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.
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
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!
VinoCamp Languedoc was full of interesting conversations. One of the round table discussions, led by ethiquettes.fr, was about sharing success stories and fail stories of winemakers going online.
This session might itself be seen as a success story (or a fail story). On the success side, I think it’s remarkable how many winemakers were present and spoke up. I’m super happy about that. And I think they left with a few really good concrete numbers and ideas that they can enact in their own wine communications strategy.
On the fail side, we see how there’s always a need for more time and more channels of communication. As the conversation gains momentum toward the end, there are more than a couple people talking. It’s the kind of round table discussion that fares very well in a chatroom where multiple conversations can be going on simultaneously. But we do see some real world limits.
Also, this session revolved a little too much around me (especially in the first half), but you know how it goes.
Other interesting conversation points include Olivier B, La Gramiere, e-publishing options, Vin de Merde, Gerard Bertrand, Apero Bic (can’t find this), Hervé Bizeul, Matthew Jukes, Domaine Revelh, hotmail’s viral marketing, Naked Wines, and more. At one point I mention In Roussette We Trust as an example of other regional promotion blogs. I rather ineptly fail to mention Bourgogne Live, Oenos or Jim’s Loire. My bad.
Bypassing normal means
Olivier B was promoted without the conventional media
Love That Languedoc doesn’t wait for the interprofession
Was Olivier B a one shot?
Can there be a Love That Loire (Oenos et Jim’s Loire suggest there already are), Love That Bourgogne (Bourgogne Live), etc.
Talking about other people
Ryan – Don’t talk about yourself
Les domaines avec un nom de famille (Bertrands, Chapoutier, Duboeuf)
Amy Lillard – Transparent story telling as opposed to artificial sales pitches
How much time does it take?
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.