Tag Archive - ewbc

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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Wine, drugs and an unhealthy debate

For an audio version of this post, click here:

I should warn you now, I am a dedicated proponent of a non-communicable disease.

There is only ALCOHOL!

The debate has been stirred by a report by Professor David Nutt, the former UK chief drugs advisor, published in The Lancet called “Drug harms in the UK“. However, it continues a debate we had at the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference as well, on “Freedoms, Rights and Responsibilities”.

What I discovered in that very interesting session in Vienna, with presentations by Adam Watson-Brown (Information Society & Media Department, EU Commission), George Sandeman (representing Wine In Moderation) and Ken Payton (blogger at Reign of Terroir), was exactly how governments and official bodies think of alcohol – and it makes a BIG difference in understanding their approach to the debate.

In this debate, there is no “Wine”. There are no “Spirits”. There are no “Alcopops”, “RTDs“, “artisanal cordials” or even “record-breaking alcoholic beverages”. There is no ‘good alcohol’ or ‘bad alcohol’. There is only ALCOHOL!

ALCOHOL is not a feature of a beverage, a natural by-product of age-old techniques, nor even an industrial process. Alcohol is a drug, and its consumption is a ”non-communicable disease”.

“The World Health Report 2002: Reducing risks, promoting healthy life, identifies five important risk factors for non-communicable disease in the top ten leading risks to health. These are raised blood pressure, raised cholesterol, tobacco use, alcohol consumption, and overweight.” WHO fact sheet No. 273

In other words alcohol is seen as a disease to be eradicated.

It is like banning bridges because they can be used to jump off

Before I go further, let me state that I agree that alcohol abuse is a problem is many societies, and a factor in many problems, but I believe alcohol is also very different from most of the other drugs listed in Prof. Nutt’s study and so this debate is very ‘unhealthy’. Let me explain how.

The chart we have all seen today is this:

Most harmful drugs - The Lancet

This illustrates that, according to a long list of criteria relating to the harm to the individual and also harm to society, and its widespread consumption, alcohol comes top of the list, delivering to the world’s media the nicely controversial headline: “Alcohol is more harmful than heroine“.

What this chart, and this way of thinking completely misses, in my opinion, is that this is only half of the story. It is like banning bridges because they can be used to jump off.

Take a look again at the list, but from a different perspective. Which of these items listed CONTRIBUTE to individuals and society, if any? Where are the BENEFITS? I think most of us would be very hard pressed to say that Crack, Methylamphetamine and Heroine contribute to society in any meaningful way. [Heroine is interesting. Unlike 'Alcohol', this chart doesn't list 'Opiates' where Heroine = BAD but medically administered Morphine = GOOD]. However, the two ‘legal’ drugs on the list, Tobacco and Alcohol do.

Another look at Nutt Report on drugs and alcohol

Another look at Nutt Report on drugs and alcohol

[note: this is my crude attempt at modifying the graph, sourced from The Lancet, for illustration only]

(I’m not going to make the case for Tobacco, others can do that, but even here there are some benefits to society from taxation, even if they are outweighed by the costs.)

But alcohol IS different.

Let’s take wine, but you could argue a similar case for beer and some spirits too. The benefits include:

  • Huge revenue streams from Duty & VAT receipts to the Treasury
  • Vast numbers of people employed in production, supply, retail, marketing and distribution (not just winemakers, but bar and pub owners & staff, importers, wine shop assistants, glass manufacturers, cork companies, shipping companies, label printers, designers, journalists, educators, etc.)
  • Sustainable environmental benefits from land cultivated, often where little else would be viable, and people making a living in rural areas instead of moving to cities
  • Developing tourism infrastructure around regions dependent on wine production
  • Thousands of years of historic and cultural legacies in production and consumption

I’m not even going to touch on the contentious issue of potential individual health benefits from moderate drinking.

I am not in a position to quantify these benefits, but others such as the WSTA might. However, it is obvious that these benefits do exist.

One of the main reasons this needs to be taken into account is because the blunt weapons of punitive taxation and medical warnings can disproportionately reduce the BENEFITS instead of reducing the harm. Raising taxes on alcohol might cut consumption rates, but it also costs jobs and tax revenue. It reduces the margin and incentive to increase quality for retailers and producers because their products are less affordable. This benefits large brands less connected to any local, cultural investments and driven by sales volume growth (which is the opposite of the policy’s aim).

It won’t be just those who are abusing alcohol the most that are affected, but everyone else as well. The approach is backfiring. We already have some of the highest taxes in the world, yet their own evidence shows that things are still not improving.

We have to change the rules of the debate they have set

I went to the EWBC hoping to make the point that wine blogging can have a positive impact on society, through education and reconnecting consumers with the cultural roots of wine enjoyment so that alcohol may be consumed responsibly. I realised, sadly, that the anti-alcohol lobby wasn’t just ignoring us, we weren’t even speaking the same language.

So, how do we engage with the discussion? We have to change the rules of the debate they have set. It is a time for much more concerted efforts by wine lovers and wine businesses.

Unfortunately, printing messages on labels and adverts about “drinking responsibly” are not the answer.

We need clearer data on the benefits of the alcohol trade to individuals, governments, countries and regions. We need to broaden out the debate about dealing with alcohol abuse from the purely medical, to the cultural and economic areas too. And we need informed politicians willing to have a sensible debate about these points without fear of being pilloried by the media.

[UPDATE: 03/11/2010 An interesting follow-up on this debate from an NHS site is here]

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The Pre EWBC Post

It is the final countdown for the start of the third European Wine Bloggers Conference, the annual gathering of wine communicators of all types, and this year representing 30 countries.

There is so much about this event worth sharing but I have to be brief – I’ve a conference to put on and more than 386 wines to taste!

EWBC 2010 Venue
Image by Ryan Opaz via Flickr

First, thank you so much to my amazing partners in this venture – Ryan & Gabriella Opaz of Catavino.net. We’ve got so many ideas of great EWBC related stuff, I am SO excited about what the future will bring.

We are also so glad to have put together the kind of event that can bring together wine lovers from so many different backgrounds and locations. 180+ delegates from 30 countries is an amazing statistic for a young conference in this area. Check out the live streaming page for videos and tweets to follow the event.

We are forever grateful to the sponsors that make these events happen. Our past sponsors, Dinastia Vivanco and ViniPortugal are still involved with the EWBC – that must say something! This year we are so excited to be working with the fabulous team at Austrian Wines and I am REALLY looking forward to learning more about the fabulous wines of this country.

Finally, the full benefit of the event is hard to measure. We hope the visitors learn about, and love, the wines of the sponsors for themselves, but also on their blogs. We hope to see A LOT more content about Austrian wines, grapes, regions and foods in the coming months. But there are also all intangibles, such as the contacts made, the collaborations established and the many new opportunities created when barriers of language and distance are broken down and people find a common cause.

I look forward to sharing some thoughts on the above over the next few days and hope you enjoy reading it – and maybe consider attending next year – we’ve got more exciting things planned for then too.

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From Chelsea to Vienna

This blog will be mainly dedicated to the upcoming European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC) in Vienna over the next week or so – assuming I find a moment to write thoughts down.

However, I am also writing a bit on my Posterous blog (which is easier to write from my iPhone) which will, I hope, one day be more integrated with this site. In the meantime, here is a link to some thoughts on the Fine Wine Fair taking place this weekend in Chelsea – pop down there if you have the time for some good wines.

>> It’s a fine time for fine wine

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Give them Access, They Will Talk

Last week, the London International Wine Fair (#LIWF) saw the arrival of a new breed of exhibitor. This one was called “The Access Zone”.

The Access Zone was a combination of Press Office, Lecture Theatre, Consultancy Office, Networking Zone, Business Centre, Free Wi-Fi Spot and Sales Platform.

Instead of a stand being directed by a single company or brand, or acting as a neutral information or service point, The Access Zone was a place where ideas were exchanged, wines tasted and business contacts made. In many ways it was an exhibition within an exhibition. You can read some of the results here (thanks to @gabriellaopaz)

The organisers of the LIWF invited Ryan & Gabriella Opaz of Catavino.net, and my partners in The European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC), to help put together a site dedicated to Social Media in the wine business as part of the main event. This ‘hub’ was then home to all sorts of individuals and companies that wanted to explore the possibilities of social media for promoting wine, including this site as one of the main sponsors.

The users determined the content

What made this stand different was that all sorts of people in the trade were invited to give talks relating to social media tools and strategies. There were interactive talks on using facebook for wineries, wine fault seminars, promoting films, wine blending, personal branding (my own contribution), the launch of the EWBC 2010 in Austria, and more. The USERS determined the content, then stayed there to help others. It was about bringing our online social networks to life, and as such it was important to have the right people at the centre who could motivate and attract an interesting group of friends.

What did we discover? Well, in a show affected by the economic downturn and volcanic ash related travel woes, it was good to have a positive message to discuss. This was especially true online, but also in the trade press. The wine business is very interested in the potential of social media, but still uncertain as to how to achieve this. Having people there, not just us ‘consultants’, but practitioners, brands with experience and brands who invest in social marketing, they were able to get a better overall picture.

The stand was always busy, with a variety of bigger and smaller exhibitors coming to attend talks or meet someone on the stand, including generic wine bodies, wine journalists and winemakers. The stand also hosted Naked Winesspectacular selection process where their ‘angels’ selected a wine (video) to import which then sold out in less than 24 hours! (more videos here)

The Access Zone is not necessarily a model for every future exhibition. In reality, embracing social media is something ALL exhibitors should do, but while adoption is still very low and exhibitors and visitors are interested in learning more in a non-commercial atmosphere, the Access Zone model is probably one that more exhibitions around the world should emulate. I suspect that many other wine events will now look to have such a space, and will invite key players from around the globe to fill it.

Did you come along? What did you think? Worth repeating? Was there other content you would have liked to see?

Well done James!

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