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Retail,Wine,Wine Business,Wine Magazine,Wine Sales

It all boils down to Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Tanzer, in the Total Wine World

“Back in the day” (pre social media), the following four … Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Tanzer … along with Charlie Olken ruled wine with an iron fist. And, they still do, boys and girls.

This are just my observances from 20+ years of experiences, while being on the inside of the wine world. I don’t have a fancy masters degree in it all, nor am I a Master Sommelier. I just have 60 units devoted to wine sales and marketing, and  focusing my brands on Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Tanzer’s influences, as well as Charlie Olken’s Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine. So, it’s just humble opinion and experiences that have driven this observation over the course of the years. Many a blogger is going to take this as an insult, I’m sure. We’d all like to think that we’re playing a major role in changing the course of the wine world. (Remember, bloggers, I’m one of you, too.)

The truth is that each generation is going to change the world, and they do… ultimately. It’s not done overnight, however, as this new generation of wine writers quickly proclaimed, when they hit the Internet running about nine to 10 years ago.

Take this example from Total Wines & More Website:

Rating Source:

  • Australian Wine Showcase (2)
  • Beverage Dynamics (31)
  • Beverage Tasting Institute (4)
  • Burghound (51)
  • Connoisseurs’ Guide (3)
  • Decanter (7)
  • Int’l Wine Cellar (155) – Stephen Tanzer
  • Int’l Wine Review (1)
  • James Halliday (13)
  • James Suckling (91)
  • Tastings.Com (1)
  • The Tasting Panel (9)
  • Wine & Spirits (60)
  • Wine Advocate (777) – Robert Parker
  • Wine Enthusiast (399)
  • Wine Journal (7)
  • Wine News (2)
  • Wine Spectator (619)
  • Antonio Galloni (8)

When you look at the list above, for what this retailer believes are the influencers, there are no wine bloggers. There are only magazines and established journalists (who might have also left their magazines to start their own companies). While blogging and social media may move people to want to try a wine, and perhaps even buy a wine that’s been mentioned, internally… to influence a retailer, bloggers still have a long way to go.

I realize, too, that many of the new generation are writing from their hearts, leaving the journalistic practices behind. Some have taken to writing about wine in metaphors. I do that myself, too, because I’m not a wine critic. I believe it’s the ones who are the true wine critics who will rise to fame more quickly… Example of this are James Suckling and Antonio Galloni. The latter two were working with major names and decided to become independent:

  • Suckling was working with Wine Spectator. Today his Website is simply called James Suckling. A brilliant idea, just telling it like it is. It will be a great challenge, however, to ever sell his site; because, after he’s done, it will never be the same without him. (It would be very good for him to subtitle it now, for a future investment, taking a cue from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate).
  • Antonio was working with Parker. Today he’s got his own Website called Vinous. Notice he’s made it to the list above at Total Wines and More. His dedication to being a journalist with wine is cementing his future as a major player.

I can think of a few people who, with their wine credentials, if they headed in this direction of wine journalism (instead of writing in metaphors) would fast track themselves into the next list published in a few years; and I hope they do. A bit of conforming will better serve them … In fact, when I think of where I was at their age, it wasn’t until I made some compromises and conformed that I began to flourish in the wine world. We do all eventually grow up, only reading Peter Pan to our children.

UPDATE: From Clinton Stark on August 10, 2013, who just photographed a Whole Foods blackboard on “What is a 90 Point Wine.” I don’t make this stuff up, kids…. Remember what mom said, “Don’t kill the messenger…”

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17 Responses to “It all boils down to Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Tanzer, in the Total Wine World”

  1. Loren says:

    “I can think of a few people who, with their wine credentials, if they headed in this direction of wine journalism (instead of writng in metaphors) would fast track themselves into the next list published in a few years”

    Whatever the other merits of your post, you’ve missed the point entirely: critics (wine and otherwise) are ceasing matter at all. What’s happening right now is that we are living in an age where we enjoy access to a vast glut of free information. As such, consumer have decreasing “brand loyalty” to critics; I am willing to wager anything the Galloni is out of business within 5 years, and that the WA, particularly post-sale, ceases to be a significant influence over the same period. An analogy might be rock music- in the 70′s, a few critics (Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, et. al.) were hugely influential. Quick: name a single significant contemporary rock music critic. No else can, either…

    There are so many blogs on wine, so many articles on wine, so much free information on wine, that the relevance of individual critics will continue to wane until it disappears entirely…

    Regards,

    Loren

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    Loren, you may be right about the future. Time will tell.

    For now, wholesalers and retails will tell you most of what matters to them – placing what’s going on the shelves and wine lists – is what’s getting the scores from the list mentioned…. I’m writing about now, and I still see a few people headed toward the future. As in all industries, there are leaders. I do believe there will be some of them in the future of wine… People love to write about wine, and there are those who also love to read the opinions of others about wine.

    There are no rock reporters today, because there’s no rock, per se… Not anything like I lived through of the 70s and 80s. Unlike rock that shifted to other genres, wine isn’t going to have a genre paradigm shift. It’s just wine s wine is wine…

  3. doug wilder says:

    Jo,

    I am not sure what you mean by conforming or why you feel it is important. When I began developing my wine review publication 2 years ago, I surveyed everything that existed from independent critics and determined what was missing from the standpoint of coverage, design, technology and viewpoint. My philosophy was exactly the opposite to conforming; do it differently. I haven’t regretted taking that path and was pleased to see that the well respected Jamie Goode essentially outlined most of the core values I adopted, in this blog post http://www.wineanorak.com/wineblog/uncategorized/seven-tips-i-wish-id-been-given-when-i-started-out-as-a-wine-communicator.

    I personally would love to see more bloggers increase their influence in the business yet I don’t see them doing it by looking like everything else.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Doug, these are the “operative words,” It all boils down to Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Tanzer, …**in the Total Wine World**…

    Surely, my blog does NOT fit the prototype, and yet I’ve been desktop publishing since December 2005. I’m also not wanting to have that kind of influence and power. I’m fine with what I’m doing on my own.

    And, I’m not going to replace any of the influencers I’ve mentioned. It’s more like…If you WANT to have their influence and power… unless you want to sit around waiting for the old guard to go to the great beyond, there’s not much to do but adapt to what’s important for the times.

  5. Paul Mabray says:

    Jo,
    Personally I find this less the lack of authority for bloggers than the sloth and lack of understanding digital recommendation tools by Total Wine and other retailers (especially for their online presence).

    The reality is that historically retailers leveraged wine publications and scores to better facilitate sales as the quality and quantity of wines varied to a degree of incredible confusion. Retailers made wine publications the gatekeepers, not the other way around. Smart retailers like BevMo brought recommendations )aka Wilfred Wong) in house to help educate consumers. Retailers are holding onto the old paradigm because it is easy, not that it is right. As a point of fact, if you look at the total quantity of reviews they do not match the total quantity of SKU’s carried by the site. That leaves countless wines without a recommendation (the key catalyst to sales). So many missed opportunities . . .

    If I owned an e-tailer/retailer my site/store would be filled with prominent bloggers as well as traditional review sources. #justsaying

  6. Damon Levy says:

    I think this is great analysis. I am not sure if bloggers have to join with the large wine publications to be heard, but perhaps they need to develop relationships with key retailers (online or physical) to gain the following.

    Maybe that is a key strategy for the wine bloggers conference – figure out how to invite and dialogue with major retailers?

    As a producer, we would love for retailers to use a broader spectrum of ratings. However, in many cases, they specifically say they only want the well-known magazines.

    And while I usually love the parallels between music and wine, I have to disagree with all comments here. Music is different from wine in that I think people are more confident in choosing their own music, and the whole distribution system has been democratized. I don’t see that happening in the US anytime soon. And while the 70′s was a great era for rock music, there is some pretty good stuff coming out now Jo!

  7. Jo Diaz says:

    Damon,

    Thanks for your support. And rock – as I knew it then – was less heavy metal (although plenty of it existed) and it had more of a Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Beatles approach, with a lot of Country Joe McDonald thrown in for good measure. That was an era that can’t replicate itself, like the Roaring 20s. It was music with a lot of passion behind it. One was anti Prohibition, the other was anti war. We don’t have a generation – right now- that’s angry enough. (It may be coming, as the top two percent continue to squeeze the rest of us to death and into crime ridden streets.)

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Paul, I think you hold the answer at the very end of what you’re saying. (If I owned an e-tailer/retailer my site/store would be filled with prominent bloggers as well as traditional review sources. #justsaying) …including the hash tag.

    Until the old guard (including my generation and up) passes into oblivion, retailers will hang onto what they’ve known does work. I was a sales person for the Hambrecht Wine Group. During that time – and it’s still that way today – “What did Parker say?” was always the base line question. As things shift with your generation – including you opening an eTail site, and selling to your friends (generation) – those voices will become the next ones to rise to prominence. Whatever approach your generation takes, that will reign, and it’s already begun. I’ve noticed that 1WineDude is using what we all had in school… A, B, and C scores. (That still translates into A = 100 to 93, B = 92 – 84, etc.) Add a plus or a minus and we still know what the score is. We just don’t get away from that kind of evaluation with wine… We’re (all generations) either using our left brain (numbers, letters, etc.) or we’re using the right side of our brains… (“Tastes like a lazy Sunday morning.”)

    Right now, retailers and wholesalers are on autopilot…

  9. […] Jo Diaz finds that at Total Wine, it “all boils down to Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Tanzer.” […]

  10. Jeff Nedeau says:

    I’ve been selling wine the last 7 years without once mentioning those critics names or used shelf talkers. Selling wine is about tasting the wine and understanding where it’s from, how’s it made and who made it. Not about which paid columnist is promoting it. If you want to sell point driven wines then maybe so, but if you sell small estate wines that the critics aren’t getting paid to promote then their influence has no bearing on sales. Don’t group all wines together. Most are market driven and sold like one sells shoes. Others are sold for the love of the wine, the land, and the people who grow and make a living from their product.

  11. Jo Diaz says:

    Jeff, you’re the rare person who’s hand selling, and we love you for that.

  12. Jeff Nedeau says:

    Rare? Check any wineshop in major American cities

  13. Jo Diaz says:

    You’ve been in the business for seven years. I’ve been in the business for 21… I may have seen a bit more than you have.

    I lived in those wine shops for longer than I care to remember, and most of them weren’t hand selling. I’ve been in 40+ states selling wine and checking out on and off premise account. Have you? (That’s in all major metropolitan areas. The states I haven’t been in (deep out and upper Midwest, don’t have those major metropolitan areas… name the city, I’ve covered it.)

    I’m not a fly-by-night. I’m a seasoned vet. If you don’t like the message, you have that right. Making me out to be unenlightened isn’t going to work, based on my creds.

  14. Daniel says:

    Selling wine without ‘ever’ mentioning those 4 publications is like selling books and not mentioning the New York times; self important and arrogant. I’ve been selling wines for over 18 years, including lots of small estate wines. While you don’t have to mention those mags, you run the risk of missing out on what consumers might want. (They are, after all, the ones drinking the wine!). I would prefer that I could just sell to everyone without ever mentioning a score, but most buyers realize that people are more likely to trust someone they’ve never met from a magazine or website than the person they buy the wine from. It’s sad, but it’s true.

    Besides, even if you don’t like Robert Parker, James Laube, Antonio Galloni or whomever, they actually do have more experience and knowledge than most people. Just because you disagree with their taste does not make them wrong.

    Yes, things are changing, but you are a fool to think they will disappear in an instant because a bunch of people wish it to happen!

  15. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for weighing in, Daniel. Your experiences mirror mine. Yes, I’d like to see more people have influence, but the one thing a new generation of wine writers have missed – since the beginning – is that Rome wasn’t built in a day… And, they have to wait their turn, earn their stripes, etc. It’s just the way things work.

  16. […] It all boils down to Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Tanzer, in the Total Wine World […]

  17. doug wilder says:

    “And, they have to wait their turn, earn their stripes, etc. It’s just the way things work.”

    Jo, I think that is a mixed message. Earn your stripes, yes. But ‘wait their turn”? Sounds like you are loading a cattle car!

    Rome wasn’t built in a day, I agree. However there is no timeframe that says how long it should take. Anyone who wants to change how they write about wine and attempt to matter should just do it if they think they can. Ultimately it is the consumer and the wine community that determines if they succeed at it. Having said that, from my experience, virtually everyone I know who has done anything noteworthy in wine has taken a steady growth path to get there.

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