Tag Archives: Instagram

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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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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How Can Wineries Use Instagram Better?

It’s been a little over a month since I wrote my post Why Do Winery Instagram Feeds Suck So Much? which garnered some tremendous responses. Many folks have emailed me, including wineries, to share their thoughts.

Photo by Today Testing (for derivative) featuring work from Pexels. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I was most surprised at the number of wineries that asked me to “audit” their feeds. I have to give them massive credit for seeking honest feedback. It’s effortless to get lulled into the status quo, thinking that if you’re getting an okay amount of “likes” and “shares” that you must be doing good.

The vast majority of responses to my original post has been agreement that, yes, winery Instagram feeds do tend to suck.

But that’s not a universal sentiment. There was one really thought-provoking comment left by an owner of a social media agency that sharply disagreed with my take. You can go to the article to read her six-point comment as well as my reply. I appreciate her contrarian view and suspect that it’s probably shared by quite a few folks who run social media marketing firms.

But while we both agree that “authenticity” is vital, there are a few things about that contrarian view that I just can’t buy into–especially when it comes to marketing to Millennials who are the biggest users of social media.

Brand Awareness: The Be-All, End-All of Marketing?

One of the main points that commentator made was that “Regular pictures of the bottle help to keep the label top of mind is pretty basic, crucial even, to drive awareness and brand recognition- especially for new or boutique wineries.”

Now, I’m not against any pictures of wine labels appearing in social media feeds. My issue with “bottle porn” is the gratuitousness and oversaturation of it. Essentially many wineries take the idea of “Brand Awareness” and drive it off a cliff trying to emulate McDonald’s or Starbucks.

Here’s the thing. Wineries (especially small boutique wineries) are never going to be McDonald’s or Starbucks. It’s silly to take their idea of branding as benchmarks to emulate. People don’t look for the same things from wineries that they do from MacDonald’s or Starbucks. With those latter behemoths, they’re banking on the “top of mind” impulse buy.

I’m hungry. There’s a McDonald’s. You’ve got a Starbucks cup. You know, I could use some coffee.

Photo of image Created by Street Advertising Services for the Barefoot Wine Reverse Graffiti campaign in UK. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

Don’t mind the bird poop on the sidewalk. It adds street cred.

While you can make a valid argument that supermarket wines need to bank on some of this recognition impulse buying, this is not going to work the same way for a small boutique winery. Seeing a few random bottle porn pics on Instagram is not going to help these wines stand out in the massive wall of wine.

If you’re a small boutique winery playing in the arena of “Brand Awareness,” you’re always going to get trampled underneath the bare feet of the big boys.

Instead, small wineries need consumers who are actively looking to find their wines. They need consumers who are engaged and motivated.

They need intention, not impulse.

Brand recognition only gets you so far. Relationships will take you further.

The goal of small boutique wineries should not be “top of mind.” You’re never going to achieve that. But you can most definitely squeeze a little place in the hearts of consumers who feel connected to your wines because they feel like they know you and know a part of your story.

Photo by Matt Pourney. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under the public domain.

If you’re expecting to win the “Battle of the Wine Wall” with brand awareness and bottle porn, then you’ve already lost and dragons won’t help you.

That should be the goal of every winery’s social media strategy–building the relationships that consumers have with their brand.

Saturating your feed with nothing but bottle pics and fake poses doesn’t give the consumer anything to connect with. It doesn’t tell us anything about the people and places that makes a wine worth finding. There is no motivation to want to search online, get in a car, visit a store or winery.

It’s just…porn. Pretty pictures. A cheap thrill. Well, maybe not so cheap for the wineries that pay beaucoup bucks to marketing firms for the staged photoshoots.

So how can wineries inspire (good) intention on Instagram?

Well, the first thing you should not do is to treat your social media like “one big commercial.” Just no. Don’t.

This is especially vital if your winery is trying to capture the attention of Millennials. Because, if you haven’t heard, Millennials hate ads. Like we really, really, really hate them.

Now sometimes we’ll allow the subtle stuff, which is where the “bottle porn phenomena” got its start. But eventually too much is too much and all the subtlety is lost. Then you start venturing into the area where we feel like you’re ruining our social media experience.

Instead of putting you “top of mind,” you’re moving to the top of our shit list. That’s inspiring a bad kind of intention. I’m not kidding. Ask any Millennial you know and they’ll name a few brands that they absolutely refuse to buy because of how annoying their advertising is.

For me, Jared and Coit Cleaning can go to hell.
Photo by M.O. Stevens. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Maybe this is why Millennials are supposedly killing the diamond industry? So that no one will ever talk about going to this godforsaken store again. I’ve never set foot in here and never will because of their annoying ads.

And, honestly, while I wouldn’t say that they’re on a “shit list,” there are several wineries that have completely zapped any enthusiasm or interest I had in finding their wines simply because of how boring and porn-saturated their IG feeds were. It’s not like I would adamantly avoid their wines, but with so many other options competing for my wallet, “Why bother?”

That’s what you have to remember. There are so many other options competing for your consumer.

The ones that are going to get their attention are the ones that give them a reason to bother. For a demographic that craves connection and engagement, you have to meet them where they’re at.

You have to enhance their social media experience, not ruin it. Show us something interesting and engaging.

Show us something like Grgich Hills which lets visitors stomp grapes during harvest.

Or Long Meadow Ranch which, during Pride Month, subtly let all its followers know that everyone is welcomed there without nary a rainbow flag or pinkwashing in sight.

Show us some history like Charles Krug Winery or Buena Vista in a way that lets us know that we can take part in that history.

Share what makes you unique even if it’s your passions outside of wine like the art of James Frey of Trisaetum or beekeeping at Spottswoode.

Or just share your geeky love of doing what you do like what comes through in every IG post by the Mullineux family.

Show us your people because that is the one thing that most sets you apart from every other winery. From the vineyard workers, to harvest interns, the winemaking team, hospitality, everyone–they each put their own unique imprint on your wine.

I raved about this on Twitter during my #WineMktMonday chat, but I absolutely adore this IG post from Côte Bonneville.

Screen shot from Côte Bonneville IG https://www.instagram.com/p/ByiIlengOyO/

Rock on, Rosa! You better believe that I’m going to find some Côte Bonneville wine (like their gorgeous DuBrul Cab or crackling off-dry Riesling) to toast to her and the Côte Bonneville team’s efforts.

Heck, show us their family like this excellent post that Frog’s Leap Winery did to highlight a proud papa moment of one of their cellar crew.

And, well, cute animals never make a bad post. Seriously, you have to look at these baby sheep at Hanzell!

Now if you look at the IG accounts for all of those wineries, yeah, you’re going to see some bottle shots.

But their PPP ratio (People:Places:Porn) is far healthier than what you see on most winery Instagram accounts. And every single one of them gives me a reason to pay attention–a reason to feel a connection to their brand.

As a consumer, those kind of IG posts motivate me to seek out their wines with intent. They’re not crossing their fingers and hoping that brand recognition and impulse blows customers into their tasting rooms like tumbleweeds. Instead, they’re creating the wind that’s doing the moving.

Bottom line: People are always going to be better than bottle porn.

Photo from Nationaal Archief / Spaarnestad Photo, SFA006004681. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with no known copyright restrictions.

Maybe we need to get him frolicking on the beach? That should score some “likes”!

A consumer is always going to be able to make more of a connection with a real, living breathing person than an inanimated wine bottle. Every time. Everywhere.

You’re not selling vacuum cleaners. We don’t need to know all the products and features. But a HUGE part of wanting your wine is driven by knowing you. After all, the wine is a product of the passion and people behind it.

While I respect the hard work and effort of marketing firms, and I’d like to think that their hearts are in the right place, I need to be brutally blunt here.

If the people you’re paying to market your wines are telling you that you need to treat social media like “one big commercial,” then you’re wasting your money with them.

Yes, I’m sure they can point to plenty of metrics showing how many “likes” or “shares” and “comments” that a fancy, professionally shot and beautifully curated spread has. But tell me this…

Can anyone buy your wine with a “like”? With a “share”? How many comments of heart-eyes emojis can you point to that turned into real customers motivated to seek out your wines?

I’m not saying that metrics aren’t important. But they can be overstated. Ultimately the question that every winery should ask about their social media strategy is:

Do I want to chase likes and shares, or do I want to chase connections and sales?

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Introducing the Mystery Grape Game

A lot of my writings the past few months have been focusing on wine business and marketing topics. That’s always been an interest of mine that I’ve enjoyed exploring. But it’s also an area that I need to stay up on as part of my WSET Diploma studies and eventual attempt towards getting a Master of Wine.

IG Mystery Grape clue James Busby

All the images used in this post will come from a recent Mystery Grape. Can you figure out the grape?

The Wine & Spirit Education Trust and the Institute of Masters of Wine were both founded by figures in the wine trade and while their certifications require a broad depth of knowledge on grape varieties, wine styles, regions, winemaking and viticulture–the nature of the business of wine is always in the backdrop.

In fact, it is this inclusion of the global business of wine that most separates WSET and MW certifications from those of the Court of Master Sommeliers–which focuses instead on service topics.

I’ll still be doing regular Geek Notes and other general wine features on the blog. But I’ve started to focus a lot of my geekiness over on the SpitBucket Instagram account where I’ve launched a Mystery Grape game using the IG story feature.

So what is it?

There’s really not much online in a game format to help high-level wine students. A lot of wine games are tailored more towards newbie wine lovers. For myself, I was looking for a game to help with both blind tasting as well as deep-level wine knowledge of grape varieties.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, so I created it.

IG Mystery grape straw bears

Be sure to look for secondary & tertiary aroma clues as well as primary notes.

Using photos featured on IG, I’ll post up to 10 clues relating to the identity of a particular wine grape. Players can answer by replying to the IG story or on a specific IG post that I do when the second batch of clues are live.

The next day I’ll highlight who got the correct answer first as well as other folks who got it right. I’ll also explain in the congratulation post many of the clues and often highlight a particular wine that exhibits a lot of the notable traits of the Mystery Grape.

It’s meant to be challenging.  For the first batch of clues, I’m aiming for WSET Diploma/Advance Sommelier level knowledge with easier WSET 2 & 3/Certified Sommelier clues coming towards the end.

If you don’t get it, that’s alright. A lot of folks won’t. But I guarantee that you will learn something regardless.

Below I’ll give you some tips as I explain the game.

Here’s How It Goes.

Monday through Friday I’ll launch the game with the first clue being a wine map. This is going to be our starting base and is often an area that folks will encounter blind tasting examples from.

I’m going to feature plenty of grapes that aren’t included in blind tastings, but I do regularly reference the Court of Master Sommeliers’ list of Probable Red Grape Varieties and Probable White Grape Varieties. If you’re a wine student and don’t already have those pages bookmarked, you should bookmark them now.

The next 3 to 4 clues will be aroma and flavor clues.
IG Mystery grape clue apple

It’s crazy how many white grape varieties have apples as a primary flavor.

Here is where I’m often going to get a little tricky because I’m not going to give you the dead-giveaway notes right away. I’m not going to post pictures of black currant, tobacco leaf, anise and cedar off the bat if I’m talking about Cabernet Sauvignon. Nor am I going to show you a map of Piedmont and then post pics of cherry, roses and tar for Nebbiolo.

Those items might come later on when I get to the WSET 2/3 level clues. But here I’m going to focus on some of the important but less obvious notes including young primary and secondary flavors as well as tertiary notes that come with age. I might also skip around the globe a bit. Many of these grapes are grown in multiple places and Diploma/Advance Sommelier candidates need to know those different notes.

However, the majority of the clues will pertain to the map region with other flavor notes being connected to regions that get brought up in subsequent clues.

Most of these clues will come from my own tasting notes of these grape varieties, but I will sometimes reference Neel Burton’s The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting, Rajat Parr’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste and the Oxford Companion to Wine.

The last clue (#6) of the first batch is usually a context clue.
IG mystery grape honey wax clue

This pic actually contained two clues that were fairly specific to a particular white Australian wine grape. It referenced both the nature of the grape and an unique aging note.

Many grapes within a wine region will have similar flavor profiles. I can have a map of France with notes of red plum, blackberry, tobacco, pepper and chocolate and it could refer to dozens of grapes. So I need to narrow the focus a bit. I’ll do that by tossing in a clue that is relatively specific to the Mystery Grape–such as that this grape can also be found in the Veneto, Abruzzo and Puglia regions as well. (If you have an idea of what grape I’m talking about, post it in the comments).

Almost all these context clues are going to come from Jancis Robinson’s Wine Grapes. For Italian wines, I also like using Ian d’Agata’s Native Wine Grapes of Italy. Both books are must haves for wine students.

Now sometimes from this first batch, there will still be multiple contenders even with the context clue. Folks can take a stab at it, trying to be first. It depends on how generous I’m feeling with what kind of feedback I’ll give you if you’re wrong. Sometimes you might just have to wait for the next batch of clues.

Second Batch of Clues

Clues 7-10 will be more context clues hitting on history, wine styles and additional regions that our Mystery Grape is associated with. These often will tie back to the first batch of clues in some way.

And these clues will be easier–including more WSET 3 knowledge with at least clue 10 going down to WSET 2/Certified Sommelier/Certified Specialist of Wine level.

IG Mystery Grape Israeli wine.

Admittedly this was a little hard for a Clue 9, but it was something that googling would give the answer away to.

At the launch of the second batch of clues, I will do a separate Instagram post that will also go out on the SpitBucket Twitter account highlighting a particular clue and letting folks know if someone has already guessed correctly.

Timing

I’ve been testing this game over the last month and found that I have players in the US, Europe and Australia.  That pretty much makes a perfect time impossible. So I’m going to err on the sake of my sanity and go with the timing that works best for my schedule.

I’m in Paris so I will launch the game with the first batch of clues between 11 am to Noon CET. That will be 5-6am New York, 2-3am Seattle and 7-8 pm Sydney.

I know that kind of sucks for the Americans. But take solace in knowing that the first batch of clues is usually difficult enough that the Mystery Grape is often not solved until the second batch is posted.

The second batch will be released between 6-9 pm Paris time. That will be Noon-3 pm New York, 9 am to Noon Seattle and 2-5 am Sydney. Here is where it kind of sucks for the Australians but there have been some savvy Australians who have gotten the Mystery Grape with the first batch.

Again, my apologies that outside of Europeans, there is always going to be time zone issues for someone. But, hey, in the end, it’s all about having fun and learning something. The IG stories last up to 24 hours before they’re deleted so anyone can play at any time.

The best way to approach it is to set a personal goal of trying to guess the grape with as few clues as possible. Then try to beat your best the next day.

A Few More Tips

IG Mystery Grape saffron

At first blush you might think this is a clue for a blue floral note. But the other clues are referencing a white grape.
However, look at the user name from the image @saffron.tabuma. That and clicking on the image to look at the tags, should help you realize that this is saffron. This note come out in certain white wines that have been “influenced” by something.

If you don’t understand a clue, it’s always a good idea to click on the picture and go to the original image page. Often the caption and #hashtags will give more context. I’m very deliberate in which image I choose and usually I will select images with specific hashtags.

Plus, sometimes the image I select is from an album of pictures taken by the Instagram user. I don’t consider those other album photos when I choose the clue image. But I have seen many times where they provide insight into wine regions that the Mystery Grape is associated with. Plus, they are usually cool images to look at too.

It’s okay to Google. Especially with the second batch, there is almost always a google-able detail that will lead you to the Mystery Grape. It’s not cheating if it helps you learn something.

Don’t expect the obvious, but also don’t overthink it. Yes, this game is meant to be challenging. But sometimes your gut from the first batch of clues turns out to be right. The same thing often happens with blind tasting. You never want to lock yourself in on one answer too early before you’ve fully evaluated the wine. However, you should always take note of what your gut instinct was.

Intrigued?

You can head over to Instagram now to take a look at today’s game. There you will also see posts from several of the last few games featuring grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon, Malvasia, Grolleau, Zinfandel, Pinot blanc, Rondo, Petit Verdot, Pinotage, Albarino and more.

You will see both “clue posts” as well as bottle pic congratulation posts. Those latter posts will explain many of the clues along with a featured wine made of the Mystery Grape.

BTW, how did you do?

Could you guess the French grape with some Italian flirting that I used as an example in the “Clue 6” section? Or how about the previous Mystery Grape referenced in the article’s images? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Geeking!

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Why Do Winery Instagram Feeds Suck So Much?

For a follow up to this post, check out How Can Wineries Use Instagram Better?

Okay guys, let’s sit down and have a heart-to-heart here for a moment. I’ve been breaking up with a lot of you via Instagram by unfollowing your winery accounts. And, yeah, it’s you and not me.
Photo by Today Testing (for derivative) - This file was derived from: Scroll on Desk.jpg Instagram logo 2016.svg. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Simply put, a lot of your winery Instagrams aren’t worth a damn following.

Now I’m not saying that my own personal IG is gold. Don’t bother going there looking for inspiration or ammo.

But I’m not selling anything. I don’t make a dime from this blog, so my Instagram is purely for my own folly and note-keeping. Plus wineries shouldn’t be comparing themselves to personal IGs anyways. And god knows they shouldn’t be trying to emulate the feeds of so-called “influencers” which are their own kinds of pomp and circum-shit.

Instead, every winery needs to step back and think about what they’re doing on Instagram. What is the point of a consumer following you?

Is it to see a stream of spammy ads and bottle porn?

bottle porn pics from https://www.instagram.com/chateaustemichelle/

So much bottle porn…

Nope. Wrong answer.

If I wanted to see non-stop images of your wine bottles, I’d hijack your delivery truck and take it on a high-speed chase. News flash! People hate ads. That’s why we quickly turn the channel or flip the page.

So why in the world would I want to follow your feed just to see more time-wasting ads willingly? And that is precisely what your lovely, beautifully curated bottle shots in pastel locations are–ads.

Yeah, I can keep scrolling on by (which I do) but there comes a point where I (and other consumers) eventually pause and wonder–why am I following this shit? That’s when we wake up from the IG bubble and start searching for something real.

Give us dirty hands and real people.

Photo by https://www.instagram.com/p/BwkYD6QHP4J/

Great pic from Chimney Rock Winery. Grandma used to say that “Dirty hands are a sign of clean money.”
That’s probably still true, but in marketing to today’s Millennials, dirty hands are a sign of real people making authentic wine.

Wine doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t magically appear out of Star Trek food replicators. There were real people who shepherded the land and put in the time, passion and effort to turn bunches of grapes into something meaningful in the bottle. Show us that!

One of the best lines that I heard on my recent press tour of the Stags Leap District was the comment from Chimney Rock’s winemaker and general manager Elizabeth Vianna that “… at least six hands have a role in getting the wine from grape to bottle.” Then she shared some of the stories of those hands like the cellar worker who has trouble clocking in during harvest because the fingerprint reader won’t recognize his print from being so stained and worn by the low-pH of grape must.

That’s a fascinating anecdote that makes me want to see those hands and drink that wine. If I’m going to follow a winery’s Instagram feed, it’s because I genuinely want to know more about it. That’s engagement that wineries shouldn’t squander.

Tell us why we should care. Then you will motivate us to seek out your wines and visit tasting rooms.

Seeing hideously artificial “set-up” shots of people posing with bottles or a random wine sitting alone next to the fireplace, on the beach, in the woods, or whatever does nothing to inspire us to do anything but unfollow your page.

If you’re going to show me “exotic places”, why not show me the vineyard? The winery?

Photo from https://www.instagram.com/p/BuDiUdAAjI9/

Great pic from the South African winery Thistle and Weed.
How many wineries talk about whole cluster fermentation on their back label and website but never bother to show it on their IG feed?

What happens in your vineyard and the winery shouldn’t be relegated to just back label jargon. Show us what happens! Yeah, it may be mundane and routine like budburst or racking, but to most consumers, these are exotic behind-the-scenes peeks into the magic of winemaking.

Every day, every winery has a gold mine of unique and interesting content ready to be featured. In the time you take to set up some plastic presentation with flowers and fruit, you could snap dozens of infinitely more interesting Instagram posts just by following around your vineyard workers and cellar hands and letting consumers see things through their eyes.

And for Pete’s sake stop with the 9 picture “puzzle portrait” spreads!

Photos from https://www.instagram.com/jbookwalterwines/

Ugh…I actually like this winery’s wines a lot but it’s hard not to be annoyed at this colossal waste of time.

My god is this not the most ridiculous waste of space (and likely photographer and marketing fees too)! Seriously, whoever tries to tell you that this is a great use of your Instagram feed should be fired.

Few things get me to hit unfollow quicker than to have my IG feed spammed with nine separate posts featuring fragmented pieces of wine bottles–all with an annoying caption to “Check out our homepage for the whole picture!”

Why?!?!?

Why do you think I want to invest my time in checking out your ad?

The People:Places:Porn Ratio

Photos from https://www.instagram.com/beauxfreres/

A decent PPP ratio from the Oregon winery Beaux Frères.

Every winery should go to their IG feed right now and take a look at their PPP ratio. Is your feed saturated with sad bottle porn or is it alive with personality-driven pictures of the people and places that make your winery interesting and uniquely you?

The wineries that do Instagram right tend to have a People:Places:Porn Ratio of 4:4:1 for every nine pictures. There can be variances in the mix of people and places featured as long as that last number is kept low.

The key to remember is that Instagram is for capturing attention, not commercials.

You want to give consumers reasons to learn more about your story and your wines. Instagram is a great platform to hand-deliver those reasons right to an engaged audience.

You just have to show us stuff that is actually worth our time and attention. Show us stuff that is worth following.

Save the bottle porn for print media. It’s a dying medium anyway.

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Fake Wine and Real Boobs

Does sex still sell? It used to be hard to argue against appealing to one of humanity’s most basic instincts. In many marketing campaigns–after hunger and security–a little titillation was the salt that added spice to a brand’s identity.

Photo by Tania Saiz - originally posted to Flickr as red lips isolated in white, CC BY 2.0

But recent trends suggest that we are slowly moving away from these Cro-Magnon conventions.  Several studies have shown diminishing returns for ad campaigns that focus on overt sexual imagery. In some cases, they can even promote a backlash against brands.

Part of this is changing demographics with those pesky Millennials once again causing trouble.

They never want to follow the old playbook, don’t they? Even Victoria Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch have found that reaching Millennial consumers is a bit harder than the hot bods that they have splashed over their ads.

It’s probably because those sexy ads feel so fake. With around 90% of Millennials valuing authenticity in brands, it’s clear that selling fantasy is not always the best approach.

So why are there still folks in the wine industry clinging to these outdated marketing ideas?

Booth Babes and Nonsense

Earlier this month, the Bâtonnage Forum on Women in Wine conducted a panel where the topic of how women’s sexuality is used to sell wine was debated. According to Jess Landers of Seven Fifty Daily, one of the most “controversial” statements came from esteemed vintner and former UC-Davis professor Carole Meredith.

“…when I go to wine events, I see women who are overtly selling sex under the pretense of selling wine. I sometimes see women who show up to pour wine wearing very tight clothes, very short skirts, their boobs hanging out. I have to wonder, Do you feel that you have to dress like that because the wine you’re pouring just isn’t very good? Doesn’t that diminish the wine? And if it doesn’t diminish the wine, doesn’t it diminish you?” — Carole Meredith, How Women’s Sexuality Is Used to Sell Wine, May 6th, 2019

Preach it, Carole!

The scare-quotes around controversial is intentional because I honestly don’t see anything contentious with what Meredith said. In fact, I often have the same thoughts when I’m at a tasting with tarted up “booth babes” who don’t know a thing about the wine they’re pouring. It actually angers me that rather than invest in training on their products that the wineries and marketing firms that employ these women are encouraging them to use their other assets to sell wine.

I’m not angry at the women. They’re just trying to do a job. I’m angry at the mindset that thinks this schtick works.

But it only works in convincing me not to buy your wine.

Photo by Diego Delso. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Gratuitous side booby.

Any winery that has to resort to using sex to sell is raising the white flag.

They’re sending out the message loud and clear that what they’re putting into the bottle is as fake and vapid as their marketing. It’s a boob move.

I get that same message from brands promoted by so-called “influencers” posing with bottles on Instagram as well.

They might not have their boobs hanging out, but they’re certainly not selling you on the story or quality of the wine. Instead, they’re selling you on fakeness and parlor tricks. They want you to “hey, look over here!” while the magician pockets your card (and hopefully your money).

Maybe those tricks worked in the past. But today, misdirection is anathema to consumers craving authenticity and substance.

If you want me to buy your wine, put your clothes back on and tell me what’s in the damn bottle!

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Sculpting Soapstone in Napa

I wrapped up my week-long press tour of the Stags Leap District yesterday. You can look forward to me spending the next couple months working through my notes in between other writings and reviews. For those that want a sneak peek of some of the insights and themes that I’ll be writing about check out the SpitBucket Instagram page. There I’ve posted pictures and thoughts from many of the wineries that I’ve visited.

Photo By Lysippos - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Before the trip, I wrote about some of the questions and expectations that I had going in. A large part of my role in Friedenreich’s research entourage was to bring a Millennial perspective with an eye towards what the future of the Stags Leap District could be. While that is a role that I’m apt to fill, the WSET Diploma student and wine marketer in me is also conscious of the present reality of business.

Many times in between my Millennial “what if” questions, I found myself taking a step back to think about what I would do if I were a general manager, COO or president of a Stags Leap District winery.

Honestly? There is not much that I would do differently.

Though I still see challenges ahead, I couldn’t find fault in how well-executed all these operations were. It’s clear that these wineries have found a recipe that works for them and have spent considerable time, thought and capital into honing and perfecting that recipe. They’re all working hard to maximize the gifts of terroir like a sculptor skillfully chiseling away to reveal the beauty of the piece underneath.

However, they’re not chiseling their work into granite.

The nature of the wine industry is inherently transient. It’s an agrarian product that is a consumable good. There will always be factors at play (climate change, demographics, consumer trends) that will weather even the mightiest of edifices. No matter how much care, attention and capital that you invest, everything you do will always be chiseled in soapstone.

Quixote Malbec

There is some sexy Malbec being made in the SLD. These wines combine the spiciness of Argentine Malbecs with the seductive texture of Stags Leap District wines.

Even the fabled European wine regions spent centuries, if not millennia, figuring themselves out.

Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the backbone of the great wines of the Medoc, is still in its adolescence in Bordeaux. The Bordelais have been making wine since the Romans while Cab only appeared on the scene in the late 18th century. And even then, it took some time to catch on. During the 1855 classification, many of the grandest estates of the Left Bank relied heavily on grapes like Malbec and Merlot.

The soapstone sculpture of Bordeaux has changed many times over the years. With climate change, it’s already starting to change again with a growing focus on Petit Verdot and even Malbec making a return.

With Cab barely out of the womb in Napa, why should we not expect its form to change as well?

Now I’m not discrediting the beauty of Napa and, particularly, Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. I had many delicious examples which I’ll be writing about on this blog. But while not as numerous, there were certainly several “unicorn” wines of other grapes that had me excited about what the future sculpture of SLD could be.

Some strawmen, some strong points.

Now back to those Millennials and the future challenges they may pose.

Often I heard the strawmen assessment that Millennials would come around once they had more money. However, there were also some excellent points which I’ll tackle in future pieces.

One is that education will be paramount in reaching Millennials. That does present the challenge of how do you entice anyone to want to be educated. But I also think it offers a double edge sword. One that can both cut Napa/SLD producers just as much as it can clear the path.

Another strong point is that rather than thinking of demographics, producers should market to “tribes”–i.e., a tribe Cab-lovers. This was argued exceedingly well by Russ Joy, the general manager of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. That tribal spin invites personalization with a sense of community and identity. A sort of “hipster” approach, which is somewhat ironic.

Malk Vineyards

This tiny little patch of vines in the foreground is Malk Family Vineyards. Beyond the dirt road is Steltzner, then Joseph Phelps, then Mary Jane Fay Vineyards (fruit sold to Shafer), then Odette and FINALLY you get to the Silverado Trail.

But probably the point that I could appreciate the most was the blessing of small production.

This was made quite clear at the tiny 2-acre estate of Malk Family Vineyards. With only a few hundred cases, the Malks don’t need to focus on chasing the market. Anyone who finds them (and believe me, the drive to find them is a bit of a hunt), is someone who is already passionate and committed.

That small production provides a bit of cover that will undoubtedly help many producers weather the changes–regardless of what they’re carving.

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Napa Valley — Boomer or Bust?

Note: A follow up to this post can be found at Sculpting Soapstone in Napa

I’ve entered the lion’s den.
Photo By Aaron Logan - from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php, CC BY 1.0,

This week I will be in Napa assisting Kenneth Friedenreich, author of Oregon Wine Country Stories, with research on the Stags Leap District for the sequel in his Decoding the Grape series.

Surprisingly, no one has written a dedicated book about the district yet. With 2019 being the 30th anniversary of the AVA’s establishment, a deep dive into the legacy and future of this influential region seems long overdue.

That puts me on a fact-finding mission with Friedenreich and two of his other compatriots as we embark on a schedule of winery visits and interviews. In many ways, I am the odd duck in this entourage being not only the only woman but also a Millennial seeing Napa Valley beside the eyes of three Boomers.

Past and Present

The dichotomy will be rich as Friedenreich, Doc Wilson (a longtime fixture in the Oregon wine scene) and Mark, a pediatrician from Portland, represent the bread and butter of Napa Valley.

Photo By LEONARDO DASILVA, CC BY 3.0,

Are legends still exciting?

They are the generation that took with gusto an appreciation for fine American wine. For the last 40 plus year, every Napa vintner that has had an inkling of success achieved that by courting the Boomers.

While the recipe has varied somewhat over the years, the entire business model and marketing of Napa has been oriented towards enticing and exciting this large and lucrative demographic.

And it has remained a lucrative demographic even as the Boomers settle into retirement. They (along with the smaller Generation X) are still the ones buying the high priced and highly prized bottles that have paved Napa’s reputation with gold. That’s a reality that no vintner can ignore.

But what of the Future?

On the surface, I’m probably the ideal Millennial consumer that Napa wineries could hope for. I’m highly engaged with wine and willing to travel. I crave experiences which is something that Napa has spent decades perfecting. And, most keenly, I’m in a position of financial stability where I could afford to join wine clubs and regularly buy $100+ bottles if I wished.

Pritchard Hill at sunset

I will say that the view from Pritchard Hill is awe inspiring.
It does add a bit more character than the highly manicured vineyard lawns of the valley floor.

I might be a minority among my cohorts, but there are other Millennials like me, and we are the future bread and butter.

And with auspicious timing. For just as some industry folks are beating the strawman that Millennials will come running as soon as they have more money in their pockets, here I am representing the best-case scenario that Napa vintners could hope for.

How are they planning to reach me?

While Friedenreich is going to write his retrospection of the Stags Leap District from his Boomer perspective, he’s very conscious of the contemporary. One of the things that I’ll be contributing to the team is being the canary in the vineyards.

Will the Stags Leap District (and Napa in general) still be relevant in another 30 years?

Yes, Cab is King but for how long?

Even if I can afford $100+ bottles, what is the distinct value that makes getting these wines worth buying instead of a nice whiskey or the myriad of other options I have?

I’m from a generation that is notoriously in love with great stories so how are today’s SLD and Napa wineries communicating their stories? Do they feel authentic? Is it presented in a way that I can connect with and relate to?

The old recipe is not going to work.

Photo By Jim G from Silicon Valley, CA, USA - Darioush Winery, Napa Valley, California, USAUploaded by Josve05a, CC BY 2.0,

I mean, yeah, that kind of looks interesting… I guess.

To be brutally blunt, Napa can be really boring.

The marketing to my generation has been trying to sell us a luxurious lifestyle that is rather generic.

Oh, beautiful people in a beautiful place. That’s nice.

Open up Instagram and you see a countless stream of beautiful people in beautiful places. There’s nothing special about that messaging. Been there, done that. Scroll.

Adding a glass of high priced Cab or Chardonnay doesn’t make the #NapaStyle filter feel any more unique or authentic. At worst, with literally hundreds of wineries delivering the same message, it feels fake and basic.

So what Napa will I see this week?

Will I see producers following the old recipe of success that has served them so well? Perhaps. With Boomers and Gen Xers still buying, it would be foolish to abandon it altogether.

But what I am hoping to see is a glimpse of planning for the future. I’d like to see a Stags Leap District and a Napa Valley that recognizes that the old #NapaStyle filter is a recipe for Millennials to keep scrolling past.

What I want is Napa unfiltered.

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Top Instagram Accounts to Follow for Bordeaux En Primeur

The 2018 Bordeaux en primeur tastings are going on right now. The event brings hundreds of journalists, critics and buyers to the Bordeaux region to taste barrel samples of the nascent vintage. The reviews and assessments written during this period help set the tone of the 2018 futures campaign that will be kicking off in the next few weeks.

2015 Ch. Margaux

My all-time favorite Bordeaux futures score.

As anyone that follows this blog knows, I’m an avid buyer of futures each year. I’ve been keeping tabs on the en primeur posts from several of my favorite writers on Twitter and Instagram. But this year I’ve discovered a few new accounts worth following as well.

Below I’ve created a list of the best accounts that I’ve enjoyed following during en primeur so far.

My criteria

What I look for in an Instagram account worth following is content beyond just bottle porn. I want to learn something about the estates, people and vintage that I can’t easily get from a wine book or magazine.

Yes, tasting note and impressions of a wine can be compelling but these wines are going to change dramatically by the time I can get a chance to try them. Beyond just someone’s tasting notes, I want to get a feel of the place and these spectacular events they’re attending.

Artistic picture quality can help. There are a few of the “new discoveries” that made this list on the merits of having some eye-catching photography. But, mostly, I compiled this list based on the content of the posts and how much edification I get from following them.

Old Favorites

Jane Anson (jane.anson)

Anson is the chief Bordeaux critic for Decanter and, in my opinion, is one of the best in the business. Her reviews are must-reads for anyone looking to purchase Bordeaux futures. They give you so much more than just a tasting note and score–often painting a bigger picture of the year and the estate’s efforts. She is also one of my top Women in Wine Twitter accounts to follow.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of a swag gift of vine prunings from Ch. Phélan Ségur. Bonus points for the cat.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown (lisapbmw)

A Master of Wine, Perrotti-Brown is the editor-in-chief of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and it’s head Bordeaux critic. She is most certainly one of the tastemakers of Bordeaux but what I really respect is how down to earth her posts feel. Like Anson, she is one of my top Women in Wine Twitter accounts to follow.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of some of the strangest amphorae that I’ve ever seen at Ch. Les Carmes Haut-Brion.

Jeff Leve (jeff_leve)
Jeff Leve's IG

Screen shot of Jeff Leve’s Instagram page.

Whether you are Bordeaux newbie or a connoisseur, Jeff Leve’s The Wine Cellar Insider should absolutely be one of your bookmarks. The amount of free content and details about nearly every single Bordeaux estate that is on that site is superb. I don’t think a single one of my 2017 Bordeaux futures posts last year failed to include some great insight or quote from Leve.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo from Ch. Latour Martillac that follows Leve’s style of giving compelling background on an estate’s effort in 2018 along with his tasting notes. Bonus points for the expression on the chocolate lab’s face.

Chris Kissack (chris_kissack)

Kissack is a longtime fixture on the blogosphere who first launched his Wine Doctor site back in 2000. Back in my early Wikipedia wine writing days, his site was one of my favorite resources to check facts on. But, admittedly, I haven’t been following him much outside of social media since he took his site behind a paywall.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of some of the frost prevention equipment used in Bordeaux vineyards.

New Discoveries

Will Lyons (mrwill_lyons)

Lyons writes for The Sunday Times and has been previously featured in the Wall Street Journal.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo from La Conseillante of winemaker Marielle Cazaux next to one of the estate’s amphorae–which is apparently the en vogue thing right now in Bordeaux.

Magnus Ericsson (ericssonmagnus)

Ericsson is an editor and writer for the Swedish wine website Winefinder.
.
My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo and background tidbits about the Vignobles Comtes von Neipperg’s wine Le Blanc d’Aiguilhe. Very intriguing!

Magnus Olsson (bythebotti)

Olsson is a winebuyer for Winefinder.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This collage of some his favorite right bank estates in 2018 and the intriguing tidbit about the role that Cabernet Franc is playing in this year’s wines. Given my great love for Cab Franc (especially on the Right Bank at places like Angelus), that news made my heart soar.

Dunell’s Wines (dunellswines)
Dunell's IG

Screenshot of Dunell’s Wines’ Instagram page.

Dunell’s is a family-run wine merchant in Jersey.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: This photo of bud break in Sauternes and the charming comparison of Ch. Sigalas-Rabaud’s Le 5 to Lillet Blanc.

Wine Owners (wineowners1)

Wine Owners is a management and trading platform for wine collectors that features over 16,000 users in 19 countries.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: The horses of Ch. Pontet-Canet and some interesting commentary on the potential motivation of PC’s glowing review of the vintage.

Courtier du Vin (courtierduvin)

Courtier du Vin is a private wine management firm based in France. While there is some interesting content here, their inclusion was mainly driven by some of the lovely and artistic photos on their feed.

My favorite En Primeur insta so far: The perspective and lighting in this pic of the flowers at Ch. Ducru-Beaucaillou brightened my entire IG feed and has been my absolute favorite of the week so far.

Any Favorites That I Missed?

Post them down in the comments below. I’m always looking for great content and accounts to follow.

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The Real Influencers of the Wine World

Earlier this month, the Drinks Insight Network published their top ten influential wine experts in the beverage industry. They highlighted 10 Twitter accounts with 17,000-245,000 followers and a ranking of at least 54 on GlobalData’s “influencer score”.

Photo by Dantadd. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Yes, that is Kevin Bacon.

I follow all these accounts on Twitter and it’s not a bad recommendation to check them out. But I only actively interact and read 2-3 of them–Jamie Goode (@jamiegoode), Robert Joseph (@robertjoseph) and Ken Alawine (@alawine). I follow Goode and Joseph for their engaging dialogue about wine topics while Alawine’s feed is a nice diversion of fun memes and infographics.

I don’t think I’ve ever been influenced to buy a wine mentioned by any of them.

And I’m an active social media user who is already motivated to seek out wine stuff.

If I’m so minorly influenced by the most prominent influencers, then what kind of influence do these folks (as well as other influencers/bloggers) really have on the typical wine consumer?

Do You Want The Brutal Truth? 

Very little.

I know this post is not going to make me friends among my fellow bloggers or “influencers”. But I can’t forget about my past life before I really started blogging. In addition to several years working wine retail, I studied winemaking at the Northwest Wine Academy with thoughts of one day opening up my own winery.

Bottling wine

One of my favorite photos from winemaking school. Featured here is my mentor, Peter Bos.

While I’ve moved on from that goal, I still have many friends who work at or own wineries in the Pacific Northwest. When I talk to them about my experiences working in the trenches selling wines like theirs, I’m not going to bullshit them.

I know how tough it is for a small winery to compete in a saturated market. With time and money scarce, I’m not going to encourage my friends to waste either chasing the favor of “influencers”–especially if it’s not really going to help them sell wine.

Yeah, this is a self-defeating post for a blogger to write. Oh well. But I will share with you the same advice I give my winemaker friends. While this is, of course, anecdotal, it’s drawn from my years of helping tens of thousands of consumers while working as a wine steward at a major grocery store chain and a big-box retailer.

It’s also the advice that I would put into practice myself if I started my own winery. There are real influencers out there that drive people to a store looking for wines. But few of them would rank an “influencer score”.

The #1 Influencer — Friends and Family

In over seven years working on the floor, I’ve never had a customer come in with a blog post, Instagram or tweet on their phone looking for a wine. Again, anecdotal, but that is the stark truth.

However, every single day I would have multiple customers come in looking for a wine that a friend or family member recommended to them. These personal recommendations are, by far, the most valuable currency in the industry—and not just in wine.

Of course, friends and family are on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You can consider some social media influence from outside sources. But the reach of a blogger or “influencer” is going to be indirect and weaken with each link away from that personal connection.

The Bacon number of wine

A Few Good Men and some Sleepers

Essentially if we want to “Kevin Bacon” this, your best influencers are going to be the folks with a Bacon number of 1. When you start getting 2 steps or more removed from the consumer, the amount of influence dwindles considerably.

Advice for Wineries

Remember, keep your eye on the Bacon.

Personal recommendations from friends and family are more valuable than 90+ points from a famous critic. Wineries should seek these recommendations out every bit as aggressively as they court a high score.

Many wineries allow wine club members to bring guests to the tasting room for free. But I can’t think of many who do “friends and family” wine club events. Most events allow their members to bring only a single guest who is usually going to be a spouse.

How does that help you grow your clientele list? Think about expanding that allowance to 3-4 guests as well as promotions that reward current customers for referrals.

#2 Restaurant By-The-Glass Programs

While Millennials tend to be more adventurous than previous generations, there is always a risk in accepting a recommendation. For many, the risk of paying $7-20 for a glass pour of wine at a restaurant is more appealing than spending $25+ for a full bottle at a store.

After personal recommendations from friends and family, the second biggest driver of consumers to my wine shops was the desire to find something they had at a restaurant. Once in a while, a customer would be seeking something they ordered a bottle of but the vast majority of the time it was something they had from the BTG list.

Advice for Wineries
Photo by Iwona Erskine-Kellie. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

There is a reason why the big mega-corps focus so heavily on their on-premise accounts.

Getting on restaurant wine lists should always be a priority for small wineries. In many ways, it is the perfect setting for people to have their first experience with your wine–with great food and great company.

Placement on the BTG list is even more valuable than being on the general wine list. The intimidation factor is less while the openness to explore is greater. Of course, well-run programs will have talented sommeliers that can hand sell the entire list. However, there are very few consumers (like me) who indulge in things like playing the Somm Game.

Plus, for those consumers who are open to recommendations, the odds are better for your wine getting a BTG recommendation from the sommelier than getting one of your bottles recommended from the full list. Think about it. You’re competing against a dozen or so options by-the-glass versus potentially hundreds of bottle options.

I know competition for placement in these programs is high and brings a lot of challenges. But I firmly believe that the effort pays more dividends than chasing online influencers.

#3 First-Hand Winery Experience

While the influencers above drove more people to my shops, this is the area where wineries most control their destinies. Of course, the quality of your wine should be of paramount importance but second only to that should be the type of experience guests get in your tasting rooms.

Photo by Georg Botz. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

I know the sight of a “Bridesmaid Brigade” fills tasting rooms with dread. But they are all prospective customers, even if they don’t buy jack on that first visit.

Living so close to Woodinville Wine Country and within driving distance of all the major wine regions in the Pacific Northwest, I’ve seen the best and worst of tasting room experiences. I’ve also heard on the floor, from consumers, the best and worst as well.

The best experiences give people a reason to be excited about a winery. Often people visit 2-4 wineries on a trip, so the goal should be to stand out positively. Every tasting room is going to be pouring wine. That’s old hat. The memorable wineries are the ones that give their guests something more than just booze.

Advice for Wineries

I can not emphasize enough the importance of making sure you have a great staff working your tasting rooms. Pay the good ones well and work like hell to retain that talent. They are truly the difference between bringing home the bacon or burning it to a crisp.

I can’t count how many times I recommended a wine only to have a customer recount a bad tasting room experience that they (or friends and family) had. Even if it was several years ago when the winery was owned by someone else, it was a non-starter.

If I started a winery, I would take this Maya Angelou quote and frame it in my tasting room.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou

#4 Published Media “Best of…” lists and Wine Competition Awards

My last retail holiday season was 2017 but I remember it quite well. This is when all the “Top Wines of the Year” and “Best of….” lists come out. It seems like every newspaper and magazine publishes some year-end compendium.

For retailers, these lists are both blessings and a royal pain in the ass. They’re easy sales because consumers come in ready to buy and you can fill their basket in 3 to 5 minutes—that is, if you happen to have the exact wine and vintages. The pain in the ass comes from nearly all these lists featuring wines of limited availability (sometimes even winery-only) or from a vintage long sold out.

Advice for Wineries
Photo by Wine Enthusiast Magazine. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-4.0

Customers coming into a wine shop with an actual print copy of a wine magazine is becoming rarer and rarer.

I ranked this one #4 but it could have easily been #5. The influence of traditional print media is certainly fading. When I first got into retail, I would almost weekly have customers coming in with the latest copy of Wine Spectator or the local newspaper critic’s column. Now it seems mostly concentrated on these year-end lists.

I’ve also noticed that the clientele that actively uses these lists skew older as well. Again, only anecdotal, but I suspect that the influence of these media sources will only continue to wane with the growing prominence of Millennials and Generation Z in the market.

Likewise, I see less excitement and influence surrounding wine competitions every year. But there is still some fight in the old girl. Personally, I don’t think they should have much any influence but people like shiny things. Wine competitions dish out lots and lots of shiny things.

For my own winery, I would still be entering competitions and sending samples out to the traditional print media. However, I wouldn’t put all my eggs in these baskets and focus more on the top #1-3 influencers above.

But you ultimately can’t discount the easy sales that a winery can get with prominent list placement. Nor can you downplay the influence that even a silly bronze medal sticker has in making a wine stand out on the shelf.

#5 Wine Apps

Wine apps with Yelp-like rating systems are another thing that I think shouldn’t hold much influence–but they do. As I described in my post Naked and Foolish, I think these apps are incredibly gameable and ripe for misuse.

My apprehensions aside, I realize that wine consumers (particularly the younger set) are downloading and using them. It’s not yet a considerable quantity, hence my #5 ranking, but it is growing. Before I left retail, I would see maybe a handful of customers a week whipping out their phones and scanning bottles to see how many “stars” something got. I can only expect that number to increase.

Advice for Wineries
Wine Searcher screen grab

While not necessarily a rating app itself, I often saw consumers on the floor using WineSearcher to check prices and critic scores.

While I doubt that wine apps would ever supplant the top 3 influencers, it is nonetheless a Bacon number 1 influencer that shouldn’t be ignored.

At the very least, I would recommend that wineries download these apps and pay attention to what scores their wines are getting from consumers. For small wineries that aren’t likely to get many inputs, it is probably not a bad idea to upload nice pictures of your labels. That way when someone is searching for your wines they can find them more easily.

I would avoid the temptation to add your own ratings and take part in the easy gaming of these apps. But that’s just me.

#?? Recommendations of Wine Stewards/Sommeliers

As a steward on the floor with face-to-face contact with consumers, I carried a Bacon number of 1. But how influential I truly was depended on a lot of factors. This makes it difficult to give a blanket ranking on how influential stewards (and in the same vein, sommeliers) really are.

For customers that I interacted with often and built a relationship, my influence would be only behind that of the #1 influencer–family and friends. I earned trust by learning their palates and backing up my recommendations with my knowledge.

But more broadly, my influence probably fell in the #3-5 range depending on the consumer’s personality (i.e. willingness to seek out a recommendation) as well as their past experiences with other stewards and wine shops. It’s very easy for a consumer to feel burned by a bad recommendation that they received one time, from one person, and then be skeptical about any recommendations they get–from anyone.

The hiring prowess and training programs of a wine shop/restaurant have an immeasurable impact on how influential their stewards and somms will be.

Advice for Wineries
Picture with Jean Triaud of Ch. Gloria

A pic from my retail days where I had a chance to meet Jean Triaud, the grandson of Ch. Gloria’s founder Henri Martin.
Trying the wine was nice, but I was able to introduce many more consumers to Ch. Gloria’s wines through the stories and insights that Jean shared.

After family and friends, wine stewards and sommeliers have the potential to be the second most potent influencer selling your wine. I would give the nod to a winery’s own tasting room staff vis-à-vis, but when you add up how many people visit your tasting room versus the numbers that visit wine shops and restaurants, the potential is higher with the latter.

It is undoubtedly in a winery’s best interests to influence these influencers. These are the folks that are in the trenches presenting your wine to consumers. They have the potential to move far more cases of your wine than a blogger like me ever will.

But it is not just about getting wine stewards and sommeliers to try your wines. Keep in mind that they’re likely getting samples, trips and other perks from dozens upon dozens of other wineries.

You need to sell them on what makes your winery unique and distinctive, just like you do to a consumer face-to-face. Successful wineries reach out to wine stewards and sommeliers and give them tools (great stories, behind-the-scenes insights, etc.) that they can share to the thousands of consumers they interact with yearly.

I’m not saying that bloggers and social media influencers have zero influence, though.

I don’t want to come across as slamming my fellow bloggers or denigrating their efforts. I know we’re all working hard to make original and useful content that people will want to read. Believe me; I feel the same flutter of excitement and gratification looking at page views and subscription numbers as you do.

But the truth is, is that we are, at best, Bacon number 2s when it comes to the true reach of our influence. We have some influence, but it is quite limited.

We can contribute content that shows up on Google searches when an already engaged and intrigued consumer looks for more info on a wine. Indeed, this is the area where we probably exert the most influence which is why creating original and compelling content is critical.

But that audience of actively engaged consumers is still relatively small. And those prospective consumers needs to be initially “engaged” by something else before they start searching–often by things in the Bacon number 1 realm like sommeliers and wine stewards.

Photo from Renee Comet of the National Cancer Institute. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD-author

Engage bacon is by far the most influential bacon.

Now bloggers and social media influencers can certainly influence those sommeliers and wine stewards. Stepping back and thinking about my retail days, I most certainly read blogs and got intrigued by wines.

However, when I step back further and look at the blogging and “wine influencer” scene–when I look at what I’m doing–I realize that we are mostly just influencing ourselves.

Spend any amount of time scanning the comments and likes on Instagram of notable wine influencers and you start seeing a pattern.
It’s the same people talking to each other.

Now, truthfully, that is great because this is a community that abounds with terrific friendships. One of the most edifying results of attending the Wine Bloggers Conference was meeting fellow bloggers that I could geek out with.

But we can’t mistake shared passion for influence.
Photo by J.Dncsn. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Non-engaged bacon.
This is how I view my blog posts. They’re an ingredient that needs to be “cooked” before its sweet aroma influences anyone.

Wineries that invest hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars sending out samples to influencers are not getting their money’s worth. Especially compared to the return on investment they could get focusing on the Top 3 influencers I noted above.

Preaching to the choir will never bring people off the streets and into the pews. And getting people off the streets to check out wines is the whole point of marketing. It’s what wineries need to do in order to survive.

That is why when my good friends with wineries approach me about sampling their wines for review, I’ll accept them–but I’m not going to mislead them about my “influence.” I know that there are better ways that they could be spending their time and money.

And sharing that might be my real influence.

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