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But where is ‘cool’?

I feel I really ought to clarify the term ‘cool’ used in my previous post in the context of the Wine Conversation.

What I had in mind was the kind of place that a person would not only want to go to, but be seen to go to, and even then talk to others about having been there. In Hugh MacLeod‘s terms, a wine retailing Social Marker. By the shared experience of having been to the shop, individuals would be willing and able to start their own wine conversation.

I believe that the retail experience is key because it is common to each wine consumer no matter what they choose to buy. It is also important to keep in mind that this is about the kind of wine consumer who rarely spends over £5 a bottle.

Hugh himself demonstrated the effectiveness of this by engineering the interest in one retailer, Threshers, around Christmas 2006. He used a viral email campaign to get people to talk about that retailer, who then encouraged others to go there to shop and get their discount. It certainly got a lot of people talking and shopping. Where it failed (for Threshers) was that the discussion was not about them at all, but about the discount, and once that was gone, so were the vast majority of the customers.

So where do you buy your wine?

I’ve been reading a fair bit recently about the change in the fortunes and the reputation of Oddbins. It made me think about where I got started with wine.

An important question came to my mind, which I believe is very important to The Wine Conversation.

“Where is it cool to buy wine?”

Plenty of places will sell you wine, but where do people WANT to go and buy it? Once upon a time, and one of the main reasons the wine culture in the UK became ‘cool’, that place was Oddbins. They may not have been everywhere yet, but anyone interested in wine, particularly if you were younger and wanting to know more about the wine world, would know the name ODDBINS.

It was a place to hang out and find all sorts of weird and wonderful, and just affordable, wine discoveries. Australia. Chile. South Africa. California. Exotic names and brands.

Not only were the wines available, but you could be certain that the person behind the counter, and very often not behind the counter but on the shop floor ready to talk to you, would know a great deal. They would have just tasted some “amazing new listing” that they could recommend.

My wife (girlfriend at the time of course) would know that if I went in “just to browse” I would certainly come out with a bottle of something.

Where are they, and their successors today?

Majestic is certainly one of the most successful. Their ‘by the case’ formula is very good for the bottom line, and profitability and confidence help to keep that success going. But 12 bottles is too much for a student or young person just starting out with wine. I was worried about spending £7, never mind £50.

I believe that when he moved to take charge of wine (amongst other things) at Tesco, Dan Jago said that his aim, and I paraphrase slightly, was to make it the kind of place even those in the wine trade would be happy to buy their wine. He has certainly overseen an interesting expansion of their range, I can’t fault that. Unfortunately, I personally can’t see Tesco or any supermarket being a ‘cool’ place to buy your wine, however good the range (he may well disagree).

Independent Merchants, small shops run by enthusiastic individuals, are certainly out there, but the market is very fragmented and their power to reach out to new consumers is limited. Many also find them quite daunting – an unknown quantity where one’s own lack of knowledge might be sneered at.

Can anyone step in? Threshers seem more intent on becoming convenience stores. Nicolas’ exclusive focus on French wines is insanity in the current climate.

One final alternative are the mail order and internet merchants – and here I’m mainly thinking of Direct Wines / Sunday Times Wine Club / Laithwaites / Virgin. This is a growing area for selling wine, but no-one has yet become THE place to go and buy wine. However, this is something to explore further. Many are vying to be the Amazon of wine retailing.

Maybe Oddbins will finally turn it around, who knows, but it will take a great effort, but who else is there?

So, where do you buy your wine?

ABCs never knew what hit them

Some time ago there was a lot of excitement over the fact that there are two competing films being made in Hollywood about the same event, The Judgement of Paris.

I’m sure that if you are reading this site you are already acquainted with this story. “Shock! Horror! Respected wine judges select Californian wines above French in blind tasting!”

It probably seems strange to people starting out on their wine discovery journey today that there was a time when ‘New World’ wines were struggling for recognition (although the term “Fine Wine” is still very much dominated by French wines). However, 1976 saw a sea-change. I won’t bother commenting further on this here as it has been done to death before and will be again once these films come out.

I thought I’d comment on the films themselves. Much will be said in the official wine journals and blogs about how closely or not these reflect the actual event. I think this article covers most of the common points.

What I think is interesting will be the fact that 98% of those who watch the films will not care. However, as the Sideways effect has shown, some of the results of a film involving wine can be long-lasting even if unintended.

What I think might emerge from this, and I’m sure that there are plenty of people out there who hope it will, is a rejuvenated interest in the Chardonnay grape.

The first, and probably more light-hearted of the two, is Bottle Shock (“The French Never Knew What Hit Them” – including a tasteful image of wine bombs being dropped on the Eiffel Tower). It will focus on the winning white wine, a Californian Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena. If it gets people thinking positively about Chardonnay again, then this can only be a bonus, but lets hope the film has a little more integrity than the strapline suggests (I’d rather not see another “A Good Year” – it did very little for wine, romance, comedy or even film for that matter).

Let’s hope that less detailed historical accuracy is made up for in a plot that engages its audience in a love of wine, wherever it may be from.

The second film is still in the works, but will focus on the winning red wine, the Cabernet from Stag’s Leap, and I guess we will have to wait to see more about this, if and when this finally makes it out.

Who knows, but in 18 months time we may be talking about a new ABC movement in consumer drinking patterns. Maybe, instead of Anything But Chardonnay, we might have “Another Bottle shock Convert”

Stormhoek News & Speculation

Well, it looks like things are on-track for keeping the Stormhoek brand alive, if not the whole of Orbital as a company.

I’m sure we’ll know more early next week once due-diligence is complete, but it is fun to imagine where they will end up.

Just imagine: Wouldn’t it be fun to see it taken over by someone outside the wine business, probably by a tech company trying to reach the young, blogging, tech-savvy audience that already knows & loves the brand?

Why should they?

Well, a wine business will need to make a reasonable profit from it to justify the take-over, and we know how hard that is. For a well-funded tech business, this sort of investment would be peanuts, and so even if it made no profit at all, it would save them $/£ millions from their advertising budgets, money that they would otherwise spend anyway.

Just a bit of fun. I don’t expect anything like this, but it would be a great Wine2.0 story, wouldn’t it?

“Major Tech Company buys Social Object in a Bottle”

The "its really about drinking wine" conference

OK, the cat is now out of the proverbial bag.

Ryan and Gabriella over at Catavino have just posted news of some discussions that have been going on for a few months about a Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Europe.

A few months ago a group for wine bloggers on facebook suddenly exploded with creative energy and all sorts of stuff was discussed. Conferences, dinners, tastings, “pimp my blog”, “am I sexy or not?” (OK maybe not the last one). But, just like most facebook groups, very little came of it, but at least the doors were opened.

One of the most interesting ideas was that Wine Bloggers should get together to share ideas, drink some wine, meet their peers and generally have a good time. Unfortunately we are not a rich bunch, and on top of that, there is a great difference between the state of blogging in the US and the rest of the world.

While our American cousins imagined exhibition stands, multi-track conferences, discussions on alternative platforms, revenue-generation, wine2.0, etc. those of us in Europe preferred to start with a dinner with lots of wine and friendly conversation, and maybe go from there (which I think is what is also now happening in the US).

Ryan, Gabriella and I took it upon ourselves to see that something would happen, however small, in Europe in 2008.

So, here we are. Do you blog? What are you doing the weekend of August 29-31, 2008?

Our plan is to gather in Rioja for that dinner, wine and conversation and maybe take the opportunity to visit this famous area and some of its wineries (in the interests of transparency and disclosure I would point out that I work for Dinastia Vivanco in the UK). Lots more details can be found here.

If you fancy joining us, or getting involved in any way, get in touch with me here or on Although we will probably focus on European issues, this event is open to anyone who blogs about wine, however peripherally, and in whatever language.

Come and join us, it’ll be fun!

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