Millennial Wine Drinkers at Restaurants

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 02-24-2015

Millennials. Drinking Wine. At a Restaurant.

Millennials. Drinking Wine. At a Restaurant.

Millennials are a popular, nay hyped, topic among those in the wine industry. Wine marketers excitedly chase this demographic with the latest packaging, social media campaign, or on-trend red blend.

As a millennial myself, I tend to roll my eyes when I see wine news interspersed with phrases like, “targeted at millennial consumers,” “aimed at millennial males,” or “courting a new generation of wine drinkers.” Note: all of those are pulled from the last week of industry newsletters. Usually what follows, to my millennial sensibilities, seems insincere and manipulative. I want something that is authentic and truly appeals to me vs. a product and campaign that’s attempting to get more share of my wallet.

Plenty of research studies, both within and outside of the wine industry, are directionally useful to understanding younger wine drinkers. Gallo’s latest Consumer Wine Trends Survey featured a number of findings about millennials. The Wine Market Council has put out a succession of media alerts highlighting its recent annual research, including millennial consumption trends. Or for a more general understanding, the idea and content engine, psfk, publishes frequent opinion pieces covering millennial marketing and case studies. Given the hotness of this topic, the list of sources goes on.

However, in my opinion, the most insightful way to learn and to gain credibility with millennials is to go right to the source. Fill in the holes of millennial truisms with your own conversations & experiences, and with the experiences of others who are on the frontline of working with millennials.

To this end, I had the chance at this month’s Vino2015 to listen to a panel discussion all about Echo Boomers Growing Impact in the wine world. This panel included Jack Mason, wine director at Marta, a Union Square Hospitality Group restaurant modeled on the “rustic tradition of Roman pizzerie.” Jack, himself a 27-year old millennial, provided extremely useful and resonant primary observations on what millennial wine drinkers seek in their dining experiences.

He began, “Millennials are lazy and rebellious. They want to be in the know and they want a unique experience.” Read the rest of this entry »

More Civility from Robert Parker

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 09-17-2014

Flickr, Spring Dew.

Flickr, Spring Dew.

Last Monday, Ron Washam (the “HoseMaster of Wine”) wrote a satirical essay on In Pursuit of Balance.

Created in 2011 by Rajat Parr and Jasmine Hirsch, IPOB has been somewhat controversial. In showcasing producers who eschew power and in favor of restraint, the organization is exclusionary by design. And many have taken issue with its use of the word “balance.” (Last year, for example, Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman proclaimed that he “[resented] the implication that richer, more full-bodied wines can’t be balanced.”)

On Tuesday, Robert Parker decided to share his feelings on IPOB:

Subject: Hosemaster classic

His latest comedic genius is especially skull-breaking through the wonderful imagery of a Coravin needle in Jim Laube’s head,…capturing the silly nonsense and money-grubbing lunacy of the Pursuit of Balance crowd….how about In Pursuit of Breathing? Even one of the old geezers from my formulative past-Charlie Olken(who has probably forgotten in one day more about California wine than all the “balancers” know collectively)-CO is the founder and pioneer of the long and excellent Connoisseur’s Guide to California Wine….in short, no serious person pays any attention to Raj Parr and his zealots as it is so obvious they are only trying to sell their own wines….aren’t there enough sommeliers to support them? Keep the humor flowing RW….turds that actually or so full of hot air and float to the surface will eventually end up where they belong….history tells us this…..

In summary, Robert Parker believes that “no serious person pays any attention to Raj Parr” and that IPOB producers are “turds.”

Never mind Parr’s various wine ventures, his role as wine director for Michael Mina’s 21 restaurants, or the huge following he has on Instagram and Twitter. And never mind the fact that many IPOB producers (Au Bon Climat, Calera, Failla, Hanzell, etc.) have been praised by Parker in the past.

To quote New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, “this must be an example of the new civility among wine writers that Bob has recommended.”

Creativity in Wine PR

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 07-17-2014


Complexity New Zealand’s Grapes on a Train

Scrolling through the inbox of a wine writer would be an enlightening experience for most wine industry PR professionals. A quick perusal would reveal that the standard PR toolkit relies on the following common tactics:

- press releases (yawn)
- requests to send samples
- invitations to large, walk-around tastings
- invitations to seminars, often called “master classes”
- invitations to dinners or lunches, sometimes with winemakers
- invitations to press trips

It’s hard for a message to stand out when every producer or trade group wants their press release shared, their “master class” filled, or their wines reviewed. So, what can PR do to make their efforts more memorable and effective?

I can think of two recent programs that have been particularly creative.

The first one was crazy and random. However, I still find myself talking to other attendees about it. Complexity New Zealand organized an event called “Grapes on a Train,” where a group of press and trade attendees took a scenic, 10-hour train ride to Montreal via the historic Adirondack train from Penn Station. Six winemakers joined us from New Zealand – Matt Dicey of Mt Difficulty Wines, Brett Bermingham of Nautilus Estate, Ben Glover of Mud House Wines, Nick Picone of Villa Maria, Tim Health of Cloudy Bay, and Rudi Bauer of Quartz Reef.

On board, we were handed wooden trays with stemless glasses (new ones for each seminar – I can’t imagine the logistics that went into organizing this event on a moving train). Attendees were then ushered through four seminars, which highlighted the variety and quality of New Zealand wines.


The event was brilliant in that it held a group of busy, easily-distracted writers and somms captive for the entire day. And it got all of us talking. Why had we all agreed to do this? Why were a bunch of New Zealand winemakers going to French Canadian Montreal? How did they get the budget to pull this off, including accommodations for the night in Montreal and flights back to New York in the morning?

It didn’t make sense. But somehow, it worked. The execution was flawless. Read the rest of this entry »

Laurence Faller Matters: Wine Fetishism and Wine Reality

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 06-19-2014

Domaine Weinbach is located in a 16th century Capuchin monastery at the foot of the mighty Grand Cru Schlossberg, just outside of the charming village of Keyserberg, resplendent with twee medieval half-timbered houses lined with flowerboxes. 

Laurence Faller.

Laurence Faller.

It was the morning following Christmas, and we—my wife, brother, and myself–were greeted by Laurence’s sister, Catherine, who manages sales. The winter scene could not have been more idyllic; I stood with my wife and brother in front of an ancient monastery that might have been of gingerbread, watching the fog roll down the Schlossberg mountain, glistening with hoarfrost. Two shutters popped opened above me—I heard a sing-songy “âllo!”

Looking up at Catherine peering out from the shutters from above, I half expected a bluebird to land on her shoulder.

With the passing of Laurence Faller on May 13th at the way-too-young age of 47, the wine world lost one of its most distinguished winemakers. But Laurence Faller’s significance to the wine world exceeded the gorgeous wines she made.

Passionate, beautiful, and immensely talented, Laurence was part of a group of whip-smart young Alsatian and Loire Valley winemakers whose biodynamic, non-interventional, or otherwise experimental techniques would resonate throughout the wine industry, forever changing how we think and talk about the relation between wine and earth.

She was a leader. She was a visionary.

And she was also a woman.

Through her actions and examples, Laurence was an all-too-rare role model for the minority of people in the industry who are not White Males.  Let’s face it: especially, perhaps, in the United States, wine collection—like other hobbies of fetish, such as collecting baseball cards; cars; cigars; coins; indeed, collecting or compulsively consuming anything, really—is largely a male enterprise.

This is not, of course, to say that women don’t drink wine. The numbers show quite clearly that they do.  However, we also know that the world and culture of “wine collecting” is largely driven by men—and a fetishization of worldly things that is, somehow, distinctly masculine in ethos. So much of the wine world is reducible to dudes lusting after and gushing over their treasured bottles, fretting and hand-wringing over what bottles to buy and how many.

Meanwhile, many bottles—especially, ironically enough, the most rare and expensive examples—may never even be opened. In wine as in sex, fetishism is mostly something men do.

And then there’s the fact that the culture is driven largely by people chasing points—those grand numbers that, through a mystification rooted in an appeal to authority, give off that sheen of objectivity that justifies the enterprise. And, of course, it’s a historical fact too that the kinds of over-reaching rationalizations involved in this kind of quantification—the kind that extend from a naïve positivism—have long been associated with masculinity.

Drinking to excess, and excess in general, is also historically tied to masculinity. One white male, Hercules, famously got so drunk on Alsatian wine that he left his shield in the Rangen vineyard (his shield is now on the Alsatian flag). Perhaps even male demi-gods, and not just Oedipus, aren’t immune to fetishization. Read the rest of this entry »

Weirdness at the Wine Advocate

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 03-06-2014

DSC01964Early this morning, Robert Parker took a break from several weeks of traveling to post an update for his readers.

In a brief blurb about the Wine Writers Symposium, he wrote, “…Lisa and Jeb were there and later told me the tasting of Jon Bonné’s “new California” wines, assisted by Eric Asimov, was a disaster of showcasing largely emaciated, excessively acidic, hollow wines –apparently many of the attendees were turned off, wondering how wine writing could intentionally go down such a losing path.”

As readers asked for clarification, Wine Advocate editor Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW shared some quick notes:

Here are the wines as I recall them off the top of my head (forgive me if I get some of the wine details wrong): Chappellet 2012 Chenin Blanc (dilute, lacking perfume, simple, thin and abrubt); Abrente 2012 Carneros Albariño (neutral aroma, flavorless without vibrancy and texture…I wondered if they had actually planted Albariño); Massican 2012 White Wine Blend (a blend of mainly Ribolla Gialla with smaller proportions of Tocai Friuliano & Chardonnay. It was vaguely interesting for uniqueness-sake but not particularly exciting as a wine…fairly simple, tart and nondescript); a Pinot Grigio (can’t remember the name) with some residual sugar to give it texture and the illusion of fruit flavor…enough said.; Heitz Grignolino (this was touted as a red wine but looked like a rose and tasted something like an average quality Gamay); a really disappointing Cabernet Franc (again, I’ve forgotten the producer but I was truly disappointed with this austere, astringent, weedy example because I know Napa can produce great Cab Franc when it’s matched to a compatible site), Lagier Meredith 2011 Syrah (The wine of the tasting for me – a pleasant, cooler vintage style with a medium body and plenty of pepper and spice.) I seem to remember we finished with an under-ripe, hollow, hard, acidic and forgettable Cabernet Sauvignon that wasn’t even close to Napa greatness standards.

The actual lineup was as follows:

- 2012 Abrente Albariño
- 2012 Chappellet Chenin Blanc
- 2012 Massican Annia (46% Ribolla Gialla, 36% Friulano, 18% Chardonnay)
- 2011 Matthiasson White (56% Sauv Blanc, 20% Ribolla Gialla, 18% Semillon, and 8% Friulano)
- 2009 Heitz Grignolino
- 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah
- 2011 Turley Wine Cellars Library Vineyard Petite Sirah
- 2010 Corison Cabernet Sauvignon

Jeb Dunnuck, who reviews wines from the Rhône Valley, Southern France, Washington, and Central & Southern California for Wine Advocate, also chimed in:

The whites were mediocre at best. Most were tart, hollow and under-ripe; one needed RS to keep it palatable. Eric Asimov even commented that one was not profound and quaffable… Nothing wrong with that, but the idea that that’s what Napa should strive towards is ridiculous. Reds were better (one weird, odd ball blend was a no go), with the 2011 Lagier Meredith Syrah showing well, but it’s far from their best vintage. Disappointing as a whole and I can’t imagine anyone left there thinking this is the direction Napa should be going.

I’m not sure where Perrotti-Brown had a Cabernet Franc or Pinot Grigio, but it wasn’t in that room. And I’m shocked that Dunnuck found the “weird, odd ball blend” so disappointing – it received a score of 94-96 in the May 2013 edition of the Wine Advocate.

I’d bet the bank that most attendees felt it was one of the strongest panels of the week. It was certainly where we had the most interesting wines. And the discussion was fantastic. Jon and Eric talked at length about the history of the California wine industry – walking attendees through where California’s been, where it is, and where they think it’s going.

Parker’s Remarks: Memorable but Disappointing

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 02-25-2014

Parker at WWS14(Editor’s note: Last week, Robert Parker spoke to attendees at the annual Wine Writers Symposium. Alder Yarrow has put up a video and Richard Jennings has published a rough transcript together with his thoughts. I’ve published a transcript of Parker’s response to smart questions posed by Tony Lawrence and Jon Bonné. More snippets will be published in the coming days. But here’s my commentary.)

“I want all of you to succeed.”

When Robert Parker spoke at the annual Wine Writers Symposium last Wednesday, he opened with these words.

While he meant well, such words would have been better suited to, say, the Wine Bloggers Conference. Or a high school English class.

Eric Asimov, Ray Isle, Jon Bonné, and Karen MacNeil sat in the audience. As did Jay McInerney, one of the nation’s greatest living novelists. So did about a dozen magazine editors. As did Lisa Perrotti-Brown, Parker’s boss.

This was the audience. Just 62 writers participated in the symposium. Those who follow wine would have recognized more than half the room. So while his intentions were good, the comment was stunningly patronizing.

As Parker continued, he was personable, humorous, and disarming at times. But over and over again, he came off as divisive and dismissive. He said nothing to convince the crowd he’s more thoughtful than the stereotype he’s created for himself.

Although the appearance was certainly memorable, it was disappointing.

Throughout his remarks, Parker lamented the “myth” that’s evolved about him and his palate and called for more “civility” in the discourse about it. But only once did he admit that he “sometimes overdoes it and gets carried away.”

Remember: This is the critic who praised a Philadelphia BYO in 2010 by celebrating the fact that there wasn’t “a precious sommelier trying to sell some teeth enamel removing wine with acid levels close to toxic, made by some sheep farmer… and made from a grape better fed to wild boar than the human species.”

This is the critic who, just last month, lambasted “a vociferous minority,” who are “perpetrating nothing short of absolute sham on wine consumers.” The sham, which celebrates lower alcohol wines, is a “phony anti-California, anti-New World movement by Eurocentric, self- proclaimed purists.”

In discussing this particular screed, Parker told symposium attendees he wrote it “to encourage conversation on the subject… because we need to discuss it civilly.” He also cited this particular piece to tell the crowd that he doesn’t “like absolutists” – moments after telling us “truth” and “history” are on his side.

The lack of self-awareness would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

With retirement so obviously on the horizon, wine writers — and consumers — expect more from Parker.

We expect more because of the examples set by similar luminaries.

Look at Jancis Robinson. Late last year, Robinson celebrated the “democratization of wine” with the following: No longer are wine critics and reasonably well-known wine writers like me sitting on a pedestal, haughtily handing down our judgments. Nowadays, our readers can answer back, they can throw stones at us, they can make up their own minds. That’s altogether a lot healthier.”

We also expect more because Parker tells us to.

In his opening, he praised the “good talent” that exists in the wine writing community and noted that today’s writers have “infinite possibilities.” Just before taking questions, he said, “it’s sort of a shame that when I look around this room, it’s just a tiny, tiny number of people I’ve ever met, which is sort of sad.”

Parker paints himself as an elder statesman – and acts like he wants to fill that role. But over and over again, he undermines that portrait.

At the symposium, Eric Asimov, Ray Isle, Jon Bonné, Karen MacNeil, Jay McInerney, and others took part in all the events. They were eager to hang out with younger, less accomplished writers. Yet Parker vacated the symposium the moment his time slot ended.

Early in his remarks, Parker described his personal philosophy as “live and let live.” He concluded with an admission that “we’re much closer together in what we believe than what separates us.”

If only he could live up to his words.

Sick of Dumb Infographics? Me Too.

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 12-03-2013

I adore infographics. By turning complex data into easy-to-understand visual representations, they convey information quickly and clearly. Plus, infographics can easily be shared, tweeted, and posted on Facebook. It’s no surprise that infographics so often go viral.

Yet, as global wine brands and public relations firms push them out with increasing frequency, I’ve noticed a surge in the number of dumb infographics. They’re not dumb in that I don’t personally learn anything new; they’re dumb in that they’re rife with errors.

Check out the “Periodic Table of Wine.”

periodic table of wine

This one is completely nonsensical. At first glance, it’s a list of grapes. But then, you’ll notice that several regions are listed, as well. Like Beaujolais (just a few “grapes” away from Gamay); Chianti (right next to Sangiovese); and Rioja (far away from Tempranillo). The white “grapes” are just as bad (white Zinfandel is such a yummy grape). And when you’re stranded in the desert, don’t forget to bring some brandy. You might get thirsty.

This infographic was shared on Facebook by Rioja Wine. What were they thinking?

“How to Make Red Wine,” shared by Wines of South Africa, is even worse!

WOSA - How to Make Red Wine

Apparently, making wine requires the addition of yeast, nutrients, acid, oak chips, and Campden tablets. Only tannin additions are optional. Is this really the message Wines of South Africa wants to promote? Supremely stupid.

Have you spotted any dumb infographics? If so, share them!

Food Friendly? Just Add Salt

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 11-25-2013

saltEverywhere I go, people are suggesting thoughtful wine and food pairings. But I’m rarely impressed.

Don’t get me wrong, wine is the clear choice to pair with food in general. Sorry, beer geeks — only the wine-food combination is capable of producing that magical, transcendent Gestalt, a new whole that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Beer, on the other hand, is too often like another meal.

That being said, this elusive transcendence is relatively rare and very difficult to predict or define. And yet, like the Supreme Court said about pornography, “you know it when you see it.”

Ultimately, I’d like to devise a practical technique to help onemake an educated guess about whether a wine has the potential to create a perfect pairing. But first, I want to make a semantic distinction between a technically correct pairing — where the beverage serves as a perfect accompaniment and elevates the dining experience — and a pairing that somehow intensifies both the food and the wine, creating an altogether different, elevated experience.

The former is common; the latter is rare.

While the experience is rare, we can begin to map out this secret world of taste transcendence through trial and error.

For instance, perhaps there is no more reliable source of this experience than oysters and Muscadet (preferably from superior wineries, like my personal favorite Domaine de la Pépière). While a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire will do in a pinch, I guess, nothing does the trick like a sublimely oceanic Muscadet — hands down the world’s most underrated wine.

By comparison, while it may be true that any decent Cabernet Sauvignon elevates a steak, and sometimes produces the more rarefied 1+1=3 experience, it doesn’t reliably produce this experience. As much as I might enjoy the occasional summertime combination of Napa Cab and grilled steak, an aged Bordeaux will more reliably produce this experience.

Of course, this is the same thing as saying Old World wines more reliably create symphonic wine-food pairings. And that’s the first principle. Don’t get me wrong, a Cab and a steak is always at least good — but we’re making a distinction here between good and correct and something more than that.

The fact that Old World wines pair better with food is only a principle and not a law — a broad principle at that, if reliability is the goal. For example, a savvy, technical pairing of a relatively robust Leitz German Riesling with David Chang’s mostly spicy-porky creations during a recent meal at Ssam Bar in New York was a disappointment. The pairing “worked,” of course, just fine. But that kind of yeoman’s wine/food experience wasn’t what I was after.

On the other hand, I was shocked when a cured chorizo sausage I brought back from an Andalusian mountain village dazzled with a totally unplanned sip of leftover, entry-level Trimbach Riesling. In retrospect, perhaps, I shouldn’t have been so shocked. After all, Alsace wines are known to have a certain affinity with pork.

(I don’t think any wine performs as well with food as consistently as does Trimbach. Can we call that the second principle?)

So outside of the fact that we are more likely to find it with Old World wines, what, really, do we know about this elusive perfect pairing? Although the science of taste provides a few clues about the conditions of this experience, I find this science mostly uncompelling; taste is opaque, after all, and any explanation of “it” will have to come from descriptions of the experience of “it.” I think we can better begin to develop knowledge about this experience through phenomenological investigation and first-hand accounts. So given that, here is what I think we know most: We know when we experience “it” because, suddenly, a sip of the wine perfectly recalls the food, even well after we’ve finished eating it. It turns out our palate has a perfect, photographic memory, and wine has the ability to continuously reactivate it. With each new sip, the flavors of the foodreturn to resonate and linger on the palate, sometimes even long after we’ve tasted the food.

Does that sound about right?

The science of taste does have something interesting to offer this discourse. Throughout history, lacking refrigeration, most food was preserved with salt, and wine was made with the expectation of food. Significantly, the science suggests that salt and acid occupy the same palate terrain, the same taste “pathway.”  That is, acid in wine works to, in effect, balance or cancel out the taste of salt, providing a platform to emphasize the other flavors. It’s no wonder that Old World wines are high in acid — they had the difficult task of making these dubious foods taste good.

On the other hand, fruit-forward wines, low in acid, are less likely to create this favorable palate environment where flavors shine. As with beer, the fruit flavors of the wine tend to compete with rather than showcase the flavors of the food.

Of course, the fact that sleek Old World wines excel with food is news to nobody. The point is rather that there is something practical to be extrapolated from the salt/acid dynamic: if you want to know if a wine is likely to offer that magical synergy with food, try a sip with a pinch of salt. You’ll notice that the flavors of the wine are enhanced — or not.

Ed Comstock loves to travel and discover new wines, often at the same time. When he’s not doing that, he teaches classes in the Department of Literature at American University in Washington, DC.

The Challenges of Being Global

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 10-28-2013

DWCCAs readers who follow me on Twitter or Instagram likely know, I’ve been in Rioja for the past several days at the annual Digital Wine Communications Conference.

On Saturday, I spoke at a panel exploring the communication challenges faced by global wine brands.

Robert McIntosh, the founder of and the co-founder of the DWCC and, moderated the panel. It included Ben Smith, who heads up communications for Concha y Toro in the United Kingdom, and Pia Mara Finkell, who directs media relations and social media for Rioja Wines. (Please note that Rioja Wines sponsored my trip to the conference.)

Check out my prepared remarks below. The panel inspired a fantastic back-and-forth conversation with the audience, so obviously, lots of what we discussed isn’t included below.

The Challenges of Being Global

When talking about global brands, it’s absolutely critical to distinguish between huge wine companies — like Concha y Toro, Pernod Ricard, and Kendall Jackson – and generic brands, like Rioja, Champagne, and Napa Valley.

They’re very different.

Reps from both are constantly pitching me and other members of the media. And I promise I’m not the only wine writer who is much more receptive to a message from a “generic brand,” like Rioja, then a large corporation, like Concha y Toro.

This makes sense. And communicators shouldn’t apologize for it or feel any need to defend it.

First, virtually everyone here is a wine writer. You’ll notice that I’m saying wine writer – not lifestyle journalist or cooking specialist, but wine writer. For most of us, our audience simply doesn’t care about mass-produced wine.

Here’s a news flash. If you’re writing a wine blog, and focus on inexpensive, mass-produced wine that you can pick up at any supermarket in the world, no one is reading your site. Paul Mabray of Vintank can back this up with data, but it makes perfect sense. People who buy inexpensive, supermarket wine don’t read wine blogs. They’re not fascinated by wine.

Wine blogs are written by wine geeks and read by wine geeks, and wine geeks aren’t interested in mass-produced wine.

I’d compare it to restaurant criticism. No restaurant critic – or foodie – wants to tell the world about a new McDonald’s that just opened. But a hole-in-the-wall Italian joint with world-class cooking? Absolutely.

We are, however, quite interested in generic brands like Rioja.

This, too, make sense.

Just as the clothing you wear and the politicians you vote for says something about who you are, so does what you drink. Wine writers enjoy seeing themselves as ambassadors.

Everyone here has probably heard of Peter Liem. He enjoys being an ambassador for Sherry and Champagne. Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle enjoys being an ambassador for the “new” California wine – the producers who are exploring California’s vast and varied climate to protect old vineyards and produce wine from unusual grapes.

I’m sure there’s someone in this room who enjoys being an ambassador for Beaujolais and another who enjoys being an ambassador for dry reds from Portugal.

And even though she’s paid for it, I’m sure Pia enjoys being an ambassador for Rioja.

Very few wine geeks want to be an ambassador for Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, or, even worse, Yellow Tail.

This doesn’t mean someone like Pia has an easy job.

For starters, “generic brands” are inevitably funded by the largest players – and those “large players” tend to be the companies that wine geeks aren’t that interested in. Just as California’s trade association is funded by large companies like Constellation, Treasury, and Gallo, Wines of Rioja is funded by its members, with the largest exporters paying the most.

So Pia has a difficult job.

On the one hand, her client would be giddy to see Eric Asimov, the New York Times wine critic, write about Rioja. But on the other hand, Pia knows that a guy like Eric Asimov – because of his personal preferences and his audience – is only interested in Rioja’s more traditional producers, like Lopez de Heredia and Rioja Alta. He’s simply not interested in Rioja you can easily pick up in the supermarket. And, generally speaking, Wine of Rioja wants to see at least three brands mentioned in any article about the region.

For another example of why generic brands don’t always have it easy, just look at Australia – the wine-producing country that was once relevant.

Ten years ago, the PR folks for Wines of Australia had an easy job. And then the market for Australian wine completely collapsed. So now, the folks there have a terribly difficult job – how do you convince the American market that Australia is more complex than Yellow Tail and over-oaked, over-extracted, monstrous fruit bombs designed in a lab for Robert Parker?

If Pia has a difficult job, then Ben’s is even more challenging.

I’m certain that virtually everyone who works for Concha y Toro, including Ben, absolutely loves wine. And they’re proud of the work they do and the companies they represent. And then a guy like me gets on stage and loudly says:

“Sorry, I’m just not interested.”

But of course, you can make me interested. Stories matter. History matters. Personality matters.

Tell me about the winemaker at Concha y Toro. Tell me about the small-production, experimental stuff you guys are doing. Tell me about your high-end wines, and why I might be interested in them.

This can work. During the Australian craze in the United States, wine writers could rave about Penfolds Grange or D’Arenberg’s “Dead Arm.” Were regular consumers buying these wines? No. But if they read any serious wine writing and then headed to the supermarket, they’d recognize both these brand names.

And those supermarket wines are appealing to a certain kind of journalist.

Journalists spend lots of time thinking about their audience. I know exactly how many people visit my site every month and where they come from. I even know how much money they make and how much they spend on wine. So I have a general sense of what they want to hear from me.

About half the people that visit my site work in the wine industry. The other half are extreme wine geeks.

But I also write a twice-monthly column that runs in several dozen newspapers across the United States. These folks are general interest consumers. My column might run alongside a recipe or a restaurant review. Or even an article about how the high school football team won a big game.

So for that audience, I do care about Concha y Toro and Kendall Jackson.

Plus, the PR folks for big brands can more easily reach out to other types of journalists, like recipe writers, lifestyle reporters, book-club bloggers, you name it. 

Finally, Ben, Pia, and every other person who represents a global brand can bypass traditional journalists and interact directly with consumers thanks to social media. A Facebook contest offering a free trip to Rioja if you, say, host a Rioja tasting at your house? A simple but effective campaign that could, in theory, reach countless more consumers than a mention in the New York Times. And one that’ll allow you to more easily promote “supermarket” wines.

I’d conclude by saying that even though writers have a responsibility to their audience – and editors – writers will forever write about what interests them. Maybe it’s only Napa Valley wine. Maybe it’s only Champagne. But the overwhelming majority of writers are looking for an interesting story. So long as a global brand can figure out how to make something interesting, then that brand can communicate effectively.

Why the VinTank / Delectable Partnership Is a Big Deal

Posted by | Posted in Commentary | Posted on 10-16-2013

delectableToday, the wine world was abuzz with news that VinTank, the wine industry’s leading social-media monitoring platform, had partnered with Delectable, the mobile wine app.

If you’re in the wine industry, you should be familiar with VinTank. As Alder Yarrow eloquently explained last year, “Any winery in the world that does not have a free account on this service, and does not spend at least an hour or two every week using it, is dumber than a bag of hammers.”

VinTank’s software enables wineries to “listen” for mentions of their brands on various social media platforms — and then engage, in real-time, with their customers. (Until today’s announcement, the VinTank platform monitored Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Foursquare.) Vintank captures about 1 million conversations about wine each day. It’s an incredible tool.

With mobile apps, though, VinTank’s founder and chief strategy officer, Paul Mabray, has long been unimpressed. On several occasions (most recently, in April 2012), Paul took a comprehensive look at wine apps – and just couldn’t find any worth supporting.

So that’s what jumped out to me about this story. The iTunes store has hundreds of wine apps. Why Delectable? Why now?

“We chose Delectable for three key reasons,” explained Mabray, while detailing the partnership with me.

“They aligned with our vision for connecting wineries and consumers; they really understand wine and the key use case for a wine consumer — recording your experience; and they understood social as an app better than any other app in history.

“What I mean,” he went onto say, “is that they’ve woven social tools throughout the app — friends, feeds, etc. — but especially organizing influencers to help consumers follow them and be influenced by their suggestions.”

VinTank knows tech – just check out the bio of the firm’s chief technology officer, James Jory.

So this endorsement of Delectable strikes me as a very big deal. Just as CellarTracker left other cellar management platforms in the dust a few years ago, it looks like Delectable is starting to pull away from its competitors in the wine app space.