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Turning Wii into Wine

Wii and Wine

I’m guessing that you’ve heard of the Wii? A large number of you will own one, or someone in your family will. I know mine do – they ALL do in fact. I’m also guessing that until the Wii came out, many of those who now have one would not have said they would be buying a games console.

Did you realise that the Nintendo Wii has almost 50% market share of games consoles around the world? That’s almost 70 MILLION Wii units in houses across the globe. I didn’t. Now, I’m not a gamer, and you probably aren’t either, so WHO CARES?

Answer: Any business who wants to go from nowhere to 50% share in 3 years should care, really!

So what helped to change their minds?

Was it the graphics speed? Was it the control device (wiimote)? Was it the funny name? Was it the design of the console itself that was so desirable? Was it because it loaded faster, or more easily? Was it made by special kinds of robots, or with particular components? Was it because it won all sorts of awards?

I doubt it.

Most importantly, what are the lessons to be learned for wine? Simple. It is about Benefits & Features. Nintendo didn’t just try to steal market share from competitors, they set out to “get new people playing games” [from Wikipedia].

While Sony & Microsoft tried to out-do each other in innovations of features that were important to gamers (graphics, sound, movie tie-ins), Nintendo focused on making their product fit into our lives. Yours and mine.

To this audience, the features of the Wii, or any games console, were immaterial. This audience simply had no reason to want to play games involving shooting zombies or scoring goals.

So was the brilliant thing the Wii did then? They convinced us that it wasn’t a games console, it was a family entertainment tool AND a fitness aid.

BRILLIANT!

They stopped talking about Features and found new Benefits.

I could go on (many gaming sites don’t seem to understand this issue either it seems), but lets get back to wine.

How many times have you read: “Handpicked”, “Careful selection”, “de-stemming”, “french oak”, “tannins”, “fruit”, etc. on a wine label? Pretty much EVERY time. These are FEATURES of the wine, and not only that, they rarely vary from one wine to another.

We (all) happen to have palates that can distinguish minute chemical differences between these wines, which is just as well, because in terms of message, wine brands are virtually indistinguishable from each other.

What could you say about your wine, or the wine in your glass, if you couldn’t talk about ANY features and only mention benefits? Most of us would struggle, because the only benefits we are used to talking about are “being more social” and, ultimately, inebriation.

Wine does not have a ready-made lexicon of terms for the benefits of this product, but it MUST develop one if it is to reach out to consumers and make wine relevant to them. Only the most creative, brave and switched-on brands will have the capacity to drive this forward, and the problem is that these are very few and far-between at the moment.

However, this is not just a money game. What is interesting is that this problem *might* be resolved by throwing lots of money at it; recruiting global advertising agencies, research bodies, copywriters, media buyers and more. It might also be resolved by speaking to consumers and actually asking them what the wine brand means to them, and that is where clever, lucky and energetic wineries with social media strategies can actually benefit.

Who knows if this will happen. I feel strongly that it is something that the wine business needs to resolve. We cannot continue to flog the dead horse of today’s wine messages. We are not reaching the consumer and the business is suffering.

I’m off to play Wii Tennis with my kids and get fit. What about you? Still drinking that stuff made from hand-picked grapes stuffed in wooden barrels for ages? Boring!

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Twitter, how do I use thee? Let me list away

Menu and Wine List - Enoteca Vino Bar
Image by avlxyz via Flickr

No, this time it isn’t THAT kind of wine list.

This is about the the Twitter List facility. This particular social media tool is somewhat flawed in my opinion, however, if you want to provide value to others then you should consider using them.

Lists are a means of keeping up with a particular group of twitterers. It isn’t just about the group of people that are included, it is a way of seeing all their tweets in one … list*.

If you are in the wine business, you should consider using them to provide value to yourself and others. Many users simply create generic categories such as “wine” or “friends” with 100+ members. If they follow thousands and need a way to separate this group, that’s fine, but the value to anyone else is very limited.

Instead, you might consider putting together something specific to your area of interest, relating to your own brand values & story. Your knowledge (and time) could be worth lots to someone else, a value they may repay in other ways.

For example, I don’t have a generic ‘wine’ list (apart from anything, I follow almost 3000 and lists are limited to 500 people). Instead, I have created 4 lists of reasonable value, I hope, to different people but which would have been difficult for them to put together themselves:

Masters of Wine on Twitter (Members: 30 – Followers: 93)
UK Wine Merchants on Twitter (Members: 72 – Followers: 43)
UK Wineries on Twitter (Members: 12 – Followers: 6)
Bordeaux 2009 En Primeur Campaign (Members: 56 – Followers: 40)

Some have ongoing value (such as the MWs list), some are more temporary.

The last list is what prompted me to write this post. I wasn’t greatly involved in the En Primeur campaign, but others asked me my views on twitter. Rather than retweeting lots of individuals’ thoughts, I created an easy way to track comments about the campaign from those who were actually there. An amazing development compared to past campaigns.

Now anyone could easily see hundreds of tweets each day about the Bordeaux 2009 primeur tastings from some of the top names in wine writing and retailing. Reading all their columns and reviews could cost you hundreds of dollars/pounds/euros in subscription charges (not to mention the cost of the wines). This was free and immediate.

I’m not sure the Bordeaux list has ongoing value (little binds this group of 56 individuals other than their shared interest in wine), but for a moment it was a valuable service.

What lists could you create? Wineries in your region? Tourist resources in your town? Wine merchants selling your wines around the world? Wine bloggers you have met?

* Note; one thing often forgotten about Lists is that they do not include @ replies (messages to another person directly) UNLESS that other person is also on the same list. Confusing!? Thought so. In any case, this is not the entire output of the listed members, but should represent their most ‘public’ messages.

If you’ve got a list that is particularly popular, or should be, let me know. I might create a list of wine-related Lists on the blog

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Save money, invest in the future – if you have spare cash

It is possibly no coincidence that in the same week that the world’s top wine ‘experts’ head to Bordeaux to evaluate the latest “vintage of the century” from 2009, that Naked Wines has chosen to update the concept for more modern times.

The annual Bordeaux en primeur scramble sees wine writers, retailers and other influencers run from winery to winery on a glorified “Chateau Crawl” tasting each of the top wines to rate them WELL BEFORE they are released.

“Let the customer decide how good a wine is, how much it is worth, and IF they are prepared to pay in advance for an allocation”

Do the Chateau offer this for fun? For education? For marketing? No, it is all about points, prices and sales. The global demand is such that the judgement of the visitors, plus the ego and history of the winery, helps to set prices for bottles that will only leave the winery years later then probably rarely be drunk and many spend decades being sold by one investor to another.

It is a shame. In principle the idea is a good one: Let the customer decide how good a wine is, how much it is worth, and if they are prepared to pay in advance for an allocation of that wine, to lock-in some discount on the final retail price.

Interestingly, regular consumers CAN start to do some of this, and not be restricted to Bordeaux either. Naked Wines has created a “buy early, pay less” system that means that the earlier that consumers are willing to commit to buying a wine, the greater the discount they get on that wine. They have even already selected a small number of wineries, some of them well know names (such as Teusner Wines) to launch with, and they do not cost £200+ a bottle.

It ticks a lot of boxes for me on The Wine Conversation: it focuses on unusual wines with unique stories, it engages consumers with the wine process (which inevitably includes distribution) and it still gives them a unique price advantage (i.e. discount).

I do worry about how many wine consumers are really willing to part with their cash in advance, when the wine could take months to arrive and they have to buy a case, but it is a great start.

I also wonder whether the discount being offered is really attributable simply to removing risk and some of the costs of sale (it amounts to a 40%+ discount in some cases), but if the consumer is satisfied that the final retail price is real, and that they really are getting a discount and offering help to wineries, then maybe the model will become established.

We might be seeing something very new in wine buying here, it could be fun to be part of it.

Disclosure: I am a Naked Wines customer and I have already “invested” in one of these wines

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On paper, this is not such great value

I should first point out that I have never read any other Robert Parker book, magazine or web forum (beyond a few glimpses). I will readily admit that the part of the wine business that he normally focuses on, and they way he does it, have little allure for me.

Much as I love wine, and much as I’d love to drink mature quality wines from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Napa, and so on, I am not a collector of wine ‘experiences’ or points, and I have a limited budget I would rather spend on my family than on such wines. My interest in wine is much more cultural and prosaic.

So, when I was offered a copy of a new Robert Parker wine guide to review by the publishers, I almost automatically said “No!” However, I was intrigued by the title (and flattered to be asked), so I accepted on the basis that I wouldn’t guarantee to publish anything, … and I almost didn’t.

The guide arrived very quickly and I immediately started to leaf through it. Robert Parker’s “Great Value Wines” (seriously good wine at remarkably fair prices) does seem to be my sort of book in theory. Imagine having such a resource?! Great wines at reasonable prices (which means under £20). Superb shopping list ideas and a list of wines to recommend to friends looking for advice.

The country introductions are OK (short and generic), details about regions is limited or non-existent, but it immediately became obvious something BIG was wrong.

This book has a major flaw. It is a book.

Robert Parker has made a career, and considerable riches I’m sure, from minute assessment of wines that need to be tasted and retasted for every vintage and at different stages of their development, mainly so a certain part of the market, the investor, can decide on the ‘value’ of the wines without ‘wasting’ them by actually drinking them. Imagine!?

So, how can he possibly publish a book about specific wines that does not contain any vintage information? Each wine, listed by producer by country, sounds great, but has only one tasting note which apparently relates to any year it might have been made.

[update: don't get me wrong, I think vintage differences in modern and larger volume wines are overstated, but Mr Parker makes his living from this]

The problem, of course, is that this is a book.

It takes months to take a finished manuscript and complete the printing and distribution of a book so as to get it in the hands of consumers. If you are writing a novel that is not much of a problem, but if you are writing about wines that are available now, then it is. Today most wine available is ‘current vintage’ only. Unfortunately for book publishers, this has a tendency to move faster than they do.

Robert Parker is not alone in this as Matt Skinner admitted in November. Skinner was accused of having ‘recommended’ specific wines from vintages he could not possibly have tasted, for the same reason – they would be available when the book was published, not when it was written.

The ‘Great Value Wines’ solution was to include some generic sort of tasting note or description and remove mentions of any vintage, although the results are a little artificial (and peppered with evidence that these were, at one time, notes on specific wines).

If only … this were a website!

This book has the feel of someone’s tasting database, extracted, filtered, with the vintage field removed, and then printed. It lacks cohesion.

Unfortunately it was probably more useful and easier to navigate in a database format.

However, the same data, posted online, could be a great introduction to these wine. What the web could do is link thirsty consumers to pages that offer greater details and differences of each vintage tasted by Mr Parker and his colleagues, updated regularly, and from there to retailers, producers, bloggers, consumer reactions, etc. No need to reprint, just update.

Now THAT would be worth paying for.

Unfortunately I don’t think the paper version is. Sorry!

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Lulu Does England

As you would imagine, being a wine lover and living in the UK is great because we have access to great wines from all over the world. The UK is still one of the biggest, and most cosmopolitan, importers of wine in the world.

This situation arose, in part, because we didn’t have the climate to make the range and volumes of wines we wanted to drink. We simply HAD to go abroad to find it.

However, wine has actually been made in Britain for centuries, mainly thanks to the Romans I believe. What is more relevant, however, is that England today is becoming a great centre for the production of unusual whites (like Bacchus wines) and Champagne-like sparkling wines. Who nows what further warming of the climate will allow in future!

I don’t say Champagne-like lightly, because English vineyards are actually similar in many key ways to those of Champagne, they also grow the same main grapes (Chardonnay & Pinot Noir) and make the wines in the same ‘traditional’ way.

In fact many, including Nyetimber, regularly come above many famous French counterparts in blind tastings (as they just did again)

Now Stephen Skelton MW, a leading expert, consultant and educator on anything to do with English wines, has published his latest book on English Wines and Vineyards: UK Vineyards Guide 2010

What is doubly interesting is that it is only available via Lulu.com a self-publishing and on-demand printing site. It means copies are printed only for those interested in buying the book, so none are wasted just to be eventually pulped. It also cuts out certain intermediaries, allowing the author to have a bigger stake in the books success.

I like this business model a lot and hope it is successful because it provides opportunities for other specialist or creative writers to get their writing published. This is not an easy time to try and get a publisher to take on a book about wine.

Two or more very good reasons to check it out, I hope you agree.

The UK Vineyards Guide 2010
(ISBN 978-0-9514703-4-3)
Price £22.95 + postage and packing.
Available ONLY from: http://www.lulu.com (Ref: 7848482) or http://www.englishwine.com

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