Archive - July, 2009

Interactive wine tasting

TwitCam Wine Tasting

TwitCam Wine Tasting

I was playing with a new service on twitter call TwitCam that allows you to create a video broadcast and then let people know, and chat, via Twitter.

It was fun broadcasting a wine tasting LIVE.

My first video was meant only as a response to a question, but it encouraged some feedback from others who tried to interact, so I thought I would do another and ask for interaction. I decided to run a wine tasting, not as a “presentation” (as most wine videos are), but as an interactive event, getting guesses on the wine from participants – a double blind tasting*.

The results can now be seen on the archived video here (or click on the image). I am not embedding it here as it starts playing automatically, which can get annoying.

We are only just starting to explore the possibilities of  bringing together different services such as twitter, blogging, video and audio. This is what can make communication and learning fun. Not just for wine, but in many fields. It is not a lecture, but a way to reach out to a lot more people around the globe and make friends.

If you participated or left comments later, thank you so much! I had great fun. So much so I’m planning on doing it again next week.

See you Thursday, 6th of August at 16:00 UK time (please check what that would be for you).

* a tasting where one person has to guess the wine based only from another person’s notes – who themselves doesn’t know what the wine is. Except I did. Hard to hide it from yourself really.

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Immersed in wine video

My friend Christian Payne (aka @Documentally) has introduced me to lots of amazing technologies, especially opening my eyes to video, and this morning he pointed me to an incredible use of video technology to “immerse” the viewer in the action – yellowBird :: with the longest URL I have ever seen:

http://www.yellowbirdsdonthavewingsbuttheyflytomakeyouexperiencea3dreality.com

This technology (compared to the Google StreetView Car approach) uses multiple cameras to capture the action in all directions at the same time, merges them and then you can then change your viewpoint as you watch. Watch the video below and have a play – then imagine this as a tool for capturing the reality of harvest and the atmosphere of the winery. How much more would consumers understand about wine?

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Coffee and wine

A Starbucks coffee shop in Leeds, United Kingdom
Image via Wikipedia

It seems that Starbucks is about to start selling wine and beer alongside its coffee in New York Seattle.

Is this a victory for common sense and the treatment of the public as responsible adults, or something else? Sadly, it is probably 99% something else: financial self-interest.

Starbucks are in a whole heap of financial trouble and looking for ways to turn around the business. Their coffee brand has lost much of its lustre and now they have too many outlets selling too little coffee to keep shareholders happy (never mind all the jobs they provide). So, a new model is to be found.

Is the idea of alcohol served in a coffee led retail space revolutionary? Not at all if you have ever visited France, Italy, Spain and pretty much all of Continental Europe. Unfortunately it says a lot that this is not the norm in the US, or in the UK.

It worries me though, not because of what they are doing, but because of why they are doing it.

This will be one of the first experiments on liberalising the straightjacket of alcohol licensing in the UK and US, and as such it will be watched carefully and treated as a case study. If it were to be done properly, the staff in the local area would select suitable drinks for their clientelle, one they had a relationship with, to ensure they were selecting the mix that would be right. In practice it will be treated as an auction with the biggest brands bidding to be listed and ‘marketed’, and there is every chance the customers will not be interested.

Will that do anything for Starbucks?

Maybe in the short term, but if it is a failure in the medium to long term, it will not only be bad for Starbucks, it will make it that much harder for any well intentioned cafe owner doing it properly.

I must say I am very pessimistic about it working in the UK if all else stays the same.

If you like good coffee, like me, you will realise that the very robotic uniformity and ‘global solution’ approach to serving coffee that is killing Starbucks’ coffee brand is total anathema to the real world of wine and beer.

Dear Starbucks, don’t you realise we are laughing and crying when you say:

“We’ll be equally as proud of our beer and wine as we are of our coffee,”

PLEASE do this properly, or not at all!

Oh, and by the way, I’m available at reasonable rates to advise on implementing this in the UK, and while you are at it, I have an idea that will REALLY change the business – feel free to ask :)

Update: if you are interested in these two subjects you might also want to check out: http://coffeelikewine.blogspot.com/

Further Update (23:34): In case you didn’t decide to follow the link in the first paragraph, and have not read this story elsewhere, Starbucks is trialling this coffee + wine + beer concept in only 1 store in Seattle to be called “15th Ave. Coffee and Tea inspired by Starbucks” (except missing the inspiration bit in the name). This is not (yet) an announcement that they will do the same in the main Starbucks branded outlets.

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Glorified Farming

SpoiledI was reminded of an important lesson in the wine business. Nature is in charge!

My family was given a present of the rental of a cherry tree (through a scheme with an orchard in Kent) where we can come down and pick all the cherries when ripe in exchange for paying for the upkeep of the plant in advance.

Two weeks ago, when a different variety of cherry was ripe and ready to pick, all was well. Unfortunately, a combination of rain and warm weather over the last week has meant that when our tree was due to be picked, mould had set in.

When we finally made it to our tree, for a family picking day with a picnic, I would estimate that 60-70% of the cherries were already affected by over-ripeness, mould or insect spoilage. Not fun. however, the truth is that a well managed cherry tree produces so much fruit that the little we collected was a LOT more than we need, so it was fine.

But, that’s not the end of the story.

We don’t mind. We don’t live off cherries (although my daughter would be happy to try). We only had 1 tree in an orchard of many thousand. But many of them were similarly affected. This farmer had been clever enough to shift the risk on to us by “renting” us the tree, but imagine if he had not. He would have had to sell the cherries themselves, and in that case 70% of his annual income might be lost due to bad weather.

This is the same for grape growers. Sometimes it doesn’t matter what effort, skill or investment you put into your vineyards, Nature is in charge. A single hailstorm, an unseasonal shower or two, or winds at the wrong time of year can ruin the entire crop. You would have nothing to show for your efforts at the end of the year.

As much as we develop the technology in the winery to make clean, reliable and safe wines, we are  TOTALLY dependent on Nature delivering us the grapes to make wine from, and if something goes wrong, there is no Plan B.

I often remind people that wine making is really just glorified farming. Today, I reminded myself too!

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Malo what?

Do you know what Malolactic Fermentation is?

If you do, you are probably amongst the tiny, miniscule, one-bubble-out-of-a-bottle-of-champagne’s-worth fraction of people in this country, including most wine lovers, that do. Congratulations!

In that case, I wonder whether this advert by Champagne brand Lanson that I saw this week on the London Underground is for you? It is certainly not for the average Champagne drinker and wine consumer.

Lanson Advert

Lanson Advert

The full text of the advert is:

“Since 1760, we’ve crafted Champagne the traditional way, choosing to avoid malolactic fermentation and insisting on 3 years’ cellar ageing. What emerges is an uplifting, crisp and fresh tasting Champagne with an exceptional purity of fruit.”

Does anyone in the wine business believe that consumers on the underground care all that much about the conversion of Malic Acid into Lactic Acid? I’m afraid that at best this advert was a bit of a waste of money for a good Champagne house, but at worst it confirmed that Champagne (and wine in general) is for snobs that know words like “malolactic fermentation”, “cellar ageing” and “purity of fruit”.

C’mon Lanson! Please use your undoubtedly strong brand, and your marketing budget, to do something a bit better and encourage the wine conversation. Oh, and while you are at it, you might like to improve your website – THAT is where you can reach out to wine experts and provide details of your winemaking.

Now, I wonder if there’s a name for the process of converting harsh, unapproachable advertising into well-rounded, consumer friendly material instead?

UPDATE 13:39 10/07/09: It occurs to me that really this is a classic error of selling Features not Benefits (loads of articles if you search, but this is a good one on selling the zaz.

COMMENTS: Thanks to all those who have commented on Facebook and on Twitter – it would be nice to pull some of that discussion together here too. Anyone?

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