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A spot of wine relief

If you live in the UK I’m sure you’ve heard of Comic Relief. If you don’t, please forgive the eccentricities of this peculiar little country, but there are times when you just have to do something a little out of the ordinary.

Wine Relief

Comic Relief is a charity event, based around “Red Nose Day” on March 18th, that gets millions of people involved in raising money for charity, mainly through comedy and making a fool of yourself in public (those not always being the same thing). The charity supports projects in the UK and Africa mainly, and counts on the support of thousands of volunteers, and a great many celebrities.

One such ‘celebrity’ is Jancis Robinson, who with her husband Nick Lander, has helped to coordinate the wine trade’s participation in this event under the banner of “Wine Relief”. I’ve been involved in these projects in the past, including quizzes and tastings. In 2009 they raised over £880,000! I’m sure they aim to smash that this year.

I encourage all of you to make some contribution to a worthy cause if you can. The easiest way is to buy more wine. There are plenty wines to buy (with 10% of proceeds going to charity) from many retailers such as Virgin Wines, M&S, Waitrose, Majestic, Booths, Wine Rack & Laithwaites, so you can contribute at the same time as enjoying some nice wines. There are some reviews of these wines on Simon Woods’ blog already, and I hope to check a few of them out myself soon too.

I hope to take part in a BYO evening with a difference (plans being made as we speak), but check out the Facebook page for information, links to offers and events, and join in the fun, and let me know if you have plans (or better still, “Like” the Wine Relief 2011 Facebook Page and leave a note for others to see).

Jacobs Creek champions wine regions

“Jacobs Creek has almost got a responsibility, as one of the major brands out of Australia, to teach the consumer about some of the great regions within Australia” – Bernard Hickin

A refreshing point of view by Bernard Hickin, Chief Winemaker at Jacobs Creek. [apologies for the background noise, but it was busy]

I was invited to take part in a dinner at 28-50 recently, to mark the (re)launch of Jacobs Creek Reserve range as region-specific wines, which coincides well with Wine Australia‘s under-fire “A+ Australian Wine” campaign, to act as a step-up from the Jacobs Creek Classics that have been around since 1976.

The wines themselves were interesting, individual and fairly priced (at an RRP of £9.99 but presumably not immune from promotions). You can read the reports of the evening from some fellow diners such as Stuart George (Creek Mythology) and Heather Dougherty (Jacob’s Creek at 28-50) and some thoughts of mine below. Overall I thought they were good, well made wines that did show something quite different from the normal ranges we expect from bigger brands, but I also felt that they showed quite a young character and might benefit from rounding out with a little extra age as, being all under screwcap, they have obviously developed slowly.

The pricing is the issue. So many of the producers who might be used by a region to showcase the uniqueness of its style are expensive, limited production wines – as was reasonably obvious at the recent Wine Australia tasting. Great wines but hefty price tags (not helped by currency issues, of course). These may be the very best examples, but being unaffordable means that the message does not get through to consumers – who then cannot be blamed for a lack of interest or knowledge of “regionality” in a country.

This is why what Bernard Hickin said struck me. You might disagree with the marketing and promotion activities associated with big wine brands (and they don’t come much bigger than Jacobs Creek) in the supermarket channels, but if the message needs to reach a mass audience, this is an effective means of achieving it. Having a big brand strongly committed to the cause, assuming it is doing a reasonable job of presenting the regional character, benefits everyone.

I’ve always thought that regional ‘brands’ were more interesting marketing tools than varietal labelling, so I look forward to seeing how this “regional” message is received by consumers, and how winemakers across the world take advantage of this.

Tasting Notes:

Jacobs Creek Reserve Riesling 2010 (Barossa, Australia): very floral, lime, lemon and elderflower nose, and tight acidity (almost underripe fruit) but a hint of tropical fruit on the finish. Very young and crisp.

Jacobs Creek Reserve Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Adelaide Hills, Australia): strong passion fruit, not grassy, and mango skin aromas. The palate was tropical, but not overly ripe. Might need to round out a little

Jacobs Creek Reserve Chardonnay 2010 (Adelaide Hills, Australia): very ripe apricot and citrus nose, but on the palate there is a lot of weight and texture from the lees ageing (but not heavy oak). Well rounded and drinkable, but will it convert Chardonnay-sceptics?

Jacobs Creek Reserve Pinot Noir 2009 (Adelaide Hills, Australia): baked strawberry nose, opening to black cherry. The palate has some more herbal, almost eucalyptus notes (not expected) and high acidity. Lighter and more delicate than I might have expected, maybe trying too hard to avoid “over-ripeness” tag?

Jacobs Creek Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 (Coonawara, Australia): Black fruit, but also some (green) pepper and that eucalyptus, minty notes associated with the region. Big texture. You can almost feel as well as taste the thicker skins. Pepper spice on finish masking the fruit a touch. Young but very nice.

Jacobs Creek Reserve Shiraz 2007 (Barossa, Australia): A (pleasant) burnt match, fruitcake nose. Some spicy, candied fruit but also a hint of spirit despite not being too alcoholic. Tons of acidity to accompany the fruit, so it never strays towards jammyness. Pleasant finish, but young.

Update: 17/2/2011 – minor updates to correct factual errors in the tasting notes

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Born Digital for the best online wine content

What was the best wine article or video that you read in 2010? For many people, the answer is probably something the rest of us have never heard about. It might have escaped our attention, it might have been by someone who doesn’t publish that regularly, or more likely, it was written in a language we do not speak.

Some writers or creators of video, audio, photography and other media, are consistently good. They might get noticed for their overall contribution – such as blog awards that take into account an entire blog’s output over a year. They deserve these awards for their great efforts, but few of us are sufficiently dedicated to compete with them, and even these awards are often limited to single languages or countries.

Unfortunately that means that some of the best content is lost or ignored.

So Gabriella, Ryan and I decided to do something about it, and it took quite a while to work out how we would do it.

If you follow the various projects I am involved in, you may have heard of the Born Digital Wine Awards (or #bdwa). These awards recognise individual pieces of work about wine (initially for articles or videos but we are looking to expand into audio and photography next year) in ANY language, that were specifically created for online publication. We want to showcase the best stuff, wherever it was published, on its own merits (i.e not only if you happened to publish 51 other posts that year), and promote those who are doing something that benefits lots of wine lovers around the world by being available online, hopefully, but not exclusively, free to all.

As well as getting a broader audience for this material, there are great prizes which will include a substantial cash prize for the winners in each category and valuable runner-up prizes too.

SUBMIT YOUR BEST STUFF

This is NOT a popularity contest with votes and canvassing that favours established bloggers. This is a contest for the content creators and so it needs the authors to submit up to 3 of their own articles. If this is YOU, then submit your articles STRAIGHT AWAY as the deadline is 28 February 2011. You cannot nominate others, but we strongly encourage you to dig out your favourites from 2010 and leave them comments, or send them emails, to tell them to participate.

Visit the awards site to read all about the award categories, and the illustrious judging panel (that does not include us), and PLEASE enter your favourite materials. We have already received a great many entries in at least half a dozen different languages, but we’d love to see as many as we can in this launch year.

We hope that by this time next year we will have helped wine lovers to find a treasure trove of new wine content, and be building a way to incentivise, and reward, those who are building and sharing the online wine culture.

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Wine research through a distorted lens

Last week, an organisation called Wine Intelligence put out a press release concerning the apparent lack of trust consumers had in wine bloggers. I can only imagine it was intended to bait bloggers and commentators into some sort of argument to create headlines.

Ryan Opaz and I talked about it and found there were simply too many questions raised not to comment on it. We’re not sure how else to explain some of the conclusions from an organisation that is trying to sell a research report “worth” £1,300.

A clipboard

Image via Wikipedia

Let me start with the headline:

Independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the UK, USA and France, according to research published today, despite the growing importance of the Internet as a source of information about wine.

A headline worthy of tabloid newspapers, or even untrustworthy “independent bloggers”. Hardly the sort of interpretation that would make me trust an organisation that wants to sell me their analysis of the state of the wine “internet and social media”.

Who are these “independent bloggers”?

There is no explanation. Does it include blogs written by the same merchants that the “regular wine drinkers” apparently trust so much? What about the blogs published unofficially by their staff? What about the many blogs published by wine magazines, journalists, importers, wineries, and even research organisations? What about blogging wine personalities like Jancis Robinson, Tim Atkin, Alder Yarrow, Dr. Vino and others? No?

I’d love to see the definition, and the carefully vetted segmentation applied to the 1000+ worldwide wine blogs covered by this statement.

Maybe it is just intended to capture all those individuals who don’t happen to work in the wine business, have not gone through standardised wine trade education schemes, and happen to be writing about wine for their own entertainment and education? The folks who have no “borrowed’ trust and must establish themselves individually. In which case they seem to be doing pretty well to be considered at all and we should salute them!

If that is how they define bloggers then they must realize that these blogs are word-of-mouth amplified by technology platforms, and as such they are trusted by certain very important people – their friends.

What do you mean by “least trusted”?

According to the research, focusing on the UK for now;

1 in 5 regular wine drinkers in the UK trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with the 50%+ who trust what they hear over the counter in a wine merchant.

AND

… just under half the wine drinking populations in [the UK and France use] the Internet for wine information and 16% using social media.

Let’s examine this.

If 16% of all regular wine drinkers “use social media,” they presumably mean that they are on Facebook, Twitter and (whisper it) read blogs. Let’s make the outrageous assumption that you can only trust, or not trust, something you have actually “used” – otherwise the view is not an informed one. The report is supposed to be about the sources of wine information, not the public perception of blogging as this would apply equally to anyone involved in it, not just the poor old “independent” ones.

I’d venture that the numerical similarity of “16%” and “1 in 5″ means that bloggers might actually be trusted by the VAST majority of those who have bothered to check them out.

In fact, even the headline 20% figure means that a great many wine consumers DO have some trust in bloggers, and if you were to look at particular segments of the population who are heavy social media users, you might even find that they are a MAJOR source of trust. Why be negative about something so new and still developing?

Isn’t it actually more shocking that consumers think that 50% of wine shops are lying to our FACES? Bloggers are publishing stuff for lots of strangers to read/watch/hear that they may never meet. These merchants on the other hand are on the other side of the counter, and half of what they say is either wrong or are lies! Apparently.

Market differences

In the USA, websites run by wine shops, newspapers and smaller wine producers are the most used online sources, while supermarket websites rank below Facebook as a source of wine information. The UK tells a different story with supermarket websites proving the most popular online source, whilst in France the brand or producer websites are the most important destinations for consumers seeking knowledge

Does this shock anyone? In the US the vast majority of wine is sold by merchants and wineries, virtually none in supermarkets. The UK market is reversed. The only shock would be that people didn’t trust the people selling them the wine – oh, wait, we did discover that above, but we prefer to bash bloggers.

We considered ignoring the release, but one or two industry news sources decided to pick up on the story and as these things can easily become “fact” (interestingly a criticism usually aimed at bloggers), we felt it might be worth pointing out some of the flaws in the argument for the record.

I’m only able to base my response to the press release, there’s no way I am paying £1,300 for a research report (especially one that promotes itself with inflammatory headlines), so I suspect that SOME of these points may be addressed in the detail. If so, I look forward to hearing from anyone who has read it, … if they bother reading any wine blogs.

Oh! One final irony …

This Wine Intelligence press release, and other reports, were published on a WordPress blog platform! If  the market doesn’t trust bloggers, by extension should we not be trusting this report?

:)

Robert McIntosh and Ryan Opaz

UPDATE: 07 Feb 2011:

Thank you to everyone for your comments, discussion points and feedback, we really appreciate it. Ultimately, the argument is not about research or how to write a press release, it is about perception of social media opportunities. I feel strongly that while other industries are adapting to take advantage of new ways of reaching customers, the wine trade will miss out if they don’t take it more seriously.

Separately, you might like to check out some of the articles that came out since we posted this, including a riposte by Wine Intelligence and some comments from a US perspective including some good research by @winewonkette

Wine Intelligence: Bloggers Bite Back
Vinography: Why trust a wine blogger
Another Wine Blog: Wine Intelligence admits Bias, Ulterior Motives in “Wine Blogger Distrust” Release

There will also be something in the printed edition (and hopefully online) of Harpers this week (10 Feb 2011) as I was asked for a small contribution to the debate.

Related articles

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Facebook Deals with Wine

Another week, another bit of our world is touched by Facebook, as Facebook Deals launches in the UK as well as in Germany, France, Italy and Spain.

kid in a candy shop.
Image by rhoadeecha via Flickr

Facebook launched Facebook Places in the UK a few months ago but if you’ve never heard of it, I’m not TOO surprised. It followed the path of two much more focused players in the location-game – Foursquare and Gowalla. These two, particularly Foursquare, have been very successful social networks for users of smartphones with GPS, such as iPhones and Android devices, that allowed people not only to chat to friends, but also let them know WHERE they were.

HIDE AND SEEK

If you are not already involved, it sounds creepy. It can be! But then remind yourself that so did blogging, Twitter and Facebook itself until you became involved (as I guess you will have by now). Negative, pleaserobme games aside, these location based services offered several benefits:

  • USERS could add SPECIFIC location information to their messages to friends. When you “check-in” you are not just broadcasting a location, you are adding location information to a message. Subtle, but important difference
  • FANS could share their favourite locations, or those that they discovered, with more people in order to promote the location – doing a free marketing ‘favour’ for the location
  • BUSINESSES could reward fans by offering them discounts for their loyalty and for sharing the information with their friends
  • BUSINESSES could also gather information on who was visiting and when, what they liked/disliked and what they were interested in, in order to improve their services

Remember, you can check in and NOT broadcast every single one to the world on twitter – only do so if it adds value to the conversation!

My favourite places to check in are local shops (I want to promote local business), the better restaurants and bars I go to that have good food and wine (because that’s what a lot of my followers are interested in) and unusual locations I end up around the world. I also like to check in (and not broadcast it though twitter) in places where I might have the time to meet up with other friends also checking in – airports, events, hotels, etc.

SHOW ME THE MONEY

When Facebook arrived, it seemed natural to add these activities to the list of things you share on Facebook, but there is so much there already it got rather lost (and was never as engaging). So why would users it on Facebook instead, … and why bother trying to use more than one network?

Gowalla offers regular users virtual “items”, “pins” and “stamps” to collect. Foursquare trumped this with “Mayorships” and then moved into location- & mayorship-based special offers.

Facebook needed to do something to incentivise users to switch, and instead of building something “better” they’ve decided to appeal to our love of free stuff.

The new service, Facebook Deals adds offers to this “check in” service, and they’ve negotiated deals with Starbucks, Yo Sushi and others for the launch.

LETS SHARE SOME WINE, HERE

I encourage businesses involved in wine to take part.

  • It helps your regular customers, who obviously appreciate you, to share information about you with their friends
  • You can reward them in some way, even if it is just a personal “thank you” for this word of mouth marketing
  • You can learn more about your customers to improve your own range of wine, your events and especially your communication
  • Producers can become engaged and learn where their wines are being sold & consumed

So what will be the first wine based offer in the UK? I’m guessing it will either be a big brand that is aware enough of these opportunities and has the deep pockets and distribution in place to do something worthwhile OR it will be a small deal by a small group of locations that can move a lot faster, such as a small chain of restaurants (any takers?). I look forward to seeing who gets in there first.

Wine offers and discounts have been the supermarket’s bait for so long that consumers are already used to thinking of wine as something to look out for only when discounted, so I would not be surprised to see it.

DEAL OR NO DEAL?

What I find worrying is that if Facebook Deals succeeds it will probably kill off the early movers which will also end the altruistic value exchange which was, for some of us at least, the best bit of these services. “Why bother checking in if they’re not offering me a deal?”

It’s the UK supermarket muscle game all over again.

They tell us “it what the consumer wants”, but when they kill off all the alternatives, we don’t really have a choice.

I think I shall hold off taking part, personally, until I see how they develop it. How about you?

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