Archive - August, 2008

When good things come from bad

Well, another aborted attempt to soar like an eagle through the skies of London (well, more like a weather balloon than an eagle I suppose) on the Star Over London, but more on that when I’ve finally managed it – hopefully tomorrow.

As I had to come back through London, I stopped off in Spitalfields market as suggested by Eating Leeds and tikichris, to taste Sherry and Tapas. I admit, I love sherry, so I don’t need to be convinced. However, younger consumers in general are yet to be fully convinced, and words alone will not change their minds. So what will?

Well, like the recent Tapas Fantasticas event, the Sherry Institute has decided to get glasses into consumers’ hands and set up a bar in the middle of the City, in Spitalfields market.

Not only are they making it accessible, but they’ve been able to get Heston Blumenthal (yes, that chef!) involved to develop the menus.

Now, food is much trendier in many ways than wine. There are a hundred times more column inches and TV minutes dedicated to food rather than wine, and there are plenty of TV chefs, but very few TV winemakers, tasters or critics. Shame!

So, great food, good endorsement, easy to get hold of, it must be a winner, right?

Well, I must admit that although I didn’t mind having to pay to get a sample, I think that £6 is quite an investment for someone unsure about the wine in the first place. However, for my £6 I did get three samples of sherry AND 3 interesting little ‘tapas’ (not a portion most Spaniards would be accustomed to however!). There was a £3 option for a full glass of sherry as well if you wanted, and that was pretty good value compared to a local winebar.

Since the menu had to be limited (this is a tent in a middle of a square after all) and the sherry was matched to the food, the choice of sherries was limited.

The fino, I must admit was nothing special although reasonably pleasant, and I can’t say I’m a fan of Cream sherry (however good quality). Being a fan, I KNOW what I want, and that’s an aged, dry Amontillado or Oloroso, or my personal favourite, a Palo Cortado. However, the sweeter style of Oloroso that they served was very nice and I shall be looking out for this bottle again.

I congratulate the Sherry Institute for organising this event, and I wish them well. We need more people trying sherry and realising that despite the common misconceptions about sherry, and the appalling way it is often served (warm, oxidised and in tiny glasses) that it is a fabulous drink worth exploring.


It is rather last minute, but if you are around the City on Friday 15th August, check out the Sherry Bar outside Patisserie Valerie.

Oh, and if you are there in the late afternoon (after 5pm) look up in the air and I will try to wave from the Airship/Zeppelin as I fly over.

Crowdsourcing Wine

Ever heard the term “crowdsourcing“? If you haven’t check it out! It is a great idea, perfect for the “social networker” in all of us – either as a producer looking to create new products, or a consumer eager to get involved in shaping new solutions.

From Wikipedia:

Crowdsourcing is a neologism for the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people, in the form of an open call. For example, the public may be invited to develop a new technology, carry out a design task, refine an algorithm or help capture, systematize or analyze large amounts of data (see also citizen science).

The term has become popular with business authors and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals. However, both the term and its underlying business models have attracted controversy and criticism.

There are loads of examples of crowdsourcing happening around the world, taking full advantage of the benefits of social networks to get the word out, and involve lots of individuals all over the world.

I came across this example of a crowdsourced cafe today, called Elements.

Members share ideas of what to call the project, choose its logo, what to serve, why, how to communicate its values – even what those values are. All the while, this group is creating a loyal community that will hopefully turn into loyal customers in future.

So, who is doing this in wine?

You could argue that the clever chaps over at Crushpad have started this sort of thing, allowing groups of virtual winemakers to create their own wines, from choice of grapes and how to ‘make’ the wines, all the way through to packaging design.

These wines are, therefore, available only in limited quantities and are expensive. I should admit I’m involved in one Crushpad group being run by Tim Elliott but, in an example of the limitations of taking these virtual projects into the ‘real world’ it may be legally impossible, and financially impractical, for me to ever actually drink this wine!

But, are any of the big brands in the wine world working on something like this? It would seem ideal territory. Who knows, maybe we’ll hear something exciting in the not too distant future.

With thanks to Springwise for the tip about Elements

Site changes

I thought I should warn you that over the next few weeks you may see a few changes around here.

I’ve used the Blogger platform since the beginning, and I would recommend it for anyone starting out in the world of blogging, but if you want to develop your own ideas further, there are other alternatives that are more flexible.

I am working on the second generation of The Wine Conversation (with the help of some friends) and hope this will roll out in the near future.

In the interim, I may test out some ideas and features. Today’s change was the addition of Google AdSense. My intention is not to turn this blog into an advertising vehicle, but as I’m writing an article on how wine bloggers might become more professional and earn a living from this craft, I thought I’d get some first hand experience of the features and management of this now, fairly ubiquitous, solution.

Hopefully the new ideas we are working on will be of use and interest to you, so if you mainly follow me in your feed readers, do keep an eye on the site from time to time.

Wine, Sport and the Olympic Ideal

This weekend I was watching a great deal of the Olympics, as were around a billion other people. I wonder how many people were considering the link between the Olympics and Wine?

At first it seems a strange thing to compare, but on Saturday morning I turned on the television to watch the excellent BBC coverage with my daughter.

She is just over 3 and therefore this is her first Olympics. How exciting is that? Your first chance to see all these sports; these wonderful sights of humans achieving such heights of physical strength, skill and sportsmanship. What better education and model for an impressionable mind?

So what does it have to do with wine?

Well, after a bit of rowing, and her wonderment at the gymnastics, coverage turned to … boxing.

Who would want a 3 year old to watch boxing? Two men in a ring doing exactly what we tell kids not to do. “No fighting!” “No punching!” “Play nicely together!”

I almost turned the channel to watch one of the dozen channels dedicated to MORE cartoons. Then I stopped. First, I wanted to watch it (there are a couple of very good British boxers). Secondly, it is an Olympic sport too, so why should I shield my daughter from it more than any other?

It occurred to me that allowing her to watch boxing is similar to be being prepared to allow her to see me drink wine (I should point out that I am only talking of AMATEUR boxing).

Both alcohol and violence are “wrong” in a general sense, but we are talking here about a controlled, ritualised performance. Amateur boxing is not ABOUT the violence, and wine is not ABOUT the alcohol, but they are part of the package.

The boxers have spent years developing themselves physically and their skills, and the judges are not there to decide how much they hurt the other contestant, but how skillful they were at landing a punch. Of course, people do get hurt, and it does still involve pain and physical damage (no question about that), but all those involved are aware of this and have chosen to take part.

Alcohol is a damaging substance, and winemakers are “alcohol pushers” – but they are not doing this to hurt drinkers. Wine is an expression of the skill of grape growers and wine makers, and a way of experiencing this personally for those of us not directly involved in the production process.

My daughter didn’t like the boxing (naturally) and after I explained why they were doing what they were doing, she was still worried about them, but at least understood that this was friendly competition. However, so far it is one of the few sports she has seen that she doesn’t want to grow up to do (she does want to row, become a gymnast, dive, lift weights and sail).

There are those who would ban boxing just as there are those who would ban wine, or at least tax it out of existence.

Banning or hiding wine is not going to stop some people abusing much stronger and damaging alcohol any more than banning or hiding boxing will halt street violence (or worse, the horrible kinds of atrocities in Georgia/Russia/South Ossetia that I also had to explain to my daughter).

In fact, I believe that a certain amount of escapism or “letting off steam” is important to humans everywhere. Cultures that manage to find positive ways to do this through responsible consumption of alcohol, or responsible attitudes to sports are more at ease with themselves. This is one of the best things we can learn from the Olympics, as the ultimate expression of this in sport.

On that note, I was very affected by seeing two competitors sharing a hug and a kiss on the podium. One was Russian, another a Georgian. There was something very symbolic about the fact that they had been competing in a shooting discipline. There was also something symbolic about the fact that those who could take this positive, conciliatory attitude were women.

I’m glad my daughter is learning valuable lessons like that!

Making money by blogging about wine

Well, that’s a headline guaranteed to bring in the masses!

In fact it is just a tease. I’m working on an article on this topic as part of the UNconference over at the European Wine Bloggers Conference.

I have a few ideas of HOW it could happen, but I wondered if anyone had any ideas of IF this has happened?

If anyone has any concrete examples of promotions going on out there (past, present or future), I’d love to hear about them as I hope the article will act as a major discussion point for a good while.

If anyone has a blog out there who has made money, or a service they want them to know about, get in touch.

I recently came across this example from Berocca which I thought was pretty cool, even if it doesn’t pay the rent, and of course there are networks like FoodBuzz and VinoClic.

But are any wine brands, of food brands, spending their marketing budgets and arranging media placement on wine blogs?

Please let me know in the comments or by email: [email protected]

(oh, and I’m trying to keep this a Stormhoek-free discussion – we’ve all read about that one already)

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