Education,Social media,Wine,Wine Writer

Steve Heimoff and Paul Mabray in the same room, and we all got out alive

THE PLACE: UC Davis Extension Program

THE PROGRAM: PR and Social Media for Small Wineries

THE CHARACTERS: Rusty Eddy (Program’s Educator/Director), Paul Mabray (Social Media), Steve Heimoff (Traditional Media), Jose Diaz (Media Marketing), and me for PR

THE SCENE: The room was still… You could have heard a pin drop…

I had delivered Unique perspective as a PR person, José had just finished Marketing Through Social Media, and it was now Steve Heimoff’s turn to address Rusty Eddy’s UCD’s course, this past Friday. Steve did eventually get to How does a winery get from the minor leagues to the major?

Before I had begun, Paul Mabray had delivered what really became a keynote speech, more than anything else. Paul gave an overview to the class on the Importance of Social Media and The Role It’s Playing in the Wine Industry Today. Paul didn’t have solutions for how to use it; just that digital media is playing a larger role than most people understand. It would be up to the listeners to learn more; and to that end, Jose was prepared. (I noticed a lot of note taking during José’s presentation.)

I’m a huge supporter of both men, Steve and Paul. Each is brilliant in his own right. Each “gets” his own world better than anyone else I know:

  • Steve Heimoff is a pure, really well written and researched journalist, whose work I trust implicitly… He can’t be bought or sold, period. I get his work ethic from conversations we’ve shared. His thoughts are his own, and they’re as truthful as they could possibly be.
  • Paul is a pure, scientific research gatherer… He’s not going to bend the numbers to appease an audience. It wouldn’t be ethical, and ethics are as important to him as math. As he just said to me, “Math is math,” to which I added (from my kids’ 6th grade teacher Mr. Proctor’s musings), “And, math is life.” (We both nodded at this.)

As Steve was about to begin, I noticed – because I was sitting away from the head table, not wanting to be a distraction from what was about to happen – that Paul’s body language had become totally engaged. He was sitting right next to Steve, and had even turned slightly in his chair to face Steve. It made it a bit impending, and understand this was not Paul’s intent. Paul was really engaged and wanting to listen and understand what Steve was saying. These two men have been at odds for a while now. I’m not just gossiping here. It’s widely documented on the Internet; they’ve lightly sparred, each respecting each other, but still not being on the same wave length.

Their bone of contention:

  • Steve believes that social media is not building brands today, great wines via scores are doing that, as they always have.
  • Paul believes that great scores aren’t where it’s at today from traditional media days gone by; that social media with trusted friends spreading the word about wines they’ve tasted and love is the “new deal.”


To be meeting publicly in one place and to be having this moment be on stage, none-the-less… not just in a back room duking it out… was a classic, OMG moment. I hadn’t even thought about this before hand. I don’t think any of us did, except for perhaps – with a bit of tension – Steve and Paul knowing beforehand that they were going to be in this incredibly interesting situation.

And here it was, the moment both had perhaps long dreaded… Having to work it out.

Steve began… slowly… Paul drawing in a bit closer. Steve explained that there are those who think that he “hates social media,” when in fact he “loves it”…  Paul drew back a bit, because he got what he was needing to hear was said. But smooth sailing wasn’t over for at least the next 15 minutes…

Knowing what went down in those 10 minutes was worth the price of the ticket. It’s also why Rusty’s class continues to delight people each year (I’ve read the evaluations).

Steve did continue, and I’m not sure that the class really understood what was going on, because earlier Paul had asked how many people were seriously into social media, and very few hands were raised.

To be continued tomorrow…

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27 Responses to “Steve Heimoff and Paul Mabray in the same room, and we all got out alive”

  1. Tim says:

    Wish I was there and thanks to you I get a snapshot! Cheers and Thanks!

  2. Rusty Eddy says:

    Perhaps Paul and Steve have hit on a new topic for a panel discussion at UC Extension or Unified: traditional vs. new media…what sells more wine?

  3. Business is in transition and both old and new media have a place to play, but today I would say old media is still the winning process for growing large brands. Social media certainly helps the direct to consumer sales but I am yet to be convinced it moves thousands of cases for a winery. The terrible shipping restrictions trump both and so the “old methods” tend to win.

    Interesting – neither party actually sells wine, but I would bet that Steve influences sales by using old and new media more than most would imagine.

  4. I wish I could have been there. Sounds like it was an interesting seminar. He is correct that SM is not a magic answer for wineries, Steve is holding on tightly to a sinking ship with scores and uber-critics. I hope Paul was able to open his mind a bit more. I do wonder what his “navel gazing” comment on Twitter regarding this event was about. I wish I agreed with your assessment that Steve is well researched journalist, but after reading his poorly researched WE article on Pritchard Hill I have a hard time trusting his expertise.

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    I agree with you, Steven. I’ve sold wine (as a district manager for the Hambrecht Wine Group). When you go to meetings with wholesalers – who move tremendous case sales – these guys want to know what Steve (and others in his category) have said. Meanwhile, having the wholesalers consolidating into so few names these days, leaves the rest to be hand sold… Perhaps it’s boiling down – yet once again – to the 80-20 sales theorem: 80 percent of the sales happen through wholesalers today, and 20 percent are done on-line or directly to the consumer via Web sales.

    I’d love to see the stats on that for today’s sales. then, we’d get a better read on what’s what… Meanwhile, having worked in sales, I know that social media still has a lot of catching up to do.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    I’m going to have to read Steve’s story on Pritchard Hill. I know he’s pretty thorough, so I’d have to see what’s missed (by either side) or misinterpreted (again, by either side). And, I’d have to also know about the winery… I don’t know anything about it at this point in time, having missed Steve’s story on them.

    Personally, I just had a winery owner comment on something I had written, and instead of respectfully disagreeing and letting it go when I said that “we’d have to agree to disagree,” he went on with name calling. This also included questing my sanity… really questioning my sanity.

    I wasn’t there when Ste4ve conducted his research, so I can’t imagine what went down, so I reserve my right for judgment and not being able to comment. I can say this, I’ve known Steve for the last 15 years and have read his works for the last 20, including reading both of his books. He’s an amazing writer and has always just told it like he’s seen it.

  7. Getting winery/vineyards names wrong, incomplete soil descriptions and a sketchy tasting are all in the piece. Steve is prolific and bold on his blog and for that I respect him. I read his blog almost every day. We often disagree, but I enjoy reading what he has to say and engaging him. For some reason he has decided to stop responding to my comments. That alone shows how his views on SM are a bit off.

  8. Ashley says:

    So would Paul and Steve agree that a ‘happy medium’ of social media and good scores creates the best advantage? I find that by heavily integrating the two, a brand has a much more powerful stance among wine buyers as compared to a brand who chooses only one avenue.

  9. Paul Mabray says:

    Thanks Jo – I am REALLY excited to read part 2 where we got into the meat of the discussion.

    Kyle – I had hoped I had convinced him a bit more the value of SM but that same Tweet troubled me as well.

  10. Rick Bakas says:

    I had a chance to sit down with Steve this summer and interview him on this very subject. If you’re interested in the conversation you can see it here – http://rickbakas.com/does-steve-heimoff-hate-social-media

  11. Jo Diaz says:

    It appears that it’s moving that way, Ashley.

  12. Paul Mabray says:

    I would agree 100% about that point.

  13. Paul, do you think he was referring to you navel gazing or him staring at your belly button? I can only imagine he meant that SM proponents advocating SM, but isn’t a traditional wine critic saying the traditional way is the best more navel gazing?

  14. Paul Mabray says:

    Ironically what I was most advocating was service (as a winery differentiator) and customer centric strategies. SM is only a tool to help do both with scale.

  15. I wish I was there. You should have gotten it on video.

  16. I found that Paul’s message was “SM (for wineries) is turning into contextual recommendation” and it’s important to re-engage and thank those who are recommending your product. Simple, great message. Steve’s message was as clear – when using SM, be genuine, and if you don’t have enough time to dedicate to a medium (i.e. blogging, pinterest, etc.), don’t do it. Another simple and great message. I’m glad to have been in the room.

  17. Jo Diaz says:

    Chris… Yes, indeed. I’ve tried to paint it in words.

  18. Jo Diaz says:

    Alexandra, you captured the heart and soul of it.

  19. Amelia Ceja says:

    Estimada Jo,

    I would love to host you, Steve and Paul at Ceja Vineyards in Carneros for lunch. Please let me know if you’re really interested in hanging out with innovative and pioneering vintners! Muchas gracias!

    Amelia Ceja

  20. Jo Diaz says:


    You captured what I know is the next step… these two guys breaking bread. Let me see what I an do. (Thanks for the generous offer, BTW.)

  21. Paul Mabray says:

    Thank you for the kind offer. I am totally up for that lunch and even a live video debate before or after with Steve that we can have moderated by yourself or Jo and have the internet ask questions.


  22. Jo Diaz says:

    Now we’re talking… We just need to get Steve on board. Jose’s got the camera for filming, and I’ve got the blog for posting.

  23. Josh Stein says:

    Invite at least one winemaker, as I have been telling Paul for years.

  24. Jo Diaz says:

    If this were done at Ceja Vineyards in Carneros, who’s suggested it, you know there would be a winemaker… And, I’d add my husband, who’s a brilliant marketer… it would be a four-sided discussion, worth watching… However, if we even add someone from the actual sales world, who’s hitting the narrow channels of distribution, we’ll have the complete package.

    I see a production in the works, ladies and gentlemen…

  25. Are you taking volunteers?

  26. Jo Diaz says:

    Ceja volunteered, Chris, so I believe we’re all set… maybe a witness?

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