Archive - March, 2008

Who took all the glass?

In this age of environmental consciousness (and general lack thereof) there are certain things that really stand out as wasteful.

The packaging on fruit and vegetables, the coating added to tablets for washing clothes and dishes, and packaging materials for goods bought over the internet (if couriers could just be trusted to treat ‘fragile’ goods properly much waste could be avoided).

One thing that I don’t normally object to is glass bottles for wine. I must say I am still of the belief that this is the best alternative at the moment, even if recycling rates could be improved.

I was struck, therefore, when I saw a bottle on the shelf of my local Co-op that looked ridiculously large and heavy, and not only that, was selling for £3.99 (that’s around $8).

J.P. Chenet is already known for its quirky bottle shapes which have helped to increase its brand profile. But this bottle, from what appears to be a premium range, was like the original bottle after a course of Mr Universe quality steroids.

I was intrigued, so I parted with the paltry sum and took it home.

Now, I have weighed a number of other bottles in my rack and the average weight is around 1.25kg when full, so imagine my surprise when this came in at 1.623kg – thats a 30% increase.

So that is where all the missing glass in Europe has gone!

Maybe in future, those consumers just getting into wine might, instead of using the time honoured calculation of “best value”: BV=ABV/RSP (otherwise known as ‘most alcohol for your money’), might instead say something like:

“Wow, this Argentinian Chardonnay weighs a ton and is only £4.49!”
“That’s nothing! Over here is Chilean Cabernet is a ton and a half and is just £4.27 if you buy three bottles”

Let’s just hope that we live to see the day – or maybe not.

Oh, and unfortunately the wine delivered exactly what the price promised, not very much. How could it, after spending so much on packaging??

More thinking about drinking

There have already been some great comments on my previous post, and as my answers were getting quite long I thought I’d post a response here for all to see.

This seems to be the controversial statement:

“I believe that the average person’s ability to consciously understand and process information is limited, …”

I think I will need to restate this as I don’t believe Richard, Gabriella and I disagree. I probably should have said “willingness” rather than “ability”.

In reality we have to accept that the vast majority of people will not be interested in wine’s messages and will simply keep going with their daily routines.

This isn’t to say they cannot understand, only that they do not see the reason for bothering.

This is the point I have been grappling with since I began to explore the Wine Conversation. You have to care in order to learn something, and if you know nothing, you don’t care. Catch 22.

I don’t think that dumbing down works, as Gabriella says, because it removes the need to care or think.

But 99.9% of the world’s wine businesses cannot afford to change this. As I said to Richard, look how much effort has gone into raising awareness of Climate Change. Think how much it would have cost businesses to get that level of press coverage and yet, despite all this, how little our habits have changed.

We must first capitalise on ‘accidental’ opportunities, such as Sideways, Bottle Shock, rappers interested in Champagne, etc.

The most exciting opportunities, however, would be if we could invent new contexts for wine information that would allow people to ‘get into wine’ from within environments they already understand and are comfortable with.

This is one reason I object to ideas for standardising the way we present wine – that merely entrenches existing differences. If we could come up with such a new way of thinking (the way Reebok & Nike did for trainers, or Apple did for portable music devices) then we might make a difference.

Of course, if I had a ready-made solution I’d stop blogging and start making my fortune! Having said that, I have an idea which I am developing and will hopefully see the light of day. Stay tuned!

Are you Drinking or Thinking?

I have read a number of posts recently concerning the link between the enjoyment of wine & “thinking”, for example here and here.

I believe that really enjoying wine does require the consumer to exercise not only their senses, but also their imagination, and so has to involve “thinking” to some extent.

Unfortunately, most people already have “too much on their mind” and therefore filter out what they see as “unnecessary” or complex information.

Philosophers and Social Psychologists can debate the finer points of this and either disagree or provide more details, but, stated simply, I believe that the average person’s ability to consciously understand and process information is limited, and for simplicity’s sake, let’s call this process their “mind”.

Two people quoting point scores at each other is not a conversation, it is a game of Top Trumps

This is important for the wine business because if it is true, getting busy consumers to think about your wine or brand means competing not only with what is already “on their mind”, but with every other product, brand and person trying to get in on the action too. This concept is called “Share of Mind” or “Mindshare“.

But who cares?

Well, there are many related issues that this touches upon.

1. A recent study in the US by Constellation, apparently showed that a large number of US wine consumers were “overwhelmed” by the choice of brands available. In theory, if you convert them to consumers of your ‘easy solution’, then you’ve got a hit wine brand. Unfortunately, it isn’t as easy as saying “here is a new wine to make your life easier”, you have to get their attention before they’ll hear the message. To get a share of mind from this audience, you have to fight VERY hard, and that means a lot of money in advertising. More on this topic soon, but it is also worth reading Dr. Debs’ view first.

2. Why are point scores for wine reviews so popular? Well, a score summarises all those tiresome descriptions, positive feelings, negative complications, and vinous complexities into a neat comparison tool.

“87 is greater than 86, so that wine is better!”

Points help to avoid any need to research, compare and analyse, and summarise it all into something that allows for simple calculations. Why fight for a share of mind when you can supply them with a easy reference tool? Unfortunately, it does nothing for the Wine Conversation. Two people quoting point scores to each other is not a conversation, it is a game of Top Trumps.

I’m not really saying that scoring itself is a bad idea. When well used, points can play a positive role as additional bits of information, but generally speaking they are taken out of context and misused – somewhat like the ‘dark side of the force’.

3. There are many discussions about wine culture around the world. Does the UK have a wine culture or just a drinking culture? Does the US have a wine culture? What is the European wine culture today? I’d suggest that the difference between a drinking culture and a wine (or beer) culture, is whether there is a conscious involvement in the choice of consumption.

The person who rolls up to the bar and orders “a lager”, or ” glass of house wine” (or even arguably those used to ordering well established “brands” like Pinot Grigio) are in the former. The choice figures only in their mind as an alternative path to inebriation and no more. However, even a cursory glance at a wine list, and a choice of a variety or region they have some association with, forms part of a wine culture, however shallow.

I could go on, but most of these points deserve a post in their own right.

Much of this was kicked off by the posts I mentioned above. For some of us, even “comfort wines” are wines that evoke feelings, memories or our imagination.

And this brings me to my final thought. The more we bother to THINK about wine, its history, its agricultural roots and its role in our culture, the less we are likely to abuse it as a mere alcoholic drink. If this helps to reduce the harm to individuals and society stuck in a drinking culture, then we are doing our job well.

Late night post (updated)

It is already late, but I thought I’d keep the site ticking along with a quick post to thank Bodegas Tintoralba for hosting a very nice evening with their wines and some good food.

Many may imagine that working in the wine trade is an endless series of wine & cheese parties, or raucous Bacchanalian soirees, but it isn’t the case (not really anyway). It is both much better and not nearly as exciting as that.

I have often been to events in a professional capacity (either hosting events to promote wines I am working on, or being targeted by those who might hope for me to sell their wines). However, I can’t recall any event before this where I was invited because I was a wine blogger.

I do not review wines, and I am not about to start on this occasion, but I would like to thank this winery for having the open-mindedness and confidence to organise an event almost exclusively for food and wine bloggers. I met lots of people this evening whose sites I have read or have come across in the various social networks I have mentioned before. That alone was worth trekking around Barcelona for, and good wine on top made it even better.

It has certainly made me want to explore the interesting world of “tintorera” (teinturier) grapes in a bit more detail. I must say that the name Alicante Bouschet comes up regularly (for WSET Advanced and Diploma students anyway) on this subject and I had not realised that it was the same as the variety used for some of the more interesting wines from this winery, but here called “Garnacha Tintorera”.

More information on the evening including some of the other bloggers who attended, and on Alimentaria itself too, in the near future.

[UPDATE: One great thing about blogging is if you find interesting and relevant content you can just link to it. Rather than me researching the list of attendees to the event I can send you to Catavino's post instead. Thanks Gabriella!]

[more photos from the evening here]

When online friends get real

We’ve been here before, about 6 months ago, when Facebook rather exploded onto the scene (for me) and there seemed to be a collective & feverish drive to make new friends and contacts, discuss big ideas and make grand plans. It got so busy I spent ages on Facebook joining groups for Wine Bloggers, Wine 2.0, Sherry Lovers, Beards of the World United (that was just for me) and more.

The result was that I got to know a lot of new people and link up with some really interesting friends. We talked and talked and emailed and posted and … nothing really came of it.

Photo courtesy of Richard.HThe problem with Facebook is that it is a virtual “freshers fair”. It is like that first week at school/college/university, where all new arrivals feel equal and can shake off the social shackles accumulated over years at their previous school. These fresh faces desperately try to make a new circle of friends and create a new persona, meeting as many others as possible and “becoming friends”. Unfortunately it never stays that way, and by week 2 you will probably never see half those people again and you discover that the creepy guy who seemed seemed so mysterious is actually just creepy.

Facebook is good for showing your face (!) and getting snippets of information, even gathering into groups, but it does not offer the tools for in-depth discussions and planning. The serious business of making proper friendships doesn’t happen at the Freshers Fair, it happens later.

And that is what is happening right now.

At one time is seemed that all that time & effort seemed destined to be wasted, but thankfully I continued to have email conversations with Ryan and Gabriella Opaz at Catavino.net, and through them also began discussions with Joel Vincent of Wine Life Today.

This group is much more driven, and instead of just talking, we’ve started projects on the European Wine Bloggers Conference, the Open Wine Consortium and a few more things in the pipeline too exciting and confidential to mention just yet. These are some great tools for exploring and developing the Wine Conversation.

I have also met or am planning to meet up with several of these virtual friends, including Steve De Long, Emilio Saez, Jacob Gaffney as well as Ryan and Gabriella.

So, thanks Facebook for the party, I’ll be back again, but the place to hang out with friends is elsewhere.

* Photo Courtesy of Richard.H

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