Category Archives: General

Please Do Not Let “Wine Racism” (over a grape!) Become a Thing

Let’s nip something in the bud right now. Whether you want to call it varietism or whatever, do not be the jerk who wants to equate people disliking a grape with being “…the enological equivalent of a wine racist.”

Pinotage by Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof - 76833 Siebeldingen, GERMANY

Poor Pinotage.
Photo by Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), Wikimedia Commons

Seriously! No! Just…wow.

I really can’t fathom what was going through the mind of Californian & South African wine producer Dave Jefferson when he decided to blow that dog whistle in his spat with Wall Street Journal wine writer Lettie Teague.

Why, might you ask, is a privileged white man “hypothesizing” over whether an almost equally privileged white woman is possibly a “wine racist?”

Is it because of how Ms. Teague treats people of color? Is it because of her reviews of minority-owned wineries? Oh no. No, no, no.

It’s because she doesn’t like Pinotage.

A freaking grape!

https://web.archive.org/web/20210602140732/https://news.wine.co.za/News.aspx?NEWSID=37874&CLIENTID=&SPOTLIGHTID=

Note: the editors have since changed the wording to “wine bigot” which, as any LGBT person will tell you, isn’t much better.


You can try to work through Jefferson’s whole tirade against Teague, bizarrely published by Wine.co.za, but it won’t make any more sense. Though Denzel Washington will make an out-of-the-blue cameo just to add some more WTF-ery.

Alas, Jefferson’s debased defense of Pinotage’s honor isn’t the first and, fretfully, won’t be the last appropriation of the seriousness of racism for the silliness of being offended at what other people like or don’t like to drink. Last month, during the marketing holidays of Sauvignon Blanc Day and Chardonnay Day, social media spats erupted over whether distaste for New Zealand Sauvignon blanc or oaky, buttery Chardonnay were examples of “varietism.”

Give me a break!

I know your reaction is probably to roll your eyes and wave away such nonsense. I get it; mine was too. But there is a real risk in letting this continue unchecked. When we anthropomorphize the “struggles” of wine grapes with the language of racism and bigotry, we’re not just creating a false equivalency–we’re diluting it.

We’re desensitizing the sting and meaning of the words racism, racist, bigot and bigotry. These words are supposed to hit hard because the pain inflicted by racism and bigotry hits harder. And for an industry still reckoning with its diversity issues, we can not let this dilution slip into our language.

Varietism isn’t a thing.

Being “racist” or “bigot” because you don’t like a grape isn’t a thing.

But being a jerk who dog whistles about it certainly is a thing.

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Room to Breathe

Oh nelly! I just finished (hopefully, maybe, dear god please…) the last of my WSET Diploma exams with two days of hand cramps and blind tasting. I won’t know for three months or so if I passed but after more than a year of this ordeal consuming my life, I just want to move on.

Photo by Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

Photo by Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

In future posts, I’ll share more thoughts about going through the WSET Diploma process and the value of wine certifications in general. The most concerning thing for me is how much that studying for this D3 Wines of the World exam has completely sapped the joy of wine from my life. Of course, there was good mixed with the bad. I do feel that my grasp of wine has grown considerably–which is a huge plus.

But, right now, I’m wondering if it was worth it? Was all that stress, strain, time and expense really worth it? I must confess that there is a tiny part of me worried about how much of myself, and my passion, I lost doing this. Like the folks recovering from COVID who haven’t quite gotten back their sense of smell, is there a risk of long-haul “Fuck this Shit”?

So I’m looking forward to getting back in the saddle writing about the things that make me love wine.

I’m looking forward to having conversations, rather than interrogations, with what’s in the glass. I want to listen to what the wine has to say rather than try to suss out every detail and minutiae.

Is this fruit ripe or just barely underripe? What does this say about the climate?
Are these green notes herbal from cooling influences? Pyrazines from the variety & canopy shading? Stems from whole cluster? Uneven ripeness?
How much is the residual sugar impacting my sense of acidity, and vice versa?
Are these tannins firm, fine-grain, grippy, chalky, around the gums, on my tongue, roof of the mouth?

AAAARRRGGGHHHH!

That was my world with every glass this past year. So, yeah, there’s a bit of PTSD from this whole process that I’m working through. But I wanted to drop this note to give folks an idea of what’s to come.

I’ll still be writing about wine industry stuff but you’ll see more geeky writing as I try to reclaim my joy. My 60 Second Wine Reviews will be back with a focus on the wines that bring pleasure and those intriguing conversations I crave.

Because after this year, compounded by COVID, that’s what I really need right now.

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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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An Apology to the Pretty Influencer on Instagram

I’m sure you don’t know me and probably will never read this. I don’t follow you because I never bothered to learn your IG handle and I doubt we share the same social media circles. But we once shared space together attending the same Wine Spectator Grand Tour at the Mirage Hotel back in 2017.

Selfie image by https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49829170

Image by By Anders Lejczak – CC BY 2.0

You were gorgeous. Wavy brown hair falling below your shoulders and an emerald green top which matched your eyes. Slender tan legs peeking out from a modestly short dress skirt and heels. Dangly gold earrings that you would repeatedly hit as you brushed your hair back to bend down towards the spit bucket. I admit you were a sight to behold.

And I hated you for that.

I remember the first table that we “bumped” into each other. It was a Super Tuscan producer that I was eager to try and wanted to ask questions about the blend. But the charming Italian man at the table only wanted to speak to you, barely looking my way to give me a splash. It wasn’t long before I was butted out by other attendees–men, of course–who similarly wanted a taste and to ask the pretty lady next to them what she thought of the wine as well.

It was at a California Pinot producer’s table that I overheard you say that you were an influencer, prompting an eye roll behind your back.

Dear god, she’s actually using the term influencer!

The winery rep was eager to get your card and got out his phone to make sure that he followed you at that very moment. When I finally worked up the nerve to nudge my way towards the table for a pour, I didn’t bother staying to ask any questions. The rep wasn’t going to give me any time. After all, we were standing in the presence of an influencer!

Similar scenes would play out at other tables that we kept bumping into. There were over 200 exhibits but damn if it wasn’t my luck that we kept hitting the same ones. There were times that I would turn the corner towards a desired destination only to see green and then “noped” my way to another section of the floor–trying to get away from the pretty Instagram influencer that was fouling my night.

I was sitting near the food table with my wife, when you paused to grab something yourself.

It didn’t take long for another man to approach you for a chat. Picking among the charcuterie and cheeses, I overheard you mention that you just started as a sommelier at one of the hotel restaurants in Vegas. I made a crack to my wife that we should mark that restaurant off our list of places to play the Somm Game at.

By that point, in my mind, you were a caricature of everything that was wrong in the wine industry. The influencer who takes more selfies than bottle shots–more tits than tasting notes. The ones who keep feeding into the mantras that “Sex Sells” and “Horses for Courses“–making it difficult for all the rest of us women in wine to be taken seriously.

Never mind that likely none of that was true. You were an easy target to funnel my internal anger and jealousy towards. Though I never approached you or spoke a word of snark your way, I still did you a grave injustice. And for that, I’m deeply sorry.

I thought about you when reading The New York Times yesterday.

Reading the words of the brave women featured in Julia Moskin’s piece, I couldn’t help but put you in there. As a young somm starting out in a place like Las Vegas, how much of their stories is yours as well?

Thinking of that made me cry.

I cried because in the same breath that I ardently wish for things to be different and despair that they’re not, I know that in my own way I’m complicit. I may speak the right words and do the right things to build up other women, but I know in my heart that I’ve also torn them down.

While that makes me feel immense guilt, there’s also immense rage when I think of the perverse privilege at play. No, I’m not talking just about male privilege.

But rather my own as a “not pretty girl.”

Outside of one handsy customer during my retail days, I’ve been fortunate in my wine career to have not encountered anything close to the kind of harassment and compromising positions that other women have been put into.

The pain of being violated or having your entire career depend on whether or not you give in to a man’s advances is one that I’ve never had to deal with. While I’ve chafed and burned with jealousy at the access and attention that the “pretty girls” get, it was my own privilege of not having to deal with unwanted attention from men which kept it from dawning on me that there was a price to pay for that access. Sometimes a very terrible price.

And the mere fact that something like that is a privilege in this world is a whole other level of fucked up shit.

It’s fucked up that we live in a world that encourages this “Mean Girls” dynamic among women–of the haves (Access & Harassment) and have nots.

It’s fucked up that we live in a world that still tries to tell us that sex sells. Or that we shouldn’t balk when our industry seeks to leverage that.

This should be the funnel for our anger. This fucked up dynamic that divides us and puts women of all shades in terrible positions. The pretty girl. The mean girl. The outgoing girl. The shy girl.

When all that we really are are just tired of this fucking shit girls.

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Blog Hiatus till November

Hey guys,

By Mikescottwood11 - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11597030

Sorry that it has been a while since my last post. I’ve been busy learning first hand how difficult it is to move countries in the middle of a pandemic–and I’m far from done yet.

Earlier this summer, the wife accepted a new position in London. While I love being in Paris, I’m super excited about this move as London is the heart of the global wine trade. It’s also the base of the Wine & Spirit Education Trust which will make finishing my WSET Diploma easier, followed by (hopefully) applying for the MW program.

But even though the UK is just over the Channel from France, trying to coordinate a move and working through visa applications is a doozy. As an American, I can’t really blame Brexit but I’m sure the looming uncertainty there has not helped when it comes to finding French and British lawyers/banks/companies, etc that are willing to work together to help us get from point A to point B.

Then, of course, there’s the inevitable drag and delays driven by COVID. Even setting foot in the UK to look for a permanent place to move to is stipulated on first a 14-day quarantine period. So looks like it’s going to be a temporary Air B&B dwelling with our stuff in storage for god knows how long.

All of this is just a long way of saying that I’m putting the blog on hold till at least November. I’ll still be maintaining VirtualWineEvents.com and posting things on my social media channels of Instagram, Twitter and Facebook–albeit less frequently.

My goal is to hopefully get settled by the end of this year and be raring to go at the start of 2021. Thank you to all my subscribers and readers who have sent notes and messages. I really appreciate hearing from you. I’ll be back, I promise!

Take care and stay safe,

Amber

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Wine and Syrup Bottles – It’s time to do more

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need for change and diversity in the wine industry.

Mantra Dist GoFundMe

From Mantra Wine Distributors’ GoFundMe page.

Many folks have stood up to put that change into action–most notably Julia Coney’s Black Wine Professionals resource page and DLynn Proctor, Martin R. Reyes MW & Mary Margaret McCamic MW’s Wine Unify mentorship platform. However, there’s so much more that still needs to be done. The obstacles in the wine industry that hinder the growth of BIPOC are omnipresent and systemic.

Tweets, likes, shares and changing profile pics are nice gestures. But unless there are deliberate actions behind them, they’re just another dressing of “thoughts and prayers.” The digital equivalent of changing the label of a syrup bottle while ignoring the sticky mess inside.

Supporting change means enacting change.

Now there are a lot of different ways to do this, the easiest of which is simply patronizing minority-owned businesses. But, especially in the US, there are barriers that make that difficult. The archaic laws that litter the American three-tier system often suffocate direct-to-consumer options. While, thankfully, those cobwebs are being swept away one by one, the main route to new markets for many wineries or distilleries is still through distributors and wholesalers. And for small wineries, that route is often strewn with roadblocks.

Decades of consolidation have dramatically shrunk the number of distributors that small wineries can turn to. While the US wine industry grew more than fivefold from 1,800 wineries in 1995 to over 11,000 wineries in 2020, the number of distributors available to represent these brands dropped from 3000 to just 1200. Plus, there are thousands of producers from more than 60 other wine-producing countries that are also vying for spots in these limited portfolios.

But as stark as these barriers are for the typical small winery, they’re only magnified for wine & spirit brands owned by minorities.

In the Washington Post, Chanel Turner of Fou-Dre Vodka in Washington, DC, recounted her challenges in finding distribution noting, “I would set up meetings with different distributors, and they weren’t expecting to see someone like myself.” Likewise, Robin McBride of McBride Sisters Wine points out in VinePair that the struggle begins with just getting access to the “gatekeepers” in the first place.

So what are we going to do about this?

How can we, from regular consumers to industry folk, enact meaningful change to help minority-owned brands gain access to consumer markets?

Well, for one, we can put pressure on the Top 10 distributors that dominate the American wine market–all but one of which seems to be led by white men. As gatekeepers, they wield enormous influence on what wines consumers see on the shelves and wine lists of their communities. Sure, several of them put out statements about Black Lives Matter. A few changed their social media profile pics. But we’re going to need more than just syrupy sycophancy.

What we also need to do is support folks like Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago.

These two young somms are working to put change into action. After many years in the hospitality industry in Charleston, South Carolina, they’ve started Mantra Wine Distributors to answer the lack of minority-owned wine brands being represented in their community.

While the full impact of COVID has yet to play out, Charleston is a thriving and emerging food and wine destination. In the Deep South, the city’s demographics are younger and more affluent than the median in South Carolina. And with nearly 40% growth in population since 2000, the potential of this market continues to expand.

But it’s not going to be easy. Impactful change never is.

Jonella and Brooke of Mantra

Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago of Mantra Wine Distributors

Orozco and Lago know they have their work cut out for them. It takes a lot of capital to start a wine distribution company.  And it takes a lot of heart to do it in the middle of a pandemic. But heart and hard work is something that both these women have in spades.

While other folks are changing syrup labels, they want to change their community. They want to bring to Charleston wines that the wine lovers and tourists there aren’t getting. They want to share the stories of the many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Women and minority-owned brands that are waiting to be discovered. And they’re willing to put in the time, sweat and tears to make that happen.

The wine industry needs more folks like Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago.  We need more people willing to chip away at the barriers which limit access, availability and opportunities for minority-owned wine and spirits brands. Projects like Coney’s BWP help increase visibility and amplifies the voices of Black wine professionals while Wine Unify broadens educational opportunities. But we also need to take this fight to the retail shelves and wine lists of our communities.

Check out Mantra Wine Distributors’ GoFundMe page. Contribute, share, help them make this change happen.

If you’re in the wine business and want to help with mentorship and support, contact them directly.

Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Spread the word and help inspire other folks to launch similar initiatives in their communities.

We’re past the point of just talking about change. Now we have to enact it.

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Talking Virtual Wine Events Next Week at FOMENT 2020 and on IG Live with Tablas Creek Vineyards

It’s been a busy spring and early summer for me since the launch of VirtualWineEvents.com. I’ve been invited to several interviews and panels, mostly to talk about the industry’s adoption of these new digital tools. Two exciting ones coming up is the FOMENT Conference this Tuesday, June 30th, which I’ll follow the next day with by joining Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyards for a chat on his weekly Instagram live broadcast.

I’ve posted the details of these events below which I hope you’ll join us for.

At the end, I’ve also included the videos from some of the projects I mentioned above such as Destinate’s The Future of Wine Tourism Webinar, Pour Agency’s wine marketing series and a couple of The Real Business of Wine panels that I’ve been on.

FOMENT | Wine and Tourism Tech Variety Hour

Tuesday, June 30th – 16:00 ACST, 8:30 CEST, 2:30 EDT (23:30 PDT June 29th)

Broadcasting live from Yalumba’s Signature Cellar in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, FOMENT tackles the future of technology in the wine industry and tourism. While the timing isn’t ideal for Americans, registering for this free conference will get you access to the recording.

A few of the notable guests that I’m thrilled to be participating in this conference with include:

Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg in the McLaren Vale
Lisa Anderson and Max Waterson of Yalumba
Wine writer Max Allen of Australian Financial Review, JancisRobinson.com and many more
Polly Hammond of 5forests and The Real Business of Wine
Wine Business professor Damien Wilson of Sonoma State University

My lovely wife and the tech-brains behind VirtualWineEvents.com, Beth, joined me in our pre-recorded interview. We talked about the need we saw emerging during COVID. Our goal was to create a site where wineries, retailers and wine educators could post upcoming virtual tastings, webinars, Instagram Lives–completely free of charge–so they could be more easily discovered by wine lovers.

We’ve been exceedingly pleased with the response and traffic that we’re having to VirtualWineEvents.com. Even as tastings rooms start to open up, wine consumers are still looking for interesting and engaging online wine events that they can attend from the comfort of their homes. Likewise, savvy wine businesses realize the continued value of platforms that allow them to showcase their brands to consumers across the globe.

Tablas Creek Wednesday Conversations with Jason Haas on Instagram Live

Wednesday, July 1st – Noon PDT, 15:00 EDT, 21:00 CEST

A perfect case-in-point of a savvy wine business embracing digital tools is Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles. Every week they host a live stream on their Instagram page. While, for the sake of my sanity and phone notifications, I’m glad that the “witching hours” of endless IG Lives have quieted, these online events are still quite popular.

The laid-back, conversational nature of IG Lives is an easy format for consumers to pick up. All you do is follow the person hosting the event. Then when the notification comes that they’re going live, you click on it. You can watch, comment and even ask to participate if the host wants to bring other folks in to join them. It feels spontaneous and unscripted which, for many consumers, comes across as more authentic.

Numerous wineries like Tablas Creek have been hitting it out of the park with these events that they can later upload to their IGTV channel or YouTube. Check out some of the past Wednesday Conversations with Jason Haas featuring guests like Jeremy Benson of FreeTheGrapes.org, Regine Rousseau of Shall We Wine, Patrick Comiskey of Wine & Spirits Magazine, Cesar Perrin of Chateau de Beaucastel as well as several members of the Tablas team.

I particularly liked this one with Elizabeth Schneider from Wine for Normal People.

There’s often a lull at the beginning of most IG Lives while waiting for people to respond to the notification and join. I love that Haas utilizes this time by giving some behind-the-scenes updates about what’s going at the winery and vineyard. In this episode, he talks about some of the viticultural challenges of their Scruffy Hill Block.

So be sure to join us and bring your questions about virtual wine events!

In the meantime, check out the discussions below. I had a lot of fun working with Destinate Travel, the Real Business of Wine and Pour Agency with their panels and projects.

Future of Wine Tourism Session 4: Going virtual

The Future of Virtual Tastings

The Consumer, in Partnership with ARENI Global

How to Get More Customers to Join Your Winery’s Virtual Tasting Room Experience

What Content Increases Winery Followers and Likes on Social Media

What is The Best Selling Point About Your Winery? Hint: It’s Not Your Wine…

What Can Smarter Winery Marketing Do for Your Winery?

How to Increase Wine Sales with Personalized Winery Marketing

This is the full version that the snippets above were taken from. Brandon Lee of Pour Agency gives a breakdown of the key points on their blog.

01:45 – What is SpitBucket and who is Amber LeBeau?
03:45 – Why is it so important for wineries to invest in marketing and what works
04:33 – The power of YouTube and how your winery can take advantage
06:34 – How can wineries reduce the noise and provide more value?
06:44 – Making good wine alone is not good enough to get more sales
07:32 – Wineries are not only competing with their neighbor or other labels
08:38 – What can wineries be doing to capture more attention?
09:16 – Winery video creates connection and engagement in the midst of the shutdown
10:42 – What your winery might be doing wrong with social media and Instagram marketing
12:08 – Make your content meaningful and stop potential customers in their tracks
12:55 – How can wineries incentivize more people to engage with their virtual tasting room?
14:50 – Sell your brand, not just wine. Jackson Family Estates and The Wine Makers on Radio Misfits – The Wine Makers
17:58 – What video would you want to see created to make you take action and buy a winery’s wine?
20:50 – The easiest thing you can do to start winery marketing right
22:34 – Show people who you are, build meaningful connections with everyone within your winery
25:15 – Wineries should be asking their customers what they want
27:54 – Why it’s important to move forward and innovate with marketing even if you have a reputation
30:01 – What is branding and what does that mean for a winery?
32:00 – If you give people a reason to give a damn, they will give a damn.
32:14 – What’s Amber’s favorite wine?

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How NOT to Respond to a Guest’s Concerns About COVID

These are unprecedented times for the wine industry. Some bumps and missteps are to be expected as wineries reopen after long lockdowns. But stuff like what I’m sharing below needs to be called out and nipped in the bud.

Earlier today, I had this exchange with a friend in Washington State. She does not work in the wine industry but is an avid wine lover who belongs to several wine clubs. I asked her permission to post these screenshots of our conversation with both her info and the winery’s name redacted. The only thing I will say about this winery is that it is relatively well known in Washington. With multiple tasting rooms throughout the state, I’m sure they were quite eager to reopen and get back that traffic flow.

But this is not the way you should treat a consumer–or let them be treated. Especially not one who is responding to your Facebook ad asking for visitors to come back to your tasting rooms.

FB screenshot

Salty language left un-redacted because, well, that’s how life is.

I understand the frustration. 

This should not have played out this way. And what’s equally as frustrating is wondering where else this is happening. While I hope that this is a fluke event, how can we be sure that’s the case?

Even with all the headaches and hassles that COVID has tossed on our laps, the very last thing that any wine business should do is to lose sight of basic customer service. I know none of us asked to be put in this situation and there are a lot of things that are beyond our control. But what we absolutely can control is how we respond when consumers share their sincere concerns.

And there are several ways that this winery could have done better.
Photo by Seedeblay. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I know that monitoring your social pages is a lot of work, but do you really think that having a page that feels too hostile to interact with helps your business at all?

I’m going to go on good faith that the winery rep didn’t participate in the snarky comments. That just boggles my mind that anybody in the hospitality industry would be so idiotic. The winery did do well in deleting those comments fairly quickly. They deserve props there.

But where they dropped the ball was in not calling out the snarky commentators, who were attacking their customer, and in also not apologizing to their customer for being on the receiving end of this abuse. Plus, it was also disappointing that if they were online to delete comments, they still waited several more hours to respond to her question.

I followed up by checking out the winery’s Facebook page and found the post my friend replied to. The ad has received over 400 likes and has been shared multiple times, so a good amount of people are seeing in it. I found the original question and the cursory reply, noting that they’re practicing social distancing, limiting guests, wearing masks, etc. But no apologies for the other comments nor any further comment or post encouraging folks to treat each other with respect.

And, no, my friend has not gotten a DM apology or follow-up either.

Put yourself in this guest’s shoes.

Photo by Laurel Lodged. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

If guests don’t feel comfortable visiting your tasting room, for whatever reason, they’re not going to come.

And in the shoes of similar guests who the industry desperately wants to return.

Here is someone who does want to return. She wants to get back to visiting winery tasting rooms. But she has concerns, like many, many other consumers. So when she sees the Facebook ad of a winery that she likes, telling her that they’re reopening, she reaches out to them.

There’s intent. There’s desire. All she needs is reassurance. All she needs is to be treated like a valid human being.

But instead, she was made to feel that her concerns were “political,” “overblown,” “invalid.” Even if the winery wasn’t aware that guests still get notifications and previews of deleted comments, this abusive behavior should have been called out.

Because what are the odds that this would be a one-time thing? That these Facebook commentators who were attacking this person weren’t going to attack another guest responding to the same Facebook ad and having similar concerns?

And what assurance does anyone have that they wouldn’t be likewise heckled in the tasting room or parking lot by these other “fans”?

If you want to welcome guests back to your tasting rooms, you need to make clear that it’s a welcoming place.

And that extends to how your guests are treated on your social media pages. If other commentators on your Facebook page are attacking your guests, you need to do more than just delete comments. You need to make clear that respect is a value that your winery holds dear.

This is not about being political. It’s crazy that things like personal concern and safety are being turned into political hot topics. But as an industry, we have to rise above this. We have to look out for our customers. We have to make them feel welcomed, valued and safe.

When one winery drops the ball, it hurts their neighbors and everyone else who is also counting on those visitors returning. That’s why we need to call this out and stop this from continuing.

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Why the Wine Industry Shouldn’t Be Color Blind

In the last few weeks, I’ve listened to a lot of very moving testimony from Black wine professionals about their experiences in the wine industry. One that hit me particularly hard was Tahiirah Habibi of the Hue Society recounting her story of taking the Introductory Level 1 course & examination with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

 

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If you are in positions of power, check yourself on how you use that power and who you hurt with it. • • It is time for the wine industry to STOP taking “safe” stances in order to keep your primarily white audience comfortable. Include Black and Brown people in the foundational decisions and planning, instead of using them retroactively as tokens. Enough. • • -If you are the president of a distributor, the CEO of a winery, if you own a wine shop, ask yourself— are you teaching or hiring black people? • • -Make sure you are using your positions in the industry to create front line marketing and placements of Black brands. • • -Make sure your mentees don’t all look like you. White people have the task to other white people to end racism. • • If Master sommeliers are the aspirational peak of our industry, then they will have to challenge each other to make this institution accessible for everyone to aspire to. • • Your intentions may be good but your actions are what you will be held accountable for. • • @richelieudennis @fiyawata #huesociety #assimilationnotrequired #wineandculture #blacklivesmatter

A post shared by Tahiirah Habibi (@sippingsocialite) on

Habibi later goes into more detail about her interactions (or rather lack of interaction) with the Court that is just as infuriating. But that story of taking the level 1 exam really resonated with me. It took me back 13 years ago to when I did my own level 1, spending a weekend at a Tucson hotel for two days of classes and the exam. I remember quirking an eyebrow at the instructors referring to each other as “Master Jones” or “Master Smith” and expecting the students to do the same.

But that’s all it was, an eyebrow quirk. A shoulder shrug.

I chalked it up to a vestige of the restaurant industry where everyone “Yes, Chef!” the master of the back of the house. It never once dawned on me, for over 13 years, how what I could so easily dismiss with a shrug and Whatever would so deeply sting someone else. While in hindsight, it’s so glaringly obvious and cringeworthy, it just blew right passed me.

What troubles me the most, though, is that after all these years, I can’t tell you if there were any people of color in that class. With over 50 people attending, it seems like there would have been. But I honestly don’t know. I didn’t notice.

It struck me how often that is the case–how often I don’t notice people of color at wine events. They just meld into the crowd of other wine folks. Now some might say that’s a good thing, that you’re “color blind” and everyone should meld together. It should all just be wine people doing wine things.

But I reject that. I reject the idea that being color blind is a good thing. Because if you’re not noticing the presence of people of color in the wine industry, then you’re certainly not going to notice their absence.

Being color blind robs us all.

Tapestry photo from Kalamazoo Public Library. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with no known copyright descriptions.
I don’t know if the people who advocate “All Lives Matter,” saying that they don’t see color or want to see color, realize that what they’re advocating for is a disorder. Achromatopsia (i.e., color blindness) is an affliction, a limitation.

People that suffer from actual color blindness don’t get to see the world in all its vivid richness. They can adapt and make do, but there will always be things that they’ll never be able to experience fully–the colors and context that enliven life.

Why would we want to aspire to that?

Why would we want to strive for a world that will always be less than what it could be?

It doesn’t make sense–especially not in the wine industry where we are immersed in a product whose greatest strength is its diversity.

We revel in the joy of endless possibilities from the multitude of grapes and wine styles we have. We’re fascinated and enthralled by the unique imprint of different terroirs. Every vintage, new chapters are written by mother nature and the hands of thousands of winegrowers across the globe. The world of wine is a world wrapped up in a rich tapestry of diversity.

But this world doesn’t just begin and end in our glass.

Think about all that we’re missing when we don’t notice the people of color in the room.

And especially what we miss when we don’t notice their absence.

Think about the insights, perspectives and backgrounds that we don’t get to hear about. Wine is consumed by our senses–both physical and through the lens of our sense of self. We reflect all of that in our descriptions and interactions with wine.

If we’re not noticing, listening and talking to people of color, we lose opportunities to see wine through lenses that only they can share. We lose the words, sentiments and moments that broaden our understanding and make our tapestry more dynamic.

Just as the thought of limiting our vibrant world to a small handful of wines makes our heart sink, so too should the thought of limiting the voices that help bring this world to life.

So, no, I don’t want to be color blind. I want to see. I want to listen and learn.

I want to notice.

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A New Tool to Help Promote Online Wine Events

My post last month on How Can We Make Virtual Wine Tastings Less Sucky? generated quite a response. While most of it came from wineries seeking honest feedback on their VTs, I also received numerous inquiries from folks wondering how I was finding these events. For me, it was relatively simple because they’re popping up everywhere on social media. But when I went to Google “Virtual Wine Tasting,” I quickly realized what a chore it was for consumers to find interesting online wine events.

Mobile screenshot from https://virtualwineevents.com/

Unless someone is actively following lots of wineries, wine schools, bloggers, etc., most of these events float under the radar. Yet, there’s clearly a growing interest even in a post-Covid future.

One silver lining emerging from this pandemic is that it has encouraged us to embrace digital tools like never before. Zoom is not going away, neither are Facebook and IG Live events. Everyday consumers are getting comfortable connecting with people and brands from across the globe on these platforms. Even when things get back to semi-normal, there’s always going to be an audience for online wine events.

We just need an easier way to find them.

VirtualWineEvents.com

I have to give credit to my wife, Beth, a former Google site reliability manager, for developing this site. She not only noticed that the domain name was available (as well as onlinewineevents.com) but that Google Trends was showing people searching for these terms. She had been itching to play around with wine-related technology in her quarantine downtime so, after a couple of weeks of work, we launched the site this weekend–already populated with over 200 events.

US Search terms

Google Trends in the US for Virtual Wine Tasting and Online Wine Tasting

Global search terms

Global results

This is a free tool for wineries, educators and other small businesses to promote their wine events.

While I will be managing the site and uploading events as I find them, it’s designed to be easy for anyone to use. All you have to do to upload an event is to create a login via FaceBook or Google. We also have an email login option that we’ll keep as long as it’s not being abused. The aim is to maintain some accountability on who is submitting events.

Once you’ve created a login, you can input an event on any date by filling in the details below. The listing will then need to be approved by admins who will make sure it is a legitimate event before going live.

Input page on Virtual Wine events

The timezone is based on the login IP of the submitter (in my case, Central European Time). For global visitors to the site, the time will be adjusted to their own time zone.

Future Developments in the Works

We just launched the site this weekend with several more features slated to be added–including some front-end design work and the ability to upload photos. But three significant items coming soon:

1.) Social media share buttons on each event listing so that consumers can easily post to their SM accounts events that they are interested in.

2.) An “Interested” icon that consumers can select to highlight events that intrigue them. This will contribute to a Reddit-style “Trending Events” listing that will appear on the main page to highlight future events that are garnering the most interest. While the homepage for today’s events will always list things in order of what’s coming up next, future calendar dates will elevate to the top more popular events for higher visibility.

3.) A back-edit feature to upload links to recordings of events that have passed. As I noted in my previous article, the long term benefit of virtual wine tastings and other online wine events is that this is content that can keep working for you.

Search results on Virtual Wine Events include several of the most recent past events that are relevant to the query. Like this example of what someone would see searching for a wine event about New Zealand.

NZ Search

Items that have a post-event recording available will have a special tag noting this for users to check out.

Another feature that will come a little further down the road is the ability to subscribe to be notified of events based on keywords such as a favorite winery or wine region. This way, whenever an event that matches is submitted, the consumer will automatically get an email notification of it.

How can wineries use this tool effectively?

Mobile view VWE

Mobile view of events.

While I highly encourage wineries to start using VirtualWineEvents.com as another promotion tool, you’ll quickly notice poking around the site that there are A LOT of online wine events happening. And more are popping up every day. So to maximize your reach, keep a couple tips in mind.

1.) Have a Catchy Title. Something more than just “Virtual Tasting with the Winemaker”–stuff. On mobile, all people are going to see at first is this title, so make it count. Do you have a particular theme like “The Battle of the Zins” or “Wines to convert Chardonnay-skeptics,” etc.? Think of something that is going to make folks want to click on your event.

2.) Have a Good Landing Page. This is the link that your event title goes to. Ideally, if it is an event that requires registration, you want the landing page to be that registration page. Consumers will lose interest if you make them have to click through multiple links.

3.) Make the Description Worthwhile. The search function pulls from the event title and description box. You want to make sure that if someone is looking for an event on Pinot noir, yoga, natural wine, etc., that they’re going to find you.

Any feedback or suggestions would be much appreciated!

As you can tell, this is still a work in progress. You can email me at amber@spitbucket.net with comments as well as hit me up on the Virtual Wine Events Twitter handle, @VirtualWineEvts.

This will definitely be a valuable tool for connecting consumers with wineries and other small businesses. The potential of online events is limitless and go far beyond just virtual wine tasting and webinars. There are folks hosting murder mystery parties, cooking and painting classes, R&B social events, trivia quizzes, watch parties for movies & YouTube premieres, etc. Long after we’ve emerged from our Covid slumber, there will still be consumers interested in online wine events.

Hopefully now they will be easier to find.

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