Combating the Poison of Wine Snobbery

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 09-26-2011

Last year, Steve Heimoff wrote about the “poison” of snobbery “that continues to make so many Americans wary of wine.” As he wrote, “[Consumers] can sense it, like a ‘Don’t come in here, you don’t belong’ exclusionary velvet rope that keeps the trash out.”

He went on to explain how the wine world — like just about everything else in our culture — is moving toward “diversity, transparency and openness.”

Steve is right, and it’s one of the most exciting things about today’s wine world. As I explained in my speech at the Nederburg Wine Auction, as consumers grow more comfortable dismissing today’s arbiters of good taste (Parker, Wine Spectator, etc.), the influence of local voices — the staffer at the neighborhood wine shop, the hip restaurant sommelier, the wine geeks who read Terroirist — is becoming more important.

And as consumers grow comfortable ridding themselves of gatekeepers (and more educated, thanks to the wealth of wine knowledge that’s now available online), consumers will be more capable of making up their own minds, confident in their palates and their judgments.

Recognizing that these changes are on the way, Cape Town Tourism recently hosted a very cool event – 100 Women 100 Wines — which invited 100 women from all over South Africa to taste and judge wine, and debunk “the myth that this right is reserved for the connoisseurs.” By all accounts, the event was a smashing success. I’m sure we’ll see more events like this across the world as wine becomes demystified.

Social Media and Wine Marketing

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 09-22-2011

During my speech at the Nederburg Auction, one point generated quite a bit of interest:

“A wine company can hire a full-time employee, for an entire year, to engage with customers on twitter, facebook, message boards, blogs, you name it — for the same price it would cost to purchase a single full-page advertisement in Wine Spectator.”

(In case you’re wondering: A single, full-page color advertisement in Wine Spectator costs more than $30,000. A full color page ad in Wine Enthusiast runs over $11,000. The Wine News charges $7,700, and Decanter charges just $5,200.)

I went on to explain how wineries can also prove a return on investment when they utilize social media. If you take out an ad, there’s no way to prove how many people actually looked at it. If you engage online, you can point to a specific number of existing and potential consumers you identified and interacted with.

This matters because of the huge changes that are happening thanks to social media platforms. As VinTank’s Paul Mabray recently wrote, “Whereas in the past producers pretty much entrusted retailers with the task of managing consumer relationships on an ongoing basis, they can now connect directly with friends, fans, and followers.”

Today, Neil Pendock, the acclaimed and controversial South African wine journalist, said it was the “most useful suggestion” I offered.

Anyway, I talked a bit about this topic on camera at the auction. The video runs just two minutes.

Twilight of the Gatekeepers

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 09-20-2011

Fortunately, the Springboks won on Saturday!

The gatekeepers’ days are numbered.

In the very near future, wine consumers won’t turn to Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, or Wine Enthusiast to determine if a wine is worth buying – they’ll turn to one another. Whether it’s on a site like CellarTracker or at the local wine shop, tomorrow’s consumers won’t need – or want – global arbiters of good taste.

Similarly, the long-established media elites will no longer wield the influence they do today. Many wine consumers will continue to subscribe to Decanter, of course, but many more will rely on local resources. In Colorado, consumers might turn to Kyle Schlachter of In Washington DC, drinkers might turn to Dave McIntyre (or me!). And consumers will expect the media elites to be much more plugged in – and engaged with their readers – than they are today. (In the Steve Heimoff model.)

These changes represent a remarkable opportunity for everyone in the wine industry – because both will drive consumer demand down the Long Tail. And consumers will reign supreme.

This is the argument I laid out on Saturday during my keynote address at the 37th Nederburg Auction in South Africa. Check out my full speech below – and chime in with your thoughts in the comments! Read the rest of this entry »

Soil is Major or Minor?

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 09-15-2011

Great Soil: La Crau at Dusk

This week marks my final look at Matt Kramer’s provocative installment of Drinking Out Loud, wherein he peels away at the surface of some of wine’s most divisive issues. Over the past month or so, I’ve sought to render my own response to Kramer’s questions, and the feedback has been both insightful and educational.

This final week tackles perhaps one of the more obvious — or so it would seem — issues surrounding wine: Is soil a major or minor contributor to great wine? Perhaps the meat of the question lies in whether great soil is necessary for great wine, and whether mere mediocre soil is more than sufficient for, well, the mediocre stuff.

Without treating the subject too deeply — I think I’m in agreement with Kramer that the subject is effectively a problem solved, a question answered — I still would like to touch on the question of soil from a different perspective, one that never seems to get quite the attention it deserves: rootstock and vine age.

How do these components of viticulture merge to bring focus and substance to the bigger question of soil and its major or minor importance? When the discussion of soil comes up, aren’t we really just discussing the fusion of geology and plant material? Read the rest of this entry »

Corks or Screw Caps?

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 09-01-2011

Uploaded to Flickr by Brett Jordan

Over the last few weeks, I’ve addressed a number of questions posed by Matt Kramer in a recent installment of his column, Drinking Out Loud. Most recently I dealt with the issue of oak and its many uses (and abuses) in modern wine production. It’s definitely a popular issue and unquestionably a divisive one as well. As we continue to reflect on more of these dividing lines, this next topic may prove even more contentious than the last: wine closures.

Is there really something inherently wrong with screw cap wines? Doesn’t it come off a bit cheap to seal a bottle that way? I mean, what about tradition or the nostalgic POP of the bottle that changed your whole perspective on fermented grape juice?

Isn’t there something to be said for good ol’ cork?

These are all valid questions, but I’d like to square off on a few counterpoints. Read the rest of this entry »

The ScoRevolution Can Declare Victory

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 08-29-2011

On the face of it, Christophe Hedges has started a fight that he’s going to lose. But in a way, he’s already won.

Last month, Hedges helped launch a digital manifesto – ScoRevolution – aimed at bringing down the 100-point wine-rating scale. As the Manifesto states, “The 100-point rating system is a clumsy and useless tool for examining wine. If wine is, as we believe, a subjective, subtle, and experiential thing, then by nature it is unquantifiable. Wine scores are merely a static symbol… and thus completely ineffective when applied to a dynamic, evolving, and multifaceted produce.”

Clumsy. Useless. Completely ineffective. Add such strong language to the fact that Hedges secured the support of some of wine’s biggest names — including importer Kermit Lynch, Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard, and Rajat Parr of the Michael Mina restaurant group – and it’s not surprising that his effort has the entire wine world abuzz.

Many writers have issued their support. Eric Noreen from has endorsed it, because “the 100 point system… has long over-stayed its welcome.” W. R. Tish “signed the manifesto to support the concept.” Jeff Siegel, similarly, is happy about the “recent assault on scores.”

Problem is, these writers — and the Manifesto — ignore very real benefits of the 100-point system. Sure, the system is flawed. But as Jon Bonné explained in a qualified defense, “It’s also emerged as perhaps the most effective tool to have spoken to a lot of consumers in the past three decades.” Read the rest of this entry »

Apparent Oak or Stealth Oak?

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 08-25-2011

Uploaded to flickr by martinvarsavsky.

In a recent installment of Drinking Out Loud, Matt Kramer put forward five questions that “divide” the wine world.

These questions strike at the heart of the most conflict-ridden issues among oenophiles. Over the last two weeks, I’ve tackled Kramer’s first two questions (“Power or Finesse?” and “Old School or New Wave?”). This week, “it’s Apparent Oak or Stealth Oak?”

This question has irked me for some time. Quite simply, if I taste more of the barrel than the fruit so painstakingly cared for from bud break to harvest, then why on earth am I taking another sip? If I spend hundreds of hours in the vineyard, and then all of a few minutes topping off another brand new heavy toast barrique, then what is my total net worth for all I invested throughout the year? Flavor-wise, basically nil.

I am personally not opposed to the use of oak in elevage; its ability to manage the exchange of oxygen has long been proven to deter reduction and to soften tannin. Read the rest of this entry »

Old School or New Wave?

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 08-18-2011

Uploaded to Flickr by Lucia Whittaker.

In a recent installment of Drinking Out Loud, Matt Kramer put forward five questions that “divide” the wine world.

These questions strike at the heart of the most conflict-ridden issues among oenophiles. Last week, I tackled Kramer’s first question: “Power or Finesse?” The week, I’m looking at his second: “Old School or New Wave?”

There are those who believe the wine world will always exist as a dichotomy, even if the borders may at times be blurred. The thinking typically follows this structure: “There will always be the ‘New World Fruit and Alcohol’ paradigm and the ‘Old World Earth and Acid’ one. There will never be a broad acceptance and merging of the two styles into one all-encompassing, ideologically perfect drink that everyone consumes with joy and reverie. That’s whimsical.”

To a certain degree, that thinking isn’t too far off keel. I doubt anyone would embrace the uniformity such a creation would entail. Read the rest of this entry »

Power or Finesse? A Response

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 08-11-2011

In a recent installment of Drinking Out Loud, Matt Kramer put forward five questions that “divide” the wine world.

These questions — which Kramer called “The Great Divide” — strike at the heart of the most conflict-ridden issues among oenophiles. The irony here is not lost — for a drink that brings so much joy and laughter to nearly every occasion, why are we still intent on squabbling over it? It’s a question not posed by Kramer, but it’s surely on his mind and the minds of many wine-lovers, lay and learned alike.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll tackle Kramer’s questions. First up? “Power or Finesse?” Read the rest of this entry »

Millennials Aren’t Special

Posted by | Posted in Out of the Glass | Posted on 07-28-2011

Marketers are obsessed with targeting “Millennials.”

Roughly speaking, the Millennial Generation began in 1980 and ended in 2000. Targeting these consumers makes sense — there are around 75 million Millennials, and they have money.

I’m a Millennial. I was born 1982, and I’m quite fond of Google, Facebook, and Twitter – and excited about mobile apps and every new tech toy.

But I’m really not that special. The underlying basics of sales and marketing have not changed. And there’s no reason to think that today’s teens and twenty-somethings are so unique that wineries – or any businesses, for that matter – need to fundamentally change their approach.

So if someone tells you they’re an “expert” on what Millennials want, run the other way. This applies equally to Generation X and Baby Boomers. Americans are too diverse for any generation to be generalized. Read the rest of this entry »