Category Archives: General

The Coronavirus Email I’d Like to Get

Like many wine lovers, my inbox has been flooded this week with notes from wineries and wine shops detailing their response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Even places that I’ve not heard from in years, such as shops I patronized in the early 2000s when I lived in Missouri and Florida, have suddenly rediscovered my email address.

virus image photo by Harris A, et al. Released by the US gov under the public domain

It’s great that so many businesses are being proactive in closing to protect employees and guests. It’s also a smart move to offer free deliveries and curbside pick up.

But that’s not what I need right now.

As much as I love shopping for wine, a barrage of “BUY! BUY! BUY!” is going to get a quick ‘delete.’ At worst, it may even prompt me to unsubscribe. That’s because even though I do want to support small businesses, it’s just not where my head is at the moment.

Instead, my thoughts are taken up with concerns on how my high-risk dad is doing 5000 miles away. Or whether my sisters are going to be laid off and need help with bills as they juggle homeschooling their kids. Not to mention my own quarantine situation here in Paris.

So when I go to my inbox or social media feeds, I’m looking for something that I desperately need.

A distraction.

Something to do or look forward to that breaks me out of this rut of endless bad news and worry. I need something that feels somewhat normal even though every single thing around me feels alien and bizarre.

The emails and social media posts that resonate the most with me right now are ones that give me an outlet to not think about Coronavirus for a moment. Yet, I fret that in the desire to do something (and drum up sorely needed sales), many businesses are going overboard. It’s not a bad idea to want to communicate to customers. Nor is it misguided to let folks know that you’re still open for business even in a reduced capacity.

But it’s more about how you go about it.

1.) Drop the Form Letter Speak

I’m going to splice together text from several different emails I’ve received this week. Even though some are from wineries and others from wine shops, I doubt many will pick out the splicing because they all sound pretty much the same.

Dear Friends,

During these challenging times, we’re are so grateful for the overwhelming heartfelt support from you — our amazing customers. We would like to announce the following steps that we are taking in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the community. The well-being of our staff, customers, and the community remains our top priority, and we will continue to adapt and adjust these measures due to the evolving circumstances.

In compliance with the California public health mandate, our tasting rooms are temporarily closed. We appreciate everyone’s patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.

The positive news is that the rest of the business is up and running. If you’d like to place an order, you can do so online, or by speaking to one of the team. Whether you are self-isolating, lying low or just love good wine, keep your spirits up and enjoy FREE delivery.

Please stay safe and healthy, follow CDC guidelines, and we’ll all make it through this together.

Sincere thanks for all of your support!

Your customers have likely already received at least a dozen of these emails with several more still to come.

If someone is going to know exactly what an email says before they open it, it’s not an effective email. Businesses must find ways to break out of the formula. One way is to turn it back to the customer with a personal touch. Such as:

Dear Amber,

How are you holding up? As you may have heard, our tasting room is temporarily closed. But our staff has been coming in each day to check in on our wine club members. Please feel free to call or email us if you just want to chat, have questions about what we’re doing at the winery, or even need some wine sent your way. We’ll figure something out…

Think of how different it feels to receive the second email as opposed to the first. They both basically convey the same thing. (Hey, our tasting room is closed, but we’re still here and can get you some wine!) But the first feels formulaic while the second feels sincere and empathetic.

2.) Offer more than just wine to buy and free delivery

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs image by 	FireflySixtySeven. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Yes, we all love wine. But right now, we need a little more than free shipping.


I wrote before about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in the context of wine education, but let’s go back to its traditional use. Because, truthfully, wine really doesn’t have a ready place in the pyramid.

You have to realize that most all your customers are going to be focusing a lot on those bottom tiers of physiological and safety needs. But as more communities get locked down in isolation, that middle tier of needing communication and connection (belonging) is going to be more prominent.

This is when wineries and wine shops need to offer more than just their products. They need to offer themselves. We always talk about how the wine industry is a people-oriented business. That’s never going to ring more true than it will over the next several months.

Now is the time to think outside the box about how to reach consumers–not just to sell, but to connect. Numerous creative ideas are emerging from forward-thinking wineries like Kendall-Jackson which is planning a series of virtual concerts, cooking classes & yoga.

Several wineries such as St. Supéry are launching virtual tastings. While this runs the risk of being overdone, it’s a starting point for other creative ways to utilize platforms such as Facebook Live, Discord or Zoom to interact with consumers.

But there are so many other ideas that can be explored.

Movie night with your own Mystery Science Theatre 3000-type Rifftrax.

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=60496972

Wine + indulging your inner Tom Servo & Crow = a hella fun time.


I would love to be in a Zoom room listening to winemakers riffing films like Sideways, A Walk in the Clouds, Wine Country, Bottle Shock, A Good Year, etc. The awesomeness potential could be off the charts.

And it’s fairly simple to do, not requiring the purchasing of any movie rights. Select a movie that is currently available on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu or even YouTube. Pick a date and time where folks can start watching at the same point. Encourage them to keep the movie on mute and then have fun drinking and riffing.

Virtual Book Clubs

Independent bookstores and libraries are taking the lead on this, but there is no reason why wineries and wine shops can’t follow suit. With many titles available on eReaders, lots of folks are going to be turning to books for a change of pace. You can discuss popular wine books or something completely different. This could be done on a Facebook and Instagram thread or, better still, setting up an interactive Zoom room that folks can participate in face-to-face (virtually).

Wine Games

On Instagram, I do a Mystery Grape game utilizing the IG Story feature. Other bloggers such as Outwines, The Grape Grind and Bin 412 do similar games as well. It’s an easy platform that many wineries and wine shops can pick up.

Whether it be wine education games or silly scavenger hunts around the house, it’s all good fun for a few moments of distraction. And, honestly, it’s probably a better use right now of your Instagram than glamour shots of the vineyard and bottle porn.

While folks want diversions, you have to toe the line to avoid sounding tone deaf. Things aren’t very glamorous these days and likely won’t be for a while. It’s important to acknowledge the hardship and uncertainty even when you’re trying to provide other outlets.

Move wine classes online

Zoom screenshot

Robert Joseph, The Wine Thinker, and Polly Hammond of 5Forests are using Zoom to conduct their Real Business of Wine live streams. It’s a great medium for many virtual events.


This is especially important for wine shops to stay connected with the community. Many shops use their wine classes to help differentiate themselves from their competitors and build relationships with regular attendees. You can still have face to face interactions with your customers–just in a different format.

These classes should be free since you’re not providing wine and food. Though you could take a page out of the wineries’ virtual tasting book by offering a discounted package for delivery beforehand. But most people aren’t going to want to open up 6 to 8 wines at home. And you can’t bank on them having a Coravin.

So I would encourage you to build your classes around one bottle of wine to taste while listening and interacting with the instructor. The other bottles in a delivery pack could be “homework” for later to try at their leisure.

The important thing is to keep offering these classes–to keep offering that connection.

While it’s easy to get overwhelmed now, we’re all in this for the long haul.

It’s likely going to be several weeks, maybe even months, before things start feeling normal. Every wine business need to take that distant vision in their planning.

The craving for a distraction and normalcy is only going to grow. Wine can be both a blessing and balm during these troubling times. But wineries and wine shops need to do more than just ask for a sale.

They have to acknowledge the other needs that consumers have and find ways to deliver more than just a great bottle of wine.

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Education is Not Going to Save the Wine Industry

There’s a public Facebook group that I belong to called Friends Who Like Wine In The Glass. Ran by Steve and Vashti Roebuck of Wine In The Glass, it has nearly 10,000 members who span everything from regular wine lovers to industry folks and even Masters of Wine.

It’s always a good place to pop in for interesting wine conversations such as this recent thread by Larry Baker, aka Larry the Wine Guy. The thread started with Baker posting his latest video about the confusing 75% loophole for labeling American wines by grape varieties and the challenges of trying to educate consumers that their favorite Cab, Merlot or Pinot noir might actually be a red blend.

I know where Larry and other wine stewards/somms are coming from.

As someone who spent many years in the retail trenches, I can sympathize with Larry’s frustrations. The loophole is confusing. It’s also really tough dealing with people so hung up on a grape variety that they’re closed off to trying any other wine which doesn’t have that magical name on the label.

Yet, many American varietal wines in the sub $20 category can be very “red blend-y”–either because of style or a winemaker using the full stretch of that 75% loophole. I understand the desire to want to educate consumers on this loophole and use that enlightenment as a segue to get them to break out of their mono-varietal rut. However, watching Larry’s video and picturing these types of conversations happening on the sales floor made me cringe.

I know Baker is a good guy and has the best of intentions. I’m sure he’s had many great customer interactions and successes. But I’m also absolutely certain that his sincere, but exacting approach to educating consumers has turned off more than a handful as well.

(Update: Since this blog has been published, Baker has shared some more of his thoughts on sales in the comments of his original post that are worth reading for his perspective.)

I’m not writing this to pick on Larry.

He’s definitely not an isolated case.

Every single person reading this blog can think of sommeliers, wine stewards or tasting rooms associates that they’ve encountered who’ve leaned a bit too hard on the wine education front. While some of it can be driven by arrogance and snobbery, for most folks (like Larry), it’s more of an over-extension of passion. When you love wine and what you do, it’s hard not to want to share that and use your knowledge to encourage folks to try new things.

Aviation mechanic using a greasing gun image by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Kyle Steckler. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under PD US Navy

You only need to apply a little grease to ease the friction.


That passion isn’t bad. Wine education isn’t bad. But it’s imperative for anyone dealing with consumers to understand that education is not the engine that drives sales. It’s service, of which education is merely the grease that helps smooth things along.

But you know what happens when you over-grease the gears? Things run hot and break down. Customer service breaks down and the whole engine that we need to sustain the wine industry starts grinding to a halt.

Slathering on even more grease is not going to fix that.

As the US deals with declining wine sales, getting that engine back up and running is at the top of many concerns. However, anytime the industry deals with disappointing sales, there’s always a knee-jerk reaction that more education must be the answer.

Why is no one buying Sherry? It’s too confusing!

Why are Rieslings such a tough sell? People don’t understand them!

You could play this script out for most any wine topic.  It’s like there is a paradox that the answer is to both dumb things down while using education as a hammer to break through consumer ignorance. But what we should be doing is putting away both the crayons and hammers. We don’t have an education problem in the industry.

We have an empathy problem.

Frequent readers of the blog know that this is a tune that I’ve sung many times before. From my posts One Night Stands and Surprises about wineries, Wine Shops’ Biggest Mistake to my recent ponderings of When Did We Stop Treating People Like People?, I’m going to keep banging this drum.

In my career, there’s been no lesson more valuable to learn than that consumers want more listening and less lecturing. They want to be heard, seen and served–not sold to. Any winery, restaurant or wine shop that teaches “selling skills” should throw out those training manuals and start over. It won’t be selling skills that get you sales; it will be your service skills.

campfire photo by Dirk Beyer. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons GFDL and cc-by-sa-2.5

While the logs are undoubtedly vital, no air=no fire.

Those are the skills that will teach you to meet the customer where they are–at their level of knowledge and comfort. While service skills value the use of education to help smooth things along, they know that its use must be measured and not overdone.

Holding a consumer’s interest in wine is like maintaining a fire. It starts with a spark and some kindling. As it grows, you throw on logs (new wines, new knowledge) as fuel to keep it going. But you can’t toss too many on without smothering out the whole thing. The fire needs ventilation and air to sustain itself.

Too many wine professionals smother consumers with education and expertise.

I’m not saying that the industry should turn “anti-expert.” I don’t think anyone can read this blog and come away with the idea that I’m against wine education and expanding folks’ knowledge.

Education is important. Greasing the gears and throwing logs on the fire is essential.

But it’s not the engine or air which our industry needs to survive. Service is.

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Wine Delivery & Shipping Costs — Is This a Battle that Wineries Can Win?

On Twitter, Jason Haas of Tablas Creek shared some of the struggles that wineries have battling consumers’ expectations for cheap or free shipping on wine deliveries.

He very justifiably blames Amazon for creating this quagmire. It’s a sentiment that I’m sure most e-commerce businesses would agree with. One recent study from the National Retail Federation found that 75% of respondents in the US expected free shipping–including 88% of Boomers.

And as retailers like Wine.com and Total Wine & More roll out their own free shipping programs, it won’t be only Amazon shaping wine consumers’ expectations.

As I noted in my retweet of Haas’ thread, this has me conflicted. I know that shipping wine is expensive and complicated. There are so many things that wineries and retailers have to consider which businesses shipping books and bed spreads don’t deal with.

But when I take off my “wine biz” glasses and look at how I act as a consumer, I know that I’ve been Amazon’d.

Shipping Cost screenshot

On second thought….maybe not.


I can’t count how many times I’ve been on a winery’s website picking out items only to go “Whoa” at checkout because of delivery. It’s not that I expect free delivery, but when I see a fee of more than $25-35 (roughly $2-3 a bottle) for a case, I start asking myself, do I really want this wine?

That should make wineries nervous. Because, usually, the answer is going to be “No. I don’t need this wine.”

Up until that point, I was fully onboard spending money and just rolling along with the sale. However, as soon as I was given a reason to pause and wonder if the wines are really worth it, the train derailed.

It’s not because I felt angry or offended that a winery was charging delivery fees–again, I completely understand the business behind it. But what wineries need to understand themselves, is that consumers have so many other choices–not just of different wines and wineries but also of other beverages.

There’s never a situation where we absolutely have to buy your wines. Our lives are not going to be incomplete and joyless without it. In that sense, buying wine (especially online) is always going to be a bit of an impulse purchase. A fleeting fancy carried by a moment of intrigue.

The last thing a winery wants to do is kill that momentum.

Now if I feel this way as a consumer who is reasonably knowledgeable and sympathetic about the tough market wineries face, think about the average consumer who doesn’t know the business. It becomes easy to see why they would expect free delivery or fees far less than the $25-35 that someone like me is comfortable with.

Likewise, it shouldn’t be a shock when e-commerce studies show that upwards of 50% of online baskets are abandoned on the delivery page. While I sincerely hope that cart abandonment numbers are better for wineries, I’m sure even a 30% rate of abandonment cuts deeply into a winery’s sales.

So how much should wineries subsidize shipping?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer to that question. Every winery is going to have its own numbers to crunch. But there’s always going to be a delta between what it costs to ship and how much consumers are willing to pay–and that gap is only going to get larger.

Therefore, I would encourage wineries to add a few more numbers to crunch.

1.) How much are you spending on new customer acquisitions?

So many of my abandoned carts were at wineries that I never tried before. I would come across an article or hear a recommendation that piqued my interest. I’d go check out the website, find other wines that intrigued me and start nibbling the hook. But the difference between reeling in a new customer or having the line break often comes down to how easy it is to get your wines. It doesn’t matter how good the wine is if crappy websites, poor user experience and, yes, delivery fees means that the consumer never tries it. It’s not only a lost sale but also a lost relationship.

Remember, there is always other wine and wineries out there casting their lines. Someone else is going to reel in that customer if you don’t.

2.) How much do you spend to break into a new market?

Many DtC sales are from consumers who can’t find your wine locally. If they’re not going to buy from you directly because of delivery fees, then how much do you need to invest in establishing a presence in their market? This is a big question for West Coast wineries who are looking at the East Coast–which is often the most expensive region to ship to.

Of course, thanks to the asinine three-tier system, even shipping into new markets usually requires licensing, fees and significant investment on top of shipping costs. More numbers to crunch.

3.) But even for the markets that you’re already in, what is the margin difference between a consumer buying 1-2 bottles of your wine retail versus 6-12 online?
Flat Rate screenshot

Oh I’m definitely going to spend way more than I intended here.

This is one part of the “Amazon Effect” that actually benefits wineries. We’re all really suckers when it comes to free shipping and will spend more to get it.

And I fully admit that I’m one of those suckers. If a website gives me a spending target to get free shipping, I’m usually going to exceed it. Even though I know it’s a placebo and I’m still indirectly paying for shipping, it feels easier to justify the money. Instead of paying an “extra fee”, I’m getting an extra product, so I’m happy.

With wine, a flat rate delivery-fee always encourages me to buy more because I figure if I’m in for a penny, I’m in for a pound. And, hey, if someone else is going to carry the heavy wine bottles to my door, then I might as well buy two cases instead of one!

But if I’m at a wine shop, I’m buying far less. Plus, I’m filling up my basket with other wineries’ wines as well–giving you even less of my wallet.

So can wineries win the delivery cost battle?

In short, no. Consumer expectations for free and cheap delivery are only going to continue to grow stronger. Yes, it’s easy to blame Amazon. But, ultimately, it’s always going to be consumers writing the rules with their wallets.

And while your tactics might need to change, the battle for consumers’ wallets can certainly still be won.

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When Did We Stop Treating People Like People?

Two things have been rummaging through my thoughts this past week. One has been Rob McMillan’s very sobering post on The Email You Don’t Want to Get. Though published a few weeks ago, his write-up about a father and his daughter’s disappointing experience at more than a dozen wineries is still generating new comments and conversations popping up on my social media feeds.

The second is this now infamous video of a guy retaliating against someone reclining her seat on a flight from New Orleans to Charlotte.

Friends on my personal Facebook account know that I have a lot of thoughts about that video. But as I ruminated on this and McMillan’s missive, it struck me that the fundamental issues behind both were quite similar.

At the heart of these conflicts and failings, was a point when folks stopped looking at the person they were interacting with–the wine club members coming in to taste, the person in seat 27A–as people.

And they became “things.”

A guest.

A club member.

Another visitor.

Another passenger.

A potential sale.

A bastard.

It doesn’t matter if we assign positive or negative connotations to the terms. There is still an empathy gap that emerges as soon as we look past the person to what we feel they are to us. It creates a blind spot that keeps us from seeing what we are (and what we’re doing) to them.

Go back to McMillan’s letter

Many folks have noted that the wineries in question probably thought they did a good job. They had wine club members come in, poured wine and got the sale. Way to go team!

Though here’s the thing. These wineries didn’t just have a wine club member visit–some generic entity. They had Craig and Amy (I’m making up names for the father and daughter) visit–two unique individuals with their own feelings, expectations and history with each winery. Yet, when they walked through the door, their identities vanished and they became just club members, guests or potential sales. They became “things” whose value to wineries could be measured in numbers–bottles sold, daily visit count or new member sign-ups. And they were treated as such.

But the problem with treating people like things is that they start to feel like that’s all they are to you. You could tell from Craig’s note that he and his daughter certainly think that their value to wineries is measured in dollar signs.

I fully realize as a consumer/collector I’m not on anyone’s radar and certainly no ‘whale’ in any way, but we focused on reserve wines, bought at every winery and did drop over $10,000 in total. My daughter noted ‘that’s probably negligible in this great economy’. As an aging Boomer, well out of the 1%, I hadn’t considered that. — From “The Email You Don’t Want to Get“, February 8th, 2020

So if his worth as a wine club member doesn’t measure up with thousands of dollars spent, then–in his mind–why bother?

But, again, the wineries likely don’t think that they did anything wrong.

Cookie cutter people photo by Tomtchik. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

There’s no recipe for customer service that works with every person.

To some degree, it’s obliviousness, but really it’s a by-product of the tasting room mindset. In many wineries, tasting room staff are measured by metrics that commoditize consumers. There are bonuses for signing up new wine club members and commission on wine sales.

Some places utilize mystery shoppers and NPS (Net Promoter Score) to gauge customer service, but even that sets up a cookie-cutter “teach to the test” mentality. It imparts the impression that if you do A, B & C then your guests must be happy. In some cases, that’s true. But it overlooks the weighting that different things have on each guest.

For most mystery shop and NPS surveys, not saying “Thank you” at the end deducts only one or two points. Not great, but it doesn’t bomb your score. However, not being thanked by any of the 15 wineries they visited undoubtedly felt like a bomb to Craig and Amy.

It’s the same with greeting–such a small thing that usually has a similarly small point value. Yet something as simple as hearing your name can have an immeasurable impact on a consumer, making them feel seen as a person.

And, ultimately, that’s really what we all want–to be seen as a person.

Airline seat photo by Geof Sheppard. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Yeah…it’s tight for everybody.

Now let’s go back to the airplane video. You can spend hours going around who’s to blame and how much blame any of the three parties involved (puncher, recliner, airline) merit. But if you step back and look at it dispassionately, you see a common thread.

The lady reclining didn’t view the guy trapped behind her as a person before she first reclined back, unannounced. She didn’t look at his situation in the back row or that he was eating, so when she jerked her seat back, it spilled his drink on his lap.

The guy behind didn’t view the lady in front of him as a person who may have had serious back issues that necessitated her needing to recline. Nor did he see a person who made a mistake and likely didn’t intend to cause his drink to be spilt. Instead, she became the villain who was making his flight more cramped and miserable. While he may have been a sympathetic character initially, his childish response of jarring her seat only escalated things.

Then there are the airlines which we know view passengers as commodities and not people. For the last several decades, seats and legroom continually get shrunk in a quest to fatten the bottom line. If space weren’t such a sparse commodity, tempers wouldn’t flare up so much over reclining. But instead, we have airlines measuring every inch they can possibly squeeze–not realizing the miles of value those inches hold to the people who fly.

We don’t want the wine industry to go down that path.

We don’t want to lose sight that this is–and will always be–a people-oriented business. People have feelings. They have needs, desires and expectations with the greatest of them being a simple acknowledgment that they exist.

People don’t want to be treated like just another guest or wine club member. They want to be treated as Craig and Amy.

The person sitting in seat 27A has an entirely different situation and perspective than the person in 26A. The only way you’re going to understand this (and avoid unnecessary conflict) is to engage them as the individual people they are–not as the commodity or “thing” you assign them to be.

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Fuck the Fires — Drink Australian Wine

It’s too much — the lost habitats and species. The homes and businesses devastated. Now there are reports that some Australian wine producers in the Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills may lose an entire vintage due to smoke taint.

Kangaroo in Robert Stein Vineyard

Picture that.

Even if you don’t work in the wine industry, imagine an entire year’s worth of your work wiped out. Think about all those steps, sweat and hours in the vineyards going up in smoke. Perhaps insurance and safety nets will help offset some of the financial losses. But nothing offsets a punch to the gut.

You still feel it. But you learn to manage it and move forward. This is what Australian winemakers are doing right now. However, they don’t have to do it alone.

So in the spirit of Yael Cohen’s Fuck Cancer movement, I encourage the wine community to #FuckTheFires and commit to supporting our brothers and sisters in the Australian wine industry.

There are numerous ways that people can help.

Consumers — Drink Australian Wine, especially from small family producers

Hunter Valley Wineries

Just a small assortment of the many tremendous Hunter Valley wineries that could use your support.

It begins and ends with you. Consumers who care and want to make an impact need to vote with their wallets. You need to ask for and actively seek out Australian wines at your local wine shops and restaurants.

While some producers may have lost their 2020 vintage, there are plenty of bottles of current 2016-2019 wines out in the market. The cash flow of moving those bottles through the supply chain and emptying backstocks will help cushion the blow of a down vintage in 2020. Find these bottles and drink up. This is the easiest thing that anyone can do to help the Australian wine industry.

I know this is tough in many markets–especially in places like the United States where the Australian “selection” is dominated by a handful of big names and mass-produced brands. While the supermarkets aren’t likely to change anytime soon, independent wine shops and restaurants can be more responsive. And, believe me, if customers start asking for more Australian wines, they will rise to meet the demand.

Importers and Distributors — Promote and expand your Australian portfolios

This is more of a personal plea to my American compatriots back home. Because even though we’re the largest wine import market by value, the perception of Australian wines for many US consumers is still of low-priced critter wines and fruit bombs. While those wines helped pave the way for Australian wines into the States, they certainly don’t reflect the realities of Australian wine today.

American consumers deserve the chance to know about things like cool-climate Pinot noirs from the Mornington Peninsula and Margaret River Chardonnays that are ages away from the tropical, butter bombs of the past.

Then there are the crackling Rieslings of Mudgee or the beauty of aged Hunter Valley Semillon. Not to mention the Hunter’s exciting foray into alternative varieties like Verdelho, Fiano and Vermentino as well as intriguing Shiraz-Pinot noir blends.

Lowe Zinfandel

David Lowe was inspired by the great Dry Creek Zins of Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery.
His Mudgee Zinfandel strikes me as a mix of the red-fruit & peppery spice of a Dry Creek Zin with the mouthfeel and texture of a ripe Paso wine.

While I do think that Zinfandel is the “craft beer” of American wine, it’s also made its way to Australia as a passion project of more than a few winemakers worth discovering.

In Orange, they’re exploring the potential of high elevation vineyards as well as carbonic maceration. All of which are tailor-made to capture the interest of the wanderlust Millennial market eagerly looking for something different.

There’s so much more to Australian wines than fruit and furry critters. Please, help give American consumers a chance to discover this.

Wine Shops & Restaurants — add more Aussie options to your selection

I know you guys are caught in the middle between what consumers are buying and what you can actually get from importers and distributors. But being caught in the middle means that you can also push at both ends.

Highlight your Australian wine selection by pointedly putting them in front of consumers. And let them know why you’re doing this. Something as simple as a line on a menu saying, “To support the wineries and families dealing with the effects of devastating fires, we proudly offer this selection of Australian wines for you to enjoy” goes a long way towards bringing awareness to consumers.

Of course, we want consumers to lead the way and dictate demand. But dictations often need a prompt to get going. Seize on that and give consumers a prompt to consider Australian wine. In chicken and egg scenarios, successful businesses are rarely the chicken. So take the lead and be proactive in your promotions.

Wine Writers and Influencers — Talk About Australian Wines

Sasha and Jean Degen

Sasha Degen and her mom, Jean, run a tiny winery dedicated to single-vineyard wines.
Sharon Parsons did a lovely write up on Degen during the 2019 Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley.

Yes, there’s so much exciting and interesting stuff out there in the world of wine to write about. But next month, next year and so on, all that exciting and interesting stuff is still going to be there.  So mix things up!

I’m not saying that you need to turn your blog or social media feed completely over Australian topics. However, now is the time for us to turn the spotlight on Australia for something good.

Currently, when Australian topics come across newsfeeds, it’s almost always for something heartbreaking. The fires, the floods and drought. We don’t need to whitewash or sugarcoat the negatives. But we shouldn’t dwell on them either. Australia is so much more than just natural disasters and things that can kill you.

Let’s change the narrative by sharing the stories of dynamic Australian winemakers forging ahead. Let’s talk about how Australia is a microcosm for wine–combining the history of many of the world’s oldest vines and multi-generation family winemaking with innovation that is at the forefront of climate change and the future of the wine industry.

But most importantly, let’s make sure that in the minds and hearts of wine consumers that Australia doesn’t get left behind once the news cameras leave.

Wineries — Hold solidarity tastings featuring your wines and their Australian peers

The wine industry is unique in that while it’s a business and every winery is technically competing against each other; it’s also a community. There are too many other threats to our industry–declining interests by younger generations, neo-prohibitionism, government regulations, tariffs, unstable economies, climate change, hard seltzer and other beverages–that merit more concern.

Whether it’s across the street, across the country or globe, we’re all in this together. The health and success of all our businesses–wineries, shops, restaurants, writers, educators–depends on consumers being engaged and intrigued with wine.

That’s why it would be a fabulous idea for wineries in other regions to host “solidarity tastings” featuring their wines alongside their Australian counterparts.

This will not only highlight how interconnected the world of wine is but help deepen the understanding and appreciation of guests who could try Cab, Shiraz, Sauvignon blanc, etc. from a local favorite next to an expression of that grape from somewhere in Australia. But instead of being done as a competition, it’s done in the spirit of community–perhaps even to raise funds supporting relief efforts in Australia.

Cathy Huyghe and Rebecca Hopkins have a wonderful list of worthwhile organizations to support on their A Balanced Glass site.

Hospice du Rhone seminar mat

Events like the Hospice du Rhône do a great job of highlighting the community among winegrowers.
I remember being fascinated with how many Californian, French and South African winemakers attended this seminar. They were there to taste and ask questions of the panel from Barossa just like the rest of us.

This is a powerful message to send because, while this time it’s Australia, who knows which wine community will be next?

California, Washington, Canada and South Africa are certainly not strangers to devastating brush fires. Flooding, drought and mudslides are hitting European and South American wine regions with increasing frequency as well.

Even if you’re a skeptic about climate change causing these, there’s always the vagarities of devastating earthquakes like those that Chile, New Zealand and Italy have endured. This won’t be the first time that the wine community comes together for support and it certainly won’t be the last.

Why this matters

The timing and impetus for the industry to respond to the fires by supporting the Australian wine community couldn’t be more stark. The industry once again is wringing its hands over how to reach Millennials and Generation Z. But how many times do we need to be beaten over the head with the same messages?

Younger generations want to support businesses that stand for something. That share their values. That basically gives a damn.

So, here you go. Stand up. Give a damn. #FuckTheFires and let’s drink some Australian wine.

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In Defense of Jargon

If you’ve been floating around the Wine Twittersphere anytime the last few weeks, I’m sure you saw The Tweet.

Taxi Photo by Cristian Lorini. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Like a Chia Pet doused in Miracle-Gro, the brew-ha over wine lists, anti-intellectualism, gatekeeping and winesplaining kept sprouting into sub-threads and subtweets.

A few readers asked for my take on the ordeal but I was too busy studying for upcoming exams to give it much thought.

Besides, the many different angles of this Twitter-controversy were more than covered by Robert Joseph, Esther Mobley, and W. Blake Gray‘s excellent summaries. I’ve never been a fan of regurgitating “hot takes” that’s already been aptly taken by folks more talented than me.

So I wasn’t going to write anything unless I could move the conversation forward, or maybe in a slightly different direction.

Then a recent cab ride took me by surprise.

Asking to go to St. Pancras for my train home, my cabbie responded by offering his congrats. In a split-second of paranoia, I wondered if he somehow worked part-time on the WSET Awards Panel, but no.

Instead, he was impressed that, despite my very clear American accent, I didn’t ask to go to St. Pancreas–a daily occurrence for him. (Though, apparently, this is not a mistake made by only Americans.)

The linguistic compliment was out of the blue because, usually, I am that American who horrendously mispronounces everything.
Gravois Park sign by Paul Sableman. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Ah, GRAV-oize Park–or GRAV-oy if you’re fancy.
Definitely not how the French (or most anyone else) would say it.

Growing up in Missouri, my tongue was certainly not taught the Queen’s English. It took many years of living in other areas, such as Washington State and Paris, to learn to stop “warshing the dishes” or that places like Creve Coeur and Carondelet are not pronounced as Creeve Core and Cah-ron-duh-let.

Lord knows that I’ve baffled more than a few London cabbies asking to go to the WSET School on Beer-mond-see. But eventually, I started getting the hang of Bermondsey (Berm-zee) and those interactions got easier.

Beyond pronunciations, I also got used to standing in a queue, instead of a line, and asking where the toilets are instead of the restroom, ladies’ room or bathroom. I learned that an entrée is only a bite or two, not the main course as it is in the US.

When someone in Europe tells me something is on the second floor, I know that’s a bloody lie because it’s actually on the third floor. But if I need help with my bags, I should use the lift instead of the elevator. While seeing dates like February 1st written as 1-2-2020 will still have me backtracking to January, I’m slowly starting to adopt those habits too.

All of these things are the “jargon” of everyday life.

And while it is embarrassing, intimidating and even shame-inducing to make mistakes, those moments are fleeting. Just because I’m not familiar with Britishisms and European quirks of language, doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.

The important thing is whether or not the interaction produced results. Did I get my cab to Bermondsey? Was I directed to the bathroom? Do I have the right ticket for next Saturday’s train ride or do I need a time machine back to January 2nd?

Now, yes, a dickish cabbie, waiter or ticket attendant could amplify the shame, panning my ignorance of the local jargon and customs. But they’re probably going to be a dick anyways even if I had perfect pronunciations and total acclimation. That’s just how some people are.

It’s not the jargon or customs that are wrong. Sometimes an asshole is just an asshole.

And sometimes a crappy wine list is just a crappy wine list.

Wine List pic by Iwona Erskine-Kellie. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Bold typeface is your friend.

Going back to the Helen Rosner tweet, many people noted that simple design fixes like bolding keywords and a better layout would have helped.

Folks like Robert Joseph brought up that the thread was a good reminder that we shouldn’t forget what the purpose of a wine list is.

Ultimately, it’s to sell wine. It’s a tool to communicate.

So is jargon.

Like any tool, it can be used poorly or effectively.

On the sales floor, I actively listened for jargon from my customers. Because it clued me in on what level of familiarity they might already have with wine. This better focused my questions and gave me a good idea of how I should proceed.

In this way, jargon is like shorthand or a schema.

Someone coming in and telling me that they don’t like “bretty wines” gives me a completely different starting point than someone telling me that they don’t like wines that “smell weird.” Or they use terms like acidic and sour compared to bright, fresh or “crunchy.” (That last one provoked another interesting Twitter thread which eventually won me over to the value of “crunchy wines.”)

It’s the same thing when people tell me that they love “Burgs.” Their shorthand familiarity lets me know that I probably don’t need to insult their intelligence by making sure they know that Pinot noir and Chardonnay are the grapes of Burgundy.

However, if someone says they’re a Chard fan, I may still need to feel around more to see where they’re coming from. Here too, peppering my words with a measured amount of jargon (minerally, malo, oaky) could help in seeing how they respond.

But the onus on me, as the salesperson, is ultimately to understand and communicate with my customer. Especially if I want to actually make a sale. Just as it doesn’t help the London cabbie wanting the fare to get dickish or “play dumb” over St. Pancreas or Beer-mond-see, there’s no value in a sommelier or wine steward belittling a customer who isn’t familiar with our language and customs.

Yes, wine is complicated.

Crunchy Australian red

If you want the perfect example of a “crunchy wine” seek this out. A crazy delicious Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot gris (yes, really!) blend from the Adelaide Hills.

Yes, it’s littered with neologisms and strange parlances that make normal folks want to flee. There’s always going to be a cottage industry trying to make wine simple and accessible to those normal people.

We should be mindful of the language we use and whether or not we’re communicating effectively. But that doesn’t mean we have to ditch the jargon completely to be able to talk to less wine-savvy folks. Likewise, Europeans don’t need to “Americanize” the pronunciations of places or change their terminology to accommodate tourists and transplants.

Instead, we should be like cabbies–trying to understand just enough so we can get our consumers to their wine destinations. Eventually, if they keep coming back, they may pick up a bit of our jargon–making future interactions easier.

And who knows? Maybe someday they’ll even enjoy a Burg on Bermondsey.

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Salty Old White Men

I thought it was a hoax when I first read the anonymous letter Tom Wark published on his site.

Salt image from Mahdijiba. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Now I don’t think that Tom made it up. But it feels like whoever sent it to him was working overtime to come up with the most insane caricature of a feminist Natural Wine zealot they could muster. Right down to the over the top capitalization of “MANipulated” wines.

There’s no way that this could’ve been real, right?

It seems like someone made a New Year’s resolution to do more shit-stirring in 2020–digging up not only the Natural Wine debate but also a good, old fashion row of “cis white men are the root of all evil.”

And, frankly, as both a feminist and wine geek who loves the excitement of natural wines, the sentiments of Wark’s anonymous commentator pisses me off.

Because it doesn’t do jack to move the conversation forward.

Before I go on, I should confess a bias since Tom Wark did write a very positive review of this site. But I’m not writing this post to come to Tom’s defense. What concerns me more is how daft diatribes like those of his anonymous writer distract from important discussions that the industry needs to have.

The wine world has diversity issues. That’s indisputable. It’s gotten better but–particularly in the realm of wine writing–it’s still largely the domaine of heterosexual, cis white males.

I’ve got bookcases full of wine books that are more than 80% authored by old white dudes. Pulling out some of my favorite books written by female authors, I could barely fill one shelf. And a good chunk of that is from Jancis Robinson.

Everywhere I go in my wine journey; I’m following the echos and opinions of old white men. When I’m researching a new region or wine, my first introduction is almost always through the lens of someone who sees and tastes the world quite differently than I do.

Wine books

A tale of two bookshelves. There are a lot more shelves that look like the top image than there are of the bottom.

And I at least have the privilege of sharing the same western Caucasian heritage as most of these writers.

I can’t imagine what it is like for POC and folks from non-western countries wadding through tasting notes, analogies and descriptors that are entirely foreign to their own.

Pardon Taguzu, a sommelier from Zimbabwe, made this point well noting, “I never grew up eating gooseberries, so I will never taste that in a wine.” For folks like Taguzu, they’re more likely to pick up the flavor of tsubvu in a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon than they would blackcurrant.

In blind tasting exams, mango and other tropical fruits are standard notes you look for in New World Viogniers. But how helpful is that for an Indian wine lover from a country with over 1500 species of mangos?

Think of all that we lose, as a wine community, when we’re not hearing these diverse voices.

We need these other voices to add depth and inclusiveness to the narrative of wine.

But acknowledging that craving for diversity doesn’t mean we have to demonize the old white men who came before. We don’t need to burn chairs to add more places to the table.

Oz Clarke image from Colin1661music. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Oz Clarke, salt bae

Tossing aside the contributions of folks like Hugh Johnson, Oz Clarke, Matt Kramer and their ilk is like tossing the salt from your cabinet. It’s not going to make you a better cook. Nor will losing these voices make the world of wine any richer.

Yes, it’s a seasoning that certainly needs to be limited in our diets. Lord knows that too much of salty old white men running amok leads to groanworthy sexism. But those are the ills of using a shovel when a dash will do.

While the flavor of wine writing is enhanced by bringing in more curry, cayenne, ginger and sage, we shouldn’t denigrate the role that salty old white men have had in preserving this passion.

Even though we certainly can (and should) scale back on the amount of salt taking up space on our bookshelves–you can’t replace it. Their opinions and insights still have value next to all the other seasonings that enliven our understanding of wine.

We need to build bigger spice racks, not “Fuck the Salt”.

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Dry January Can Go To Hell

Oh, it’s that time of year again.

Man with megaphone image by Peter Milne, Motion Picture Directing; The Facts and Theories of the Newest Art, Falk Publishing Co., New York, 1922, on the Internet Archive. Updated to Wikimedia commons under the Public Domain

Social media feeds are about to get flooded with #NewYearNewYou hashtags and selfies of self-determination. For those who frequently comment about wine and other beverage issues, the algorithm gods have a special treat in store for us.

The #DryJanuary fad.

Yay!

It’s not that I’m against the idea of drinking less.

Anyone that regularly reads this blog knows that I firmly support moderation and meaningful consumption. I’m also a staunch supporter of innovations in the wine industry that encourages moderation like small-format bottles and box wines. Heck, I even gave non-alcoholic wines a serious look.

But what I can’t get behind is sanctimonious virtue-signaling–especially for something that the science is far from conclusive about.

Yes, reducing overall alcohol intake is a good thing. But that is only good if it is sustained and habitual–not if it’s a temporary “binge” of abstinence. Just as detox diets don’t work, the idea of giving up alcohol for a month to “give your liver a rest” is similarly fraught with issues.

As Dr. Michael Apstein, a professor at Harvard Medical School and gastroenterologist, notes, “…there’s no science to support this practice, nor does it make sense physiologically.”

Bingeing during the holidays and then giving your liver “a rest” for January before bingeing again come February is like trying to catch up on sleep. It just doesn’t work. Overcompensating with sleep on Saturday and Sunday isn’t going to change the effects of your Monday-Friday sleeping habits.

Now I don’t think that everyone who scales back in January is a sanctimonious virtue-signaller.

Nor do I doubt the sincerity and good intent of folk who want to make more mindful choices in their lives.  However, these usually aren’t the people plastering their IG with #DryJanuary selfies.

The problem I have is that making “Binge Sobriety” a hashtag fad distracts from the seriousness of actual alcoholism.  To make matters worse, it’s often counterproductive. As Dr. Niall Campbell of Priory Hospital in London notes, many of the folks who feel compelled to try Dry January because of problematic drinking are setting themselves up for failure.

I know compulsive drinkers who have stopped for several Januarys in years gone by, but just counted the days until February…

They think ‘because I have stopped, I can stop anytime’. It’s rarely the case. — Dr. Niall Campbell, January 4th, 2019.

This sentiment is echoed by K.C. Clements in his very personal narrative about dealing with his own issues with alcohol, “I’m Skipping Dry January This Year— Here’s Why.”

He tried binge sobriety for many years. While he got some short term benefits, Dry January ultimately “provided just enough proof that I could continue on with my life unchanged, trapped in the delusion that I could quit drinking any time I wanted.

People who need help with alcohol addiction are not going to get it from a hashtag.

Photo by Susanne Nilsson. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

The road to hell is paved with #GoodIntentions.

The flexing and selfies of strangers on the internet are never going to replace genuine support from family, friends and trained health professionals.

But what about the rest of us?

On the website of the UK group Alcohol Change, which actively promotes Dry January, they describe their “fun challenge” as a way for folks to “reset their relationship” with booze.

However, for many people, binge sobriety doesn’t even pause–much less reset–that relationship. To truly “reset” anything, you can’t avoid the item in question. You have to reframe your thinking about it.

If alcohol is just a means to get drunk–a buzz, a “social lubricant”–then your relationship is always going to be a challenging one. It’s like if you value your partner only because he’s “so good-looking” or she’s “great in bed” and never move beyond those superficial reasons.

If you think that the sum total and benefit of a glass of wine, a bottle of beer, a shot of whiskey or a cocktail is just as an alcohol-delivery vehicle then, yeah, that’s not healthy. It will always be difficult for folks with that mindset to follow guidelines of moderate consumption–up to 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men.

But moderation is much easier when you practice mindful consumption.

This is the same tact that nutrition and wellness experts recommend we take with our food. Don’t just mindlessly gulp down your drink. Slow down. Take time to engage your senses.

Bevan at a Brazilian steak house

Another tactic of moderation and mindful consumption is to limit your alcohol intake to mealtime.

With alcohol, it’s especially important to think about what you’re drinking.

Who made it?
Where did it come?
What makes this drink different from anything else I could have ordered?

Frequent readers of the blog know that there is a story behind every bottle. However, the reality is that the story for some bottles is simply that they exist.

That mass-marketed Sauvignon blanc produced in an anonymous factory and shipped by the tanker? That patio-pounder Prosecco that always tastes the same every time you get it? Yeah, I’ll admit that their stories are pretty lame.

But these are essentially the fast-food versions of wine and it’s pretty hard to mindfully consume stuff like that. This is why mass-produced and anonymous wines should frankly be avoided.

That’s hard, no doubt. It’s so easy to order the house red or pick up that recognizable bottle that you see everywhere. Instead, you have to ask questions.

You have to actively seek out the bottles that have genuine stories behind them driven by real people. At its core, wine is an agricultural product. It’s made by folks who shepherded it along from grapes to glass. Find wines that talk about those people.

Instead of Dry January, think about #TryJanuary.

I have to give credit to one of my #UKWineHour friends, James Hubbard, for bringing this idea to my attention.

His comment came up during an interesting thread that pointed out how independent wine shops and restaurants often bear the brunt of Dry January. The big grocery store chains and mega-corps behind mass-produced brands can weather a month of binge sobriety till February. However, small local businesses–the ones that employ your neighbors and support the community–keenly feel the pain of four weeks of lost sales.

Hubbard’s advice to spend January trying new things works hand in hand with becoming a moderate, more mindful drinker.

Break out of your rut. Try something different. Visit your local shop or wine bar and talk to the people there about wine. Ask about its story.

No one is saying that you have to become a wine connoisseur, obsessing over terroir and coming up with long, flowery tasting notes. You don’t have to do any of that.

But if you truly want to “reset your relationship” with alcohol, paying attention to what you’re drinking is going to do far more for you than a month of “Binge Sobriety.”

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The Tariff Trap

During the baseball season in Seattle, there’s a curious event that happens every year when the Toronto Blue Jays visit Safeco Field to play the Mariners.

A Canadian invasion.

While I’m a huge baseball fan, I never really followed the Mariners much. However, working at wine shops along the I-5 corridor connecting Vancouver to Seattle, I was always acutely aware of when the Blue Jays were in town.

Because then I would get a massive run on J. Lohr Seven Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon and Kim Crawford Sauvignon blanc.

It was bizarre how cases I would be sitting on for weeks would suddenly vanish in a mist of maple leafs and excessive politeness. When I talked to these customers to understand why these two wines seemed to be the national drink of Canada, I would hear a familiar response.

“Oh, you won’t believe how expensive these are up in Canada!”
J Lohr LCBO

Or $23 in Toronto

When I traveled to British Columbia and Toronto with the wife for curling tournaments, I saw first hand how right they were.

That $13 bottle of J. Lohr Cab back in the US? $24
That $11 bottle of Kim Crawford? $18-20
That $5 bottle of Yellow Tail Shiraz? $12
That $7 bottle of Ch. Ste. Michelle Riesling? $16-18

Now some of that is obviously because of the exchange rate (currently 1 USD to 1.31 Canadian). But that would only make those J. Lohr and Kim Crawford bottles around $17 and $14. A significant contributor to the disparity is the local taxes and various tariffs that the Canadian government imposes on wine.

Canada has had a long history of protectionist tariffs–which used to be much higher. This CBC broadcast from 1987 when the original NAFTA negotiations were taking place is well worth the 6:38 to watch. There were stark fears that lowering tariffs (which were as high as 66% in Ontario) would be the end of the Canadian wine industry.

Note: I wanted to embed the video directly, but apparently CBC’s website and WordPress don’t get along.

Of course, those concerns were unfounded.

And, in fact, Canadian wines got better because the increased competition pushed producers to improve. You can see a microcosm of this quality movement in the CBC video (4:33) when they interviewed Harry McWatters at his Sumac Ridge Estate vineyard.

As they showed McWatters working in the vineyard, my eyes popped at the 5:01 mark seeing the overhead sprinkler system they were using for irrigation. This is something that California and a lot of major wine regions started phasing out back in the 1970s as drip irrigation became more widely available. Moving away from wasteful overhead systems towards understanding the importance of controlled deficit irrigation has been a harbinger of quality improvement in many regions.

But you can also see from the interview that McWatters was convinced that he could compete with small, quality-minded producers in California. Clearly, over the next couple of decades, he put that faith into practice as evidenced by Master of Wine James Cluer’s 2012 visit to Sumac Ridge (7:46).

Starting at the 1:40 mark, Cluer interviews McWatters’ daughter, Christa-Lee McWatters Bond, who described many of the changes her dad did in response to the free trade agreement–including pulling out hybrid varieties to plant more vinifera.

However, there is still more work to do.

While the quality of Canadian wine is rapidly improving, the high prices of foreign wine continue to be a crutch that holds them back. This is always the folly that comes with limiting competition.

Think about this. In the minds of many Canadian consumers, J. Lohr Seven Oaks is the benchmark standard of a $24 wine.  So how much effort then do Canadian wineries need to put in to make a better $20-25 bottle? Certainly not the same amount that producers in Washington State, Oregon and California need to do where consumers who are looking to spend $20-25 aren’t thinking about J. Lohr Seven Oaks.

Gramercy Picpoul

It’s hard to imagine paying $20 retail for Kim Crawford when stuff like Gramercy’s Picpoul (or $10-15 French Picpoul de Pinet) exists.

Instead, those consumers are looking at wines like:
Chateau Ste Michelle’s Borne of Fire and Intrinsic
Gordon Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Adelsheim Willamette Valley Pinot noir
Ponzi Tavola Pinot noir
Elk Cove WV Pinot noir
Schug Carneros Pinot noir
Au Bon Climat Santa Barbara Pinot noir
Stags’ Leap Merlot
Trefethen Double T Meritage
Heitz Zinfandel
BV Napa Valley

Or, for a few dollars more, J. Lohr’s Paso Robles Hilltop Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

That’s before you even get to loads of compelling values from Australia, South America and Europe as well.

Yes, there is always a risk that consumers will choose these better value options from somewhere else. But the answer to that problem is to raise the bar, not artificially lower it with protectionist taxes and tariffs.

The US is at risk of making the same mistake.

There’s been lots of ink spilled over the recent threat from the US government to slap 100% tariffs on European wines such as Champagne. The primary justification for these threats is “unfair” trade practices, with some thinking that domestic American wineries will benefit from consumers turning away from more expensive European wines.

Already wine writers are penning posts about how folks can “drink around” the tariffs–noting many domestic options as well as countries that are not yet being hit by tariffs.

But it’s extremely telling that many American wine producers, as well as the US Wine Institute, are firmly against the proposed tariffs.

On Twitter, Jason Lett of Eyrie Vineyards in Oregon shared the letter that he sent to the US trade ambassador.

Lett brings up numerous excellent points about the impacts of retaliatory tariffs in other markets (which is already being felt in China). However, he touches on the pratfalls of limiting consumer choice.

Here Lett looks at it from the angle of distributors being hampered in providing a diverse portfolio. However, the lessons of those Blue Jay Weekends in Seattle still echos.

US wines are better when they’re striving to be the best.

Roederer L'Emeritage

Things like Roederer L’Ermitage from California already out-drink many Champagnes. Using tariffs to push up the price of Veuve Clicquot to $60 is not going to make this sparkler more outstanding.

From the fanatical quest of Martin Ray and Robert Mondavi to make wines on par with the greats of Europe to the legendary Judgement of Paris wines that beat them, the American wine industry has succeeded by raising the bar and not settling.

It’s the competition of outstanding Champagne at affordable prices that inspires high-quality producers in Oregon and elsewhere to keep driving. Otherwise, why not settle for Korbel?

The fabulous rosés of Provence put into context how incredibly delicious Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu, DeLille and other American rosés can be.

It’s the high benchmark of Savennières and the Mosel that encourages folks like Tracey & John Skupny and Stu Smith to make some of the best white wines in California.

Likewise, Anna Shafer of àMaurice in Walla Walla doesn’t need the bar artificially lowered with more expensive French white blends to have a reason to chase after the heights of Condrieu with her Viogniers.

It’s a trap to get complacent and think that pricing or placement is going to win the day. Yeah, that protectionism might give you a short term buffer, but it comes at a cost.

After all, how much of a victory is it to have consumers singing your anthem in another stadium if they’re drinking someone else’s wine?

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What makes a winery Twitter account worth following?

The website Glass of Bubbly regularly publishes a list of their Top 200 Social Media Influencers in sparkling wine. Now while most people think of “influencers” as Instagramers and wine writers (none of which are The Real Influencers of the Wine World), the Glass of Bubbly list is made up almost entirely of winery brands.

Photo by 472301 from https://pixabay.com/illustrations/social-networking-marketing-business-2187996/. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

I’ll admit that I don’t quite get the methods or metrics that Glass of Bubbly uses to compile their rankings. But as a regular Twitter user, I’m always game to finding new accounts worth following. So I went through and looked at all 200 accounts on this list.

I found that, much like winery Instagram feeds, a lot of them suck.

Now I did find a few worth following (which I’ll tag throughout this piece), but the most common theme of many of these accounts is that they were boring as hell. Instead of engaging and unique content, most winery Twitter accounts fall back on trite bottle shots and canned ad verbiage–if the account is being updated at all.

Unfortunately, many brands (like Jacob’s Creek) have not had a new post in months or even years. This is a darn shame because Jacob’s Creek Twitter actually had a lot of interesting posts that would make me want to follow them.

And there we get to the crux of it all. To make an account worth following, it has to be interesting.

It has to have content that you don’t find easily from other sources. It has to give you a reason to stop scrolling for a moment and pay attention. You’ll never “influence” someone if you don’t interest them first.

For most people, social media is an escape. So the question that every winery should ask themselves about their Twitter is,

“Is this a feed that someone would want to escape to?”
Sumaridge Twitter screenshot

I wasn’t planning on linking to any of the negative examples, but this Twitter feed baffles me to no end.

If you’re running your Twitter feed like a neverending ad or parade of bottle porn, then the answer is a resounding “No.”

More so than in any other type of marketing, wineries need to think like consumers when it comes to their social media.

Think about what you like seeing and reading about when you’re looking for a distraction from the day.

Think about what makes you stop scrolling.

Is it an endless stream of hashtags and emojis? Probably not.

Nothing but links to your IG or FB page? Erm.

And why on earth would any consumer care about an automated bot-message noting the number of people who followed & unfollowed you?

Plus, if I live several hundred miles away and can only buy your wine online, knowing what your holiday tasting bar hours are is not going to be a compelling reason to follow you.

But you know what is a compelling reason?

Monsoon Valley (@MonsoonValleyUK) sharing Thai dining customs and the unique sights of their homeland.

Parés Baltà (@paresbalta) posting a surprise they discovered while pruning, which highlights the biodiversity in their vineyards.

Rives-Blanques (@RivesBlanques) in Limoux, France pulling out an eye-catching quote from Jancis Robinson that “white wine can look even more alluring in a decanter than red.”

Raventós i Blanc (@RaventosiBlanc) in Spain sharing BABY SHEEP! First rule of winery Twitter–If you can post videos of baby animals, always post videos of baby animals. Guaranteed scroll stopper. Though do sheep always growl like that?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - Hanging the Mistletoe from The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 87464. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-PD-Mark

Dear, let’s kiss underneath the “poop on a stick.”

Dunleavy Vineyards (@DYvineyards) in Bristol & Somerset sharing an Italian greyhound puppy so small that they needed to use a pen for scale.

Ambriel Sparkling (@Ambriel_UK) of West Sussex shattering all my romantic notions about mistletoe with a tweet that sent me down the Google rabbit hole looking up the origins of the word “mistletoe.”

Carolyn Martin (@creationwines) of Creation Wines in South Africa tweeting (and sharing retweets) about what makes Overberg unique and worth visiting.

Show us the people and personalities behind your brand.

Wine is an agricultural product with dozens of distinct hands having a role in shepherding it from grape to bottle. Show us those hands and the heart of the people behind them because that is what truly makes your wine special.

Like Curtis Fielding of @FieldingWinery, who is apparently a big Toronto Maple Leafs fan and is fond of retweeting National Lampon Christmas Vacation clips. While I love geeking out about terroir, stuff like this is the cherry of the terroir sundae that people can relate to much more than soils and climate.

Biddenden Vineyards (@BiddendenVine) in Kent going back into the family archives to post old newspaper clippings from 1985 that shows that English sparkling wine isn’t that recent of a phenomenon.

Lakeview Wine Co. (@LakeviewWineCo) in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario spreading some holiday cheer with their staff’s toy drive.

Featherstone Winery (@featherstonewne) in Vineland, Ontario celebrating the last pressing of the harvest.

The human touch and face
Screenshot from Waterford Twitter

When scrolling through a social media feed, our eyes are drawn to faces of people. Not only does it make us more likely to stop scrolling and pay attention to who is posting it, but we’re also more likely to respond to what we see thanks to the “Jennifer Aniston cells” in our brain.

Babylonstoren (@babylonstoren) in the Drakenstein Valley of South Africa paying tribute to their “pruning maestro” on his 80th birthday. In my article How Can Wineries Use Instagram Better?, I raved about a similar post from the Washington winery Côte Bonneville.

Waterford Estate (@waterfordestate) in Stellenbosch, South Africa highlighting the next generation taking a family trip to Table Mountain.

Reif Estate Winery (@Reifwinery) in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario making excellent use of the #ThrowbackThursday hashtag. This is something that every winery should do. Share that nostalgia. Share the bad hairdos, shoulder pads, handlebar mustaches and bellbottoms. Those things resonate because we all have our own nostalgia and “Oh my god, did we really look like that?” pictures.

Show us the people and personality of your brand. That is why we follow your feeds.

Treat Self Promotion like Salt

By all means, post that great review or article mention. But make sure you’re sprinkling it in between other worthwhile and engaging content. Otherwise, we’re back to the same boring old ads. And, again as a consumer, why should I spend my time looking at your ads? If you want consumers to commit to following your Twitter account (and eventually seeing some of those ads), you have to make it worth their while.

A few wineries that do this well include:

Bob Lindo (@camelvalleybob) of Camel Valley sharing what makes English sparkling wine worth discovering with a well-produced Vimeo interview with BBC’s Saturday Kitchen.

Rathfinny Estate (@RathfinnyEstate) throwing out a bit of geeky wine history about Roman viticulture while encouraging folks to visit them in Sussex.

screenshot of Torres Twitter

Geeky and sentimental.

Familia Torres Wines (@TorresWines) has an outstanding winery blog so their posts highlighting their efforts to revive ancient varieties in their vineyards definitely stands out from the pack.

Dr. Loosen Wines (@drloosenwines) in Germany is headed by the legendary Ernst Loosen. Their social media team does a great job of highlighting articles and short videos featuring Loosen.

Newsflash: Wine drinkers who follow wineries on Twitter might actually like reading about other wines.

Know your audience. Not everyone is going to bother looking up the Twitter handle of a winery to specifically follow them. A lot of times, wineries are getting follows because Twitter’s algorithm is recommending their accounts to folks based on similar interests–such as WINE!

So make use of the retweet feature and tweet out interesting wine articles that capture your attention. This adds value to your feed. It can also help increase engagement, making your Twitter posts more likely to show up in other folks’ feeds.

A great example is L’Acadie Vineyards (@lacadiewine) in Nova Scotia who commented on Alice Feiring’s recent piece in The New York Times pondering if the Natural Wine Movement is dead.

Denbies Wine Estate (@denbiesvineyard) in Surrey, UK got a mention in this article about interesting dessert wines from around the world. But they didn’t make the tweet promotional and all about them. Remember, you want your social media feed to feel more like an escape for wine lovers than an endless ad. Well played, Denbies.

Even Bottle Porn can feel less “porn-ish” with meaningful content behind it.

screenshot JC Le Roux Twitter

Why hire models to pose with bottles when you could retweet photos of real live consumers *actually enjoying* your wine?

Villiera Wines (@villiera) in Stellenbosch, South Africa does this nicely with explaining the history of the wine as well as the meaning behind the color choices on their label. WAY less boring than another beautiful shot of bottles held by beautiful people in beautiful locations.

JC Le Roux (@JCLeRoux) in Stellenbosch, South Africa let their consumers supply the bottle shots with very effective use of their #JustCelebrate 🥂 hashtag. This is a terrific example of engagement and what I was desperately seeking from wineries in my post One Night Stands and Surprises. Bravo JC Le Roux!

Who else I followed from the Glass of Bubbly list

As I went through all 200 accounts, I focused on the most recent December tweets (if there were any). If I saw at least 2 to 3 posts of engaging content, I followed them.

Flat Rock Cellars (@Winemakersboots) in Ontario, Canada.

Klein Constantia (@KleinConstantia) in Capetown, South Africa.

Henry of Pelham (@HenryofPelham) in St. Catharines, Ontario. Admittedly more “bottle porn-ish” than I typically follow, but their Anchorman-inspired caption on their ice wine grapes made me smile and earned their inclusion here.

Prosecco Superiore (@ProseccoCV). One of the few non-brands on the Glass of Bubbly list.

Fox & Fox (@sussexvineyards) of Sussex, England.

screenshot from Spier Twitter Feed

Apparently the Spier Light Art Festival is quite a thing to experience in Stellenbosch.

Spier Wine Farm (@SpierWineFarm) in Stellenbosch, South Africa.

Katnook (@Katnook) in Coonawarra, South Australia.

Ridgeview Wine (@RidgeviewWineUK) in Sussex, England.

Bench 1775 Winery (@bench1775) in Penticton, British Columbia. Another Twitter that is a little heavy on the bottle porn but won me over with posts about the ice wine harvest. Truly a labor of love to go out in sub-zero temperatures at night to hand-harvest grapes.

Ravine Vineyard (@RavineVineyard) in St. Davids, Ontario.

Red Squirrel Wine (@RedSquirrelWine) in London, UK.

Hattingley Valley (@hattingleywines) in Hampshire, UK.

Breathless Wines (@BreathlessWines) in Sonoma, California.

Vasse Felix (@vassefelix) in Margaret River, Western Australia.

Balfour – Hush Heath Estate (@HushHeath) in Kent, UK.

Godstone Vineyards (@godstonevines) in Surrey, UK. If you’re a fan of Downton Abbey and the Christmas time classic Love Actually, you’ll be right at home following this winery.

Schramsberg (@Schramsberg) in Napa Valley, California.

Coates & Seely (@coatesandseely) in Hampshire, UK. I’ve realized in compiling this list that a lot of UK wine producers have a very solid winery Twitter game going on.

So check out these accounts and let me know what you think!

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