Unless you’re a wine connoisseur, finding the right bottle can be tricky. It’s generally accepted that the more expensive a bottle of wine, the better it is.However, Ryan O’Connell fromNakedwines.com says belief is prompting winemakers to up their prices, sometimes unreasonably so.
Nakedwines.com is a customer-funded winery that helps independent winemakers set up a business.
O’Connel, a marketing manager-turned winemaker says that the day he entered the production side of wine, he began spotting patterns — ways that winemakers could potentially take advantage of consumers.
Here are three main indicators he gave us to tell whether or not you’re paying too much for a bottle of wine.
1. Award competitions
It doesn’t take much to convince the average wine buyer that a medal means high-quality.
“In the industry, we all know that medals and competitions of that sort, especially in the U.S., are pretty much luck-based. So many competitions award medals to 80 percent of the entrants, that it’s just kind of a money machine for the people running the competition,” O’Connell says. “Those medals are worth about as much as the blue ribbon on a PBR.”
He says that large production wines can pay a lot of fees to rack up awards in easy competitions. Good indicators of a trustworthy wine competition include locality, a diverse panel of judges and a low percentage of awards. Several good competitions O’Connell mentioned were the North Coast Wine Challenge and the International Wine Challenge.
2. Bottle packaging
Like most products, winemakers can get away with higher pricing just by spending more on the packaging. To tell if you’re paying for the packaging or the wine, O’Connell recommends feeling the weight of the bottle first. He says some companies use heavier bottles to make people subconsciously spend more.
Another embellishment winemakers add is the punt, or the indent on the bottom of the bottle. Luxury wine punts usually measure about 1.5 inches, which means more money spent on design. Although larger punts make for more stable shipping, O’Connell says it’s a pretty good indicator of how much effort was put into the packaging.
Even things opacity and color of the glass can cost extra. O’Connell says once you’ve noticed the differences once, it becomes easier to pick them out in the store.
“If you’re buying wine for $10-15 and it’s got expensive packaging, you’re probably putting more money into the packaging than the grapes. If you spend $100, then there’s a fair chance that the winemaker just spent a ton of money on the fruit, AND a ton of money on the packaging,” he says.
3. Regional acclaim
When buying wine from a famous region, you’re paying for the region’s brand just as you’re paying for the bottle.
“If a region is really world-famous, then it’s probably spent a lot of money achieving that world fame,” O’Connell says. “Then everything gets more expensive as a result of that marketing expense.”
Not that those regions don’t deserve their reputation. But O’Connell believes that it’s hard to extricate the costs of the marketing from the costs of actual wine production.
As a work around, O’Connell suggests finding a region nearby that makes a similar style of wine. You may end up paying a quarter of the price you’d find for a celebrity region.
For beginners, find some local wine stores. Talk one-on-one to winemakers who can open up some bottles and let you taste their wines. Once you familiarize yourself with the different regions and their tastes and prices, you’ll be able to better understand what you’re getting with your money.
Oenotourism is the other big subject Robert Joseph tackled. The presentation was similar to the one Vitisphere reported on in October. And it definitely falls in line with some of the wine tourism concepts I wrote about earlier this year. The gist of the presentation is that we have to change a lot of things in the wine tourism business. But really it’s a big sprawling topic so you might want to look through the slides embedded below:
Here are some random observations I’d like to make:
There are people who want to visit vineyards even though they’re not obsessed with wine. Wine tourism is supposed to be entertainment. I agree with all of this and talk about it a lot (most recently in the conclusion of my five minute story at the EWBC). Visiting a winery should not be a task. It should be fun and entertaining. It can also be educational and informative, but those are all secondary to the entertainment. And then he does a semantic analysis of trip advisor reviews (again, I’m getting deja vu here as I just did this type of analysis with the O’Vineyards tripadvisor reviews this year)
Although he also argues that wineries should have pools and movie theaters and daycares and all kinds of peripheral activities. I think this is smart, but it’s also important to note that not every winery will do all of this. It’s up to each winemaker to figure out how to intelligently expand their tourism offer without overstretching themselves or falling into a job they don’t actually want to do.
Slide 17 is hilarious/tragic… 99% of Napa wine producers find tourism to be financially viable while 60% of Florentines do not find it financially viable even though the average shopping cart size is actually smaller in Napa (according to this study). Is this because there are far more visitors at a time in Napa? Or are Italians/Europeans/Mediterraneans just predisposed to being unhappy about our tourism activity? ;D
The question of merchandise is also raised. Here too I wholeheartedly agree with Robert. My parents and I really make a lot of sacrifices to create delicious, unique, life-altering wines and we sometimes make pennies per bottle. On the other hand, I can buy glassware, corkscrews and hoodies with our logo or Carcassonne written on them and sell those at 400% markup. It’s absurd, but I make more money selling a bar of soap with my logo (ordered online) than on the bottle of wine that I spent three years on. And this is a point of contention. Some people say that a winemaker exists to sell wine, not to sell soap. I’m not sure, but I think a winemaker exists to make wine. If I have to sell soap to subsidize my wine sales, then I will sell soap. It’s what I have to do to make wine. And I don’t want to imagine a world where I’m not making wine. So sell soap.
I don’t really have a well organized mailing list (which is terrible of me. it’s one of the things I need to change in 2012) or any wine club (something I might change). This was a big topic and I am ashamed at the end of it. :-/
Then he also talked about the R&D potential of visitors at the vineyard. Why not ask your visitors to try new blends and see if they like it. Test out ideas on your tourists because they are your final market. This sparked some controversy in the talks afterwards as many winemakers find it unthinkable that you would make a wine to cater to the public (essentially to the lowest common denominator the way record labels pick singles to go on the radio). At this extreme, you end up with bland, inoffensive wines that nobody hates (and nobody loves) that can appeal to all markets. But that is an extreme. If you actually have a steady flow of tourists, you can draw information from them and choose to use it or ignore it the same way you would use an oenologist or winemaking consultant. Furthermore, I’d argue that my tourists are not the same as a random sample from the global population. People who visit my vineyard tend to be a little like me, weird sense of humor, interested in learning, like a large range of different wine styles, and so on. Taking their opinions into count is not the same as trying to cater to everybody.
Sorry this post is so rambly. Hard act to follow.
This post is part of a series of posts about le Vin 2.0 2011 where I presented on the topic of mobile technology opportunities for winemakers. Here’s a video of the presentation (in French) and a summary in English.
When a company decides to develop a mobile strategy, their first instinct is often to make a smartphone application. But applications are actually one of the heaviest investments you can make with some of the most limited returns. Apps seem really cool and they seem like the most *mobile* thing you can do because that’s what you always hear about on the news, but you can make an application and then wake up the morning after next to that 10,000€ app and realize you don’t really have the same ambitions in life. This metaphor got weird.
All I’m trying to say is that most winemakers shouldn’t even think about making an application.
Here are several reasons why:
Application development is expensive. The lowest dev cost I’ve ever seen for even a simple application that was basically just a PDF that you could flip through was 6,000€.
Application development is restricted to specific platforms. If you make an iPhone app, it only works on iPhones. And then you need a different app for Android phones. And you need to constantly maintain the app as the technology changes. I use a Samsung Wave which has the Bada platform and basically nobody makes apps for me. I feel left out and end up resenting everybody who is ignoring my phone platform.
The most successful applications are Universal in scope, and most winemakers don’t have the resources to maintain this kind of app. Almost nobody wants an O’Vineyards app that just tells them about O’Vineyards. They will open that once and then forget it’s on their phone. On the other hand, a Love That Languedoc app that tells them about all the Languedoc wines .. that’s a little more interesting, but still not ideal. Then if you think of a Guide Hachette app that has all French wines. That’s getting interesting. Or something like Wine Demon that does all wines available in the UK. Now you’re providing something useful for your app user and they will come back to it repeatedly and regularly. But most winemakers don’t have the resources (or motivation) to do that kind of big picture app.
Instead, optimize your website
It makes more sense to make a mobile friendly website. A good web site can be optimized for all mobile phone users. It can be done pretty inexpensively. I have some minor technical skills so I made a separate CSS for this website (heavily based on iPhonsta, a free wordpress theme). But even if you know nothing about computers, you can hire somebody to make a mobile version of your site for less than 1000€. The mobile site will also be a good testing ground where you can learn about your mobile users’ habits by watching your site analytics.
In the near future, I imagine mobile commerce will become a realistic option for wineries (Although we’ll face the same issue of universal scope… most consumers would rather be regular shoppers at amazon.com than shop at 28 separate publisher websites). You can also imagine microlocation once HTML 5 kicks in. Today, my website detects you’re using a cell phone and I show you my mobile site. In the near future, I will see you’re using a cell phone and you’re within 20 kilometers of the vineyard so I’ll prominently display a map with directions on arriving at my vineyard. Or I’ll see you’re on my vineyard and I’ll show you information about the parcel where you’re standing. Or I’ll see you’re in the UK and I’ll prominently display links to Naked Wines where you can buy my wine online and have it delivered to your home.
The counterargument: Apps are awesome
Several people at Vin 2.0 pointed out that they have very successful applications. Notably, le Guide Hachette, mentioned above, Intermarché, and idealwine. While I make apps sound pretty terrible, they pointed out that the app store is a very well-viewed platform. With the right kind of app and the right kind of PR/marketing, you can get your app featured in one of the app stores’ Top Lists. And that’s a lot of exposure. Again, I think this is an unrealistic endeavor for most winemakers. It’s more appropriate for a universally-scoped guidebook or retailer (with a bit more budget than O’Vineyards). But I do appreciate that there is this great opportunity to be seen by lots of eyeballs if you play the app game right so I should mention the argument here.
Piggybacking instead of developing your own app
Personally, I’d rather piggyback on already existing applications. Take Wine Demon for instance. It’s a customer review database for all wines available in the UK. Anybody can leave a review and it should be like a tripadvisor for wine that also shows availability. That’s a great tool that can drive my UK sales if I get good reviews. Instead of developing my own application to do this (which will cost tons of time and money), I can just spend a tiny bit of time optimizing my presence on Wine Demon. Encourage people who like my wines to use the app and it will effectively bring my average scores up. I can make sure there are nice photos of my bottles on the site and all the information is correct and up to date. This takes little time and I’ll probably reap more from this small expenditure than if I launched my own application that does basically the same thing.
Same with tripadvisor strategy. Tripadvisor has become really important for hotels, lodging and tourism. Now how do I react to that? I don’t try to launch a competing website. I just try to optimize my presence on the already existing site. 🙂
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
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!
At the European Wine Bloggers Conference (EWBC), Ryan Opaz talked about new web tools that allow people to tell stories more effectively online. I’ve embedded the video of his presentation below, his slideshow, a list of all the tools he mentioned, and then a couple attempts to use the tools.
WordPress.org – self-hosted blog with wordpress content management system. This is how I publish the blog you are currently reading.
Tumblr – Perfect for telling short stories with quick uploads or highlighting links/photos/media in an easy, aesthetic way. Might belong in the microblogging category.
Posterous Spaces– One post here and posterous will turn around and post your update everywhere (ie any blog you set up, any social media account, etc.)
Squarespace – A premium website creator that is apparently pretty intricate. For your typical 1000 € website that lots of wineries make, this makes just as much sense (if you have decent design sense) as hiring an outside contractor. Never used it myself though.
Facebook – duh.
Twitter – duh.
Linkedin – why?
Alternativeto.net – Alternativesto totally doesn’t belong in the middle of the microblogging slides, but SUCH is life. It’s awesome for finding new tools in any of these categories.
Google+ – awesome?
RSS/Podcasting explanation – Really Simple Syndication is a system that lets people know when you’ve updated your website. Podcasts are audio recordings that use RSS to appear in your mailbox or mp3 player or whatever everytime they’re released.
AudioBoo – ultra easy way to record audio and immediately publish it
vocaroo – quick audio recordings; sort of a poor man’s audioboo
viadeo – billing themselves as something like the French LinkedIn, it’s not surprising Ryan Opaz glossed over them. It’s very French and very business-y. But a lot of people swear by it.
adegga, vinogusto, winedemon – Ryan didn’t really talk about social media sites devoted to wine but these can be an important stomping ground for wineries to tell their stories. some sites like cellartracker really don’t offer that opportunity to winemakers, but others like Adegga allow for a lot of interaction and “ownership” on the part of producers.
Effort to use the tools
Animoto – I made an animated slideshow for my B&B with animoto. It was pretty painless but the free version is pretty amateur. It beats most of the ridiculously boring slideshow software I’ve seen, but it’s a far cry from the quality level I like. It’s great for a little slideshow for fun. I wouldn’t be proud enough to put it permanently on the landing page of my website. I bet the premium version is awesome though and it only costs like 5 bucks to do an unlimited number of videos for a month.
Dipity – I used this timeline tool and I think I should have used it for something else. I decided to start compiling a history of wines of carcassonne (upcoming book project), but I realize now that I missed the mark. This tool is really designed for contemporary, breaking news events. Or personal uploads. Regardless, here’s my first work in progress on the site.
Bundlr – I started using bundlr for an upcoming Carcassonne audio guide project which also ties into the geolocation presentation I’ll be giving at Vin 2.0 in Paris this December.
Storify – I tried to use storify to make something about the EWBC but it was already November and most of the tweets from the EWBC were already buried in the archives. Unless I’m missing something, storify is really meant to be used AS the event is unfolding. So I missed the opportunity to do one for the EWBC. But Wine Future Hong Kong was happening that day so I made a storify for it. The interface was very easy to learn and I’d say this whole experience was good. I like it. The finished product looked professional and was easy to read. And people loved my summary. It got a lot of retweets and attention. And it just involved me picking out my favorite tweets, photos and links (and I mostly pulled these photos and links from tweets too). And then it serves as link bait because everybody mentioned in your storify is proud that you cited them. Plus sometimes you get the opportunity to be pretty funny. One complaint: I didn’t realize that the URL wasn’t customizable so my hong kong wine future storify still has a soave italy url. Ooops.
note: This post is written as advice for winemakers offering tours. If you are looking to participate in a wine tour, you can learn about our winery visits and wine tastings.
By looking at feedback we receive from our clients through social media and review sites like TripAdvisor, we’ve learned a surprising lesson about the top priorities for travelers visiting a winery. Almost all reviews highlight a casual, relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.
TripAdvisor reviews about hospitality and atmosphere
“Joe, Liz and Ryan are excellent hosts, and we all immediately felt relaxed in their company.”
“The O’Connell family is warm, friendly, and kind.”
“Ryan: some guy JUST LIKE ME, yet with an encyclopediac knowledge and passionate interest in grapes (and all that goes one with them!). There is no pretension or snobbery here – just big smiles and AMAZING wine.”
“Ryan, Joe and Liz made us truly welcome”
“As well as the gorgeous wine the other outstanding thing at O’Vineyards is the great hospitality and wonderful food.”
“Instantly I felt at home.”
“Then we relaxed in the cellar”
“Not to worry”
“The owners Liz and Joe were so friendly and inviting. From the moment we arrived we were greeted with smiles and friendliness.”
“C’était une très agréable visite pour nous, surtout parce que nous n’étions pas les seuls à nous amuser–eux aussi!”
A recurring theme that leaps out of our reviews is a focus on feeling relaxed, welcomed, and unpretentious. Some reviews include detailed accounts of visiting the winery, tasting from barrels, looking at vines, and other more technical aspects of the tour. But virtually all the reviews talk about atmosphere, hospitality, friendliness, relaxing, and so on.
This was an exceptionally important realization. We were very focused on providing good information, great wine, good tasting conditions, and so on. Of course, these things are important, but we now learn that putting your guests at ease is even more crucial. The wine doesn’t have to be at exactly 17 degrees centigrade and served in finest crystal. But you do have to be smiling, welcoming, and fun to be around.
Quality of food and wine
All that said, it is really important that the wine tastes great. The quality of the wine is mentioned in virtually every review. And literally everybody who ate my mom’s cooking at the end of the tour has mentioned how good she is in the kitchen. So food is exceptionally important.
Don’t be pretentious
The point of this post is to share surprising lessons from TripAdvisor reviews. We’re not surprised that people want good food and wine.
We were sort of surprised at how much of the reviews are devoted to explaining that we are nice people. Being friendly and unpretentious is super-important!
Since I know a lot of really friendly people in the wine trade, and because I’m pretty confident about my wine knowledge, I had forgotten how intimidating this world is. And a lot of our visitors share horror stories about visiting wineries and wine shops where the wine tasted great but the service was awful. Usually these stories focus around a person who clearly knows a lot about wine and serves delicious wine, but treats the visitors like dirt just because they’re not as knowledagable or rolls their eyes at simple questions. And even if these stories constitute a minority of wine experiences, they scare people to death!
A quick look at our reviews reveals that people are really worried that the atmosphere won’t be relaxed or welcoming. And so they are very pleased to discover it is!
So don’t be a jerk! Smile a lot. Remember that nobody is born knowing a lot about wine. And even very well educated people don’t know everything. And smile again. Your guests will appreciate it!
More practical advice
Aside from smiling, there are a few things we’ve started doing differently because of this discovery.
Communicate on the fact that our wine tour isn’t for snobs.
Feature customer testimonial from people who say “this was my first winery tour and…”
Feature customer testimonial with words like “welcoming” and “relaxed”
When guests arrive, put them at ease
Tell them to interrupt you
Insist that they can ask questions
Look at everybody in the group while you talk, even (especially?) children
Don’t get too distracted by technical elements of the tour – if serving the wine at just the right temperature in a specific type of glass is impossible, don’t worry. Never neglect your guests to attend to some detail they don’t even care about.
Small doses of self-effacing humor help, but don’t get too morose
If you’re too busy to give a good tour, let your guests know beforehand. Explain what’s going on and ask if they’ll put up with these circumstances. Offer them a free glass of wine if they’re unhappy. Small groups are generally willing to wait fifteen minutes if it’s with free wine. 🙂
We were already doing simple stuff like smiling and being nice. But taking these extra steps has resulted in even better feedback and even happier visitors. And I assume this is how we got so well ranked on TripAdvisor!
My very short answer to this issue is that if you are thinking about starting or reviving a blog, I strongly recommend you ignore this debate. Unless you are so big and important that people will scrutinize your every move and question your ethical standards, this debate will only hinder your natural voice. Do what comes naturally. Assuming you’re a good person, you will naturally tend to make good ethical decisions.
There shouldn’t be blogger ethics or wine blogger ethics. There should just be ethics. And the particular medium of blogging has very little to differentiate its ethics from the medium of pen and paper or idle chit chat.
Now, if you don’t like ignoring things, then here’s my long answer! 😀
The importance of blogger ethics / journalistic standards
I hear a lot of people say that wine bloggers should be as objective and transparent as journalists. A lot of people say that the key to a blogger’s success is authenticity or transparency or honesty or a big list of other similar words.
Here’s a recent tweet from Jamie Goode on blogger and journalistic standards. “Bloggers should hold to the same standards that all journalists hold to, or they risk losing their readers’ trust #blogdebate” I’m not picking Jamie for any particular reason. I’ve been meaning to write about this and the tweet reminded me. I just don’t like saying “people say” and “they say” without offering some sort of proof.
Ethics or Practicality
Anyway, PEOPLE SAY, hold yourself to journalistic standards or risk losing your readers’ trust. This is a recurring teleological argument that says one primary reason for bloggers to be ethical is that unethical bloggers lose their readers’ trust.
It’s interesting to note that Jamie’s not using the word ethics. Instead, he talks about journalistic “standards” and he makes this very pragmatic argument. If you don’t mind your standards, you’ll lose your readership. He’s right of course that a blog that earns a large following through charming honesty could lose that following if it suddenly changes its tone. But this assumes the blog already has readers to lose. And what’s the big deal with losing readers anyway? He asserts that bloggers want more readers. And now we’re getting to the real point.
It’s important to note that a lot of these discussions unfold in a room full of people trying to monetize their blogs. If you don’t believe me, listen to the full conversation at VinoCamp Languedoc. A recurring theme in this debate is “how do bloggers make money without compromising their ethics”. I think this is where the conversation takes a bad turn.
In my opinion, the debate has very little to do with ethics as soon as you’re thinking about monetization. I think ethics are based on moral absolutes that have little to do with practical consequences. Once you start talking about money, you want to get pragmatic.
And it’s not bad to think about money. But there’s a fine line between “How do bloggers make money without compromising their ethics” and “Defining blogger ethics to allow them to make money”. So as soon as somebody in this conversation starts to talk about practicality, money, or pragmatism, you should make a mental note that you’re getting farther away from a debate about ethics. (That’s why I like Jamie’s tweet which specifically uses the word standards instead of ethics). All that said, many people disagree with me.
I’m also very wary of people who rely excessively on comparisons between how journalists behave and how bloggers behave. I know this is a useful comparison in some ways. For example, think of your reasoning about whether it’s moral for an investigative journalist to protect a source even if the source might be a bad person. This is a complex moral issue, but you can almost definitely apply your reasoning about journalists to bloggers. Of course, there aren’t many investigative wine bloggers, and most of the comparisons tend to be much much cattier.
People tend to suggest that wine journalists are corrupt or opaque or that their editorial content is heavily influenced by their advertisers. There’s an implication (somtimes unstated, other times quite explicit) that wine bloggers are purer because the medium is so cheap, and bloggers don’t feel the pressing need to let sponsor dictate or influence editorial content. This is a distracting debate. In my opinion, being better than somebody else does not make you ethical. Any argument that relies too heavily on comparisons of this nature is probably a distraction from the true ethical issues.
The true ethical issues
What exactly are the issues of blogger ethics? Earlier, I alluded to the notion that investigative journalists protect their sources. This is a real issue in journalism and if you’re blogging about insider trading or blood diamonds, I think you face the same sort of issues. But if you’re blogging about how wine tastes, the chances are you won’t confront these sorts of ethical issues. What are potential issues then? Here’s a list of arguments that get brought up regularly.
Lies are bad; truth is good
If you make money, you cannot be independent or objective
Good writing is an end in itself
Irresponsible writing promotes alcohol abuse
Good writing promotes wine consumption
Lies are bad; truth is good.
I think this falls into the category of things that matter even if you’re not a blogger.
If you make money, you cannot be independent or objective
I always get a bit fed up by this argument. The simple answer is that I am a winemaker blogger. And most wine bloggers are totally cool with winemakers blogging. They even like it. And a winemaker blog is automatically dependent on the fact that the winemaker makes wine (and sells it). So a winemaker blog cannot generally be independent. And some of you know that I actually embrace the subjectivity of writing winemakers. That’s why I wrote a totally subjective book about the Cabardes where I can gush about how much I love my region and how cool it is. So what’s so great about pretending to be objective when talking about a subject like wine that is generally about subjective experience.
Good writing is an end in itself
I wish this came up more. I like this argument. People often make sillier arguments like “We should write well because…. ” and then they say something that sounds important. But you know what? I think we should write well just because. Like we should make wine well just because good wine is awesome. We don’t need to come up with any other justifications!
Good writing promotes wine consumption
Again, I think good writing needs no justification. But a lot of people still cling to this consequential reasoning. I do like the idea that good wine writing can allow wine to reach a greater audience. And I try to do this. But I don’t think it’s an ethical/moral issue.
Irresponsible writing promotes alcohol abuse
I think this is actually sort of preposterous, but it can’t hurt to keep it in mind. I mean nobody is reading my blog and then thinking I SHOULD GO OUT AND GET PLASTERED ON FINE WINE. But who knows? I would feel TERRIBLE if I ever found out that I contributed to a drunk driving accident or domestic abuse. So don’t write things that could promote the abuse of alcohol.
Just blog already
If I actually paid attention to any of these arguments, I might never have started blogging. The fact is that I’m a pretty decent person and when I sit down to blog, I can apply my normal ethical standards to my blogging and that’s just perfect. If you’re Snidely Whiplash
or a Captain Planet villain, maybe you shouldn’t blog. But otherwise, you can probably just use your normal standards and you’ll turn out fine.
False: All potential vineyard visitors use wine guides
False: If you don’t drink, you can’t enjoy a winery tour
False: Young people aren’t interested in wine
To put it more positively:
Wine tourism TRUTHhoods
Normal people think wine is cool
About half of the people who visited O’Vineyards this year have never visited a vineyard or winery before.
There’s this very old notion in France about wine tourism. If somebody is averti (ie “in the know”), they will find out about a winery in a guide book, they will call ahead of time to arrange a visit, they will taste the wine during that visit, and then they will purchase a significant amount of wine. This is a fine way of doing things for wine nerds. But only a tiny number of wine drinkers are wine nerds.
Most drinkers are totally normal people who drink wine 2-4 times a month and have never even considered buying a magazine about wine. If they are visiting a place like Carcassonne, it will not take long for them to realize they are in wine country. The land between villages is covered in vines. They will get curious about visiting a winery. And they are frequently surprised to see how hard it is to find a good vineyard to visit.
These people don’t know a ton about wine, but they want to learn a little. Wine tourism should focus more heavily on this demographic because they’re more fun than snobs and they are more statistically significant. If we could only sell wine to wine nerds or normal people, we’d choose normal people. And if we could somehow forbid wine snobs from drinking O’Vineyards, we probably would.
Standing in a gift shop is rarely fun
Our goal is to entertain winery visitors.
The thing about entertaining normal people is that it’s marginally more difficult in some ways. Wine nerds are so desperate to be immersed in wine culture that they will put up with almost anything. For normal people who have never thought of listing “wine” as an interest on their facebook profile, we’re going to have to be a little more entertaining.
That said, it’s not very hard to be entertaining. Wine is inherently cool. You have to fight pretty hard to make it boring. And I’m surpised that some wineries spend a huge amount of resources making themselves uninteresting. One of the most common ways for a winery to develop tourism is to build a giftshop. More accurately a caveau de degustation or a tasting room. And a tasting room is important for lots of reasons. But it shouldn’t be the only thing you do.
My tasting room at O’Vineyards is just a really comfortable living room. There’s no cash register. There aren’t price tags. You sit down and enjoy some wine. And there are direct views on the vines at all times. If I didn’t have a view on the vines from the tasting room, I’d probably encourage people to taste in the winery. Again, it’s just more interesting.
Most wine retailers would kill for the opportunity to show their customers a vineyard. To taste the wine in situ surrounded by barrels or by vines. Winemakers have this opportunity. And instead we spend tons of money to build tasting rooms that are totally removed from the vineyard!
Normal people don’t read wine magazines
There are other ways to let normal people know they’d have fun visiting your vineyard.
Normal people don’t think about wine all the time, and they don’t invest in wine guides and wine magazines. While it is logical to advertise winery tours, wine camps, etc. in wine magazines, it also makes sense to reach out through other non-wine media. I remember a story from one of the people at mesvignes.com who mentioned that their ad campaigns in so-called “feminine magazines” were infinitely more successful than their ads in wine zines.
I obviously do a lot of Internet work. But you don’t need to follow the same path as me! Consider at least adding your property to TripAdvisor. And encouraging visitors to leave a review when they get back home.
Consider your working relationships with hotels, B&B, gites, and house rentals in your area. Can any of them send traffic your way? What about restaurant staff? If a restaurant sells your wine, the staff there are in an amazing position to send drinkers your way.
Working with retailers is harder because they sometimes fear the tourist will circumvent the middleman while visiting the vineyard. But consider giving your cavistes gift certificates for a free winery tour and tell them to distribute them for purchases of 6 bottles from your estate (or whatever). A clever retailer will be able to upsell one-time clients on your wine, and you’ll increase your overall sales while getting some travelers to come by. And even though you don’t make any direct cash off of those tourists, they will go home and talk about you, and you are going to sell more wine to that retailer.
Brochures and signage are good too. However, in my experience, word of mouth always beats a stack of brochures or dilapidated roadside sign in the shape of a wine bottle.
And don’t ignore trade press or wine press. They’re important too. Just for different reasons and different audiences.
Wine is only one weapon in your entertainment arsenal
A lot of people who visit O’Vineyards don’t drink wine.
I know it seems crazy that somebody who doesn’t drink wine might visit a vineyard. But this happens–all the time. Pregnant ladies, young teenagers, religious abstainers, and people who plain out dislike red wine.
This is because people visit a vineyard expecting to be entertained. And wine tasting is only one possible method of entertainment. Education and personality are big here. People generally expect to learn something. If this is their first winery, they’re probably curious about really simple stuff like how wine is made. What does a vine look like? How often does it give fruit? What’s the difference between red and white and rose? Normal people don’t know this stuff, but they’d like to know.
Of course, it’s not just about conveying information. It’s about having a good time. Think about going to the bar. People can drink at home, so why do they go to a bar and pay more money? It’s usually for the social element. Guests to your winery will appreciate meeting a winemaker and finding out what a winemaker is like. It’s pretty rare for most people. Like meeting an astronaut or a racecar driver.
Although I should also mention that you shouldn’t treat these tourists like idiots. They don’t know a lot about wine, but they’re still intelligent. More than a few tourist attractions in the region have developed expensive but meaningless light shows. Wine tourists are not THAT easily entertained. Actually, I’d argue it’s even easier to entertain them. You don’t need to build a light show. You just need to open up and share what you know. Tell a funny story. Tell a sad story. Listen to their stories too. Wine tourism, like wine should be a fun social experience.
Wine tourism is no longer for curmudgeonly snobs
Get them young! (but not too young!)
Don’t underestimate 20-something year-olds. Remember the sweet spot that we’re looking to hit is normal people who think wine is cool but don’t necessarily know a lot about it. Blank slates, if you will. A lot of young people fit that description…almost by definition. Americans can’t start drinking wine til we’re 21 so it’s difficult for somebody in their twenties to know much at all about wine other than “I like it!”
If you are looking at developing wine tourism, consider the vast potential of this market. We tend to like authenticity which is wonderfully inexpensive in terms of communication, ads, and PR. Also, converting young people gets you a brand advocate that will market you and your wines for a lifetime to come. I have a lot of twenty-somethings who visit the vineyard and end up recommending it to their parents and grandparents.
I will confess that this post is where I stand today, and my views will almost certainly evolve over time. And I should also mention that a lot of winemakers complain about a sort of looky-loo tourist that I have never met. They spend an hour or two at the vineyard, tasting for free and then they leave without buying anything or they buy a single bottle of the cheapest wine or somesuch.
Honestly, this is why I charge for tours. I still offer free giftshop tastings if that’s what people specifically ask for. But then they also know that it’s thirty minutes and then I gotta run. And (knock on wood) I still haven’t had any bad experiences. I really enjoy meeting all the kooks who come through this vineyard. And they mostly seem to enjoy meeting us too. Here’s to hoping I never have to complain about visitors!
How to find us
Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387
Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing
North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910
Best by GPS.
Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
At the last juction, bear left. the road sign “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.