One of the coolest things about the Université de la Vigne et du Vin was a series of videos they presented throughout the day called “Volem dire al pais”. The occitan title is a nice nod to the fact that this conference is about local farmers. Occitan dominated these vines for a long time, much longer than French or Anglicized slang, a constant theme for the conference.
Sometimes, conferences like this get a little high brow and far-removed from the winemakers. These videos served as a healthy dose of local wisdom injected into the conference between every set of speakers. A really clever way to help give a well-paced message from lots of locals in between the more academic presentations.
michel smith, christine ontivero, & francois druel
Michel Smith had a list of suggestions and requests. He thinks that winemakers who follow this advice will inevitably become better communicators and more interesting subjects for journalists.
His list was sort of numbered but I had trouble separating things (this presentation was after lunch ;D ) so I’m just going to list everything together as it appears in my jumbled notes:
Prendre conscience de son espace; you are somewhere but not anywhere
have a geographic, architectural, historical notion of where you are
you don’t have to be born in a place, but if you choose to live there, you should familiarize yourself
faire connaitre, faire savoir
osez forger une histoire, dare to create a story, how did you come to this place, what was it like before your arrival, how will you change the place, how will the place change you?
cherchez une coherence, seek coherence, a sensical, simple story, don’t overcomplicate
be aware of presentation but don’t overcomplicate
no gilding the lily
quality assurance, make good wine or else nothing else matters
be open to meeting your client
be open to meeting anybody
be open to your neighbors
regroup, become a part of the community
don’t talk shit about your neighbors, especially to journalists
never send a bottle to a journalist without a little note that says hello, also include price and mention any side projects you have going on (Interestingly, I asked Michel about his own winery the other day and he responded with all this information and took the time to have a conversation with me. He practices what he preaches!)
if, as Berthomeau said “le vin est delocalizable”, terroir is not. Lieu, terroir or whatever you want to call it is permanent and irreplacable.
don’t recite your story, share it. live it every time you tell it
speak of wine as if it is a child, unique and special
remember that journalists are just people, treat them like you treat other people and they will appreciate it; no red carpets, but a little human friendliness and hospitality, the same you would afford to anybody you’re going to work beside
First off I need to apologize to Christine Ontivero for laughing aloud during her presentation. I should have shown more restraint.
Ontivero is an attache presse working out of Perpignan. And she came on this day to explain what a typical wine press agent does.
She tries to craft engaging stories (rather than copy/pasted letters about how a winemaker won a gold medal or is really passionate about his terroir). Every winemaker says his wines are great or the best, and that will never impress a journalist. That’s not a story. It’s just an advert. Instead she tries to get people to send a story that really shares a special moment related to wine.
She also alerts winemakers when they can send in samples and reminds them of important dates like when Bettane & Desseauve are about to taste in the area or when the RVF comes. Also, things like promoting the foire au vins in all the supermarkets… all that really starts back in the spring when they’re scheduling the wines for the fall.
Christine thinks you can’t share stories on media like twitter or facebook (as you can imagine, this was when I laughed), and she has a great distrust for blogs. For more information, you can read her blog.
Francois Druel spoke at the Université de la Vigne et du Vin in 2011 in Ferrals-les-Corbieres. This is a synopsis of his talk and my reaction to what he’s saying. This is one post in an ongoing series about the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin.
francois druel, michel smith & christine ontivero
Francois introduced himself as a consultant who has been working on the Internet since before the web existed. He gave a very brief glimpse of a few simple tools and included some of the usual impressive statistics. Over x-hundred messages per second on Twitter, and if Facebook were a country it would have the third largest population on earth, that type of thing.
He showed us a graph of the diffusion of innovation curve. He talked about how mobile was now the #1 way to access the Inernet.
I was hoping that this presentation would be an amazing call to action that inspires winemakers to use free online tools to communicate their stories with the entire world. I’m afraid I came with the wrong expectations.
Branding is about communication and instant recognition. And brands tend to be community-owned. Once you put a brand out there, it will be co-opted and that’s a powerful tool.
Dialogue is about listening to what’s being said, involving clients in the conversation, and hoping that your efforts go viral (?).
Prospection is about presales, creating buzz, communication (I thought that was for Branding?) and it is generally less suited to wine. He cites examples like every time a new generation of iPhone comes out, there are months of speculation, waiting in lines, etc.
He has a slide about the wisdom of crowds. Another slide about information sharing, using coyote as a prime example of how quickly good products spread on the web.
So then he did a “case study” of Chateau Leoube. Unfortunately, I guess he was pressed for time because he didn’t really get to conclude this. He explained Leoube’s goals to triple sales by making good wine, developing their brand, and doing premium branding. But I don’t really know which online efforts resulted in the tripled sales. Or any metrics they used to know how much of it was traced to their internet efforts as opposed to their conventional efforts. Or even the nature of the internet effort according to Druel’s three options. Was it branding, dialogue or prospection (Francois’ own methodology?). I left this talk a little confused. Which is a shame since you know I get excited about this subject.
At the same time, it should be mentioned that Francois has a difficult job. A lot of people in the audience have no idea what he’s talking about and the sort of news headline statistics like the ones I mentioned above might be the best way of getting people interested. So he can’t appeal to everybody in the room.
But you know it might have been much more effective to just look at a few individual case studies from the region and show what they do online. Obviously, I’d like to flatter myself and say that I’m a decent example. He could talk about other wineries that use the Internet effectively in the region. Or alternatively, if you want to stick to delivering statistics, at least make them relevant to wine. Does that make sense? It’s obviously impressive that tons of tweets go out every second. Maybe it’s more impressive to mention how many specifically mention a wine brand name each day?
Maybe I’m too harsh because I’m jealous! I wish I could have spoken to a room full of winemakers and shared my hopes and dreams. Of a region united and represented online! Think if just 1 percent of our winemakers and grape growers wrote something online once a week, we’d flood the Internet with Languedoc branding. We’re such a big region that we could accomplish nearly anything with a little collective effort.
Oh, incidentally, Chateau Leoube, the case study in this talk, is in fact using a lot of internet tools. Follow them on Twitter for constant updates about their own wines. Or get your groove on to youtube videos about the domaine:
Yes, the internet is a marvelous thing.
Jacques Berthomeau spoke at the Université de la Vigne et du Vin in 2011 in Ferrals les Corbieres. This is a synopsis of his talk and my reaction to what he’s saying. This is one post in an ongoing series about the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin.
In his typical way, Berthomeau presents a rambling but cohesive message about the opportunities the Internet provides to winemakers and wine drinkers alike. It’s hard to take notes or outline this speaking style so just consult the video above if you want the most accurate portrayal of his talk.
If you’re short on time, here are some notes:
Starting with a joke about not being a tribun (somebody who gets on their soapbox frequently) like everybody from the Languedoc, Berthomeau sets the stage for a talk about identity. Where is Berthomeau from? And who is he? For many people in the wine business, he’s the author of a famous report on French wine that was published about 10 years ago. Often times, people talk about “le Rapport Berthomeau” which drives the man to say “My first name isn’t Rapport”. So for many people, he’s just this old report commissioned by the ministry of agriculutre. This report made him pretty unpopular because he and his colleagues made crazy claims like “women will drink wine too” and “we should adapt our communication and branding to new export markets”.
The Ministry pulled him off of all wine related projects, stuck him in a closet and put his report on a back catalog of some obsucre website on this thing called Internet. Jacques started a blog and discovered that the closet he’d been placed in actually had a pretty far reach.
He goes on in his talk to explain that his blog works because he doesn’t cater to the wine elite. He just tells fun stories peripherally related to wine, and lots of people want that. People who aren’t obsessed with wine and who have no idea what mineralité means.
Berthomeau then agrees with a point in Juarez’s talk about how some winemakers will have to be at the head of the charge to bring notoriety to the Languedoc. Previously in his presentation, he speaks about Embres & Castelmaure. Toward the end, he mentions me and my little camera (very flattering). And I would like to think I’m one of the lucky ones who carries the burden of representing this region to uninitiated (read: normal) wine drinkers.
Jacques Berthomeau, Ferrals Les Corbieres 2011
There’s a digression about how wine drinking habits are shifting. Even if French people drink less wine than they used to, there are different drinkers now that provide new opportunities. Women. People getting off of work and having a glass at a cafe to relax. These ideas weren’t that common twenty years ago. Wine has new ways of infiltrating our daily routines and it’s presumably up to the aforementioned leading voices to make sure that people think of our region when they’re looking for wine.
Berthomeau takes a moment to address the previous talks during the day. Namely, noting that the new world didn’t invent industrialized or branded wine. The French have been doing it for a while. He talks about how young drinkers or new drinkers often start with simpler wines. But he also mentions that even children are intelligent. You often see kids playing incredibly complicated games or memorizing entire pantheons of pokemon or superpowers, so complexity in and of itself isn’t intimidating to people. But wine has to capture the imagination before people are willing to learn all the complexities.
The Internet, to Berthomeau, is a cheap way to communicate with the grand publique and capture their imagination in a way that a Paris Metro billboard can never replace. His advice quoted from Michel-Édouard Leclerc, “Durez, durez, durez”. Tell your stories, create original content, be happy, be colorful, and little by little you’ll leave the closed community of wine professionals to reach real drinkers!
So don’t just listen. Speak up! If you’ve got an issue and you don’t want to start your own website, ask Berthomeau to publish your thoughts on his website, an espace libre!
It was pretty cool. The Uni is a real home-grown event where some very motivated people in the region (namely Nadine Franjus-Adenis) have organized a conference that addresses issues facing contemporary viticulture.
Nadine Franjus-Adenis hosts the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin
Being local, the conference has a lot of personality and is a bit quirky (which you know I am a fan of). The organizers interrupt speakers every time they use anglicisms. There’s a lot of occitan thrown around between presentations. The whole event is clearly taking place in the Languedoc.
And it also feels a lot less pretentious than other more International events. And the speakers are easily as good here as the ones I see at larger conferences (Wine Futures comes to mind). You don’t need to be a big wine celebrity to be thought-provoking. Which is funny because the theme was actually about being a big wine celebrity.
2011’s theme – Riche et Celebre
The theme was “Riche et Celebre?”, a playful choice because virtually all of us in the wine business know how impractical it is to think that all winemakers could become rich and famous.
Essentially, it was about the importance, for wines and wineries, of being known, of having an identity. In French, the process of being first “connu” and then “reconnu”… there was a lot of talk about the need to work together as a group and have a collective identity. Lot of debate about whether to promote under the banner of terroir, of cepage, of appellation, of brand (eg. Sud de France)… and so on.
People presented on a variety of subjects linked to the theme of notoriety. There were a number of things I disagreed with, but that’s healthy for a real exchange of ideas. I hate those conferences where everybody agrees.
Actual speaker synopsis
I started writing these up and some of them got very long so I’ll give them their own posts. Follow the link to read my thoughts on any particular speaker.
I had the pleasure of hearing Jacky Rigaux speak at the Université de la Vigne et du Vin in 2011 in Ferrals les Corbieres. This is a synopsis of his lecture and my reaction to what he’s saying. This is one post in an ongoing series about the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin.
Jacky Rigaux, Université de Bourgogne – Terroir is the best way to promote French wines.
A rather professorly lecture that reminded me of my political science days at Tulane University. The main message was that France can only maintain/increase wine sales by focusing on terroir. Rigaux drew a clear line between “vin de technologie” and “vin de lieu”. Other dichotomies included “mineralité” vs “sucrosité”. And finally “culture” vs. “business”. And the speech concludes with the notion that wine should be marketed to illuminated niche markets. He has this beautiful notion of a multitude of niches creating islands of resistance against homogenized, industrial wine.
I felt the presentation was engaging and full of good quotes and anecdotes (“Cepage is a first name, but terroir is the family name”), but it was slightly reductionist. I tend to overcomplicate things and I shy away from people who try to explain things too simply. In Jacky’s view, industrial wine and the notion of blind tasting were sort of invented in the 1970’s, mostly by the new world. As Berthomeau would point out later in the day, the French have mass produced wine, sold it by brand, and deviated from terroir since long before the 70’s. And actually, Rigaux himself concedes that Bordeaux’s chateau denomination has been promoting personal brand over geographical origin for quite some time. (He’s from Burgundy so he can’t help but slam Bordeaux at least once in his speech. :D)
Another thing that bothered me a bit was that the pairings of culture and business are not mutually exclusive. You can create a wine that preserves and champions culture all while doing great business. I know that Rigaux is smart enough to realize that. But he really seems to believe that we should favor terroir to the detriment of everything else, and I’m not sure that’s our only option. I think terroir/lieu/place is unavoidable and can stand above everything else. It’s not terroir vs. technique. It should be technique services terroir. Similarly business can serve terroir and wine style (minerality/sucrosity) can serve terroir. It’s never an either/or issue. It’s usually an issue of the relationship between all these parts. And ultimately, I’d even say that good wine is an end in and of itself. And it’s impossible to create a single monolithic standard for what makes wine good. It’s about context and enjoyment, points which would come up later in the day!
blind tasting is part of the scientific method’s effect on winemaking
cepage est un prenom, le nom de famille c’est le terroir
does Bordeaux’s classification system count as terroir or branding?
The largest Aussie producer has more hectares of vines than ALL of Burgundy
is it silly to fuss over terroir when most French drink wine out of ridiculous, unsuitable glasses that hide all the wine’s traits?