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Wine Bloggers’ Wines from Oddbins

Oddbins Wine Bloggers

So, do wine bloggers have any idea what wines others should drink, or are they just good at telling us about the stuff they like?

I have to admit to being very afraid of the idea of being responsible for choosing wines for other people I do not know. The idea of being a “Wine Buyer” would mean I would never sleep again. I love wine. I love drinking it, sharing it, talking about it and learning about it. I enjoy how it impacts on the world, and generally changes it for the better. But I do not know whether YOU will like any particular wine or not. Building a business that requires such certainty seems hard to me.

Blogger Initiative

I was very impressed and intrigued, therefore, to see that 6 of my fellow UK wine bloggers got together with Oddbins to create a selection of wines for the rest of us to enjoy so I just had to buy a case.

The basic story is on the Oddbins Wine Bloggers Case page, but you should also read any of the bloggers’ own articles linked below.

In summary, the six bloggers had access to an entire Oddbins shop for the task of selecting 12 bottles, one red, one white, each, for a case that would cost no more than £100 (including delivery). A tough but enjoyable challenge.

So, I had two simple questions:

1. Is this a “good idea”?

2. Are the choices any good?

What a Good Idea!

To answer the first, I have to say that I admire bloggers who do innovative things and who are prepared to push boundaries.

Consumers would benefit from buying “taster” cases that helped them discover new wines and, bought in some volume, would also make them slightly more affordable. This may be the excuse they were waiting for.

Too often, the wines recommended on blogs and articles are hard to then find & buy, so making them immediately available (and deliverable) is a great encouragement for consumers to buy. This is one of the strongest points of online wine content.

The marketing has also been well done – Integrated Communications, at last!

  • There is a dedicated page on the Oddbins online site.
  • They’ve created memorable cartoons and images to bring the “online” personas to life
  • They’ve included the bloggers’ own wine reviews, including food matching ideas
  • The case came with the full information sheet
  • The bloggers themselves have kept the profile of the promotion high

Finally, I also think it is important that bloggers (of all industries) find ways to make money from their online activity because I know very well how much work it involves and how hard it is to make money from this without resorting to dubious internet marketing practices.

We ALL benefit

If wine bloggers could prove that they can identify great wines, and help to get them into the hands of consumers, we ALL benefit – producers, bloggers, retailers and consumers. If bloggers are adding benefit, then they do deserve a share of the “value” created, and they can start to make some money from what they do, creating great wine stories. There is nothing wrong with making a living.

There’s only one slight criticism. In the interests of transparency, considering this is a “showcase” (pun intended), I was surprised not to read more about whether the bloggers were actually benefitting financially from this. For the reasons listed above, I think it would be great if trusted bloggers could work with retailers and wineries. I also do not want to see hard work, and great ideas like this, benefit only some and not others, and I am sure those involved actually had costs to make this happen.

Two bloggers did make some reference to this which is great, though it is still a touchy subject, but sometimes openness is the best policy. I do not believe that any readers would object, but we do need to take the ammunition away from critics.

“Since picking the case, we have agreed with Oddbins that they would contribute to our expenses, on a tiny amount for each case sold. While I hope the case flies off the shelves, I won’t be giving up the day job any time soon. Then again, that’s not why I got involved.” - SipSwooshSpit

“So all that remains is for people to buy it and let us know what they think – I say this not for the pocket-money commission levels, but because this is an opportunity for us to engage in a conversation about these wines and I would love to know what people think about them.” – The Cambridge Wine Blogger

I am CERTAIN that if they are making anything it is not substantial, and it will not have influenced their choices of wines. However, from a disclosure point of view, this one would be useful for them all to have done. Having said that, it is a minor quibble form someone keen to make sure this goes well and helps more bloggers and wine businesses.

I hope it DOES fly off the shelves and that they do start to make some money! So of course I did my bit and bought my case.

Wine Reviews:

The REAL test. Were the wines they chose interesting and likely to get consumers to come back and buy more?

Well, since I have decided not to use this site to share tasting notes, I will have to leave you guessing a little longer. However, I will be adding my tasting notes to my personal site (where I do review wines from time to time) as I go through the case. You can follow along here:

Tasting the Bloggers’ Wine Selection from Oddbins on thirstforwine.co.uk

At first glance the prospects are good. I already know, and like, a couple of the wines. The selection is varied and covers many styles, prices and countries. Here is the list (as provided by Spittoon.biz:

The Oddbins Bloggers Case White Wine Selection

  1. Casa Lluch Verdil 2010, Valencia, Spain
  2. Raimat Abadia White 2010, Costers del Segre, Spain
  3. Sal’mon Groovey Grüner Veltliner 2010, Kremstal, Austria
  4. Domaine la Condamine L’Evêque Viognier 2010, Côtes de Thongue, France
  5. Stone Rock Sauvignon Blanc 2010, Bordeaux, France
  6. Porter Mill Station Chenin Blanc 2011, Svartland, South Africa

The Oddbins Bloggers Case Red Wine Choices

  1. Domaine de l’ Arnesque 2009, Côtes du Rhône, France
  2. Alma de Tinto Mencia 2010, Galacia, Spain
  3. Henry Fessy Morgon 2009, Cru du Beaujolais, France
  4. Chateau Haute Galine 2009, Minervois, France
  5. Terre di Sava, 10 Nero Salice Salentino 2010, Puglia, Italy
  6. Fully Loaded Grenache-Shiraz 2008, McClaren Vale, Australia

I congratulate Oddbins on the coup, and Tara, David, Paola, Tom, Belinda and Andrew for making it happen. I wonder if we will see similar things happen in the UK and beyond?

Related Articles:

Tom Lewis “The Cambridge Wine Blogger”: The Oddbins Bloggers’ Case

David Lowe “BigPinots”: The Merry Band of Bloggers

Belinda Stone “Miss Bouquet”: We’re on the case with Oddbins Literally

Andrew Barrow “Spittoon”: Oddbins Bloggers Case

Paola Tich “SipSwooshSpit”: Six Go Mad in Oddbins

Tara Devon O’Leary “Wine Passionista”: The Oddbins Wine Bloggers’ Case is Here

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Age Verification Comes to Twitter

It is a common occurrence to be barred from entering a wine related website until you have confirmed your birthdate, or at least confirmed you are of legal drinking age in your country.

On Facebook it is already possible to stop under-age members from seeing certain content.

However, until now this could not be done on Twitter and the only way to conform to the letter of the law in certain countries, was to post ineffective notes on your profile such as “By following you confirm you’re of legal drinking age”, or worse, annoy real and legal followers with messages threatening to block them if they did not confirm their ages (as was explored here in November after an experience with Beaulieu Vineyards)

Twitter, in partnership with BuddyMedia (a social marketing suite of tools for large brands), have now launched and integrated an age verification service as part of the Twitter experience. From today brands can sign up to for Age Verification via https://age.twitter.com/ which will enforce rules that they describe as “consistent with standard industry practices”.

Expect to be sent a Direct Message (DM) if you decide to follow a wine brand that will direct you to a site where you will have to enter your date of birth before being approved. If you happen to fail it (because you are underage, under-attentive or under the influence) you will be forever blocked by that account. However, assuming you do pass, the good news is that you will not have to go through the process again for other Age Verified accounts. [more details from The Next Web]

What is not clear what happens if you make a mistake and need to correct the age associated with your twitter account.

These “standard industry practices” may be completely ineffective, and misguided, but until law-makers see sense this is here to stay and expect this to spread quite quickly amongst the brands owned by large multinational drinks companies keen to prove their ‘Responsibility’ credentials.

It will also probably not be long until the age verification process includes some external auditing and confirmation (from Facebook, or other online resources) which will increase its accuracy but raise many privacy issues.

Why not consider creating an alternative age verification system - it may be more likely to be effective.

Oh, and for the record, if you are under 18 in the UK, or 21 in the USA, you should not have read any of this in case you should be encouraged to drink excessively simply through discovering that alcohol brands exist.

Please drink and market responsibly!

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Sustainability by the wine trade

Everyone uses the term ‘sustainability’ these days, but what it means to everyone can vary enormously.

From simple carbon reducing measures, such as using lighter glass bottles and renewable energy, through changes to vineyard practice including organics, and even wholesale regional programmes, the term covers many issues and different levels of commitment.

Joao Portugal Ramos on Sustainability

Joao Portugal Ramos on Sustainability

When the issue of “Sustainability in the wine trade” was raised with a cross-section of the world’s wine trade on Vrazon’s AccessZone at the London Wine Trade Fair, what was noticeable was the ambition and commitment of producers from Australia and New Zealand and their assumption that this was a collective task. There were also interesting stories from Europe, but they tended to be from individual producers taking unilateral steps, often at a cost and risk to themselves.

Many of the answers revolved around what needed to change in the vineyard and the winery, and interestingly, how ‘sustainability’ is not synonymous with ‘organics’ (or is that the other way around?). There were a lot of laudable changes proposed to how we treat vines and how we protect water resources for example. There were also allusions to alternative packaging for wine and to philosophical approaches such as Natural Wine (more videos on this will be published soon). It made me wonder whether the driving force for these changes came from a concern for the planet, as a reaction to a consumer demand for action, or simply because they made business sense to those businesses with an eye on the future?

The answer, of course, was “all of them”, but I am not convinced that there is sufficient consumer awareness of the issue as it affects wine for ‘sustainability’ to be a positive differentiator for a wine or winery, and so any sustainability projects needed to be either required of all businesses (by governments, regional authorities or even retailers, to avoid some producers taking all the risks) or carefully tested for commercial returns on investment.

What do you think the future of ‘sustainability’ is for the wine business, and how might this topic be made more relevant to the wider wine trade?

This was only one of several topics raised for WineConversation Unfiltered. For this and related topics, visit: wineconversation.com/unfiltered

I have seen the future of artisan wine, and it comes in a can

This may sound odd, but there is a link between packaging innovation and the increasing focus on biodynamics and ‘natural wine’, it just isn’t a simple one.

I am not suggesting that natural wine producers are better served choosing tetrapacks, paper bottles or aluminium cans for their wines (although they might), but sometimes the simplest way to define what you ARE about is to explain what you are NOT, after all:

  • a desert is that area where rain doesn’t fall
  • land is all that planet surface not covered by water
  • silence is the absence of sound

Wine in a can

Wine in a can

The wine trade expends a lot of effort arguing over differences between organic, biodynamic and natural wines for example, but almost none trying to find a way to differentiate between the real extremes of the wine market, namely between all of the above ‘artisan’ wines and those wines made to be sold in vast volumes through mass distribution channels such as supermarkets. In fact, you might be forgiven for thinking that the wine trade pretended that these wines in supermarkets didn’t even exist.

How do you explain to a consumer, in simple terms, what makes a bottle of Gallo Chardonnay different from a Gravner Ribolla Gialla? What ‘category’ of the market do they fall into? How is a consumer to differentiate between them when they both come in 75cl glass bottles, with similar corks and basic paper labels?  We need to develop a POSITIVE categorisation of these volume wines in order to have a meaningful conversation about the different needs and benefits of each part of the market.

ARTISANAL WINES

We may not all agree that ‘Natural’ is a fair category name, but we might all basically agree that the Gravner, and thousands of other small producers, are ‘Artisanal’ wines of some sort (read this great post by Robert Joseph on the subject of artist vs artisan).

Defining this is very hard however, so let’s take a “model” Artisan wine and say it probably comes from a small producer with their own vineyards, produced in limited quantities, that is different year on year, that has some taste characteristics that sets it apart from the vast majority of other wines (that not everyone will like) and is linked to the local ‘terroir‘, and that none of these factors are subject to change based on consumer feedback. Essentially, the wine is driven by the producer’s interpretation of what is ‘best’ from their vineyards, take it or leave it. Lots of wines will diverge on some of these points, but the general sense is there.

Artisanal wines are Producer driven (these are sometimes referred to as Terroir wines, but you still need a producer involved!)

The above is obviously not the driving motivation of the wines on offer in multiple grocers around the world. So, what do you call the rest?

  • Branded? No! Branding is very limited and not exclusive to this area.
  • Bulk? No, too negative and not necessarily true
  • Commodity? A good option, but it still implies a negative view of the factors.

How about a term like “Convenience Wines”?

CONVENIENCE WINES

The key features of these wines is that they are dependable, consistent, easy to drink, not overly challenging and widely available. All of these are driven by consumer demand, not producer preference. In simple terms, then, ‘Artisanal’ wines are wines that are NOT ‘Convenience’ wines.

Wine snobs may sneer at the quality of the “wine” in the bottle, but in fact this is only one aspect of the product that consumers are after. What’s the use of a “great” wine that I can’t afford, can’t find and may not even like? Great for whom?

Convenience wines are Consumer driven (to the extent that wine producers really understand their consumers).

The problem is that convenience wines still LOOK like artisanal wines.

If convenience is the key to this category of wine, then we have a reason to work to increase convenience by looking not just at wine styles, but also at packaging, branding & communication.

For example, glass bottles are great for longer term storage of wine, often benefitting artisanal wines. However, alternative packaging, such as bag-in-box, paper bottles or wine pouches for example, is logical in this context of convenience. It is potentially cheaper, easier to transport, more flexible for different drinking occasions, more flexible for branding and offers more communication opportunities. A wholesale move into alternatives would bring down their costs and remove a great deal of cost from the product, potentially meaning higher margins and/or cheaper products.

GreenBottle Paper Wine Bottle Alternative packaging has not really taken off in the UK compared to, for example, Scandinavia. One reason is that we treat ALL products of fermented grapes as “wine”, so the same communication rules are applied to all, resulting in an undifferentiated sea of “handmade” wines, from “historic vineyards“, made by “passionate” individuals that match any food you may choose to pair them with – whatever the truth might be.

If we were to find a way to promote the specific attributes of Convenience Wine and differentiate them visually, in terms of branding and communication as well as style, the wine retail market could be made more straightforward for the consumer, to everyone’s benefit. Wine drinkers might no longer be confused about the difference between a simple wine for weeknight supping, and the experience of an artisan wine for special occasions.

Isn’t it in the interests of both ends of the spectrum to come to an arrangement?

Sometimes, the worst of enemies can find common cause, and in this case it is to fight consumer confusion and indifference.

I’ll raise a can of wine to that!

There’s no future for wine

Try this exercise. Imagine the world in 50 or 100 years. Picture the innovations, the changes to everyday life, and the things that will remain the same. How will life for you or your kids be different?

There's wine Jim, just not as we know it

There’s wine Jim, just not as we know it

[Maybe have a glass of wine while you think about it, why not?]

Here’s a shortcut. Think of any number of “sci-fi” films or series set in the not-immediate future. Spaceships, robots, physical chaos and massive-overcrowding, utopian societies and post-apolcalyptic zombie-filled misery. Take your pick.

What do all these visions have in common? NO WINE!

Name ONE of these films/series set more than about 50 years from today in which wine (not alcohol in general, there’s lots of that, but the product of grapes grown in vineyards) appears in any meaningful way?

I’ll start you off, and then challenge you to add to this list with me:

1. Captain Jean-Luc Picard, Star Trek – The Next Generation
Captain Picard is supposed to have grown up in the vineyards of a future France, and occasionally drinks his family’s Chateau Picard wines. So there might still vineyards in around 400 years time.

2. ?

I personally cannot think of ANY other film that features wine, and I’ve asked several film experts for help.

Why not?

Is it because wine is the kind of ‘agricultural’ product that we believe science will replace with something ‘better’?
Will future alcoholic discoveries make wine’s variety superfluous?
Is wine just one of those traditions we are even now just barely hanging on to?

Or is it because, despite consuming more wine today than we have ever done, we still lack an understanding of its importance to our culture (past, present and future) and so just take it for granted? Is it because the types of people who write science fiction screenplays are afraid, or don’t feel qualified, to talk about wine even if they can decide the fate of the universe?

I look to the future because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life. – George Burns

Does it matter?

Not really, but there are plenty of films that still feature cars with combustion engines when other energy sources exist, revolvers being used in fights against lasers, or even sex when test-tubes can apparently do the job.

We have a responsibility to make wine sexier* and more important to consumers and to writers if we want to ensure those who are imagining and building our future have a bottle of wine mentally placed on the table for us to enjoy.

Your future is whatever you make it. – Dr. Emmett Brown (Back to the Future III)

If you know of any other example of “future wine” do let me know in the comments so I can build a list for my future viewing. I love wine and I love sci-fi and I would really like to combine them

WINE IN Sci-Fi MOVIES and TV (List to date):

  • Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek TNG (The Next Generation) – Various appearances
  • Gattaca – restaurant scene with Jude Law and Ethan Hawke “This wine was only opened 5 minutes ago!”
  • The Hunger Games – Woody Harrelson in meal scene in Sector 12 ‘Penthouse’ after trials

* of course by this I really mean “more appealing” as we must not, of course link wine marketing with sexual attractiveness, that would be irresponsible.

edited 11:26: to include missing quote from Doc
edited 09/01/2013 to include list of movie & TV scenes
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