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Oysters and Champagne: Sharing the experience

Oyster from Marennes-Oléron
Image via Wikipedia

On Friday March 6th, I shall be putting myself through a challenge – and thanks to the wonders of social media, I am fully expecting this to be recorded, broadcast live and commented upon for some time to come.

If you still need an additional reason to watch, I have had to admit that I have not ever really eaten oysters… Watch me live – you never know what might happen.

Galvin at Windows has decided to put on a “showcase event”, the kind that happens all the time in restaurants for those lucky enough to be considered “influential” enough to be invited – and by this I usually mean the traditional restaurant review Press and also key clients. However, for one of the first times in my experience, this will be done for the benefit of bloggers and other Social Media users AND shared with everyone via video streams and live blogging/tweeting.

Once again, I take my hat off to Fred at Galvin (@galvinatwindows) for his confidence in this medium.

I will be amongst a select group of wine & food bloggers, along with representatives from TrustedPlaces, to meet the suppliers of Galvin at Windows Oysters (Wright Brothers) and their Champagnes (Bibendum). The idea is to have a fun event, matching and rating different oysters, champagnes and the best combination of these, and do so in a way that lets others learn more about the subjects as well as about the restaurant.

Inspired PR! Even if I hadn’t been invited to take part I probably would have watched.

For those interested in the experience that, to be honest, most of us cannot afford, this type of event is a great way to learn about both both oysters and champagne, and matching them, through a medium that is so much more interactive and relevant than television. Hopefully we will ALL learn a lot from this event.

This will all take place between 16:00 and 18:00 (London time) via Twitter (follow #galvinw), via live blogging (although I’m not sure on what blogs yet) and also on the World TV channel Ustream.tv – to watch, click here.

If you still need an additional reason to watch, I have had to admit that I have not ever really eaten oysters. I believe I may have tried them as a child, but not since. I think that making this event my first proper experience is both wonderful (might as well start with the best), and terrifying. Watch me live – you never know what might happen.

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Excuse me while I go exploring

So what do a top-class restaurant, a wine bar and a designer/bespoke tailor have in common with wine? Well, for the first two it is obvious, but the answer is not quite that simple.

If you follow me on twitter you will have seen me in conversation with @galvinatwindows, @vinoteca and @simonblaqua a fair bit recently, and you might even be forgiven for assuming I was running their PR in some way. I thought it fair, therefore, in the interests of full disclosure which I am so very keen on, to tell you a little bit more about why.

Having ‘evangelised’ about blogs, facebook and now twitter in the wine trade for several years now, it is very exciting to see so many businesses I deal with in my “day job” really beginning to listen to what Social Media can do for them. Now, instead of blank stares or laughs (or worse) when I mention what I do online, people are starting to ask my advice.

I don’t “consult” professionally about these things (although you never know what tomorrow brings) so generally speaking I’m happy to sit down with them and share my thoughts on what they could do. In most cases it is a bit of harmless chat, but in some cases these new friends jump headlong into social media and start to do really exciting things.

@galvinatwindows is the GM of a great restaurant, chic, well regarded and frequented by all sorts of celebrities, rich hotel guests and adventurous London foodies with a head for heights. He doesn’t “need” social media to make a splash, but he has embraced it wholeheartedly and is organising special tours, dinners, cocktail competitions, tastings and menus and promoting them through twitter in particular. Wow!

@vinoteca was recently voted “Wine Bar of the Year 2009″ – they too don’t need more publicity as such, but they too are embracing social media as a way to have better conversations with the kind of people who love their wine concept – which includes me.

@simonblaqua is a clothing designer who works with performers like Alabama 3 and has also designed things for rock royalty (I’m sworn to secrecy, so you’ll have to ask him). I was simply a customer, until I used his bespoke tailoring skills to create my Moocket shirt. Now he too is excited about starting a bespoke tailoring conversation with customers and those with interests in bespoke design. I will be supporting this by helping to host an evening of wine & design on 13 March (more soon) – but mainly because I’m getting excited about the idea as a consumer, not for “business” reasons.

There is a blurred line here, I admit. Some of these people I meet because I work in the wine business, and they might even be current or future customers, but I write about them now because I think that what they are doing is very brave, very exciting, and hopefully interesting – and tangentially related to wine culture for a variety of reasons specific to each one.

I hope to keep bringing you stories like these as I explore what is happening with the people and businesses I come across, and I trust you’ll find these interesting enough to bear with me here and on twitter.

If you have any interesting stories of bars, restaurants or designers using social media (bonus points for making it relevant to wine culture), please leave me a comment.

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Open That Bottle Night

Old bottles, lying and waiting

Old bottles, lying and waiting

It is coming up fast, so I thought I’d pass on the tip.

If you’ve been holding on to a bottle or two of wine or Champagne, waiting for that “Special Occasion”, or the “Right Time” to drink it – then wait no longer. In truth, that event or moment very often never materialises, and worse, you could ‘accidentally’ get so frustrated waiting for it to come along that you open it and then realise you have to drink it alone, from a styrofoam cup and match it to take-away pizza – somewhat like a distraught Miles in Sideways.

So, Open That Bottle night (OTBN) was dreamed up in 2000 to create that moment, to place a marker in the diary that means that you will always have a “drink by” moment for those wines. That date is the last Saturday in February, which means 28 Feb 2009. Not only that, but others are doing the same, so you are really taking part in a global quality wine drinking occasion that you can share on Twitter, Facebook, Snooth, Adegga and many other wine social media platforms.

I had planned on doing this on Saturday with a bottle of 1981 or 1982 Rioja from my cellar, and may still do so, but as it happens, the idea of this event prompted me to dig out some bottles and invite some friends over to share them – and beat the deadline. I had a stunning bottle of Nicolas Catena Zapata 1999 (elegant, cassis fruit, soft tannins and wonderful concentration and length, but still with a decade or more in front of it) and even crack open a bottle of Leacock’s Verdelho Madeira from 1971 given to me as a gift (incredible complexity of caramel, banana fruit, nuts and an acidity that smacks you in the mouth and leaves your head spinning and drooling … in the most wonderful way of course).

So, I’ve opened my bottles. What bottles are you tempted to open on Saturday?

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Open minds for troubled times

Chair
Come on in for an interview!
Image by tommy forbes via Flickr

I’ve reported, commented and complained before on this blog about how the UK government treats consumers and business when it comes to alcohol.

My position has usually been one of incredulity, cynicism and anger at the decisions being taken by politicians, in particular when it comes to taxation of alcohol.

I’d like to extend an offer to a politician or civil servant to explain to me, in person, what this country’s government is doing, and why.

I was prompted to write this post by the announcement that a UK parliamentary committee was to be set up to examine:

… alcohol-related health problems and the consequences of these for the NHS, plus the role of the alcohol industry, police and government departments in addressing alcohol-related harm. [as well as] … examine “whether the drinking culture in England should change, and, if so, how”. (from just-drinks)

Just my sort of question!

Governments and politicians like to be SEEN to be doing something, no matter how ineffective in practice. In general, I do believe that politicians are scared of talking sense about alcohol (or many matters of real personal choice for that matter) and governments are quite happy to continue to be able raise lots of money from a ‘sin tax‘.

The problem is that the government has become dependent on the money raised from Duty on alcohol. They couch their revenue generation as a “strategy” to combat alcohol abuse whilst damaging businesses that could help to change people’s attitudes to alcohol and still, in my opinion, not doing nearly enough to address the underlying causes of that abusive behaviour.

I think many in the wine business in particular would probably agree.

HOWEVER, I will also admit that my experience is limited. I work with great wines, wines made by people who care about their product and which is sold mainly to those who appreciate them. I don’t have much day to day experience of the front line of a binge-drinking culture that I admit does exist in places in this country.

So I’d like to extend an offer to a politician or civil servant to explain to me, in person, what this country’s government is doing, and why. I don’t want a press release, I want a discussion. I’m prepared to post the results on here, either as a new post or in the comments. I would even consider filming a meeting and putting it on the blog for others to view.

Is that you? Or maybe, you know someone who could come along to chat? Let them know!

I am not a campaigner with an agenda as such. I’m not promising those who agree with me to be the best prepared, most vocal champion of the alcohol business (there are people like the WSTA for that). I am not a politician, nor expert debater. However, the government needs to convince me, and people like me, if we are to support their current approach, and if they can’t, then listen to us about finding another way forward.

I’ll even give you an idea of the questions:

  1. What evidence is there that high duty rates stop young people from drinking too much?
  2. What meaningful dialogue can you point to that shows you admit that alcohol consumption is a perfectly acceptable part of our society & culture in moderation? Have  you ever done anything other than preach?
  3. By focusing on the price/cost mechanic, are you not damaging small, independent importers/retailers who might engender a respect/appreciation for alcohol, and instead driven people to the multiple grocers, with their massive purchasing power to offset that duty cost, where no such education takes place?
  4. Is the excess consumption of alcohol not more closely related to opportunity IN GENERAL, rather than opportunity to buy alcohol? Would fewer kids get blind drunk if you inspired them with alternatives for their time & effort, rather than chastising them?
  5. What about the law-abiding middle classes of moderate consumers who are being criticised for their alcohol consumption? Where is the data to back your 21 units safe limit campaign?

These are just some of the questions off the top of my head. If you have any others you’d like to ask, let me know.

So, then, who’s willing to try and convince me? There’s a chair waiting!

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Social Media in a shirt

I’m off to Twestival tomorrow. There will be 700 of us in London, and thousands around the world, doing the same thing on the same day; networking, having fun, drinking wine, and raising money for Charity:Water

This post is not about that though. If you want to read about the great work being done by the Twestival organisers and the charity, click on the links above, and if you want to know why I helped to have the wine sponsored in London, read my post here.

This is about doing something a little different with my blog – getting out from behind the screen and meeting lots of interesting people who currently have no interest in reading my blogs, but who just might. Networking events like this, and those promoted on sites like Meetup.com are a great strategy for getting new ideas, new readers and new partnerships.

This is part of my approach:

Becoming known as a blogger takes effort, and not all of it needs to be online. Sometimes bloggers get so caught up in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Google Ranks, etc. that they forget that one of the most important things about writing a blog, and using twitter, is the possibility it offers to connect with REAL people.

Having a blog gives me a reason to network with other bloggers, and have something in common with them from the start. We can then explore whether there are any other ways we can cooperate – and maybe get them to read, interact and contribute to my blog, and vice versa.

Tomorrow night I’ll be doing just that, and I’m using the combined efforts of a shirt designer (Blaqua), a printer with great social equity (moo) and a little ingenuity.

I’ve had my friend add a small, unobtrusive pocket to this shirt so I can carry around my Mini Moo cards and always have them on hand to share with interesting contacts.

A bit of fun, and a bit of social media marketing in the offline world

[UPDATE 13/2/09: the event last night went extremely well, and the shirt went down a storm. I met SO many wonderful people and I'm glad to report at least some recognised me just form the shirt. Job done! Also, Moo.com liked the idea so much they'll be writing about it in their newsletter. If you've come from there, leave me a comment.

I'll be writing a follow up post with details of where & how you might get one of these limited edition shirts very soon, so subscribe to my feed and stay in touch]

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