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A rum experience at 6 am

When anyone says “I just don’t have the palate for wine” or “I can’t taste all those ‘things’ other people talk about in wine” I try to point out that we pretty much all have exactly the same ability to taste, but we all have different experiences, vocabulary and confidence.

vanilla pod in milk
Image by VannaGocaraRupa via Flickr

It isn’t that they CAN’T taste wines, they simply are not used to analysing what they are experiencing, often because they haven’t really bothered before.

It is a matter of education, not in the sense of classes and diplomas, but just taking the time to taste, and most importantly, SMELL things.

The importance of smell to the enjoyment of wine starts early.

I was reminded of this only yesterday morning. On our arrival at the airport (at 6 am after an overnight flight), a fellow passenger managed to smash a 1.5 litre bottle of dark rum he had bought Duty Free (probably for the best!).

I barely paid attention, though noticed ‘a’ smell.

My wife complained about the “smell of alcohol”

But my daughter (only 5, and rather hyper after the flight) said, “What was that Daddy? I think it was a bottle of vanilla. I used some with grandma and that’s what it smelled like. Why did he have a bottle of vanilla, Daddy”

She’s absolutely right. It DID smell of vanilla more than anything else (that she’s used to smelling).

When was the last time you took a second to ‘smell’ vanilla? I’m off to do it right now!

Let’s encourage kids to smell and discuss food, ingredients …  even wine … then hopefully we will all enjoy experiencing things more, even alcohol spillages at airports.

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Imbibe and some lessons to be learned

The recent Imbibe show was a curious demonstration of the divisions in the alcohol business, and hopefully one that will encourage things to change.


In a lightly packed Earls Court 2, Imbibe Magazine brought together players from the worlds of wine, spirits, beer (mainly from the craft world, not big brands) and a few mixed others such as Teapigs (… though strangely no coffee I could find). It was very interesting to see the effort spent not just on the exhibition, but also the 5(!) separate seminar areas.

I was only there briefly, mainly to say hello to people I know and to get to know the event. I was not disappointed in that – lots of familiar faces were among the crowd, but the crowd itself also included a lot of new faces you do not see at existing events – bar staff!

Therein lies the rub.

Bar staff do not buy alcohol for their business, but they do influence what alcohol is sold to consumers. In other words, the main behaviour that this show might influence was not the action of getting products listed in bars and restaurants, but ensuring the products are poured when they already are.

Almost all wine stands had tables around the edges of the stand, … creating a physical and psychological barrier

In the case of spirits, with lots of BIG brands with broad distribution, this is very useful. It is a chance to encourage existing customers to recall your brand and incentivise them to sell more … but that only works if the staff already know the brand and have it available to them. With tens of thousands of wines available in the UK alone, this is highly unlikely for the wine brands.

What particularly stood out for me was the difference in the approach to customers taken by the spirits brands compared to the wine stands, and it seems I was not alone in this view – even the editor of Imbibe, Chris Losh agrees (see his Just-Drinks column here)

Almost all wine exhibitors had tables around the edges of the stand, each with dozens of different wines available to taste, creating a physical and psychological barrier between taster/outside and exhibitor/inside. They probably intended this as a benefit; “Look at all my wines you can try.” Instead, it looked more like a gauntlet for any passing attendee to run.

Wine was coming across as challenging, testing and exclusive, something to be examined and learned rather than enjoyed.

On the other hand, the spirits stands were focused on many fewer products, maybe even just one. Their boundaries were open & inviting. The stands themselves included music, carpets, sofas, mock bars, tables and chairs. Attendees were invited to join in, rest and spend time experiencing the brand … and maybe also interacting with the exhibitor.

Which do you think might be the more effective of the two?

In the end, wine stands often had more staff than visitors, whilst dozens of visitors congregated in groups to chat and enjoy themselves on the spirits stands.

There will always be the issue of budgets. Spirits are products with big margins and bigger promotional budgets. They can afford to work on loyalty and relationships because they often already have distribution for their products, and drinkers expect to find the same brands in each bar. This forces new products to do the same and arrive not only with unique products, but with marketing plans and promotional budgets. It means that launching a new spirit brand is expensive, but the rewards are potentially high.

How might wine replicate some of that success?

It may be time for wine to stop trying to “educate” customers and consumers and more time entertaining and involving them.

If the Imbibe exhibition has another edition, I wonder if we will see a different approach?

Shock! Wine blog helps to sell wine

What is a “social media sale”? The answer is simple. A bottle, or more, of wine purchased where a post on a social media platform significantly influenced that behaviour. Measuring how much of this happens is another thing altogether.

Did this wine sell because of Social Media? YES! (see below)

Would a survey on “Does Social Media affect your wine buying habits?” have picked it up? I HIGHLY doubt it.

This is why I find critics of the potential of new channels to promote and help sell wine frustrating (as discussed on Rebecca Gibb’s interesting post here).

I happen to like wine (you may know that). I happen to enjoy Spanish wines (you may know that too). I like to explore the subject, and read others’ suggestions. I also respect certain writers more than others, so when they recommend something, I listen.

All these things came together when Jamie Goode recommended the “thrillingly good mencia” called El Cayado on his blog, so I set out to try and taste it.

Unfortunately for me, Oddbins is a pale imitation of its former self*. There are no shops in my part of London, and when I did make a trek to find an open shop, neither of the shops I found had even heard of it, never mind stocked it. I was out of luck. I gave up. One LOST “social media sale”.

Then a few weeks later I was on my way to a friend’s house for a BBQ and forgot to bring a bottle (it happens to the best of us). I knew there was an Oddbins around the corner so I popped in and asked the staff if they had “that new Mencia on their list?”.

“No, sorry sir” came the answer. Then I turned around and I happened to see a whole shelf of these wines. Oh dear! Almost ANOTHER lost “social media sale”.

I did pick up a bottle and gave it as a gift to my friends, along with the disclaimer that I had not tried it myself, but that it came highly recommended by someone I trust. Finally, 1 GAINED “social media sale”.

1 week later I received an email from my friend saying;

Hope you don’t mind me asking but over the weekend we opened the red wine you very kindly gave us the other week – and I have to say it was amazing. Hit all the right notes. … (we) both loved this one, wondered … where I could get a case from?”

BINGO! [Robert does a little "social media wine sales rock!" dance]

Now, if you ask my friend … “Do you use the internet to source wines?”, guess what her answer will be? No!

You tell me, can you imagine any other ways that blogs, twitter, facebook et al might also influence people directly or indirectly to buy wine? Of course you can.

Saying that it is hard to measure what effect blogs and twitter have on wine sales is one thing, saying that they don’t influence behaviour because you can’t measure it is another.

Have you got any stories of how you, or your friends, have bought (or sold) wine as a direct result of online content? Do let me know so we can help to correct this perception.

* This is true of the stock in the shops, the motivation of most of the staff I have met, and … what the hell is going on with their website? Note, for example, that this MENCIA wine is categorised as 100% Monastrell.

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On wine, football and falling down

English: Vladimir Bystrov. 2006 Russian Premie...
Image via Wikipedia

In the last few days, I’ve come to a realisation that there is something unpleasant that wine & football share, and it involves people falling over.

(Yes, this is my gratuitous World Cup post, including a tenuous, though hopefully interesting, link to wine).

I decided a long time ago, following the Heysel Stadium Disaster to be precise, that I didn’t really care for football, a.k.a. soccer (or most sports to be honest). However, I do care about sport in general, particularly with regard to making sure my kids enjoy a healthy and fun lifestyle. I do enjoy watching occasional, hopefully high quality, games at the final of big events such as Wimbledon, the Olympics and the Ryder Cup. I rarely care who wins, I just enjoy the moment, the excitement and, I hope, the spectacle of sportsmanship.

So, like I said, I don’t like football.

I did watch some of the World Cup, particularly as I had some personal stake in Spain doing well, and so I thought I would use the opportunity to let my 5 year-old daughter stay up late to watch her very first World Cup Final. What an opportunity.

What a mistake!

Fouls, dirty play, few chances and, in general, a poor showcase for the sport. She went to bed at half time excited and high on the adrenaline from the aggression rather than the quality of play.

What made it worse was the excuse by the Dutch coach saying:

“It was still our intention to play beautiful football, but we were facing a very good opponent. … We did a good job tactically on them. We got into good positions at times. It’s not our style, but you play a match to win.”

Is that what I have to tell my daughter?

It reminded me that a few days earlier we had watched 7 year old boys at her school playing football in an early morning coaching session. In the 5 minutes or so that we were there, several kids not only fell over on the ground after fairly innocuous tackles, but lay there, clutching their legs and heads in absolute agony … until it was time to take the free kick. At one point, a child literally dragged his mate off the ball by the arm, and when challenged, he uttered these words:

“But that’s what they do in football”

Who are these kids’ role models? Any guesses?*

(* If there isn’t a football equivalent of the Razzies, celebrating the most theatrical acting on the pitch, there should be)

Wine, or more generally, alcohol, suffers from a similar issue. What do kids think about wine? Where do they see it being consumed?

  • On television – only when it is a major part of a plot, usually involving a drunken adult, probably doing something inappropriate, funny or violent.
  • In the pub or at parties – when they may be invited along where adults, not necessarily their parents, are likely to get carried away.
  • On the street – and none of us like seeing that.
  • At home

If we want kids to have a healthy attitude to alcohol, we need to give them experiences and role models to use. This does not meet not drinking around children as some suggest. Don’t get DRUNK around children, but do show them how adults can enjoy their drinks responsibly.

Just as it is a shame that my daughter’s first major lesson about football was about yellow cards versus red cards, we don’t want their first lessons about alcohol to be about hangovers, aggression and car accidents. Hopefully we can be more positive.

If parents, or any of us, aren’t acting as fair role models, where else will children turn to for guidance? What you don’t want is to see your child, hanging onto his friend’s arm, falling to the ground saying:

“But that’s what they do in the pub”


For more information, please check out the campaign being run by Wine In Moderation, a pan-European programme promoting responsible and moderate wine consumption

Other references:

The Alcohol Education and Research Council: See (“Why do people drink at home? An exploration of the perceptions of adult home consumption practice“)

[still trying to find research I once saw where UK consumers placed "To get drunk" at the top of a list of "Reasons why you drink"]

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Virgin to tempt US consumers?

Virgin Wines
Image via Wikipedia

It’s a bit if speculation, but I’m guessing that Virgin Wines is about to start targeting US consumers having been built up in the UK.

Since they started they’ve always been at which, when they started (as one if the longest lasting players in this space), was sensible as country specific domains such as were still misunderstood and mistrusted.

It seems that they are transferring their existing site to the URL and asking bloggers who had included links to their old site to change all their links (a PITA for no specific reward other than doing a favour for our readers and their Google visibility).

Why would they do that? Presumably because they have separate plans for the .com URL

I have not seen any announcement about a US consumer launch, but it makes sense to expect one. It will be interesting to see how the model works in the complex US market, and what that means, also, for the UK business.

If they have a much bigger market they could end up simply sourcing more volume lines, or they could increase their buying power for more, small parcels of greater interest, we shall see.

Anyone know any more about this? Presumably someone at Virgin Wines is watching ;)

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