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Opinion,Wine,Wine Blogger,Wine Competitions,Wine Writer,Winery

Wine Competitions, Are They Still Important?

This is a frequently asked question by wineries just starting out, as their owners are stymied by the fees, the amount of competitions out there, and the ultimate value that competitions play in the wine business. Frankly, name any industry and you’ll find that they, too, are constantly looking for third party endorsements, as that’s what drives consumers. When people are buying a product, it’s always easier when that person knows nothing about the brand, to have read or be told that someone, some group, or some app they trust that has given the product a thumbs up. As a society, we do it with cars, with movies, with dining, with just about anything, including wine.

So, how important are competitions?

Very, in my book.

There are now three arguments in this process.

  1. Traditional magazine reviewers rule, as it’s just one voice, therefore it’s not the consensus of a group. Learn the wine critics palates, and if yours is similar, it will be a palate you can trust.
  2. Social media rules, because it’s a peer group talking to its own. Millennial are the next generation to have their own social uprising, not seen since the 60s. Except this time it’s being done through technology, not LSD, and it’s having the same sociological results of change in attitudes and latitudes.
  3. From a competition’s perspective, it can be argued that the single person tasting a wine is only one voice telling you what his or her palate prefers,while a group tasting brings it to a level of a more homogeneous opinion, and will find a more broad audience.

All are right and wrong at the same time… It’s a yin-yang world, after all.

The single reviewer touches on a good point that someone on the competition tasting panel might NOT have a developed palate; but, the argument there is that neither does the consumer, and that a non-sommelier judge still has taste preferences that might align with a consumer’s opinion. (Everyone has taste buds and everyone knows what he or she likes and doesn’t like; therefore, that untrained palate adds a layer of what a consumer — who will ultimately be buying the wine — would like or not like.)

This new, younger generation of wine enthusiasts are beginning their journey, and in most instances… because they’re just starting, have a long way to go before they know the nuances of a Grüner Veltliner or a Barolo, for instance. Some of this view is a bit of the blind leading the blind, but that’s also okay, because we all start somewhere.

The competition panel could argue that just one person has a too narrow view of the wine, judging it in a very linear way — in a way akin to what that person’s palate has come to expect, want, and perhaps demand of wine in order to judge it worthy. Well, there you go. That’s right, too, as the wine reviewer needs to have benchmark standards in order to have an overall opinion.

As I wrote, it’s a yin-yang world, and that’s what makes it such an exciting place. If you’re in the business of making wine, then you must honor all of these judging aspects; i.e., send your wines to wine reviewers, bloggers, AND competitions. Somewhere in the process, there will be a high score, a highly recommended wine, or a medal of worth, and that’s the fodder that you need for sales people to have a third party endorsement for any wholesale sales person who has to hit the streets and make the sale, or retailer and restaurateur who put wines onto the shelves and need support material for people when they’re too busy to make recommendations.

Nicholas Ponomareff of California Grapevine makes it his business each year to keep a complete database of each year’s wine competition results, and it’s available for purchase. (You can call Nick at 858-457-4818, or E-mail him at grapevine@san.rr.com.) The value of this list is that it calculates all the top scoring wines in any given year. Imagine that it’s your wine that has become the top scoring wine in its category. Away you’d go with that one!

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4 Responses to “Wine Competitions, Are They Still Important?”

  1. Rich says:

    Jo,

    Not to disagree (though I am doing that! but at least diplomatically), but as a very small producer, I have found (this is me personally and may not apply across the board) that the wine competitions and high scores have had “0” added value to my brand or my sales – at least superficially – since I cannot state emphatically as I did not do an in-depth study. But I won a fairly “prestigious” wine comp for the “younger generation” – not only a Gold medal but a “honor” as the “best liked wine” or something to that effect. Also have a stack of Gold (mainly), Silvers (from unknown comps to the San Francisco International Wine Comp), and a few bronze – and I saw no increased sales or brand recognition, to the point that I stopped entering comps. Same with the Wine publications – several “good scores” ranging from 85-89; and three stellar scores (a 91, 93, and 95) and nothing…

    I also found that using “social media” (which I term “anti-social media” since it precludes face to face meeting and real communication and leads to all sorts of misinterpretation – sort of like email or blog comments!), is a detriment. Now this is based on one foray – as I am not big on anti-social media (in case you don’t read my bias in these comments, thought I should clarify!) – but a customer was so enthusiastic about one of my wines he tweeted about it – and said something to the effect of “I’d give this a 101 out of a 100!” Well, another Tweeter responded with “I use that stuff to clean my toilet…” After several tweets between my customer and the “toilet cleaining tweeter” (TCT for short) it emerged that TCT had never tasted my wine and eventually admitted that he simply didn’t think any wine could be that good so he tweeted the toilet comment… Did it damage sales? probably not, but I will never know – how many people saw the original comment and the TCT response and didn’t read the rest…

    In any event, don’t mean to argue at all – am actually just looking forward to your comments on my comments as I am very interested in what you think, and perhaps you’ll change my mind and I’ll start entering comps again! Also, if anything above looks insulting – it isn’t – since we are not face to face! you can’t tell that some of my “critique” above is said very tongue in cheek, but also somewhat seriously as I believe I have a valid point…

    Rich.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Rich,

    Good response. And you’re smart enough to know that the word “but” negates anything that goes before it. ;^) I like you already.

    I actually wrote a blog posting on exactly what I’m thinking. “I Just Got a Gold Medal. Now What Do I Do With It?” http://wp.me/pTZ8D-3rZ

    Getting it is the first step in the process. Marketing afterwards is what makes something happen.

    It’s the old, If the tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it matter?

    I don’t know if college winemaking studies offer marketing classes as a prerequisite. If they don’t, they should. Anyone just starting out without the benefit of a trust fund or big financial support from somewhere, needs to have a couple of basic marketing classes. Knowing how to get your message to your audience and building that audience is critical for wine sales.

    Social media doesn’t sell wine, honestly. Offering the right message to the right group does. Social media is just for brand awareness. It’s PR.

    I wish it was more simple, but it’s not. I don’t know how to make wine, but we surely know how to sell it in my company with great success. Our clients might be willing to say that, but we’ve had some say, “I don’t want to tell people how great you are, because you won’t have as much time for me.” That says a lot, I believe.

  3. Rich says:

    Jo,

    Great insight – yes, I have no trust fund or funding! but I had 10 and 20 year business plans – and I’m small – about 200 cases a year (think that’s classified in most wine circles as “non-producing”!!) and do DTC mainly… and a degree in Administration/Business with lots of marketing classes does help… and it is very possible that my long term goals simply don’t fit with the wine comps. But if production increases, I may find them more appealing…

    Rich.

    PS: One of these days, if, if, if, production increases (that pesky funding thing is getting in the way!), I may call on your marketing skills!

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    It actually doesn’t take very much to get the word out. I think people think that it has to involve a huge program. It doesn’t. A few quick tips and you’re on your way. It was fun to watch one company (was a lot of funding behind it, sot heir program was pretty big), go from 100 cases their first year to about 10,000 for the second. In that process, we’ve gained skills, too, for fast forwarding clients. The challenges are the fun part of it, along with helping someone to make his/her dreams come true.

    Good luck with your project. It’s very small, and I can see why spending a lot on marketing is painful… because it IS painful.

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