Consumer wine advocate Roberta Backlund says there are values to be found – the key is not to be shy about what you’re looking for
One of the biggest problems facing consumers when they buy wine, says Roberta Backlund, is a lack of confidence. “Don’t be shy,” she says. Know what you like, and don’t be afraid to say so. Why buy a $15 bottle of red wine when you want an $8 bottle of white wine? Or vice versa?
Backland has been a wine retailer and consultant, and has worked for producers and distributors. In this, she has seen almost everything that goes on in her 22 years in the wine business, and her advice is real world – no scores, no winespeak, and no foolishness.
Did you know, for example, that the trade calls the system where the same product gets three different prices “pulse pricing?” Or that Chilean wine, once one of the world’s great values, may be staging a comeback, so its sauvignon blanc and pinot noir may be worth buying? And that box wine is better than its reputation suggests?
How did the sommelier cheating scandal get to the point where people are afraid to talk about what happened?
Newsy’s Mark Greenblatt broke last week’s story detailing the possibility of more trouble at the Court of Master Sommeliers in the wake of last year’s sommelier cheating scandal. That’s when someone gave the list of wines for the blind tasting portion of the test to at least one candidate. Then, the results of the exam were “invalidated” and the sommelier group insisted all else was fine. We’ve heard nary a word since then.
That’s when Greenblatt, a long-time investigative reporter, got interested. There should be more transparency when something like this happens, he says, just as with any sort of accreditation process. People who work hard to get the MS initials deserve at least that much. And that it hasn’t happened, says Greenblatt, may speak to larger problems within the court, including possible conflicts of interest.
What struck me during our conversation was that so many sommeliers and candidates are afraid to talk to Greenblatt for fear of retribution from the court. Hence, the need for anonymous sources and leaked documents – hardly something that should happen in the wine business.
We talked about what has happened in the wake of the Newsy story, the followup that Greenblatt is working on, and why no one in the wine media did much with the story after it first became public. If you want to email Greenblatt, click this link.
Wine marketing guru Paul Tincknell says wine marketing lacks imagination and doesn’t focus on why people drink wine. Which is why we get foolishness like Yellow Tail’s Roo
Paul Tincknell, a partner in the Sonoma marketing consultancy of Tincknell & Tincknell, has watched wine market itself every which way but well in his two-plus decades in the business.
The problem, he says, is simple: People drink wine with dinner, but when’s the last time you saw wine sell itself that way? Instead, we get stupid humor or faux sophistication, none of which appeals to the younger consumers who see wine as something that their parents and grandparents drink.
We talked about why this is and how to solve it, as well as how to to market wine in the face of the neo-Prohibitionists. Click here to download or stream the podcast, which is about 10 minutes long and takes up 3.6 megabytes. The sound quality is almost excellent, despite several problems during the recording (and my inability to remember that the Mexican beer we talk about is Corona).
Teeter: Pay to play is the scourge of beverage journalism.
VinePair podcast says wine criticism, as well as beer and spirits, needs more transparency and fewer free trips
We need more transparency among wine writers and wine critics – and I’m not the only one who feels that way.
“It’s something we’ve always been talking about, among the staff,” says Adam Teeter, the co-founder of the on-line wine, beer, and spirits magazine VinePair. “And we thought it was time to start talking about it again.”
Hence a recent VinePair podcast discussing what Teeter calls “pay to play journalism,” where wine, beer, and spirits and writers take samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else – and then write exactly what will make the producer happy. Because they want to keep getting the free samples, free trips, free meals, and who knows what else.
“We call it book report journalism,” says Teeter, who also teaches at Columbia University’s prestigious journalism school. “It’s like when you wrote a book report as a kid, and you just rewrote what was in the book. The writers just rewrite what they’re told on the trip.”
I called Teeter to talk about this because transparency has always been a problem in the wine writing business. Yes, there has been progress, like most sites and reviewers acknowledging when they’re reviewing samples. That’s something that didn’t happen when I started the blog. But as technology has evolved, so has marketing, and the problem may be worse than ever. On one of the last trips I took, I was told what I could write – something no one had ever done before (and which I ignored). But many others are happy to write what they’re told, and that’s probably why I don’t get invited on trips any more.
As Teeter noted on the VinePair site: “Well, there’s a scourge in the beverage journalism world, and it’s called ‘pay to play.’ Whether it’s brands getting guaranteed coverage or even inflated scores by taking wine critics on elaborate trips, or just a spot on someone’s [Instagram] story through sending them some sample bottles, it’s an ugly side to this industry that rarely gets talked about.”
So the podcast talks about it, in detail. “The amount of free stuff out there is insane,” Teeter told me, and he used the word insane three times during our brief conversation to describe a world where producers see an Instagram post as marketing nirvana. It costs nothing, save for the sample, and it makes the person posting the Instagram feel like a big deal. In other words, it’s infinitely more brand friendly than dealing with a cranky ex-newspaperman like me.
Charles Bieler, right, and his father Philippe. They’re a long way from the pink Cadillac.
Charles Bieler is one of the best rose maker in the world; more importantly, he is one of the reasons the rose boom exists. For which we are all most grateful.
Charles Bieler was between jobs in the late 1990s when his father suggested Charles help sell the family rose in the U.S. Charles took up the challenge, painted a Cadillac pink, and traveled the country to convince retailers and restaurants to sell dry pink wine. As Charles says, that was at a time when everyone thought rose was sweet, and he truly wondered if dry rose had a future in the U.S.
Which, of course, it did. We talk about the rose boom, the pink Cadillac trip, and the challenges facing rose today — with advice on how to find the best cheap pink.
Dave Falchek, the executive director of the American Wine Society, is more optimistic about wine’s future, and especially with younger consumers
Dave Falchek, the executive director of the American Wine Society, gets a different perspective on the future of the wine business, what with being around wine drinkers more often than most. As such, he is more optimistic about wine’s future, and especially with younger consumers.
Dave’s point: There are millions of Americans turning 21, the legal drinking age, and there is no reason to assume they won’t be interested in wine just because the rest of us are so cranky about the subject. Younger consumers are more open to new ideas, so why not wine, he asks? Just don’t assume it’s going to be the same thing their parents and grandparents drink.
In this, Dave knows of what he speaks: The AWS is the largest and oldest organization of wine drinkers in the United States.
Dave McIntyre of the Washington Post says those of us who care about affordable, quality wine should be worried about the direction of the wine business. But he says we can fight back.
Dave McIntyre, the wine columnist for the Washington Post, has spent the past decade fighting for affordable, quality wine — no scores or winespeak, but intelligence and passion. He’s one of the best wine writers in the country, and I’d say that even if we weren’t friends who suffered through interminable wine trip bus rides and even longer Drink Local Wine conference calls.
Dave and I talked about the challenges of the wine business in the second decade of the 21st century and what those of us who care about quality and value can do to overcome those hurdles. Something is very wrong, Dave says, when the average bottle of Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon costs $67. But there is hope, as our experiences with drink local demonstrate. Consumers will buy interesting wines that don’t taste exactly like each other, which is the promise of the regional wine movement.