Archive - February, 2012

The tools for wine tasting success

Circuit board of a computerIn a MASSIVE oversimplification, animated largely by its dichotomous elegance, I suggest that there are two different approaches to wine tasting & sharing the experience.

It isn’t really about palate as I believe that pretty much anyone can taste wines. It isn’t background and upbringing, although experience over time does help. In fact, I believe that there is a difference in how people’s brains work that affects how they approach wine tasting.

First, there are the those who remember things. They catalogue, analyse, store, compare, measure and digest. I like to think of this group as the “Hard Disks” of the wine trade. If you’ve been to wine events you will know the type. They taste a wine, analyse it, then are able to compare it to previous vintages (at several stages of their development), tell you how that particular year’s weather may have affected the taste profile, or how a change in the winery’s staff or processes since then might have changed the wine.

These are the type of people who believe they can objectively assess a wine on a rating scale, be it 5, 10, 20 or 100 points.

The other approach, in my black & white universe, are the “Processors“. These people do not store much information, but learn how things work, they look for connections, patterns and relationships. These people are, frankly, fairly useless when it comes to wine recommendations, assessing wine qualities and generally doing the stuff wine people do. This group are more easily swayed by interesting stories, new trends, personal interests and “entertainment”.

The wine business was built by the Hard Disks. Knowing the ‘who’ and the ‘what’ of all  the wines that mattered was not only important, but possible.

However, the massive recent rise in quality of production and international trade has made the all-knowing expert a rarity indeed. The fact that “good” wines can now come from anywhere, and that more consumers are determining what they consider “good”, means that what differentiates wines is not so much the composition of their patch of dirt, but the story around it.

What might make someone a successful wine taster today is not the ability to rate and compare a wine, but to communicate a uniqueness in a wine in a way that matters to a group of consumers. Social Media is all about that communication and interaction, and a place where “Processors” might be at an advantage.

Of course, life is not beautifully, elegantly black & white, but a swirling maelstrom of patterned greyness, where no-one is really one or the other exclusively and we all need a bit of both. I suspect that even those who reached the pinnacle of wine trade achievement, as a Master of Wine, are not one or other (but they are not necessarily both). There are not too many social goldfish or data-crunching automatons walking the aisles of wine fairs, but hopefully you will recognise a grain of truth in these caricatures.

I am definitely a Processor, in fact I suspect my own Hard Disk may actually be faulty. I fail miserably if anyone asks me for a specific wine recommendation, but I LOVE to sit with them to explore what they like, where they shop and what excites them about wine in order to give them some general buying tips that will help them in the longer run. As the old saying (sort of) goes:

Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink (wine) all day.

Which are you, Hard Disk or Processor? If you are a wine business, what are you doing to make the  most of this change? Is your communication all about the “what”, or is it about the WHYconsumers should care?

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No one wants to watch wine movies

Ok, so I got your attention. I’m sure some of you came racing over here to tell me I’m wrong. Sideways, Mondovino, A Good Year, French Kiss, and more … so many good, and not so good, films that speak of wine. I’m not here to debate the quality and accuracy of the films, but these films have something in common – story lines, emotions and entertainment.

I love wine movies. One of my favorite ways to enjoy them is curled up with my wife, sharing a bottle of good wine. By the end of the film, if the match works, the wine is often wedded with the film in such a way that when I think of one, the other is not far behind.

I say this because I don’t believe anyone, and I include myself, has EVER sat down with a bottle of wine or bowl of popcorn to watch your winery’s website video intro, the one that pops up annoyingly when I want to find something specific on your website. Your website is a tool to transfer information, not a place to hangout and watch movies. And it never will be. Your “wine movie” is not primarily about entertainment, it will not engage consumers emotionally. Let’s face it, it is not going to win an oscar or do anything to sell more of your wine. No one wants to watch these wine movies.

However, a winery can still benefit from the movies. The wine I open for a movie is often selected based on the mood of the movie, or the emotion of the evening. Romantic dramas might suggest a more elegant wine, or you might prefer a muscular Cabernet for the raw-meat of a classic Arnold Schwarzenegger movie.

I want wineries to take the “think different” challenge. Don’t plan the film that you want to make about yourself and your wines, think instead of the movies that have already been made. This weekend, for example, try those that are up for an Academy Award (Oscar). Why not tell us which of the films is the best match for your wine – then cheerlead for it? Do some wine and movie pairings, then challenge your mailing lists to offer up better suggestions then link to a place to buy films or rent them online. Maybe even offer an “Oscar pack” of wines for the winning movies. Why not?

And to all you bloggers and engaged consumers, why not challenge yourselves to a movie and wine pairing event? You can match wine and films based on mood, labels, names, styles, even by the names of the winemaker. How would YOU  go about doing this?

It’s been a while since my last movie marathon with friends, but this could be a great way to do it again. Dim the lights, make some snacks and pair some movies!

Here’s a couple to get you started from all of us at Vrazon:

  • The Iron Lady” and Blue Nun – because the once great, popular lady in blue is now a bit frayed and confused. (Robert)
  • The Crying Game”  and any good Blanc de Noir – Not everything is what it seems to be, and yet it can still stir your emotions. (Ryan)

and of course what list would be complete without…

  • Silence of the Lambs” and a Good Chianti (or Amarone, if you read the book) – No explanation needed…though choose your accompaniments carefully!

If you have any ideas, especially if you are a winery and think there is a film that expresses your wine’s personality, tell us about it in the comments below.

Cheers, Ryan

Note: The Academy Awards take place this Sunday, February 26th 2012 at 19:00 Eastern US time (02:00 Central European Time)

Here’s a list of the main category finalists to get you started:

Best Picture: The Artist, The Descendants, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, War Horse
Actor in a Leading Role: Demián Bichir, George Clooney, Jean Dujardin, Gary Oldman, Brad Pitt
Actress in a Leading Role: Glenn Close, Viola Davis, Rooney Mara, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams
Directing: The Artist, The Descendants, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, The Tree of Life

 

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Bordeaux: the biggest joke in the wine world?

Norman Wisdom Laughing

Image via Wikipedia

Something about the 2011 campaign told me that the Mea Culpas would come out this year – and I have a feeling I might be right. ‘We were arrogant,’ says Chateau Lafite MD Christophe Salin of last year’s wine pricing (and ‘timing’ – for which read ‘handling’).

And I think we can expect more of this in the run-up to the 2011 barrel tastings. Lots of hand-wringing and apologies and staunch, almost stoic, approaches to the current release. Yes, we behaved like greedy pigs, we’re sorry, we were shown the errors of our ways, now we can all look at the 2011 vintage with clean, clear, tear-dried eyes and tell the world that it needs to buy it. Fine, life as usual – only a little bit cheaper and with a bit more sober reflection.

But to those Chinese (I keep being told it was them that snapped up all the Bordeaux over the last few years but I’ll happily accept they weren’t the only dupes) and let’s also include all those billionaires, bankers and moneyed social pariahs from all continents, will you indulge me while I stick your noses in the H-word and rub you around in it?

The H-word is, of course, History. It’s out of fashion these days – and vastly underrated – but think about some of what the past now tells us:

1 - All this talk about Bordeaux En Primeur pricing reflecting the market is nonsense. If this year’s En Primeur campaign has already started with apologies, it isn’t because the Bordelais think that people will be less willing to part with stupid money for a bottle of wine, it’s because previous pricing has got them into a sticky and delayed situation. If – as lots of people used to claim – Bordeaux pricing (through the tranche system, etc.) simply adjusted to the market at the time of release, no one would be apologising and so publically self-flagellating in Bordeaux right now (see also John Kolasa’s bizarre ‘I have to follow the line’ statement – was that really passed by his bosses or was this a cry from the depths of the Bordeaux beast’s bowels?). No, this is happening because something from the past (ie. pricing policy) has come back to haunt them. Bordeaux pricing bears no reality to the real world – otherwise how could they be ‘arrogant’? And even if, in your tiny little mind, you think Bordeaux pricing reflects the market and is a perfect system, you surely must admit it’s quite clearly a very delayed system.

2 - Also think back to this time (and quite before) last year. Remember the Bordelais were already talking up the 2010 vintage. Not so this year. If one was exceptionally cynical, one might draw the conclusion that perhaps all this talk of past arrogance and inflated prices is only a ruse to sell a less-than-stellar vintage to an already bored/saturated market. But who would be so ungracious as to believe that?

3 - But it’s not just those in Bordeaux whose history we shouldn’t ignore. Look at the journalists and wine writers. They too are likely to re-hash a lot of this château-owner apologise-to-sell stuff. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of stringent opinions about past Bordeaux pricing policy come out of the woodwork over the next few weeks (to be fair to some writers, concerns were already being voiced last year). At this rate, my past writings and rants on wine-life.co.uk will soon take on what can only be called the blandness of the self-evident. But attacking Bordeaux pricing policy a few years ago felt like the occupation of a lonely and disenfranchised minority. Sure, a lot of wine writers weren’t happy with the prices many châteaux were charging, but they weren’t doing anything about it. Some were even encouraging you to buy this over-priced plonk. If these Mea Culpas from the châteaux continue, expect it to sound like wine critics were on the side of the consumer all along – that they always thought Bordeaux pricing was greedy and were doing everything in their power to tell the consumer, to let him or her know, and to fight the good fight. As I have illustrated many times on my blog before, they weren’t – and if they start to make such pronouncements, they should be held to account. At the very least, many were complicit in their silence. And if, on the back of their previous huge points and ravings, you bought several cases of greedily over-priced claret from them, pray ask yourself what you think their job is and whether you should be following them.

I don’t think we should forget this notion of using the past to inform the present (and even the future) – and I’m not talking about this kind of glossy “we were greedy last year but let’s move on and try the sensibly priced 2011″. I’m talking about actually taking some lessons from it.

Paul Pontallier said Margaux 2011 was ‘excellent’. Which is fine – he can say that and mean it at the time – (so can journalists…Parker can distribute 100 points to wines a case of which is more than many peoples’ salaries and then later – or in some cases even at the same time – tell people it’s overpriced).

But if, say, these qualifications somehow change over time, you then have to ask how much importance is to be attributed to their words in the future. I, for instance, doubt Pontallier means 2011 is ‘excellent’ like 2010 was ‘excellent’ but that’s not really the point; the point is that while we would probably forgive him if he changed his mind over the next few months, we have to then ask why we are giving his pronouncements (if they turn out to be untrue) any credence now and in the future.

Bordeaux is now basically a joke – not funny ha-ha – but a travesty of the wine world. It’s a joke that everyone bar the person who buys the wine is in on. And all it takes to realise this is a half-decent memory, a questioning nature and a look at the facts. In fact, a longer-term memory tells you that this kind of thing happens in Bordeaux in almost perfect 10 year cycles. Some more regular cycles have taken on the regularity of tradition, namely that of wine merchants ask for a reduction in Bordeaux prices in the run up to En Primeur. Strangely, though, they still put the stuff up for sale.

A final point: I can be attacked (quite fairly and justly) along the lines of not understanding that in today’s ‘western’ society what something is worth is up to the consumer (a sort of ‘if they’re rich enough and stupid enough to buy it, let them’). I have a great deal of sympathy for this line of thought. However, if you want to stop speculation (as, apparently, lots of wine lovers do) you don’t do it by thinking (or even saying) these wines are too expensive while at the same time adding to their cachet by covering them in drooling press, gushing video interviews and slapping a huge score on them. No one has the excuse to be so short-sighted anymore.

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Case Study – Social Media Works for Tea

One of the problems with the “should I use social media” discussion is that people who do not, and never will, use these tools natively are the ones making the decisions.

Digital Natives‘ are people who were born in a world where the landscape was always “digital”. If you extend this thinking you then have “social media natives”. I like to say these people are the ones who see no need for a phone book, printed map, or rolodex. I’m almost one of these. I say almost because I still find some things easier to do offline than online, but that is changing quickly.

I start with this because in my daily life, when I want to buy something or learn about something, my first stop, no matter what, is Google. I guess I can see that changing to Bing or Twitter or Facebook at some point, but the fact is that the “web” is my primary destination.

And so, my story begins.

This Christmas, my sister invited my family to stay at a rented house in the Cotswolds for a few days. Great idea! Countryside, hiking, long meals, lots of wine, … a perfect holiday. To make the holiday with family all in one house go smoothly, she gave us all small gifts to help us enjoy our stay. One of these was a not-to-be-mentioned specialty tea company’s assortment of teas. Each person received a different flavor based on their personality. A great gift, and while I wasn’t at that moment a big tea fan, the quality of these teas released a passion in me. I fell in love with them, primarily due to their freshness and quality. I was hooked, and when I got back to Spain I quickly raced to Google to help me fuel my addiction. It turns out that I was in luck as they were available to ship to Spain at a reasonable price.

One week later I was sitting at home with boxes of new teas and was ECSTATIC about beginning my reintroduction to whole-leaf teas – a reintroduction that made me realize how similar high quality teas and wines can be … but that is for another article. The point is, I immediately starting tweeting my satisfaction and including the account of the relevant company in my tweets. I sent a letter to them by email saying “thank you for your great teas”. I even went to their web2.0 website and left comments lauding the greatness of my new favorite teas!

The result: nothing. Not a single “thanks”, “good to hear”, “Happy you’re happy” or other comment. Just silence. Cue the crickets.

I was crestfallen, even heart broken. The packaging was cute, the brand adorable. Expensive, sure, but the quality was amazing. Yet they seem to be fakers in the social world, content to put up twitter and facebook logos on their sites but not ‘walking the walk’.

I considered buying from them again. The quality was great but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I simply didn’t want to support a company who didn’t appreciate me as a customer. So I returned to Google.

This time I found another company with a similar selection but a little less shiny! Less marketing and more tea. A site that was a bit clunkier, and packaging that appeared a bit dull, but they had what I wanted, so I dove in and bought a few sample packs. After selecting various kinds to see what they were like, I hit send.

And then … turn up the happy music. After only a few hours I received an email … from the owner no less. An email that said:

“Thank you for your order, it appears you have a great selection of samples. I’m going to throw in a few of my own favorites, let me know what you think!”

Yeah! I was acknowledged.

Today I received my new teas. I haven’t tasted them yet, but I have 10 new teas to try and a person who is listening to what I think. I’m pretty sure I’ll find a few that I like and I am 99% sure that I will be ordering again. They are also going to be talked about on my twitter stream, facebook page and probably over at LiquidAgnostic.com. At the very least, they are going to sell a pack of tea every month or so to me, and probably to a few of my friends & followers. The cost: 1 email.

If that’s not a killer ROI, I don’t know what is.

I’m off to boil some water.

Photo credit: Ryan Opaz

Engage or Get Out – Don’t waste your time with Social Media

So you have a Facebook page? Great! And a twitter account? Bravo! Even posted a couple of photos, maybe uploaded a video? Good for you. What?? You say you even have a blog? You’ve posted an article or two and have comments enabled? Wow, great job! You’re on your way. Now just stick in there for a few more months, or even years, and you’ll be headed in the right direction!

Today, as I wander around the internet, I see more and more blue and white icons showing up on winery websites as I poke about online. Little reminders that businesses are getting online and “engaging” the consumer. Yet today I want to call Bulls***!

Social media is “social”

Seriously, you do not get points for putting an icon on your website. You do not get credit for being ‘engaged’ because you have a Facebook page. Most of all, you do not get benefits from just pretending to play the game. Social media is about being a social being. I know it’s hard to believe but it is. It’s not just a marketing tool, it’s a way of living. It’s a change in how you think about your consumer. It’s a conversation that actually takes place online, with real people. It’s a conversation that also tends to jump offline into the real world from time to time.

If you want to use Twitter/Facebook, or even start a blog, be ready to change what you’re doing. Don’t come to me and ask “How do we keep doing what we’re doing but at the same time appear more social” because the answer is YOU CAN’T!

If you really want to use Twitter to build your brand, start asking people questions, start engaging your followers, start playing the game. Don’t bother putting up a twitter logo unless you’re going to answer anyone who sends you a tweet! It’s not worth your time, and in the end it will just make you look bad.

If you can’t respond to people who ask you questions on Twitter, or engage in conversations in your blog’s comments, the humans that use these tools will notice, and then they will ignore you. If you don’t want to engage, stick to traditional marketing. It still works, and it can work well. Stick to that, and stay there till you are ready to commit, or ready to hire someone to do it on your behalf.

Just remember that while you can still get away without the “social web” today, those days are numbered, plus the cost of catching up to others later on is getting higher. Social media engagement is at its core an investment of sweat equity. There are no silver bullets. The sooner you start, the easier it will be.  The longer you wait, the sillier you’re going to look.

Get going! Follow me: @ryanopaz – And if you don’t know how to, well then you have a lot to learn.

Ryan

Image via: Daddy Design

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