Social Networking in Wine,Wine

Some Truths Behind the Wine Industry and Social Media

Open Wine Consortium is one of the social networks where I find myself visiting with frequency. One can’t be left behind, once one knows there’s a movement afoot. Open Wine Consortium was the support system behind the Wine Bloggers Conference, and I find myself drawn in, a bit like a moth to a flame.

As I carry on each day with it, I choose where to go and with what to get involved. This past week, a press release was launched by Janet Fouts entitled, “Will social media transform your business in 2009?”

Boy, have I got opinions on that. At the Wine Bloggers Conference I was astounded to hear some people discuss a concept that was cooking:  How to garner the advertising dollars away from print media like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. They’ve figured out that a full page ad costs about $25,000. The plan is to gather about eight unknown people (who have earned no stripes, yet) and have a tasting panel. Instead of paying WS or WE the $25K, wineries would give that money to the panel, and they’d taste the wine. Then, each person would score the wine and place the scores on eight separate Web blogs. The missing link with all of this is that wineries, wholesalers, on and off premise accounts – at least the ones I know – only ask, “What did Wine Spectator and/or Parker give the wine?” More and more people are now accepting Wine Enthusiast as one of those voices of authority that are having consumer impact/appeal.

So… there’s the disconnect… Not fully understanding the system that exists. The Great Wall of China was not built in a day, nor is it easy to tear it down overnight.

The naivete exists, and it’s struggling to find its place in the existing system by wanting to tear it down, rather than work within by getting that all-important foot in the door.

As I wrote my thoughts, prompted by colleague Tom Merle, who wrote, “We look to you, Jo, to ground the exuberance of the social media consultants in reality, since you are plugged into what a wide array of wineries actually do to advance their cause(s). Can you point us to producers (other than el Jefe) who are utilizing these techno tools whose benefits are reflected in the bottom line?”

My response is worth sharing, because I got a private Email from one of the members of Open Wine Consortium which stated, “I think it airs a lot that needs to get out so we can talk about it.”

Here’s the real skinny, from someone on the inside of the cocoon.

Social networking, I think, is changing faster than we can even think it through. It’s necessary – nay, vital – to make the changes that go along with it. It’s also vital to choose the right vehicle, but there are so many options. It’s impossible to be all things to all social networking people, all at the same time; but evolve we must, or fall into market decline.

Wish I could make it more cheery, or more “how to,” but we’re still all (mostly) trying to make desperate sense of it. It’s either moving too fast … a blur, if you will… or I need a better pair of prescription glasses!

Tom, El Jefe is the best at social media, honestly. Donati Family Vineyard is a great example of beginning its own social media Website. WineSpace

The person who set it up (the true, innovative enthusiast Cheryl Wolhar) should have been kept around to administer it. If I could have given any advice on that one, I would have told them… “Keep Cheryl around, because she came in with all the intuitive innovation, and would execute in ways that only someone from Silicon Valley would know how.”

Wineries are creating their own blogs, and that’s a big effort to keep the virtual newsletter ongoing. In reality, one has to be a lifer fan to live within any specific Website for all their news. The reality is that the Millennials – who are totally adept at social networking – don’t have developed loyalties, yet. They’re enjoying experimentation, loving the critter labels, and god knows that most of those are created from brands that don’t have live people behind them, just mythology. That’s totally fun, so who’s going to run to a Website to get socially involved, when there’s no real, social person behind the keyboard… Maybe Second Lifers… That makes total sense to me. That’s a population that’s on the innovative edge, but not reality based real life… I’d much rather raise my glass with real wine in it, thank you…

Honestly, I don’t know of any other examples of wine companies being on that extreme cutting edge. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, it only means that I haven’t run across them in my travels and dealings.

Janet, I agree with all of your comments about how small businesses can benefit from social networks. As I mentioned earlier… It’s vital to their successful evolution.

There are stages to marketing a product, and it’s a long way from creation to maturity to decline. Right now we’re all in the creation stage of social media, and there are no crystal balls with any of this; however, those with a technical background are the ones who are better prepared, like you, Janet, to guide the way.

Your comment on not necessarily needing to be on the bleeding edge is actually comforting, at a time that it feels like one must, or drop into market decline a lot more rapidly than anyone could anticipate.

See, there you go… “Vlog,” what the heck is that one? (Later explained to me: Video blog)

Yes, I could go Google it, and I will; but, this reminds me of how limited I am in what I know, so I can prepare that perfect game plan… seriously.

We all have a lot to share, and a lot to learn.

Then, I slept on it, and returned the following morning with these thoughts:

Once I posted last night, my husband (Webmaster programmer and wine marketer) and I had a long discussion about the distance between wineries and technology companies. It’s huge… So huge that on one end I’ve got grape growers who own their own businesses, and are still trying to figure out how to reply to an E-Mail (I’m not exaggerating) to the telecommunications industry, who – because they’re so intelligent it makes perfect sense that the wine industry is so appealing (because of its complexity) that they’d like to hitch their wagons to this star.

You can see the disparity, and you can perhaps begin to see how far the technical community will have to come to teach this wine industry more than they want to learn, “want” being the operative word.

The wine industry was born on the backs of farmers, many of whom would rather be pruning vines than wading through spam that arrives unannounced. I believe that this is what Tom was referring to when he said, “We look to you, Jo, to ground the exuberance of the social media consultants in reality.”

Tom, who also’s in this business, no doubt, has come across how one business (wine) is light years away from the other business (technology). As Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will this coming together be as swift as the “exuberance” for it by the technology industry wants it to. At least not from where I’m sitting.

Before I was in the wine business, I was in radio. I used to be the engineer for my own radio public relations program, where I interviewed community leaders about current affairs. I had to set up the entire program in a recording studio using all the equipment of reel-to-reel before digital recording. I’d tape the programs and hand them off for airing to yet more engineers. I understand more technology than most of my clients do. I force them to pay attention to my Emails, because I have to broadcast to many people simultaneously at any given point in the day. (I manage individual clients, an advocacy group, an AVA group, and execute on events.)

All of the people with whom I interface are the owners or the principal managers of these wine companies. Yes, they have staffs under them to execute on most tasks, but they are the ones who set the missions, visions, and budgets for their companies. If they don’t understand the need for social networking, it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to assign the task to anyone. They’re going to spend their money on things they first see as necessary, like operating costs, payroll, capital equipment, taxes, insurance, etc.

They first have to be convinced that social networking is important to them. I have to convince them they need PR as part of a marketing plan; and that’s very, very basic, isn’t it?

Once they understand what social media is all about and adopting it, then they’ll hire someone and allow the task to trickle down to the necessity list.

Just as a parent makes decisions for a family, so does the proprietor make the decisions for the company. As in all sales, target the message to decision makers, because otherwise you’re just spinning your wheels.

There’s one big solution to solving how it all moves forward more expediently… An innovator only needs to convince an early adopter (a very small segment of the population), who will have eventual influence. Everyone at that point needs to keep up with the Joneses, but you’ve got to convince John Jones, first and foremost… It’s a sales job all the way, and it’s one that demands great patience, because early adopters only represent about 3-5 percent of the population. Finding them is the greatest challenge, getting to them is the next one, then convincing them is the ultimate.

And when you do, convince them that you’re looking for a full time job, not just wanting to set them up, or it would be like giving a two year old an Email address, and expecting him/her to be able to immediately send a broadcast Email to all his/her pals in day care. Do it, but write into it you’re own job description. And, be ready, because if you’re coming into this business looking to be really well paid, let’s review… These are farmers, first and foremost. Only the major corporations have the big bucks; and, they’re all tightening their belts right now.

I’m sorry if this seems bleak. Most reality checks aren’t what anyone’s wanting to hear. But, it is what it is, and if you know and understand the challenges, you’ve just been given a great gift.

Was that what you were looking for, Tom? ;^)

17 Responses to “Some Truths Behind the Wine Industry and Social Media”

  1. Sonadora says:

    Huh, that was actually a discussion at WBC? I think that makes me even more secure in my decision to blow off the break out sessions and instead spend it by the pool enjoying the company (and wine) of EL Jefe ad others where we also talked about social media, but mostly about all the wines we love!

    I also think it points out a split in the wine blogging world. You have folks like me who do it solely for the love of wine (quite literally, I started my blog over 2 years ago because hardly anyone seemed to be talking about the wines I loved to drink and I thought someone should, so why not me?) and folks who are looking to either make an income from it or use the blog as a transition into working in the industry in some capacity. I noticed it a lot in the discussion at the WBC and the write ups after…and no one ever seemed to acknowledge that not all bloggers are in it for money. I read several articles that painted the scene as one of all bloggers elbowing for position to be able to get ads and displace traditional media.

    But as far as wineries using social media (so I don’t miss the main point of your post) I see lots of wineries trying. And I applaud their efforts to actually connect with their customers where their emerging customer base is. (I think I’ll mention at this point that I really dislike the term millennials, even though I meet at least one of the many definitions.) Frankly, if someone has time to devote to it, most every option is virtually free…twitter, blogs, OWC, etc. I connect with wineries I never would have known about through these mediums, it gets me excited about their brand, I make every effort to visit on my trips to CA, and then I write about them. In the mean time, I tweet with them, which gets their name out there, I talk about my upcoming visits, which is also another mention of the brand, etc. It seems like a lot of free/relatively easy publicity to me. Plus, I think if your customers feel personally invested in your brand, they are more likely to remain loyal to it/you. Case in point…I started buying El Jefe’s wines because I liked him and what he was doing…not because I’d ever previously had the opportunity to taste them. Now, I’ve been a club member for over a year, been up to Murphys to visit, and I order his wines as presents for my friends and family.

  2. Jo says:

    Hi, Sonadora,

    Very interesting response.

    You’ll enjoy that my husband and I had a discussion the other day about the counter culture that came out of the 60s being referred to as “Hippies.” To this day, if I tell him he was one of us, he goes nuts. He doesn’t want the classification, but if you ask, “Did you do this? did you do that? he has to answer, “Yes.”

    I knew I was part of the generation, but we didn’t call ourselves “hippies.” That came from the “outside” – from those looking in and having a need to categorize what they were witnessing from a certain demographic standpoint. It’s a marketing thing.. So, off to your generation being called “Millennials.” It’s just the old farts trying to put a name on it 🙂

    And, yes, Jeff Stai is the best at what he’s doing. He comes from a Silicon Valley-type background; so, of course, he’s going to know how to play the game well… And that has a lot of intuitive play as well. For instance, I’m in the middle of organizing an auction for my Dark & Delicious event. One of Jeff’s items is a couple bottles of his Petite Sirah AND a rubber chicken! Not only does he fly in the face of tradition in a very staid industry (BTW), but he also has created a genius marketing icon. Honestly, if you don’t like the rubber chicken idea I have to ask, “Where’s your sense of humor?”

    Wineries would do well to begin to get on board, sooner than later, like all innovation… But, there are stats that tell us all how people adopt new ideas, and it’s lonely at the top for a long time, usually.

  3. Sonadora says:

    My Rubber Chicken Bob roosts in my chandelier. Unless of course, I’m taking him to work for Take Your Rubber Chicken to Work Week! My dad even got a rubber chicken for Christmas this year.

    I will say that since I started the blog, I can see the number of wineries being involved, and at the very least, monitoring what is being said about their brands online has increased significantly. It used to surprise me when a winery/winemaker would email me to thank me for mentioning them or to tell me more about their brand. Now, especially for the small family wineries, it’s more common than not that someone from the winery contacts me about the post or even comments on my blog. That’s a step in the right direction…connect with the people who are already talking about your brand. We’re a rapt audience and are more likely to talk about you again. I’ve also seen a marked increase (even within the last 6 months) of wineries on Twitter and Facebook. So I think it’s happening…just slowly. Hopefully more will climb on board, it’s fun to talk to the people behind products you love. And, a business with a story is much more interesting than a faceless one.

  4. Jeff says:


    It is my comments at the WBC that you misrepresent.

    I do understand the system, and I don’t think your parable accurately represents what I said, or what I intended. Thankfully, you didn’t quote me. Just the same, I do need to make sure that you don’t mentally associate some lack of understanding on my part based on pithy monologue in a review panel format.

    If you ever want to chat and understand deeper what I meant (which was really more of a comment on wasted ad dollars spent by country wine associations that are non-brand specific), please let me know.

    Nice post regardless.

    All the best,


  5. Jo says:


    Perception is always reality, so if you feel that I misrepresented your thoughts, then I did.

    Perhaps, as you state, the intent wasn’t explained as clearly as it was intended, or in such casual passing that it would never have been thought that I’d internalize it as I did.

    I also know I wasn’t alone in my perception (on my end) because more than one set of eye-brows in the back of the room (where I was) were raised by my industry colleagues… all at the same time to each other, as it was being discussed. (Fly on the wall, if you will.)

    I think we all thought the same thing at the same time.

    So…at some point, it would be a good read, if you decided to write about it at length. This way, those of us who misunderstood what we thought we heard, would have a better understanding of the intent. It flew right past me, and for that I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be flippant. I’m trying to have a bridge be built between what we thought we heard and what was actually intended.

  6. If anybody thinks that a winery that pays $25K to a print magazine will happily send a check in that amount to 8 bloggers in exchange for them reviewing the wine on their sites, they’re living in LaLa Land!

  7. Jeff says:


    You have a real knack for running with things and opining without the necessary context. This is like, what, the 6th time you and I have bumped into each other?

    Based on my experience, you might think I was the village idiot without pausing to ever dig deeper. That’s too bad.

    Jo, interesting that you reference Tom Merle, who, if I am not mistaken said it was a great idea, even if my reference, was still, in the context of the shameful money spent by winery country associations — Argentina –region of the year according to Wine Enthusiast — no real surprise though when they advertised in full page ads for all of 2008 in the magazine.

    Regardless, I’m not arguing about a quote that wasn’t attributed to me being taken way out of context. 🙂

    But, I do a lot of research and even more fact-checking. Everything I write or say is defensible, feel free to contact me should you ever desire.


  8. Jeff says:


    Only because I’m a little fired up that words and memories can cause a recollection that speaks ill of me …

    I did write about this:


    Pretty much sums up how I feel and I juxtaposed that against the Rockaway situation in which I was speaking.



  9. Jo says:


    I remember that blog entry you just cited, when it was launched. I just reread it, to make sure I was on the same page. I’m not sure that entry’s subject relates to what caught my attention, and what I was referencing.

    I recollect the panel discussion about Rock Away, from the blogger team to whom the wine was given pre-release to the glossies getting it, and Robert making a comment that he won’t be doing it that way again, because it caused a stir he hadn’t anticipated.

    The cost of advertising was then brought up, and it was mentioned that everyone knew that you can buy your way into the magazines to getting good scores. This is the only time I had anything to say to this group, because I was there to try to first understand, before wanting to be understood. I did, however – because that statement was so wrong – say, “I know someone who spent $35K for a year, and then got a 68 score for a wine.” Lots of laughter, but no questions or any “Aha” moments for anyone.

    The conversation then evolved into wanting to find a way to convince wine companies to not spend $25K on glossy print, but rather turn that same money over to a panel of wine bloggers. Those bloggers would then review the wine, created about eight wine reviews (one per blogger), versus just the ones that appear in Parker, WS, and WE, and then they (the bloggers) all share the money.

  10. Jeff says:

    Thanks for the additional comment.

    This is a fairly emotional flashpoint topic for me because I think the folks involved in Rockaway got drug through the mud a bit, but, just the same, I don’t have anything materially new to add except for the fact that I don’t want to be seen as an “out of touch with reality” loon.

    Again, nicely thoughtful post.


  11. Cheryl says:

    Hi Jo,

    Thanks again for the mention… I was most interested in the gap you describe between the winery decision makers (owners and principles) and technology. You do a great job explaining the current mindset of some in the wine industry in regards to social media and the huge distance between the two.

    So, ok, we get it… The chasm may be wider in some cases than we would like and we, as social media technologists, will have to do tons more evangelism and training of the wine industry to cross it.

    Based on the discussions I have had recently with a few wineries I would have to agree with your assessment. If they are not comfortable with technology they seem to be extremely reluctant to take this on. They feel that they don’t have the time or the experience necessary to do it correctly and that they do not have the money to staff for it during this economic down turn.

    It is my belief, and one that I think is shared by many others, is that one day all these so called “new” social media techniques will become common everyday practice even for wineries and it will take its place as just one of the many tools in our sales and marketing arsenal. I firmly believe that those wineries that make an effort now to utilize some aspects of social media will be way ahead of those that don’t when the economic turn around comes along. They will also, most likely, experience less of a downturn.

  12. Jo says:

    I don’t think of you as an “out of touch with reality” loon. I I trust others don’t either, based on all that you do with your own highly creative blog. (I wish I had all your skill, honestly.)

    I see you at exactly the same place I was 16 years ago. I knew my own industry (FM radio broadcasting PR and producer), and I wanted into the wine business really badly. I had great credentials with my FM career, during which time I accumulated about 25 years in the business – at first as a partner to a music/program director DJ husband, and then as my being the director of PR and staff photographer). I hung out and photographed recording artists (Tina Turner, Sting, Duran Duran, Bryan Adams, Aerosmith, Chicago, etc.)… backstage while they toured… They were/are all high powered, high profile people… I’ve got an amazing portfolio that backs up this career.

    What I had to do, in order to segue from rock and roll to wine (a TOTALLY different industry), was to slow down and learn all of the intricacies of the wine business, in order to find my unique place in space. I did it, you will, too, based on your passion.

    You’re obviously well educate, you’re very articulate, you’ve got a much greater understanding and depth of Internet technology than I have, as well as a better handle on social media than I’ll ever have… So, in all you’ve got a lot really going for you.

    And, it’s okay to think out loud – as you did at the WBC. That’s exactly what you were supposed to be doing. It’s thinking out loud that spawns great ideas that lead to great achievements.

    All things come in time, and you may – in the future, maybe not as quickly as you’d want it to happen, because we all want things to move faster than they do – actualize that dream. It just takes time.

    I see the energy, the enthusiasm, and in time the credentials for your generation that will be much stronger for what you want to achieve. It WILL happen, just not right away, because there are too many walls to tear down in the process.

    That doesn’t even come close to “loony'” Jeff…

    It’s just this seasoned veteran’s observations of an enthusiastic next generation getting ready to find its own way, but not having all the right keys yet to open all the doors.


  13. Jo says:

    As regards Rock Away… That’s an entire different topic, and one that’s a bit edgy… fringing on dangerous. It was such an innovative way to have a wine reviewed, that traditional media took exception. That was the danger…

    Traditional media is what the industry relies on for those all-important third party endorsements. And, as one colleague said to me as we walked out of that panel discussion, “I don’t care what anyone says, it’s still traditional media that’s going to sell my wine.”

    It was edgy for a new generation, but it’s still the old guard that’s buying and selling wine, so “edgy beware” is my thought on that one.

    The PR person did mention that he wouldn’t do that, again, because those of us in the wine business know that it could become professional suicide to go that route on a regular basis.

    The only way I can explain it from the inside is to say… The mud that Rock Away was pulled though was of their own making; although no one saw the pitfalls until it had happened. On the surface, it was brilliant. On a deeper level, it flew in the face of tradition… And it’s tradition that’s built this city of Rock and Roll.

    So, now there are two perspectives out there… Somewhere between the two lies the perfect truth.

  14. Jo says:


    You are so correct… Those that jump on now will be so far ahead of the game that it will make them the leaders.

    I know the mindset well, because I have to deal with that on a daily basis… And, I’m doing it from within the industry and 16 years of experience behind me, so it puts me on a different edge than those who aren’t yet on board. So, people can either believe me or not… It’s their choice.

    Here’s the basics of the phychology:

    There’s no right or wrong with this system… It’s just the way people internalize acceptance of something new.

    The adoption process of a new idea happens this way:

    Innovators – They’re the first to adopt. They’re eager risk takers. These people tend to be younger and well educated. They also have many contacts outside of their immediate social group, and rely on other innovators for their ideas, rather than sales people. (3 to 5 percent)

    Early adopters – They’re well respected by their peers (they are the “Joneses”), and are most likely opinion leaders. They’re probably younger, more mobile, and more creative than most people. They have fewer contacts with the outside world than innovators, and are the ones who are the first to “get” what an innovator has brought forth. (10 to 15 percent)

    Early majority – They avoid risks altogether. They cautiously wait to consider a new idea only after many early adopters have proven it to be successful. (They are the ones who are keeping up with the “Joneses”). These are not the opinion leaders, they’re the followers. (34 percent)

    Late majority – They’re cautious about new ideas, quite possibly older and set in their ways. They’re less likely to understand innovators, and less likely to follow the early adopters. They need strong acceptance within their own group before they’d ever consider keeping up with the Joneses. (34 percent)

    Laggards – They rely on what they’ve always done, and are very suspicious of any new idea. They also rely on other laggards for their new ideas, which means they move at the speed of a snail. (5 to 16 percent)

  15. Brandy Bell says:

    Dear Jo,

    Thank you for the link to our WineSpace. We are deeply thankful that you have kept us in mind in your blog. I agree that Cheryl is very intuitive, and executed the launching of our WineSpace beautifully. In fact, Cheryl was so great at this, that she did exactly what a consultant is meant to do- Lead the way, train the staff, and then step back.

    We do regret that we could not retain her full-time to market for us, however her innovation has proved to be incredibly useful for our company as a sales tool, and a way to connect with our Paesanos and SLOcals alike. You should include a link on your next blog about Donati Family Vineyard to Cheryl’s Website, http://www.myvinespace.com.

    I don’t know if you’re informed of all the new, exciting, things we have been up to at the winery here, but we have a Concierge Service for our wine club members, in-home wine parties, and the SLOcals club, where SLO residents receive 10% off, just for living in the area. Check our website often, we’re always up to new ways to make ourselves stand out.

    Brandy Bell
    Wine Club & Marketing Manager
    Donati Family Vineyard

  16. Jo says:

    Hi, Brandy,

    I keep checking in on you guys, because Donati Family Vineyard really did take that first giant leap into the social network world with your own wine space. It’s fascinating to watch.

  17. Dennis says:


    I’d like to add another word of support for Cheryl’s expertise (http://www.myvinespace.com) – we met her at the Oct 2008 Wine Bloggers conf.

    We have an IT technology background so Cheryl was able to quickly spun us up and in a matter of ~2 weeks we set up our Eagles Nest Winery blog at http://eaglesnestwinery.ning.com The blog augments our Web 1.0 site of similar URL http://eaglesnestwinery.com

    Our blog approach was a bit different from Donati’s in that our site has membership that must be validated and is limited to only the closest of friends and winery fans/family.

    We sought to establish a validated, safe, and intimate environment for our fans and friends to share and communicate – fenced from the general Internet population – not register thousands of members that other sites typically encourage.

    The blog effectively serves as an ongoing interactive winery newsletter keeping fans and friends in touch with near-real-time with activities at the winery and vacation cottage as well as daily/weekly wine interest articles and posts. It’s a challenge getting non-techno saavy members to actively post but the site’s analytic data indicates a lot of readership activity.

    It is our belief that small wineries that have not taken the leap to Social media are making a huge mistake.

    The challenge is getting senior and middle-age folks more active in social media the young folks already get it.

    Eagles Nest Winery & Cottage
    Ramona, CA (near San Diego)
    web http://eaglesnestwinery.com
    blog http://eaglesnestwinery.ning.com

Leave a Reply