Author Archives: Robert

About Robert

Robert McIntosh is a wine blogger and online communicator on and, a prolific twitterer (@thirstforwine) as well as speaking at wine events. Robert is co-organiser of the annual Digital Wine Communications Conference, promotes international online wine communication, and advises companies about how to engage through social media. Robert also has some trouble communicating in the third person.

Nice Work Jelly Screen

Making a wine jelly

Have you tried Jelly? I don’t mean the wobbly fruit flavoured stuff, but the new app from the founder of Twitter, Biz Stone.

Now, before we go any further, remember that no-one saw the point of twitter at the beginning either!

Jelly question and answer

A Jelly question and answer

In simple terms, Jelly is a question & answer social network. Anyone can post a question, WITH AN IMAGE, and this can then be answered by any other network member. On the surface it looks similar to Quora, but while Quora is trying to create a database of ‘best answers to any question you can think of’, Jelly is more about the immediate, quick-fire, impermanent .. like twitter.

answering questions is … about giving participants a chance to flex their generosity muscles

One important note is that Biz Stone is actually playing up the altuism angle – answering questions is not about fixing the problem, but about giving participants a chance to flex their generosity muscles, encouraging behaviour aimed at helping others. In fact you can’t rate questions, you can only thank those that answer. Idealistic, but touching.

In terms of wine, it is potentially exciting because it is MUCH easier to take a photo of a label than it is to extract the relevant information to ask a question about a particular bottle.

Confused consumers can now post a simple image and get advice from lots of people, immediately, even at the point of purchase. This is new because Facebook is generally too slow and cumbersome for this, and twitter restricts you to only asking known networks of people. This is closer to ‘crowdsourcing’ of knowledge. However, we have a long way to go before this would work in practice.

Overall Jelly is more of a fun activity than a tool at this stage. It seems most people on there at this stage are trying to invent questions to ask, so it is not that useful. However, I can see how, once (and if) it gains some traction, the idea of having a large audience online ready to answer any question could be attractive.

Things I like:

  • Serendipity of being able to answer random questions from strangers
  • It is really mobile-first – a tool that is truly based on the needs and experiences of mobile communications
  • The concept of linking an image from your phone or archives to a question, and being able to reply by including jottings over that image – and being able to access Google Images to be able to do this if necessary
  • The “it is just a collective stream of consciousness” approach rather than an archive of ‘worthy’ questions and answers


Jelly Activity

Network of activity

However, there are some major issues at this stage:

  • There is no way, at this stage, to apply any expertise you have to answering questions. It seems unfortunate that there is no way of linking questions more intelligently with those Jelly users who might be able to answer them. The randomness factor only accentuates the game / gamification aspect.
  • The lack of any threading or response mechanism means that you could ask a question, get a partial, teasing response and have no way to resolve it. On the other hand it encourages the conversation to move on to twitter … but I can’t really believe that this is what the developers want to happen
  • There is no way for specific communities to emerge that I can see. This is fine in times of low volumes of posts (like now), but what about when volume is high? It isn’t much fun dismissing 100 cards to find something you find interesting or can reasonably answer. I can see that there could be many different ways to use Jelly – for wine buying for example, but this would be very different from, say, getting design feedback on a logo. It ought to be possible to create some form of community around ways of using the app that would then encourage users to share more content and attract more users.
  • I find the friendship / relationship details with the person asking or answer questions, an interesting idea. However, if you have lots of followers, and if you happen to follow certain key influencers (nodes in the ‘degrees of separation’) the audience suddenly becomes incredibly large and you always see the same faces. There really ought to be a way to toggle between just seeing first-degree links and a more open second-degree view.

Jelly is a good example of how new technologies could emerge that could be adapted to help consumers interact with wine.

Do you know of any other emerging apps or networks that might be interesting to watch?

Nice Work Jelly Screen

Feeling good!

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Putting Wine in Context

Wine is not just ‘appreciated’, it is appreciated IN A CONTEXT.

Context: the circumstances that form the setting for an event, statement, or idea, and in terms of which it can be fully understood

One wine that is perfect in one context, may be entirely wrong for another. Thinking, writing, marketing or selling wine without understanding the context risks wasting the effort.

Gaga-ing on the concept of wine

Gaga-ing on the concept of wine in Liquorville

The context for a wine might be:

  • drinking it with a meal on a summer terrace;
  • for analysis and competition purposes;
  • with friends;
  • at a music concert;
  • to impress a colleague;
  • because my mum only likes white wines;
  • to make a social point;
  • … and so on, including in combination, ad infinitum

The context of a wine personalises the experience of the person buying and drinking the wine.

Context changes not just between people, but from moment to moment even for each person.

For too long wine communication has focused almost entirely on a single contextContinue reading

underwood wine can

Who says you Can or Can’t?

What more evidence do we need?

(this post is a follow-up to “Paper Wine Bottle to Rescue Wine Sales” and an interesting, but now unfortunately lost < and FOUND again>, conversation on Facebook about resistance to innovation)

underwood wine can

Quality wines in a can from Underwood (c) David L Reamer

The Drinks Business writes an article about a packaging innovation and (cynically?) makes sure to include a reference to cheaper commercial beer brands in the first sentence.

Then, when the WSET, bastion of the international wine trade’s education, decides to post the article to their facebook page they get 20+ comments of which, to date, 95% are negative and yet not one person has tasted the wine or even seen a can.

Reactions include:
– homeless people all over the world are cheering hahahahahahahha
– Hideous !!! No romance no enjoyment .. We finally except (sic) screw caps and now this insulting slap in the face ! What’s wrong with the bottle all of a sudden ?
– how to appreciate the colour of the wine? what about influencing the taste using beerification? I wont buy it!

Following my recent post on paper wine bottles, and while the Wine Vision conference is apparently bemoaning the lack of innovation in the wine business and our inability to reach consumers, when anyone tries something new it is immediately rejected. Why?

  • You can’t test the quality of a wine in a bottle any more than in a can (except for the recent invention of the Coravin)
  • You don’t have to drink it from the can any more than you drink it from the bottle, you still can choose to use a Zalto glass if you want
  • Wine is aged in stainless steel, what can be wrong with temporary storage / transport in an airtight can?

If anyone had bothered to look, people who HAVE tried the Underwood product seem to like it. Here’s Cool Hunting for example:

“We found the product to be novel and the experience enjoyable, but we were surprised by how great the wine was—causing us to rethink previous notions about bottling.”

Come on people, let’s be a bit more positive. What is really stopping us? We might actually do something that is cool for a change

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Paper Wine Bottle to Rescue Wine Sales?

Does this bottle represent a way to safeguard the future of the wine trade in the UK? This is a bottle made from recycled paper, a plastic liner, and a simple, but effective design. It seems unlikely, yet I find it very exciting.

Paperboy, Paper Bottle

Paperboy, Paper Bottle

If you remove the financial and environmental costs of glass bottles, and put that BACK into producer & retailer margins, you can still reduce the cost of the wine being sold in retail channels and have money to invest in marketing and branding. Once the door is open to packaging innovation, why stop with paper? There are pouches, tetrapacks, boxes, cans and more that fit the above criteria too. We can energise the volume market for wine, helping producers and retailers across the world.


One of the biggest issues facing the wine trade is our complete inability to explain to consumers why a bottle sold in a supermarket for £5 is any different to one sold via a specialist merchant for £50. This confusion allows supermarkets in particular to benefit from the ‘goodwill’ associated with wine and its aspirational nature. While it helps to sell lots of bottles, it actually damages the general perception of wine. Consumers do not naturally ‘trade-up’ to more expensive bottles once they’ve discovered wine. On the contrary, they eventually stop seeing it as anything special.

This is not about education. It is about branding and marketing.

We have no language to differentiate what a chocolatier might call “Confectionery” in the wine business from “Artisanal” bottles. As far as the consumer sees it, if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and tastes like duck, … then it is a duck, and this duck is on special offer!

Here’s my solution, separate the ducks from the … swans. (OK, no more duck analogies).


Paperboy Promotion

Paperboy Promotion

Instead of trying to “educate” consumers to distinguish wines according to region, grape mix, or wine style, change the cues they really care about. Change the packaging!

The wine sold in supermarkets has certain distinguishing features, chief amongst which is the fact that bottles are consumed within HOURS of being sold, and within mere weeks from being bottled in many cases. They do not need glass bottles, corks, labels and many other costly packaging designed for long-term cellaring.

Many of you dear readers (and I’m guessing the majority will be linked to the wine trade in some way), will object immediately and say “but consumers WANT bottles, corks, etc. and do not like alternative packaging.” I would agree as things stand, but WHY? Because that’s what we TELL them they are supposed to like. Instead of promoting alternatives, we spread our prejudices linked to the wines WE like to drink, which is not what most consumers need to hear.

When something new comes along, either as a style of wine, new packaging or retail innovation, it is often criticised for dumbing down wine, for treating wine “like coca-cola”, for “not really understanding wine”.

Think back 10 years, and how the majority of the trade felt about screwcaps. Nobody wanted them, apparently. They made wine look cheap, apparently. They were simply “not suitable”, apparently. We were told there was no demand from consumers or the trade, apparently.

WRONG! It took a gutsy commitment by the supermarkets, especially Tesco, to promote them positively, to change the mantra, and consumers took to them like ducks to … oops!

We, the trade, should also stop treating all ‘wine’ as the same and create different categories that have their own context. Bottles WILL remain, but they will be a characteristic of the types of wines that need this kind of long-term packaging for ageing and developing.

Instead of looking down on ‘supermarket wine’ we need to promote the best of it, positively. What simpler distinction can we offer consumers?


Recycling in action

Recycling in action

That’s where Paperboy comes in.

  • This packaging is already made from recycled paper, and it almost entirely recyclable again – WIN
  • It weighs a fraction of the glass equivalent, with a massive saving on shipping, distribution and production costs – WIN
  • It is safe and portable – WIN
  • It opens the possibility to different shapes, branding and formats – WIN

This is not just wine idealism. This product exists and is being enthusiastically backed by Safeway (in the US) and the design has also featured on TheDieline.

I contacted the designers responsible for Paperboy, Stranger & Stranger, already highly respected for their creative designs in the wine and spirits world and asked Kevin Shaw, Founder & Creative Director, a few questions, and he answered in his characteristically direct manner.

Where did the idea for Paperboy originate from? I saw one of these paper bottles a couple of years ago so I assume there is a patent out there that this licences?

One of the partners of Greenbottle approached us with a prototype they’d been showing around but couldn’t get anyone to bite on. I thought there was some potential, not in the UK market but in the US where they have more of an open mind to testing new ideas. So we came up with a sexy brand name and concept, put Greenbottle together with Truett Hurst, a winery group we have a strong relationship with, and sold in the brand to some retailers. Honestly, we had everyone biting our hand off for the product.

Will Paperboy be available in the UK?

No. Greenbottle couldn’t find a retailer brave enough to even trial it. And even if they did they’d want to stick it on promotion like everything else. We’re interested in using innovation to drive value up.

How scalable is this product? Will we ever see it in mass production for volume brands, or is this something that will require a huge investment before that could happen?

The production development for this product has been tough but they now have it together on a commercial scale and we’re talking about many millions of units next year.

What has the consumer reaction been, more importantly, the distribution chain’s reaction? Any issues of display, shipping, returns? 

The distribution chain has been over the moon because everything is so much lighter. They can fit twice as much wine on lorries – lorries are packed by weight – so they save a load of money on fuel. The retailers are getting behind it, just take a look at the attached picture, because it’s really good wine with something real to contribute to the environment. The energy saving is huge, almost 85% energy saving on glass bottles.

Influencers are hugely interested as this is something really unique and we’ve purposely created the brand launch to appeal to early adopters so the influence will trickle down. It’s been amazing at making wine appealing to a younger consumer.

Where next?

Where next for paper bottles? We’re rolling out the idea to other beverages. Where next for wine bottles? We’ve a load of new ideas in development and now we’ve got a platform in the US there’s no stopping innovation.

The innovation is already happening. Our task is to create a positive language to support this.

What do you think?

Is innovation in packaging the route to reducing wine category confusion?

UPDATE: Some comments from:


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Wine videos that are not for condescending little shits

He’s frank (actually he’s Harry, Harry Haddon), he’s funny, he seems knowledgable and most importantly, he has access to a video editing tool.

Welcome to Harry

Welcome to Harry

At last we have someone new who might be able to make a wine video worth watching – there are surprisingly few who have achieved this.

Wine discussions should not have to be restricted to printed text – so we particularly liked the “wine for non-readers” title.

Do check out the “First Video Post – Foreign Condescension and The Aristargos 2012” by Wine and I’s Harry Haddon and encourage him to make more videos like this – he deserves a much wider audience. This is by no means polished yet (it would be good to invest in a microphone; sound matters too), but there is potential here.

Harry, if you are reading this, you are right, we all hate the “sit in front of a camera and sniff & swirl for ages” stuff, so maybe cut the technical stuff down to minimum, and focus on sharing more of the “if this wine were to go to a picnic, it would wear suspenders and a straw hat” stuff.

Now, I’m off to meet this wine and invite it to a private picnic, just the two of us.

– thank you Chris Kissak for sharing on twitter

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