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Winners of the Louis Roederer Wine Writing Awards 2012

Congratulations to the many winners of the Louis Roederer Wine Writing Awards presented tonight in London.

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Whilst the awards that Vrazon helped to create,the Born Digital Wine Awards, recognise the growing talent of content written specifically for online media, it is fair to say that this is not yet the mainstream of wine writing.

Tonight’s categories covered some important areas such as newspaper columnists and wine books that are terribly important ways to reach consumers and hopefully will continue to do so for many years to come.

Of course it was also a pleasure to attend the event to catch up with many good friends, listen to the entertaining Mr Charles Metcalfe, Chair of the Judges, and to enjoy the many Roederer champagnes including a small taste of Cristal 2004.

Here are the winners that were announced tonight:

1. Artistry of Wine – Colin Hampden-White

2. Emerging Wine Writer of the Year – Erika Szymanski (Palate Press)

3. International Online Wine Columnist / Blogger of the Year -  Andrew Jefford

4. International Wine Website of the Year – Peter Liem (www.champagneguide.net)

5. International Wine Publication of the Year – The World of Fine Wine

6. Regional Wine Writer of the Year – Tom Bruce-Gardner (Glasgow Herald)

7. International Wine Book of the Year – Summer in a Glass, Evan Dawson

8. International Wine Columnist of the Year – Michael Fridjohn

9. International Wine Feature Writer of the Year – John Stimpfig

Congratulations to all the winners and the equally worthy shortlisted candidates, particularly to our successful online friends at Palate Press including David Hoenig and Evan Dawson, as well as Peter Liem, flying the flag for online writers.

For full details and shortlists, head over to www.theroedererawards.com

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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Who are the RAW Wine Fair’s Natural Consumers?

Our first day at the RAW Fair in London, the artisan wine fair focused on organic, biodynamic and natural wines, was eye-opening in many ways.

Setting up the RAW Fair

Setting up the RAW Fair

First, the space at the Truman Brewery at the top of Brick Lane, and its incongruous industrial past, seemed vast and empty when we arrived to see row upon row of tables, each stretching almost 100 metres. How on earth was this place going to be filled with consumers interested in this subject?

Then, the wines themselves, not just the funky, challenging and, for some commentators, faulty “terroir wines”, but many juicy, fresh, tasty and … simply lovely wines with attractive packaging and good stories.

Attractive Labels at RAW Fair

Attractive Labels at RAW Fair

But the most exciting, really, was that the space DID fill up for hours with happy people, tasting wines without a single sign of excessive alcohol consumption. The debate over wine ingredients, processes and manipulation gets quite heated within the trade, and we often assume consumers are either not interested, put off, or simply confused by the idea, yet here they were in the hundreds or even thousand or more.

The crowds enjoying the wine tasting at RAW Fair

If 'natural wine' is a niche market, someone forgot to tell the crowd #rawfair

The industry challenge, as voiced by Dan Jago from Tesco via twitter, was how many visitors were ‘trade’ and not ‘consumers’ .

 

The vast majority, in my estimation, were regular consumers attracted by the profile generated by Isabelle Legeron MW on the BBC, and the effective marketing of RAW. I spoke to a number of “human beings not directly employed by businesses involved in making or selling fermented grape juice” (aka ‘consumers’) who were all excited by the wines and the buzz of the fair. They did not experience any confusion, just the broad choice of wines.

On the other hand, if the trade were here at all, on a Sunday, it was not because they were doing it for business, but because they love wine. Many of the trade are in the wine trade because they enjoy the product themselves, and although wine communications try to separate “trade” from “consumer”, this definition is really artificial because the trade are some of the biggest consumers, and the consumers increasingly influence business decisions.

Is it time to move beyond this differentiation? Is it time to embrace the idea that there are lots of wine fans out there looking for new experiences, even if we don’t all have to embrace it all ourselves?

Whether you agree with the tenets of ‘Natural wine’ or not, this has been an exciting time for wine in London – and we have not even had a chance to visit the ‘Real Wine Fair’ happening at the same time.

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Making plans for the wine fairs

There are so many things going on in the next week, it is hard to keep track of everything. Here’s a handy summary and guide of some of the fun wine stuff we at Vrazon (that’s Ryan Opaz, Gabriella Opaz and myself, Robert McIntosh) are involved in.

Why not add these to your calendar and come along to as many of these as possible?

20 May, 2012 – Sunday

First appointment is the RAW FAIR, organised and run by That Crazy French Woman, Isabelle Legeron MW. This is a wine fair for those who want to explore what Natural Wine is all about. Come along and try something different – you might like it.

If you do come, make sure you pop over to the Access Zone ‘Unfiltered’ booth where we will be helping small artisan producers learn about social media and sharing some of the fun stuff happening at the trade with the world. We’re inviting all our friends from the EWBC, the Digital Wine Communicators par-excellence, to join in the fun & advice sessions too :)

21 May, 2012 – Monday

We will be back at RAW for the trade-focused day. Gabriella will be there all day and would really appreciate any moral support while Ryan and Robert head off to ExCeL to set-up for the London Wine Fair.

22 May, 2012 – Tuesday

Come along to the London International Wine Fair 2012 at ExCeL. I know, I know, I hear the moans about “getting out to ExCeL” already, but really it isn’t that far or hard, just make sure you avoid the main rush hour at the very start and end of the day and in fact the DLR is pretty handy and there are some good views.

11:00 – One of our first activities will be a debate on “The Birth of a Generic” on the Wines of Turkey stand (N20) with Taner Ogutoglu and guest-starring Willi Klinger from the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and a great friend of the EWBC and the digital wine communications community. We’re also tasting some great Turkish wines. SIGN UP HERE

Vrazon is running our third ‘official’ Access Zone on stand K70 with so much exciting stuff. Here is the full Tuesday schedule, but highlights of the day include:

  • 10:30 – “The internet changed my business” – a discussion with three wine trade professionals impacted by social media, but NOT producers or retailers. This affects us all
  • 13:00 – “Why do you hate your customers?” – a lively discussion with Robert Joseph about how the wine trade interacts with customers. Always fun to hear Robert speak his mind
  • 14:00 – a superb mystery wine tasting with the highly entertaining Joe Wadsack. We’ve got one wine to taste, discuss and give feedback on, and even a chance to win a prize. Be there!!
  • 16:30 onwards belongs to Grenache. First we’ve got a discussion about “Grape Days” and promoting individual grapes in social media and how that has worked for the innovative Grenache Symposium members. Then ….

The end of the day PARTY! G-Night is a party where we drink wine, we don’t study it. Lots of grenache wines to taste in relaxed surroundings a short trip from ExCeL. Drink Grenache with Pizza & Burgers .. and refresh the palate first with a beer or two. BOOK YOUR G-NIGHT TICKET NOW.

23 May, 2012 – Wednesday
Back to ExCeL for the LIWF, possibly requiring a decent coffee to get the energy up first thing. Today’s full Wednesday schedule is here, and the highlights include:

  • 11:00 – “Using Social Media to Organize a Wine Tasting” – a discussion including Gabriella (our in-house expert) and Andre from Adegga. Tips and tools you can use yourself. This session will be quickly followed by an overview of the tools we are using on the Access Zone in case you fancy doing anything like this elsewhere yourself.
  • 14:00 – Freewine tasting. Just in case there wasn’t enough wine to taste at the show, we’ve nabbed some more. It *is* technically free BUT this is special because it is an association focused on reducing SO2 in wine and building an awareness campaign around this. Good wines and interesting messages
  • 15:00 – “Natural Wine – Finding the Middle Ground” – after a weekend of RAW and Real Wine action, plus the Freewine tasting, we want to have a reasoned debate on how the “Natural” message reaches the consumer; with expert opinion from Isabelle Legeron MW, Jamie Goode and Giampiero Nadali for Freewine
  • 16:00 – BORN DIGITAL WINE AWARDS – we announce the winners of the €1000 top prize in 6 categories for best online wine content. A session not to be missed, particularly because Laithwaites (a BDWA sponsor) will be supplying some beers to refresh the throats which will be hoarse from cheering.

24 May, 2012 – Thursday

Last day of the LIWF but SO MUCH still to go, so save your energy. Full Thursday schedule here, but the main highlight session would have to be:

  • 11:30 – EWBC 2012 – we will make some exciting announcements about the schedules of the EWBC Digital Wine Communications Conference itself, and the trips before and after it. We will taste some of the fantastic Turkish Wines we will be exploring in Izmir, thanks to our sponsor and host Wines of Turkey, and meet some of the speakers.

This will be followed from 13:00 for three hours or so, by the brand new WINE-STARS competition being organised by Catherine Monahan of Clink Wines. The excitement surrounds 10 wineries competing in the finals for some listings with top on and off trade customers in the UK market, Dragon Den style. You have to see this in action, and your opinion will probably count too – so come along and support some wineries hoping to make it BIG.

Is that enough to be getting on with?

If you are coming along, do get in touch or follow online at http://vrazon.com/accesszone

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What 1% increase in spending will sell you more wine?

Ironically, the answer is probably not by increasing the quality of your wine.

A vineyard tractor

Will this sell wine? (by @ryanopaz)

With the one exception, moving from a Parker (or other pointillistic) rating of 89 to 90, there is very little chance that you can find any benefit to a 1% increase in wine quality leading to a measured increase in wine sales. Yet wineries will spend thousands and thousands of dollars/euros every day to try to make it happen. They spend on things such as: a new bladder press that presses the grapes even more gently, a consulting winemaker to come in and tweak the style of their wines, or maybe a whole set of new fermentation tanks just because the current ones are not quite the right shape to attain maximum extraction. I’ve seen all of these implemented by wineries who were struggling to sell more wine. Each time the winery was looking for a way to get more people to buy their wine, but from what I can tell, all that was achieved was a larger bank debt and the same amount of wine being sold.

I’m talking about wineries with established markets and established ways of doing things. A new winery might quite rightly need to upgrade the materials they have as they begin to grow, but even in that case, measuring the quality of the wine in relation to the wine making gadgets’ fixed costs is a VERY difficult thing to do. As we used to say in the kitchen I worked in: “It doesn’t matter how fancy your knife is if you don’t know how to use it.”

The irony is that so many wineries are already full of fancy wine making equipement with shiny wineries and fancy bottles, and yet they have either forgotten to invest in a website, or the website they currently have hasn’t been updated in years. Today the website is not an option.

So what 1% increase in spending might help these wineries to sell more wine, if not by making the wine better?

If poor wine quality is stopping you from selling more wine then you will need to spend a lot more than 1% of your budget to improve the wines. If you’re selling wine already and you want to sell more, a new tractor is not going to make difference to your sales. The problem is, buying a tractor is easy to understand. It’s a physical object that you can touch and you know it’s there. Marketing, websites, and PR are less so. You can’t physically touch them and, like a ghost, that can be scary! “New wine press, no problem, I can see that and touch it and all is good! New online social media campaign? Well, I don’ t think that that will help much, plus I don’t understand it”.

Not understanding how something  works does not mean you don’t need it. 

I don’t understand how the hard drive in my computer remembers what I put in it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t need it. I buy it, and use it, because it is useful. Social media, and a functioning website, are not optional winery tools, they are as essential as your destemming machine.

That is if you want to sell more wine.

I believe that a 1% budget increase spent on your winery’s sales, marketing, or online engagement will make a small difference to your bottom line. Quite often a very large difference. If you have the courage, I dare you to try.

An example: What is your annual operating budget for your winery? 250,000 euros? 500,000? More? Less? Let’s start with the first one, where 1% gives us 2,500 euros. Take that money and go out and hire a professional, not a relative who took a weekend class in web design, but a trained professional, and have them sit down with you and teach you about Twitter, Facebook, or even help build your first blog. For that 2,500 euros, and a bit of shopping around, I bet you could get a new website and some in-house training. Maybe not the fanciest website, but you could trade that in for a Facebook fanpage, some Twitter help and more in house training. Now you’re set. Just remember to ask questions and get involved; this stuff won’t run itself.

Then spend 1% of your time each week engaged with it. That’s just 15 minutes a day.

2,500 euros of social media education and initiatives + 15 minutes a day = more wine sold. Guaranteed. Or rather you won’t sell any less wine. You can only gain.

This won’t happen overnight. I bet you didn’t learn to make the perfect wine your first day in the winery. It probably took some time to learn how to do it. That’s ok. It didn’t stop you from trying though, did it? No, you wanted to make better wine, so you went and did it no matter what. Next thing you know, you got the hang of it and pretty soon it became easier and easier. The same goes for social media.

By getting out there and talking to consumers and promoting yourself online, you will sell more wine. The social part of getting out there won’t be tangible, but your selling wine will be. What have you got to lose? With the crisis here in Europe impacting sales, wineries can’t afford not to try. Make 2012 the year you try something different.

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