Archive for: December, 2020

Ending the Year with a (Wine) Bitch

In a year of so many surprises and scandals in the wine industry, maybe I shouldn’t be shocked to see it end with a brand trying to torch any goodwill or bridges it had left. That’s 2020 for you.

So let’s give a toast to The Wine Show for putting on a masterclass in crisis management gone awry.

Now I don’t really want to rehash the gory details of the Great Wine Bitch Saga of 2020.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons in the Public Domain.
But I know that many Americans (the bulk of my readership) aren’t familiar with the scandal that roiled the UK wine scene earlier this year. So I will point you to a couple useful summaries published on Tim Atkin’s site from Anne Burchett and Peter Pharos. Vinka Danitza of Bottled Bliss first broke the story on her site with a post taken down after threats of legal action. On Power and Privilege, her follow-up post, gives a good sense of the fall out–even if the details were muzzled.

Finally, we have the words of the Wine Bitch himself, Joe Fattorini, in the public apology he posted.

So how did I get dragged into this mess? Oh lordy! Read on.

I’ve been a fan of The Wine Show for quite some time. I enjoyed watching clips and TWS @ Home series on YouTube until I moved to a country where my Amazon Prime account finally let me watch the full shows. I was also a fan of Joe Fattorini, one of the first influential wine figures on Twitter that I regularly interacted with. I’ll admit that I was quite tickled and even fan-girly when I got the chance to work with him earlier this year (Pre-Wine Bitch) on a couple panels for ARENI Global’s Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines conference.

I found Joe to be quite charming, insightful and, to me at least, a gentleman and generous mentor. So when the Wine Bitch scandal broke out, I was disappointed and disgusted at seeing this side of him. My heart ached for the women (many of whom I follow on social media and highly respect) he slandered. Not only did these women feel the sharp sting of his words, but they had to endure these wounds in public with their names attached to Joe’s vile depictions of them.

So I thoroughly supported the voices that called him to task–and I still do.

But one area where I wasn’t critical was with The Wine Show continuing with Joe Fattorini. And I’ll tell you my reasons.

I firmly believe that to enact change, we must always push for change–pushing for justice, pushing for accountability (even with ourselves). However, that change will never happen unless we also give those offending parties a chance to show their growth.

The gravest ill of “Cancel Culture” is that it wants the scorched earth of accountability to be the endgame. Yet a lesson that those of us in the wine industry know all too well is that the wake of devastation following a scorching wildfire is not a period. It’s an ellipsis.

It’s a new chapter with fertile earth that has the potential to become…something. Something new, something different and, hopefully, something better.

Now, of course, there’s a chance that all that emerges are weeds and thorns.

Old habits with no contrition nor growth. But we’ll never know if all we do is keep lighting matches.

Those of us who strive to hold people like Joe Fattorini accountable, and push them to be better, need to allow them a chance to do just that. To grow and show that growth. There is no victory (moral or otherwise) in banishing them to live like a troll in a cave—just loss.

In a private conversation, which she’s given me permission to share, diversity consultant Kirsten MacLeod perfectly sums up this point and the opportunity that The Wine Show and Joe Fattorini have in front of them.

To help move the Diversity and Inclusion dial forward, there is a need for active allies in the form of white middle-age men, often occupying positions of influence and power in the industry. These advocates with a voice, sitting at the decision-making table, need to be onboard to make change, not ignored or constantly berated.

— Kirsten MacLeod (@TheKirstenMac)

We live in a world that is still profoundly influenced by Salty Old White Men. While we should never overlook or excuse away their misbehavior, if there is a chance that in the fertile earth following a scorched “canceling” that wisdom earned and lessons learned produce a better ally, then we need to see if that’s the case.

So, like many other industry folks & viewers of The Wine Show, I was watching.

Watching to see how this next chapter would proceed. How will they address this? What overtures and amends would they offer to the women and other figures hurt by Joe’s actions?

With such an immense platform in the UK and growing global reach through YouTube and streaming services like Amazon Prime & Hulu, think of the good they could do. Think of the spotlight they could shine on issues of sexism in the wine industry and those faced by POC and other underrepresented communities.

Even if the Wine Bitch missives were not published under The Wine Show banner, they’re inextricably linked now to Joe’s name and persona. So a platform like The Wine Show, which aims to not only profit from but project that persona, is inextricably linked as well. It’s unavoidable and inescapable. That is why The Wine Show needs to step up to the task. They owe that to their viewers–viewers like me who were willing to give them and Joe another chance.

But, sadly, it doesn’t look like The Wine Show wants to go down that path.

Instead, they seem to want to burn bridges and keep the embers of the Wine Bitch controversy alive.

The latest gasoline pitch came a couple of days ago when a wine writer based in Italy, Sarah May (@naturalwinerome), noted that both The Wine Show and Joe Fattorini were blocking voices that had been critical of them during the Wine Bitch saga.

While I didn’t take issue with the private account of a public person blocking people, I was quite bewildered as to why a business account like The Wine Show would think this was a great idea. What could they possibly gain beyond scoring petty points? Was that something worth stirring up more animosity towards your brand?

Sarah May wasn’t the only one.  And while I wasn’t blocked at that moment, I woke up this morning to find that that tweet above had earned me my own kiss of derision.

(Note: Hours later, after the outcry, I was no longer blocked by the TWS account. Though many others still are. We’ll see if any of that changes.)

That’s one hell of a message to send to your viewers.

That’s a message that says, “No, we don’t care what our viewers think.”
No, we’re not going to learn from mistakes–even mistakes originally made by someone else. No, we’re not going to use the power we have–the power that viewers like you give us–to make a meaningful difference.

Even more bizarrely, for a business, this is a message that says, “We want more controversy.”
We want to pull the plug on any goodwill that might still be in the reservoir. We want to alienate voices before they even get a chance to speak in our favor.

And it is a masterclass in burning your brand.

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Three Lessons Learned After 7 Months of Virtual Wine Events

Today marks the 7 month anniversary since the launch of Despite still being a very young site, I’ve been thrilled with its growth. We’ve had more than 7400 events featured with over 5700 unique site visitors. Additionally, more than 400 folks have created accounts to submit events.

Image by Pixabay

But the most exciting part is seeing the data from the site about what kind of virtual events consumers are seeking. It’s one thing to have anecdotes, but the hard numbers about what people are actually clicking on are deeply fascinating.

So today I’m going to share some of these insights gleaned from seven months of data from As I said when I first launched VWE, my goal has always been for this site to be a tool for the wine industry to help reach consumers. It’s why I have no interest in monetizing the site with things like sponsored listings or ads. I want to keep the richness of organic feedback–something that anyone can see, anytime, in things like the Trending Events and Trending Video Replays sections.

Though first, some caveats.

One, the data is deliberately very limited to protect the privacy of users. Not only do we respect GDPR on the site, but I have no interest in demographic details of users or what they do elsewhere. It’s only what they do on the site–which listings they interact with–that I care about. So if you want details about age, gender, income brackets or other interests, then you’re not going to find it here. The only data is from people who intentionally allow cookies and even that is limited to just very general details like location. Thus, the data below reflects the actions of only about half the nearly 6000 users of VWE.

Finally, the current audience for is significantly biased towards the US.

After that, a good segment of our audience comes from the UK and South Africa and then Australia, Canada and India. While we’ve had visitors from over 70 countries (including growing traffic from New Zealand, Ireland, Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, Netherlands, Brazil and Sweden), the US’s influence will still be highly reflected in these numbers.

In future posts, I’ll dive deeper into buzz ratings–highlighting events that have seen the most interaction on the site. In October, I did a lengthy Twitter thread about the Top 10 most popular listings ever featured on VWE. Since then, that Top 10 has shaken up a bit as video replays become an even more significant buzz generator.

But now, let’s get to the three biggest insights that have emerged about virtual wine events.

Lesson 1 – When is the best time to host virtual events?

Answer – It depends.

Overall, the time slot that has seen the highest number of pure interactions is 19:00 GMT (2 pm EST, 11 am PST). This is prime time for the UK, Central Europe (8 pm) and South Africa (9 pm). It also overlaps with viable US times (especially on the weekends). But I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is the most popular time slot. While that time has had the greatest cumulative number of interactions (clicks, bookmarking, calendar adds, etc.), users only interact with an average of 2.4 events that are scheduled to start in that time slot.

Instead, the overwhelming leader in terms of average event interactions is 0:00 GMT–midnight in London but entering prime time for the US from 7 pm East Coast to 4 pm Pacific. Users interact with an average of 6.1 events during this time slot, followed by 23:00 GMT (average 4.5 interactions) and 22:00 GMT. Again, significant US-bias at play here. Below I have a chart of each time slot ranked by the average interactions they see from users. In blue, I’ve highlighted the “prime time” hours of 5 pm to 9 pm (4:30 to 9:30 pm in ACST and India) when most events are held.

Engagement times on VWE by interaction

AUS Central is ACST, which includes South Australia (Adelaide, Barossa Valley, etc.)

Another time slot that jumped out to me was 17:00 GMT (Noon EST, 9 am PST) when many trade webinars are held. Many individual events in this time slot have generated a fair amount of buzz ratings (often through video replays), though overall it’s not a big hour. But the near-even distribution between US and UK users does seem to bear out the value of these times for industry events.

17:00 GMT interaction


Be mindful of your audience and err towards the prime time hours when you can. (Though I’m curious about that 8 pm drop in the West Coast US. Dinner time conflicts?) This is particularly true if you’re doing an event that involves tasting. Because let’s face it, not many folks want to drink wine at 9 am. But for more educational and informative events, the 17:00 to 19:00 GMT slots make a lot of sense to maximize overlap with engage audiences in Europe, South Africa & the US.

Lesson 2 – Virtual Tastings or Webinars? What is more popular?

To some degree, this is a question of who the audience for virtual wine events really is. Is it “regular” consumers who tend to gravitate towards tastings? Or is it more industry folks and highly engaged “winos” who tend to look for more educational events?

On VWE, I allow submitters to self-categorize their events as Virtual Tastings, Webinars, Social Events, IG Lives and Other. I leave the definition of the event up to them, but in the FAQ section, I offer this guidance:

Virtual Tastings– Events focused on specific wines to be tasted, usually with an expectation that participants have pre-purchased the wines ahead of the event.

Webinars– Events focused on a particular topic (such as Old Vine Zinfandel or the Wines of Rioja) that may include tasting specific wines but are structured to where participants don’t necessarily need to have those exact wines in order to enjoy the event. This would also include master classes and other educational events.

Social Events– This is a broad category that includes trivia, quizzes and other wine games, virtual happy hours, yoga, painting and cooking classes, book clubs, Twitter chats, movie viewing parties, etc.

Instagram Live– Due to the growing popularity of these events, we’ve created a separate category to highlight them. IG Lives often incorporate elements of Virtual Tastings, Webinars and Social Events with the common link being the convenience of being able to easily drop in on them while they’re happening.

While the popularity of Social Events & IG Lives ebb and flow (both were way more popular during lockdowns but still have some legs in the US), virtual tastings and webinars have shown remarkable staying power. And it’s pretty darn even between the two.

Virtual Tasting Engagement
webinar engagements


Obviously, we’ll need to keep watching these numbers whenever things hopefully, someday get back to “normal.” While it’s easy to envision webinars still going strong post-COVID, I know many folks have been skeptical about the long term viability of virtual tastings. I don’t think we can pull any concrete takeaways from the data just yet. However, after seven months, there’s enough here to suggest that there will be some sustained interest in VTs.

Lesson 3 – Free or Paid events?

Outside of the “When should I hold my event?” question, the topic of whether an online event should have the cost of wine included upfront or be a free BYOB (bring your own bottle) event is one of the most frequent queries I get. This was the subject of another lengthy Twitter thread I did last month while looking at the data for the top 100 events based on buzz ranking.

That was more back of the envelope extrapolating. But looking at the hard data, events categorized as “Free” do get significantly more engagement. The average user engages with 3.6 free events compared to 2.3 engagements with all other events. However, as I noted in the Twitter thread, it does seem like that trend is changing with more consumers having their interest piqued by paid events.

Free events on VWE

Note: If an event lists a cost range like $0-20, it is not categorized as a “Free” event.

From Impulse to Intent.

In the Twitter thread, I shared my suspicion that one of the drivers of this change is that the mindset of consumers looking for online wine events seems to be shifting. At the beginning of the year, with the COVID pandemic and lockdowns freshly sprung upon us, folks were looking for an escape, for entertainment. That search for distraction played well with the novelty of virtual tasting and easy to consume options like IG Lives.

But as we settle into our new normal with (hopefully) more entertainment options opening up, wine consumers aren’t necessarily looking for distractions anymore. Instead, the ones who continue to seek out virtual events are looking for particular things. It’s more active engagement instead of passive consumption. We’re moving from a mindset of impulse (Hmm, is there anything to do tonight?) towards one of intent (I want to do ________). And consumers are usually more willing to pay for something that fits what they are explicitly seeking versus what strikes them on a whim.

This relates to another trend I see on the site.

The average user is spending a lot more time on, clicking and engaging with listings. Right now, the average engagement is 3 minutes and 6 seconds. But compare the numbers from our first two months (May & June) with those of the past two (October & November).

May June engagement time

Oct Nov engagement time

Not only is the overall average engagement time higher but the average per session is also nearly a full minute longer (1m 06s to 1m 53s). And it’s not because there are more events to look through each calendar day. On the contrary, May and June were the two most prolific months with nearly 2600 events. At the other end, October and November only featured around 1200 events.

But even though the number of events has waned since the pandemic-induced frenzy of virtual tastings, the overall quality of events has improved. And accordingly, the seriousness and selectiveness of the consumers looking for these events have risen in response.

So what comes next?

While there was a lull in events during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, activity has definitely picked up in the winter. It surprised me to see already 412 events submitted for December and another 91 for January. Typically that number slowly builds throughout a month as events get submitted on average 3 to 7 days before they happen. Quite a few only get submitted the day of or day before.

I hope this trend is pointing towards hosts being more proactive in scheduling events with enough time to promote them.  We really need to move beyond a “fly by the pants” mentality of throwing things together and just hoping people show up. Allowing more time to promote gives events a chance to build buzz and reach more consumers. As people move from what’s happening now? to actively searching for events that they want to attend, you want to show up in that search even if your event is still several days or weeks away.

And you want them to find you after the fact as well.
Add past event

Even if your event wasn’t originally featured on VWE, you can still add a video replay link.

I can’t overstate the value of video replays–especially webinars and winemaker events. That archive of quality content is truly the future of virtual wine events and where folks can find their most significant ROI. This will be another area that I’ll explore more in future posts as I keenly keep an eye on what’s popping up on the Trending Replay section.

Another thing I’m working on is categorizing the buzz rating data by keywords in their descriptions to compare events. I want to see how events with things like cooking class, blind tasting, cheese pairing, etc., fare in generating engagement. Which grape varieties or wine regions generate the most buzz? Does featuring a well-known moderator, Master of Wine or Master Sommelier help set some events apart? Tons of great stuff to sink my teeth into.

Of course, folks are welcome to ping me ( anytime about virtual events. As I said above, my goal for VWE is to be a tool for the wine industry. So if there are ways that this data can help wineries, wine shops, restaurants, educators and influencers better reach consumers, I’ll do my best to share it freely.

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