On this blog, I instituted my first Q & A with wine writers on August 3, 2007. Since that time, I’ve devoted this category to wine writers that we think of (or used to think of) as traditional writers; i.e., wine magazines, articles in newspapers, wine newsletter publishers.
I just wrote, “or used to think of,” because this wine writing world is changing as quickly as the polar ice caps are melting… Just ask any polar bear about the ice caps, or just ask any wine blogger about print media. It’s all melting.
I’m delighted that I started blogging in December of 2005. At the time, my Webmaster husband thought I was a little coo-coo, but has since come to understand what I was thinking. Blogging has allowed me to understand what it’s all about, who it’s all about, and get a brief snapshot of where it’s all headed; although, I’m quite sure no one’s got all the answers for where it’s headed, yet. We’ve not climbed to the top of the mountain, in order to have a panoramic view.
I can remember when the first manufacturing plants in Lewiston, Maine, closed in the 1960s (both Pepperell and Bates Manufacturing). I thought to myself, “We’re headed toward a global market.” These guys pulled out to escape labor unions, going to third world countries where the unions didn’t exist. It’s now 40 years later, and my thoughts of the global market are common place, but back in the 1960’s, nobody seemed to understand, care, or get it, except for the masters behind the globalization.
So, I find myself expanding my wine writer category today, because I’ve been watching a brilliant star upon the wine publishing stage, and couldn’t resist throwing my wine writer Q&A at him. His name is Joel Vincent, and for any of you who don’t know Joel, you’d better start paying attention. He’s a force with which to be reckoned, as he continues to change our world.
His company’s name is VinTank. Joel explains, “I’m one of the founders and in charge of Marketing Strategy at VinTank – A digital think tank for the wine industry. We believe that when ideas meet technology that markets are changed forever. Not just philosophically or esoterically, but practically.”
My first experience with Joel was when I heard about an upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference. The conference was Joel’s idea and event. When I visited the WBC Website, it took me to Open Wine Consortium, another Website that Joel created. From one social network to the next, as I find myself signing up, I find that Joel’s an instant cross-over friend because he’s already been there/done that. Since my first day on Open Wine Consortium and his “friending” me on that site, this amazing character is everywhere on the Internet, far ahead of me, and probably far ahead of most of us.
I admire him. I’m inspired by him. And, I learn from him.
With the following Q&A, I believe that anyone from any business will have a brief glimpse into the future, and you’ll have to put on your roller skates, friends, if you want to keep up with this one!
Wine publisher questions:
[Q] Many wine writers and publishers also have another job. If wine isn’t your main vocation, what is and for whom?
[A] I am a technology marketing consultant. I work for myself in Silicon Valley and consult with many big names that few outside high-tech probably know – Cisco, Netgear, Juniper, Meru Networks. I studied electrodynamics at MIT and got into wireless and mobile network infrastructure. I got into marketing because I just had a knack for breaking down extremely technical concepts into language and concepts (and markets) that made sense, which is what makes products succeed or fail – no one is going to buy the product if they don’t understand how it helps no matter how technically superior it is!
[Q] When did you segue into the wine business?
[A] I moved into the wine world slowly. Writing a wine blog in 2004, then working with a few wine people on technical projects. Finally starting the Open Wine Consortium, producing the Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, and starting a consulting practice for wineries needing help with Internet related technologies. Really, I’m still a technology marketing consultant but have applied the solutions to the “wine” industry as a vertical expertise.
[Q] What prompted you to support those writing about wine?
[A] Technology is hyper interesting to me. It disrupts whatever it touches. I’ve seen it time and time again in a relatively short 15 year career. Banks, job searching, books/retail, telecommunications, and now publishing are all getting disrupted by innovative technology. Its a fascinating dynamic for a propeller head like myself. When I started to understand what technology was doing to the wine industry I just went ahead and started advising people on how to deal with it (because I’ve seen it happen elsewhere).
Wine writers need to think differently now. Don’t hold on to how your “work” was defined before. That’s done. What’s not determined is how its going to end up.
[Q] What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy?
[A] The community. I think the wine industry feels like a small town where High Tech is a big city. Everyone is friendly, even when they’re competing. I’m sure I have rose colored glasses on in some sense but that’s OK.
[Q] How has your vocation changed since you’ve entered the wine business?
[A] My vocation is really narrowed somewhat but in its application not in what I’ve always done. High technology is very “horizontal” and working in high tech usually means learning to adapt your product/skillset in different ways for different markets. The food and beverage industry is just another vertical market from my point of view.
[Q] What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted, or wine event you’ve attended?
[A] The Wine Bloggers Conference – and that’s not just because I was the community organizer for it. Wine Bloggers are basically an online community of writers that cover hundreds and hundreds of topics. But they are all so used to using “social” technologies (in this case Blogs) that they all feel pretty comfortable with each other. When the group got together at the conference, there was an immediate “easiness” to the conversations (even before the wine was flowing) and that lead to a GREAT energy and participatory environment. Lots of ideas exchanged, laughs, good times and good education. I’ve never seen ANY wine event like that.
[Q] What’s your favorite variety, if you have one?
[A] Can’t say I have one. It shifts around. I’m mostly into “New World” wines though because that’s what I learned, that’s what I understand. I still depend on others to pick good “Old World” wines for me.
[Q] Do you believe that there are better quality, lower priced wines today, than in past vintages?
[A] Yes. There are more wines out there then most people know. A vast majority of wineries are VERY small businesses so there really is no way to create a brand even if they have a GREAT wine. At the end of the day, its commodity marketing and that sort of marketing requires great marketing skill and discipline to create a fiery niche that can make the business take off or become “cult” – both of which create brand equity and allow you to charge.
“Get 90 points plus by Wine Spectator” is not a business plan and it’s very very hard to do commodity marketing without a dedicated, experienced marketer.
FYI – Brand is more important then technical excellence in commodity marketing – Sorry wine makers of the world.
FYI #2 – PR creates the brand, advertising maintains it. If you don’t have a brand, don’t advertise.
[Q] What aspects of wine stories do you most enjoy?
[A] The overall experience. What I’ve always called “the Wine Life” (my wine blog is called “Wine Life Today”). I love blogs because of the number of stories I see relating everything about tasting the wine – the food, the family experience, the memory the wine evokes while drinking it. That all fascinates me about wine. I have so many experiences that wine acts as a touchstone for.
[Q] What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
[A] Steak on the Grill with a hearty Cab. I grill EVERYTHING and I have such a good steak recipe that I don’t eat steaks at even the finest places. I am ALWAYS disappointed. I love my steak with my Aunt’s spice rub recipe with a nice, BIG CA cab.
[Q] What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?
[A] I’m a technology and marketing guy so I wouldn’t be able to tell you specifically about wine making per se. But I think, like I said before, new technologies on the Internet are fundamentally changing the way we read about, hear about, and learn about wine. The Internet is becoming more social and in a very strange way, the Internet is coming around to what has always been in the wine industry – becoming more social in nature.
[Q] What are your interests outside of the wine business?
[A] I am 100% technology. Its a little freaky. I always have to figure out how things work. I built the OWC because I wanted to understand social media through doing, not reading. So I figured out how that worked and put it up. Now its just about 3500 business people on there and growing beyond my ability to maintain it. I’m actually working with a couple of professional organization to expand it further.
But I love that. I love technology, how it works, and how it impacts different industries.
[Q] Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?
[A] My father. He came to this country from Haiti when he was 17 years old, served in Vietnam even though this was a new country for him, drove a taxi cab in New York City to get through college, worked all his life and retired as an Executive Vice President of MasterCard International.
[Editor’s note: Now we know where Joel got his roller skates!]