One of the best parts of the recent European Wine Bloggers Conference in Brescia, Italy is the post trips. Wine regions like Franciacorta (the primary sponsor for the event), il Soave (the region I visited on Sunday), and many others invited bloggers to tour wineries, see historical sites, and taste local food and wine. These trips tend to be very informative, offering a window into the typicity of an area’s wine, the culture that surrounds the vines, and a lot of fun memories. My Sunday trip to Soave was also notable for making me really really jealous.
Jealous of Communication Efforts
Amazing sense of style
First of all, Soave had a great sense of flair for receiving people. They understood how to use the beauty of the land and how to play it up a little. A lot of the time, I feel like winemakers in my region forget how beautiful the place is. I’m reminded of a promotional trip billed as a walk in the Pic Saint Loup where we just walked a few yards in some vines in one of the valleys. And only when several of the journalists expressed disappointment did our resourceful winemaker/guides realize they could take us up on one of the higher plateaus from which we saw the entire area. Thankfully that trip was salvaged, but it came close to being a dud (if it weren’t for the resourcefulness of the locals). On the other hand, Soave did everything right. With a name like soave, it makes sense that they’d be smooth operators.
But I mean we’d visit a gorgeous vineyard overlooking the valleys below. And then we’d be confronted with a really unique style of winemaking like the Recioto di Soave. The tasting was held in the room where they hang all the grapes on string to dry them out before making their pasito. It is such a stunning site. Or later in the day, we were received in a beautiful old building in Monteforte d’Alpone with a piano in the courtyard before ascending to a tasting and lunch in the cloister of Carvaggio’s Palazzo Vescovile. Because that’s just how they roll in Italy.
In short, Soave demonstrated an amazing sense of style and even dramatics without falling into caricature. They didn’t try to cling to any “spaghetti and meatballs” kind of stereotypes to impress us. (Ask me about how often I have to eat cassoulet with journalists who visit my region).
But it’s not just fine aesthetics that made me jealous. Actually, that’s the least of the things I’m jealous of.
Increasing Visibility of Communication Efforts
What I loved most in Soave was their common sense approach to increasing visibility. They had gone to great expense to impress us and share their amazing culture and wines with us. So they went a little bit further and hired a video crew to film the entire trip and IMMEDIATELY put it online. Things were going up almost instantly. That video at the top of the page where I’m talking about soave was filmed at 10 AM and it was online before I could fill my face with risotto at lunch. 😀
When you put money into impressing journalists/bloggers, you should also think about immortalizing that effort and experience on the Internet. That way, the small experience that went to a group of 20 journalists can now be rehashed over and over by hundreds or thousands on the Internet.
Using Local Brand Ambassadors
Futhermore… I feel like I’m buring this in the middle of an article when it’s really the most important point in here. Soave works with local brand ambassadors to amplify their communication efforts. That’s a fancy way to say they invite their biggest supporters to piggyback on promotional efforts for journalists. Such a simple idea. I wish my region did it more effectively. Right before we arrived to the first winery, our guide let us know that a small group would be joining us. I wasn’t sure what that meant. But I talked to members of that second group and it turned out they’re just locals who frequently communicate on the soave brand. Or people from other parts of Italy who are good spokespeople for soave. So any time Soave is undergoing the expense of having a group like the EWBC in, they send an email to their best brand ambassadors and allow them to join in on the fun. The CIVL has asked me to do this once or twice and Sud de France has as well. I’m grateful, but I think I’m in the minority. I really wish that I’d run into the people who contribute most to this region’s online communications. People like Rosemary George, Graham Tiggs, Chez Loulou, Nina Izzo, Michel Smith, Louise Hurren, and so on live really nearby. They should basically be kept abreast of everything. Actually some of the people on that list will be at many events, but that’s only because they’ve crossed some imaginary threshold to officially be labeled press or PR people. The marginal cost of inviting ten more people to a large tasting area is rather negligible. Of course, if you start including seated meals and hotel rooms, the costs are totally different and you can’t always offer those to everybody. But anyway, I’m jealous because I feel like the promotional bodies in my area don’t respect their local brand ambassadors as much as Soave does. That’s the heart of it. I don’t want somebody to misread this and think that I’m lamenting my personal travails. Again, several organizations have done really remarkable things for me and opened doors into fascinating events. But more could be done to make other brand ambassadors feel like they’re really appreciated.
And a final note: In Soave, even larger organizations like Borgo Rocca Sveva are on board with the importance of social media. I am seeing glimmers of hope and interest from Sieur d’Arques, Anne de Joyeuse, and so on. But the vast majority of the medium sized coops right up to the UCCOARs seem to be totally uninterested in communicating direct to consumer online. There are obvious exceptions like Embres & Castelmaure, master communicators who are keenly watching the Internet space. But these are exceptions. Borgo Rocca Sveva is enormous, but they still realize that it’s possible to have unique voices online even in an organization of that size. I wish we had co-ops with websites like Borgo Rocca Sveva’s blog. EDIT: okay, so while fact checking (I do that occasionally) I discovered that Sieur d’Arques does have a blog? http://sieurdarques.unblog.fr/ Updated on and off since 2009 with lots of different subjects that go beyond the typical “we won an award” type of post. How did I not know that? Anyway. Foot in mouth. My bad.
The region is also working strongly on communicating with consumers online. Find il Soave on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and so on.
I should also mention Franciacorta’s colossal effort in receiving the conference. We really had a top notch experience in the Santa Giulia in Brescia. Even the hotels chosen had a lot of character. No bland, corporate moments. An entire trip full of charm and quirks. And an enormous sense of cooperation between winemakers (perhaps reminiscent of the strict military style formations in Champagne houses) I’ll probably write about all this on a separate occasion. But let it be known that I can’t think of Soave’s hospitality without thinking of Franciacorta’s as well. Italy on a whole was very very good to me.
The Wine is Good Too
Let’s not allow the communication efforts to overshadow the wines. Simply put, I wouldn’t be writing about soave at all if their wines weren’t amazing. The reason I chose this trip in the first place is because I thought I could learn a lot about the calcareous soil whites (although I did fall for a few volcanic terroir wines too). And it was an added bonus that Soave faces a similar challenge to the Languedoc’s. Soave is a word that was used to describe vast amounts of generic Italian white wine of forgetable quality. And now the best winemakers in the region are trying to rebrand themselves without abandoning this once degraded name “soave”. If they can do it, so can the Languedoc. PS – I’m making white wine on limestone and clay soon so I wanted to steal some techniques too. ;D
Jealous of everything?
Well now, I put a question mark in there. I loved the wines we tasted, especially around lunch time (no big surprise, Ryan likes wine more with food ;D). I loved the communication efforts. I loved everything. But despite all my jealousy and the tastiness of their wines, I’m still very happy in the Languedoc. I think we have all the opportunities in the world. It’s just a good idea to look at neighbors like Soave to see what’s being done right in other regions.
Christophe Juarez spoke 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.
Christophe Juarez, France, ton vin est dans le rouge – Adapting to the modern wine world
Juarez enumerates many changes in wine consumption that result in a need for change in wine production or at least wine marketing. In many ways, his presentation served as a counter point to Jacky Rigaux‘s. While Jacky was a bit academic and high minded in his search for what a winemaker ought to do, Juarez focused on what a winemaker has to do. It’s a much more pragmatic outlook. Although it’s still a bit simplistic. But sometimes a message has to be simplified to be conveyed.
Where Rigaux said “Cepage is a first name while terroir is a family name,” Juarez will say “Cepage is unavoidable.” We can have cute witty notions about how terroir is more important than grape variety (I feel this is true), but ultimately, most new world wine drinkers want to know the variety and care much more about that than where the wine is from.
Juarez doesn’t deny the marketing potential of place. In fact, he concedes that France is a huge selling point. People love France. But he also notes that having too many regions spoils the pot. If most people only remember a dozen different wine brands, is there place in the market for somewhat obscure AOCs? If there will only be a dozen denominations in the public conscience, should we spend energy on branding Corbieres, Minervois, and so on? Or should we just focus on a bigger brand like South of France and a grape type?
Juarez will also say that the grower/author is crucial to promoting a place. The place is only worth what it produces in his estimation, and the men and women who tend the land are key to that equation.
He also notes that brands have an advantage over individual people because brands are eternal. Mortals will die, but brands can persist. Brands can identify a style and go on in perpetuity.
He also warns against a “surenchere vers le haut”. If we create high value brands hoping that they will drive the whole market forward, we might be disappointed. For one thing, premium value brands have a hard time pulling up entry level brands. Additionally, shifting markets and economic hardship might result in a general move toward bargain brands instead of luxury brands.
All in all, the presentation concludes that we have to create quality wine with consistency and a mastery of bottling and other technical elements. I think the conclusion falls into the land of caricaturization. It ends up being all about creating a reliable product that people can buy without being afraid. I’d like to think that wine is art and that sometimes people buy bottles not knowing what to expect. But maybe that’s impractical. Tough questions at the Universite de la Vigne et du Vin!
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.
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.