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Reaching out from the wine bubble

In the beginning there’s an idea. That idea creates a comment. That comment spawns a reaction, and eventually a conversation emerges. All is well with the world, and the idea spreads.

Bubble fun

After a while, the subjects have all been agreed, the channels of communication established, and the terms of reference accepted. The conversation gains lots of participants, but the range of the discussion doesn’t evolve.

Welcome to the bubble!

The wine bubble is already here! Fruit laden wine reviews. Points scoring. Winery histories, with “passionate” winemakers, “carefully selected” grapes, vineyards in “unique terroirs” and their “hand made” wines. There is a lot yet to be documented and recorded, and yet how much of it is new, and how much of it means anything to those who are on the sidelines of the conversation, or outside the bubble?

The wine conversation inside the bubble is necessary. We need enthusiastic analysis of the hundreds of thousands of wineries and literally millions of individual wines. However, we musn’t kid ourselves that any of this is really relevant to the ‘real’ world – the average wine consumer, or further still, the non-consumer.

I’d like to try and reach out, dedicate a part of the effort on my reinvigorated blog, The Wine Conversation, to exploring wine BEYOND the bubble.

What does wine mean to those who inhabit very different bubbles (after all, we all belong to various bubbles of some sort)? Film buffs. Knitters. History experts. Music fans. Photographers. Sports fans.
Gardeners. Travel writers. In short, to most of our friends who do not quite (yet) understand our fascination with all things vinous?

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but saved it for the new blog (good excuse!). I hope to go out and speak to these non-wine bloggers about wine, and see what it REALLY means to them. Should be fun!

The majority will be my thoughts on wine, in particular wine marketing and wine innovations. I’ll try and find new and interesting places where the wine conversation may have reached. I will also rant and rave against mindless legislation and bureaucratic idiocies, but I hope you’ll indulge me in this.

If there are things you think ought to be explored here, do leave me a comment or send me an email – I will do my utmost to respond.

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New location, same conversation

Well, here it is! I’ve been meaning to do something to refresh the look and feel, and to implement a few new ideas for my blog for some time. Somehow, life, work and sleep always seemed to get in the way (not to mention wine), so it never happened.

Rioja Autumn Sun

Then I decided to let the experts (Catavino Marketing, whose internet marketing for bodegas, not to mention their expertise and love of Spanish and Portuguese wines have made them well known to all in the vinous blogosphere) take over and do the hard work for me! Result!

I hope you like the technical results – now I must make it worthwhile with some renewed vigour on the content front. If you have any thoughts, comments, suggestions or congratulations, please do let me know in the comments – you’ll see we’ve implemented the Disqus plugin and have even more ideas we are working on for this for a future release.

At the moment, those who follow me as thirstforwine on Twitter will know that I am travelling in Rioja, so chances to blog in general about wine are few and far between. I should, however, be able to write a few more posts for my other blog at about Rioja wine and travel (at some stage).

One thing I will definitely be posting about is a UK/European event for Twitter Taste Live to take place in November. I have some great ideas and lots of people interested in helping out, so I will post about that here very soon.

In the meantime, you could do a lot worse tonight than to open a bottle of Rioja (any bottle) and consider the answer to the question I was asked by a visitor only two days ago:

“So, what makes Rioja different from other wines?”

I know my view, but considering how much we drink of the stuff in the UK and around the world, there must be a general sense out there about why we like it so much. What’s your take? Leave me a brief comment.

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And the beat goes on

It has been an embarrassingly long break between posts recently for someone who helped to organise a Bloggers’ Conference, but that’s the price you pay for getting involved in so many exciting projects.

In fact there are so many, I’m finding it hard to focus on all the opportunities out there, so let me give you a little run down of what is afoot:

1. Tonight (18 September, 2008 for future reference) is the 3rd edition of Twitter Taste Live, the coordinated tasting of wines by wine lovers across the world. Unfortunately this month is a little less coordinated due to the sad reality that we do not all have access to the same wines as everyone else. Tonight the event celebrates the wines of Michel-Schlumberger that are unfortunately rarely exported, so those of us not in the US will merely be peeking in the window of tonight’s event …

2. Which brings me to the next project which is to create a version of this event more suited to the UK and European audience, possibly involving starting earlier and maybe even different wines. I am in talks with some very exciting potential partners, so sign up to the event site and keep an eye on this site

3. Another good reason for the delay in posting is that I’m working on the transfer (at last) of this blog to a new platform. This will inevitably mean headaches for me, broken links for you, and tumbling technorati ratings, but I hope to keep these all to a minimum with help from my friends’ blog marketing expertise. However, the result will be a more exciting blog with the flexibility to put in place even more features. Did I mention you need to keep an eye on this blog?

4. I’m off to spend a few weeks in Rioja for vintage, and hope to have LOTS of information on the vintage there, and ideas from the people I meet. This time you can keep an eye on this blog AND my Rioja specific blog (sadly neglected of late too)

5. Later in the year I will be helping to run a series of wine tasting events … with a social media twist. I have made some very interesting new friends in the last few months that have opened up my eyes to quite how many exciting things are happening online in London and around the UK (check out Qype, Unchained Guide, TrustedPlaces and more) – and things we can probably take around the world too, so my head is buzzing with ideas. Erm, … check this blog!

6. Some older friends of mine (sorry guys, I mean I’ve know you longer) have just launched an exciting new site called The Wine Gang. I want to give it a proper review and share my thoughts on it, … you know what’s coming next, so I’ll not bother saying it again.

I could go on, but I’ve probably lost you by now anyway as you know you’ll just be coming back again soon anyway.

Exciting, and busy times.

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The Beer Conversation

I hope you will indulge me and allow me to change the regular subject away from wine for a short while.

The subject today is beer. To be specific, it is Stella Artois and their marketing and PR activities. THIS is what I was inspired by!

I did not set out to think about beer marketing, but I had been trying to get along to a regular London Bloggers get-together for many months and I had failed 7 times already (that’s almost a year of events) so I made a special effort for the summer party.

To help celebrate the event, Stella Artois made the brave, and far-sighted in my opinion, decision to sponsor the event. Not only did they pay for drinks, but they also offered a quite unique prize – a trip for up to 6 bloggers in their Star Over London airship (or zeppelin) as seen above. Each of these seats cost up to £360, so it was no small prize!

Stella Artois managed to tie in this prize to their sponsorship of “Love Your Local“, a campaign they are supporting to highlight pubs that are at the heart of their community. To win the bloggers’ prize we had to describe what we liked about our favourite local. I happen to have a great local pub (The Honor Oak), so it was no effort to write about them – and it so happens that I won one of the prizes.

[You can see my pictures here]

I also discovered that, as well as their long-standing and well regarded television commercials, they have a new interactive site with a game and other goodies (not sure about the game – it looks wonderful, but is it a game or a movie?) that includes a great collection and presentation of their adverts (I think these are the cinema-length versions).

It is a sign of a good campaign that you can conduct several different activities but still manage to tie them together, keeping the brand profile high.

Stella Artois emerges as a well recognised brand that cleverly manages to sell itself as a “premium” brand whilst still managing to compete on the mass market in pubs and supermarkets (i.e. it still discounts!). As far as wine is concerned, only champagne has managed to achieve this.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a similar branding concept in the wine business?

There are many reasons you won’t see a wine brand pay to brand a zeppelin or shoot some of the most beautiful cinematic ads, chief of which is that none can afford it, but the impressive link up between the promotions, and the single-minded (although no longer “Reassuringly Expensive”) and cleverly humorous presentation is something that would be wonderful to see.

[I ought to point out that Stella Artois is not immune from criticism either, with regard to its branding, but I don't think it negates the point that wine brands who want to succeed, as well as surviving for somewhere between 82 and 642 years, can learn from this sort of consistent branding]

Lots of Wine Conversation at the EWBC

There is a LOT I need to think about, do and write about following the success of the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) this weekend – so much so that I have neglected to put up a post on this blog since my return, which rather misses the point!

So, what does the EWBC mean for The Wine Conversation? Here are some very early thoughts:

  • The wine conversation needs to be less insular. We talk about wines we know and have access to, but there is so much more to learn and experience. We need to find ways to broaden our horizons, and listening to wine lovers from other countries is a great place to start
  • Wine bloggers are as diverse as wine drinkers. Very few of us are doing the same as one another (wineries, marketing, tastings and more), which gives great scope for sharing ideas for conversations and exploring our different takes on them. We should find out what readers want to know more about and explore it together and maybe get debates going
  • Let’s stop being too introspective (says a great offender) and be more innovative, particularly with media. Enjoying wine is NOT all about tasting notes and points systems. We need more video, audio, imagery and other creative content
  • Honesty is not just the best policy, but essential to the trust bloggers need to build credibility. This doesn’t come from Codes of Conduct or Terms & Conditions, but from action. Let’s get on with doing the kinds of things that will really surprise and delight readers (like winery bloggers sharing details of the harvest and even tasting each others wines – coming soon!)
  • Wine brings people together. Naturally. We must continue to get across that drinking and enjoying wine is more than getting drunk and avoid playing into the hands of those who would kill off the wine culture

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