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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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New list of UK wine blogs

Wine Blogger

Wine Blogger

I am starting my research to create a better list of all UK Wine Blogs, and eventually hope to include the Irish too. I posted my original list last year and I’ve found it a useful reference as I don’t know of many other such lists out there.

I hope it will be a useful resource for readers and those who want to engage with UK & Irish wine bloggers. I also plan to use it to meet new wine bloggers, maybe find out more about what makes them tick and what they hope to achieve. I might even publish some of this as interviews on this site.

Please take a look at the re-published, but as yet not updated, list which I have put together on a new static page on this site, entitled (funnily enough) Wine Blogs.

I know there is a lot of outdated information and many missing blogs. Leave me a comment here (the comments on the page aren’t working in this template) and I’ll use that to update the list. Feel free to leave me links to your blogs or maybe links to others that you read.

I particularly want to hear any ideas on how to break up the list into categories.

Oh, and if you are looking for a more general list of wine blogs around the world, you should check out

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New Wikio ranking for wine and beer

Drive By: Liquor, Wine, Beer
Image by karmablue via Flickr

Gastronomes no more, it seems wine and beer bloggers have something to cheer and cry over at the same time.

Starting this month (July 2009), Wikio, the news site, has decided to split its previous ranking of top “Gastronomy” blogs into separate food and wine & beer rankings. It means it will be easier to spot closely related blogs, but I must admit some fondness for the previous practice that helped to bring food & wine (& beer) blogs together where they should be (see a previous post here).

So, without further ado, here is advanced notice of the top 25 Wine & Beer blogs in the UK & Ireland for July, but remember to read on below for some thoughts and Wikio’s answers to some of my questions:

1 Spittoon
2 Brew Wales
3 Pete Brown’s Blog
4 jamie goode’s wine blog
5 The Wine Conversation
6 Stonch’s Beer Blog
7 Tandleman’s Beer Blog
8 Pencil & Spoon
9 Sour Grapes
10 Bubble Brothers
11 Bibendum Wine
12 Bordeaux-Undiscovered
13 Drinking Outside The Box
14 Bordoverview Blog
15 Tyson’s Beer Blog
16 Robert Francis Wine
17 Irish Wine Contemplations
18 Barry’s Wine Notes & Memories
19 Burgundy-Report
20 Taking the beard out of beer!

Ranking by Wikio.

First to some initial thoughts & reactions:

  • Wine 13: Beer 7 (not a bad balance)
  • There are at least 3 “merchants” represented in this list. These businesses have achieved a respectable balance of selling their own products and providing interesting and useful content, making them amongst the top wine and beer blogs. Well done folks!
  • Several of these blogs in wine and beer are written not just by enthusiasts, but by journalists and authors with traditional media credentials (Jamie Goode, Simon Woods, Peter Brown, Tandleman and Melissa Cole). The cross over to new media channels will hopefully be good for them, for the quality of content in the blogosphere and certainly for readers everywhere.
  • Now that food blogs have been taken out, we are left with just one female voice in this ranking, Melissa Cole at Take the Beard out of Beer! (what’s wrong with beards anyway?). That seems a little unbalanced.

If you’ve any more thoughts on the table, do let me know. Congratulations to those who figure in this launch report.

A Wikio Q&A:

So, what do I make of it in general? I had a few questions going round my head, so I sent them to Wikio, and here are some answers:

Q1: What is the most important factor in assessing a blog’s “Ranking”? Traffic? Links? Subscribers? What sort of things should bloggers focus on to raise their profile?

For our ranking the position of a blog depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. We count dynamic links, which means backlinks or links found within articles. So blogrolls and the like are not taken into account. Also the weight of any given link increases according to how recently it was published. The weight of a link also depends on the linking blog’s position in the Wikio ranking.

I must admit I think that link measures might be a little “self-serving”, indicating what other bloggers are reading, not what the readers are actually looking for, but I understand that as a machine-measures it works to some extent (it is important to Google for example).

In terms of raising your blog’s profile, therefore, it is more effective to be noticed by other bloggers, by leaving comments on their blogs, contacting them, working with them, etc. rather than employing traditional marketing techniques to build readership. Ultimately, if your content is good, I expect other bloggers will link to it anyway, but it does make you realise that ranking is still a schoolyard “popularity” contest to some extent.

Q2: How do you measure subscriber data? Is this not biased by including feeds to other networking sites (e.g. friendfeed)?

We do not measure subscriber data or traffic, just incoming links. We chose this as a means of measuring the most well-referenced blogs rather than necessarily the most widely read. Bloggers know the other blogs and discussions in their sphere of interest better than anyone, so a link from a fellow blogger is, we feel, a strong endorsement.

Again, it is a shame that ‘real’ indicators cannot be used for ranking. A blog’s subscribers and their loyalty over time, would be very strong measures of how ‘good’ a website really was at delivering value to its readers rather than how good it was at including content others might link to. However, I do prefer that it is not included until a reliable and accurate way is found to gather the same information for all blogs.

Q3: Does including a weighting for links from other top blogs not entrench a hierarchy and act as a barrier to new blogs?

Well it is not the case that a link from the blog in 4th place is worth more than the one in 5th place. Just that one from a blog in the Top 100 is worth more than one from 101st – 1000th. So the degree to which this affects the rankings is actually quite low, and is more intended to combat spam at the lower end.

The idea behind this more general principle is just that blogs that are higher up are generally more active and are more likely to have a better acquaintance with the subject matter, so they are more likely to link to things that are worthwhile. But as I said in practice this weighting does not make a huge difference and is actually pretty light. And it only takes effect on the first 100, then the next 900, then the next 9000 blogs etc.

What is more important and accorded a more calculated weighting is how recent an incoming link is.

I understand the need to filter out the spammers and aggregators. I still think that valuing a link from a subset of blogs creates an in-crowd that does work, in some way, to keep others out, but if the weighting is low, I suppose the overall effect will be minimal. I’d also like to see how well that system works as I have found sites like technorati to offer questionable statistics these days that vary from one week to the next.

Q4: Who really cares about rankings? Does it add value for bloggers or readers, or just drive even more traffic to those who are already successful? Is this just about vanity for bloggers?

The aim of the rankings is more just to provide an easy way for people to find quality blogs on a given subject. But of course we’re happy if people take pride in their position :)

Q5: What innovations does Wikio offer, or plan to offer, that would engage bloggers in these rankings – or is this just reporting and should we just get on with our blogging?

In fact, we are aiming to introduce a new feature so I’m glad you ask this! We would like to introduce expert bloggers in each field to help us enrich and maintain the rankings (and hopefully launch more new ones, too). We have just published something about this on our blog:

We’d like anyone who is interested to contact us on info AT wikio DOT co DOT uk

I’m sure I missed lots of questions, but if you have any of your own, let me know and I’ll pass them on.

So, if nothing else, I urge you to not just read but to include links to your favourite blogs in your next posts, particularly to help support those who are starting out and are not yet in the top 100.

Of course, links back to this post would be MOST appreciated too :)

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Wine tasting, the professional way

I thought you might find this both interesting and amusing.

I took part in a tasting of 75 wines with Charles Metcalfe (aka @thewinesinger) last week. During the day I took some video on my new iPhone 3GS (yes, playing around). I’ll publish the serious interviews soon, but this is Charles tasting wine 60 (or more) of over 75.

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