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How to Effectively Engage International Participants in Tech and Wine Events?

What happens when you step out of your own “filter bubble” and participate in open discussions? We all need our assumptions and outlooks challenged on a regular basis to encourage ideas to develop and for the events to meet the actual needs of our audience, not just what we think they are. Gabriella decided to attend Vinocamp Lisboa to do this with a great bunch of friends and here are some of the lessons learned.

For those of you unfamiliar with Vinocamp, it is a technology and wine un-conference co-founded by Grégoire Japiot and Miss Vicky in 2009. Based on the Barcamp philosophy, the conference aims to merge wine and technology through informal participant initiated workshops as opposed to formal top-down lecturing.

Though previous editions of Vinocamp were hosted in Paris, Beaune and Carcasonne, this one was the very first to have trekked off French terroir and onto the Opaz home stomping ground of Iberia; hence, we felt it was doubly-imperative that we supported the event. Additionally, as we’re always trying to diversify the European Wine Blogger’s Conference (a Vrazon project), it was only logical that we spread the good word among groups that we typically don’t have enough interaction with (e.g. the French – a group very well represented at the last EWBC). So last week, I hopped on a plane and headed west, and returned with many great topics churning in my head.

The Power of Presence

Living in a virtual bubble, we have a tendency to assume that our support of an event through Twitter, Facebook, Livestream, etc is powerful enough to make a significant impact. We retweet relevant information, offer a salient comment on blog post, or simply parlay questions on live video, thus showing our interest in the given discussion. Though this methodology has its merits, the power of one’s physical presence, especially if you’re adding to the conversation, outweighs the virtual presence. Relationships are stronger when people come together in the same physical space, and the goal of what we do online should be to create more offline interaction, not replace it.

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A new wine conversation

Welcome to the new WineConversation, one where you will find a few new, but familiar voices.

Virtually all blogs begin as solitary endeavours driven by the author’s energy and motivation to share some message or theme. In most cases, this energy is lost over time. The world changes. Eventually the themes have been explored and the clever puns have all been made. The blog gets tired, and authors move on.

A great many bloggers have found it easier to continue their online conversations with specific groups of like-minded friends on Facebook and Twitter rather than continue to preach from the lonely soap-box of the blog, and so blogs eventually die.

However, if you driven to create content as well as sharing it, you need a platform.

I’ve long felt that the future for many bloggers was to move on from running all aspects of their sites, from being publisher, editor, author, marketer, ad sales and chief spokesperson, and to pool their knowledge and resources with others and specialise. The effect will be to create bigger, better, more interesting group blogs. These don’t have to be huge publishing enterprises such as Huffington Post or TechCrunch, but niche sites as before where content creators focus on producing quality content without the need for the filler stuff that keeps blogs ticking over.

When I started this blog in June 2006, it was only intended as a small place for me to publish a few comments about what I was thinking about wine culture in the UK. I hadn’t expected it to become a major part of my working life. I didn’t really have any other “social media” channels to participate in – Facebook was not yet available and Twitter was about to launch. However, it grew, partly because I was convinced that this was going to be important for the wine business, and largely because I was getting to know so many cool people.

Two of those amazingly cool people were Ryan & Gabriella Opaz, not only experts on Iberia writing on Catavino.net, but the experts behind Catavino Marketing.

After becoming friends via Facebook (yes, we are a product of Facebook) we eventually went on to create the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC), the Access Zone, the Born Digital Wine Awards and more. It made sense to create a proper structure for all these projects, and so together we are launching a new business called Vrazon (and you’ll hear a LOT more on that soon).

This new focus needs a home. It needs a place where all of us can share our thoughts on how social media and new technologies can benefit the wine business. A place where we can inform you about the conferences, events and campaigns that we are participating in, so you might be able to benefit from them too. A place where you can find us easily and contact us with your comments, questions and suggestions.

The obvious solution was this site.

WineConversation was always about the convergence of wine, marketing and social media (well, in the last couple of years anyway), so this is a logical step. I will still be covering these topics, except now the site will have an even greater International focus, it will benefit from an ‘Opaz’ perspective from the US, Spain & Portugal and it will give the site greater access to Ryan’s technical expertise and Gabriella’s insight, editorial skills and management.

Welcome to the NEW Wine Conversation

We are really looking forward to getting started and hearing what you think.

And finally, special thank you to my many readers, commenters, friends and supporters over the first stage of this site’s development. I owe you so much! I will continue to have a space for more personal thoughts on wine, UK events and activities over at thirstforwine.co.uk so do drop by there from time to time too.

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Lebanon and a truly inspiring wine story from the BBC

Today the BBC Radio 4 broadcast a special programme on the wines of Lebanon, presented by Jeremy Bowen, called ‘Vines on the Front Line‘. The result was actually a very interesting human story, not one of grapes, and I was impressed.

Jeremy Bowen, BBC

Jeremy Bowen, BBC

To listen to the report, click on the link below:

(at least if you are in UK, not sure if it works elsewhere. If I find a permanent download file, I will add this in here later too.)

Vines on the Front Line, BBC Radio 4

My view:

Jeremy is best known, at least in this household, as an international correspondent for the BBC, reporting from the Middle East on conflicts, power struggles and diplomatic wrangling. He is definitely not a name I would have associated with wine reports, but, as he said himself,

“Grapes have been part of my life as a correspondent”

… and I can well imagine!

There are many directions a programme about wine in Lebanon could have gone. It could have been an excuse to treat the people involved as freaks in the context of a war – bombs and suffering sell news better than wine stories after all. It could have been another ‘introduction to wine’ programme rehashing basic wine knowledge with a bit of politics thrown in to make it a bit different.

Instead, Jeremy Bowen’s people skills, and his ability to sniff out real, personal stories, were well matched to his political and historical knowledge, and used to make us understand that what people are doing is neither odd, nor crazy, but actually part of a culture that is older and more enduring than the political, religious divisions that dominate our news of this region. There’s a lesson in there!

I like the fact that he doesn’t actually spend time giving us any detailed tasting impressions, or discussing wine making practices other than a few references. Wine doesn’t have to be about that. What makes Lebanese wine different is the combination of ancient & modern history, the attitudes to wine culture and the imported technology, the recent struggles to keep these traditions alive, and by people whose passion is simply demonstrated by the fact that they continue to do it despite the political, and violent personal, setbacks.

I’ve listened to the programme 3 times. I want to go out and drink some Lebanese wine and learn more about it. That’s the mark of a good programme. Well done Jeremy. Well done BBC.

Can we have a few more like this please?

By the way, if you are inspired to try some Lebanese wines too, here’s a list of key wineries and their UK importers who might be able to help locate a local stockist to you (list courtesy of @LebanonWines)

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Raising the Bar with Oz

11: Climate Change & Wine 2008 - Oz Clarke
Image by edgenumbers via Flickr

The UK’s most popular wine personality, as measured not just in terms of his wine credentials, but also his reach through TV, must be Oz Clarke.

I have just discovered that his ‘Buddy TV’ format has been adapted further in a programme to be called “Oz And Hugh Raise The Bar” on BBC2. He has obviously moved on from Mr Top Gear (who is probably still playing with his toys in his own series) to match him with Hugh Dennis again (after their Christmas special last year).

According to my sources (aka Google):

Wine expert Oz Clarke and comedian Hugh Dennis will set up a bar serving only local UK produce …(and) will travel the UK and Ireland to discover the best British drinks and snacks and purchase them as stock for their respective bars.

I look forward to giving it a chance. I’m sure there are lots of interesting things out there, but I hope there isn’t too much just-for-television fake drama and silliness.

It is interesting to see that the two most prominent UK wine personalities are now Oz Clarke and Olly Smith, who made their name on TV with wine but are now moving away into more general ‘winetertainment’ (with Olly on Iron Chef UK, and I’m sure more things to come). Hopefully it means their appeal will grow and they can bring wine to new audiences and get a proper wine programme commissioned again.

(Note: the programme is to be made by RDF Media – who I hope will inject more energy promoting this than they do updating their own site as I can find no reference to it there)

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Where on Earth?

SIngapore Under Construction Sign
Image by hellochris via Flickr

It is has been too quiet here recently. I did have some amazing ideas for posts, but none have made it past the draft stage yet. Sorry!

My intention is to keep the main part of this blog for more general wine marketing and communications topics, and to keep details of the wine events that I attend in a separate area. One day soon I shall integrate them here properly (a site redesign is underway). However, I have already started writing about some of my wine and food experiences in the last few weeks.

In case you have missed them, there are two ways to read some of these:

  1. Click on the “thirstforwine” tab above and get a snapshot of tweets, posts, videos and photos that I am posting on a daily basis
  2. Visit thirstforwine.posterous.com – my new way of sharing details of some of the interesting wine and food experiences I come across

Here are a few of my recent favourites that I hope you’ll enjoy:

Back soon!

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