internet for wine are looking for:
  1. background details
  2. stockist information
  3. a 'deal'
  4. fun
(check out Able Grape's take on this too)

Using Flash to promote your wine brand is like hiring a stand-up comedian with ADHD to be your spokesperson - however amusing he may be, he is getting in the way of the message.

Sure, with Flash you get bells and whistles. In fact, the Louis Roederer site is like a unicycling bear that is playing La Marseillaise on his bells and whistles, but what are they doing to address the needs of the customers? What is the goal of the 'interactivity' on this site?

(oh, and by the way, that unicycling bear keeps falling off and his bells are out of tune - the sound on the site is awful and I keep getting stuck, unable to go back)

Joel Vincent made an interesting observation on a recent post on his blog Wine Life Today:
My bottom line points are simple. I’ve written about and preached on the “Wine Life Value Chain” where I talk about how the strength of a relationship basically has direct correlation to influencing a wine buyer. The closer you are, sociallogically, to the source of a wine recommendation the faster and more likely you are to buy it. So with that theorum guiding my thoughts we look at social media.

Flash CAN be a great tool to aid this relationship, but all too often it seems to be used to create a barrier between the people behind a wine and its consumers - something akin to a prestidigitator's distraction technique.

One might argue that this is exactly how Champagne has managed to create a strong stylish brand, separating itself from its plain and homely still wine cousins - we're missing that 'magic' ingredient. Maybe that is why it was used and I'm the one who is missing the point.

In any case, my preference is for sites that engage me in a meaningful relationship, that have answers to my questions and encourage me to commit myself in some way to the brand in the way they are doing with me.

The interactivity I seek is knowing that the winery, or winemaker, cares what I think, and helps me to both taste and understand their wines. Here are a couple I have come across recently that make me feel this way.
Neither of these sites has spent anything like the amount of money Louis Roederer must have done, but I get so much more out of them because I feel I know the wine, the people and the reasons for their existence so much better and on a more personal level.

And talking of interactivity, I'd love to hear your comments on these sites as well. Have I missed the point on the Champagne site, or am I too committed to blogs? Let me know.

(Photo Let it Float, courtesy of hashmil)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Who can? The Wine Can can!

Who can make drinking wine from a can actually look cool and an attractive proposition?

Until today, I thought nobody could. But now, thanks to I believe I may have found the answer:

The Wine Can

(photo borrowed from - please visit their site for more photos and other cool designs)

Not ANY old can, but a gloriously modern looking package with matt colours, nice graphics, and it is easily recyclable (I believe).

Of course, this is only at the prototype stage, but apparently the designers are looking for investors (and presumably wineries) to get involved and get this to market.

Of course, the issue will be cost. As with all innovations, this will probably be expensive, at least at first, on a per unit basis. The effect will be either to make the wine in this can appear more expensive than it is (limiting sales), or will require the marketing/distribution company to fill it with cheaper wine to offset this.

That would be a shame. What would be interesting would be to see an innovative, premium priced brand take the plunge and provide good quality wine in this package to attract early adopters to buy it AND enjoy the wine inside.

I'm always on the look out for packaging that is interesting, so if you know of any other such developments, please do let me know.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wine for 3 year olds

{An imaginary, although by no means unexpected or far-fetched, conversation about wine with my daughter}

Daddy, why do you drink wine?

Well, darling, I like how it tastes and it is a nice thing for adults to drink with their dinner.

Well, wine is made in a special way so that it has all sorts of flavours. Some of them are really good to have with this meat, some of them are better with your pasta, but almost every bottle tastes different. I like to taste lots of different ones to see what they are like and which ones are most interesting.

Good question! We can drink all sorts of drinks, like milk, water, lime & soda, beer or even fruit juices, and wine is like them. But wine is different because it changes depending on how it is made, where it comes from, and who makes it. It means that I can learn a lot about different places in the world and about different ways of making wine that I never knew before. It is like you being at pre-school, every day I learn something new and exciting.
I like things that are new and exciting! Can I have some wine?

No, sorry darling. Wine is for adults.

(wait for it ....)


Well, because it has something in it that is not good for little girls and boys, but adults can have a little of, just like we discussed about salt. It's called alcohol and it can make you feel unwell if you have too much. My body is bigger and more used to it, so I can have a little.

You can have a smell if you want?

What do you smell?
Mmmm! Nice! ... Fruit?

That right, dear! Wines smell of fruit and other thngs, and they are even made from fruit. Wine is actually made from grapes.

Well, grapes can be used to make wines that taste nice to adults, or they can be eaten by everyone just like you are having. But this wine didn't smell of grapes did it? It had smells of strawberries and cherries, didn't it?

Well, when you make wines, it changes their smell and the way they taste. You can even put it in wooden barrels to make it older and taste better, a bit like when we made that bread and we had to wait before we could eat it. It rested.

There are so many wines around the world that different wine makers find new ways to make their wines taste different and better, a bit like recipes. So they try new things and then we can see whether we like it or not.

One day, shall we go and see someone making wine?
Yes! And can I eat grapes?

Well, we'll see! We can ask.
Daddy, one day, when I'm older, maybe when I'm a adult, I'm going to drink wine just like you and Mummy.

That's great dear! But not too much, OK?
No! I don't want to be like Silly Sammy Slick*

Excellent! Now, eat your grapes up!


This is all a fantasy, of course, but I know my daughter, and this is exactly how the conversation would go.

There are those who would hide their drinking from their kids, fearing they might somehow accidentally turn their little darlings into binge drinking pre-teens, but I'm of the totally opposite point of view. It does much more harm to hide your drinking than sharing your reasons for it. If you are not capable of moderate, responsible drinking, then of course you need to deal with that so your kids do not learn bad habits, but if you can, then share the enjoyment.

Wine, and other recreational drugs, may be an emotive subject for adults, but for kids it is just another part of life that they need to learn about. Not educating them is unfair on them, and stores up trouble for them, and for society, once they are more independent.

I fully expect to have difficult conversations with my daughter about alcohol in future, but it will not be because she has not had a chance to learn about it from me.

I wonder how this conversation would sound like when she is 10, or 15? If I'm still blogging, I'll let you know.

(check out another recent dad's take on this at 1WineDude)

* you need to be up on your Dr. Seuss for that line, but Silly Sammy Slick Sipped Six Sodas and was Sick, Sick, Sick!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rosé? Why compromise?

I am back online (well I never left totally, this is an online addiction after all, but it has been hard to concentrate on projects).

I've got a few irons in the fire, but I thought I would make a quick comment on an interesting headline I read yesterday:

Rosé passes white wine as France's favourite from The Telegraph

Wow! That is a LOT of rosé wine. I have not seen the underlying data to prove to myself that the French really are buying more rosé wine than white (this is the land of wonderful Chardonnay from Burgundy, Sauvignon Blanc & Chenin Blanc from the Loire and all sorts of wonderful and exotic Rousanne, Marsanne, Viognier and more from the Rhone).

Surely these are not being displaced by rosé?

Well, of course, there is the issue is of price & availability. The white wines I mention are the ones all wine lovers know, but how often do we drink them? We can all list them as "great wines", but in practice we drink more lowly wines on a daily basis, and the French are no different. So instead, we look for interesting, new and 'trendy' wines, and the rosé trend is spreading around the world.

Even so, that is a lot of pink wine. In the UK, the last figures I saw had rosé sales still below 10% of all wine sales, so even with a big increase since then, they'd struggle to compete with white wine.

Another interesting comparison would be to see what types of rosé wines they are drinking. The much touted growth in UK sales are heavily biased towards the fruitier "blush" wines from California (White Zinfandel and White Grenache) whilst I imagine that even the 'new' young consumers in France, those who are ditching their parents' conventions, would still blush to be seen drinking these wines.

But I must admit that the comment that really annoyed me, of all of this, was Evan Davis on the Today programme (where I first heard the news). He said:

"Sometimes, when you can't decide between red & white, rosé seems the perfect compromise"

Compromise? What a shame to dismiss wines like that. Unfortunately, this is from one of the most educated men in the country working on one of the most influential programmes. OK, so it was a throw-away comment, but it shows that the Wine Conversation still has a long way to go to displace entrenched views.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Service interrupted

Readers will experience a slight interruption to their services over the next few days due to events beyond our control

Duncan John Grant McIntosh, d.o.b. 1st July, 2008

Normal services will resume shortly.