It was the best of times – and the worst of times – for consumers and winemakers and wine retailers in 2009 – but whether your glass was half empty or half full the year 2009 will certainly be looked back upon as the year that Social Media & Wine converged in a big way.
So what were the milestones that made 2009 so significant for the wine world? Here’s a look back – and a look forward.
Twitter. If I look back on New Year’s Eve 2008, I didn’t end that year with sharing what was in my glass, what I would be drinking, doing on twitter which I am sure that I will do tomorrow (domestic caviar, prosecco early on, Brunello later on and a toast with 98 Deutz Cuvee William which we sell in our store).
Yes, as someone who is ‘active’ on social media, twitter was on my radar but I think the majority of active people talking about wine would probably say that they really got going around the 1st Q of 09. Whether it was to promote something that they were already doing – a blog or other website – or share wines that they were drinking – twitter provided a place where you could be drinking/sharing or tasting together (the first Twitter Taste Live events were in late 2008) or ‘listening’ to what was being said about a wine in real time.
Want to know what’s in someone’s glass at a certain time of day – just ask and you’ll get responses from all over the world. The biggest ah ha moment for me this year on twitter was when the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau was released and people from countries ranging from Brazil to Japan were drinking their first sips together and giving a big thumbs up to the best vintage in 47 years.
Prediction for 2010 – wineries will put their twitter names on labels and ask consumers to tweet about their experiences, you will be receiving more contact from wineries asking you to purchase when you talk about their wines and you will find that twitter will have to impose a 21+ filter on twitterers that write/talk about wine. More contests, more wine companies reaching out to people who tweet to promote their brand.
Facebook. If you look at facebook’s forecast that by 2010, 70% of those 21 years and older will have a fb account, you know that it’s not the dog chasing the tail for wineries popping up with their own facebook pages. While there’s not any e-commerce going on through these pages, it is a way for fans to find out what’s going on at the winery, enjoy the pictures, videos and special shipping and release promotions and have a more intimate relationship with the wineries they love. Large wineries face the same challenges on facebook that small ones do – provide fresh and engaging content on a consistent basis to grow their circle of influence beyond those in the trade who have become fans so the playing field is really level here for those who have a new brand to break out of the pack.
Prediction for 2010. In spite of fb’s new rules about need approval of holding contests on their site, wineries will use this format to grow their audience and probably get around the archaic offline rules regarding who can participate. Wineries will engage professionals to add content and become administrators of their pages as they realize that the business of providing content is a business. See more e-commerce popping up on facebook for buying wine and other winery related stuff, more ads from wineries on your fb page.
Bloggers. Yes you too can start a blog if you’re a wine lover and share with the world your opinions about the latest vintages. And while the FTC guidelines for bloggers firmly outlines disclosures that are required for bloggers who received free wine and write about it, it’s the wineries who need the protection here from people coming out of the woodwork to ask them for free wine to review.
Prediction for 2010. Someone will put up a site to consolidate all wine bloggers in one place with readers being able to vote/rate each and their rankings shown. Wineries will start scrutinizing whether bloggers really have enough influence to be driving sales and will less enthusiastic about sending out free wine. The FTC might find someone ‘big’ to use as an example for the non-disclosure stuff – but probably will find another niche that gets free stuff to harass (they’ve rustled a few feathers in the mommy sector already).
Blow Out Sales Sites. There are a couple of leaders in this space – WTSO (winestillsoldout.com) had a great 2009 but I have my doubts about whether the consumer will buy something that says “Yesterday’s lowest web price $15.99 – our price $9.99” without doing a few minutes of research (the wine in question on today’s page Bodegas Abanico Las Colinas del Ebro Garnacha Blanca 2008 rated 90 points by Jay Miller (not Robert Parker as the site suggests) was found at $12.99 at a wine shop in Virginia when I searched today). Still a great deal, no doubt – but with all the info available I’m wondering if there needs to be more truth in advertising on these sites.
Wineries with an abundance of liquid assets – or wanting some great promotion to the robust mailing lists of these companies are the true winners as long as the bargain doesn’t alienate loyal wine club members who find out that they just paid $40 a bottle for something being sold for $20 on one of these sites. (P.S. on this section – yesterday I actually received an email from a winery saying that you could buy their 2005 Cabernet at 40% off through one of these one-day only/limited volume sites….why they weren’t doing it themselves I don’t know.)
Prediction for 2010. Active purchasers on the net will scour the net for the best deals on the wines they want to buy vs buying what is a deal. As these deals end up on sites like Wine Searcher (a price comparison engine based in NZ), retailers will find their margins squeezed even more. Wineries will do their own Count Down or Daily Blowout on facebook – CORE winery in Santa Barbara has a daily 50% on this wine deal going every day now – which will help wineries move inventory at better margins than the traditional three tier distribution system. Wineries will use this strategy to increase their Direct to Consumer Business which is their greatest opportunity for profitability.
Social Media Sites for Wine. Got an opinion about a wine? Sitting at home on your computer (or in a wine bar on your i-phone?) just cruising around the web? Sites like Snooth and cork’d want you to have an opinion AND share it on their site. Would you take a recommendation from someone you didn’t know on buying a bottle of wine? For me, probably not but on cork’d (owned by the respected Social Media Sommelier Gary Vaynerchuk and re-launched earlier this year) there are also bloggers listed whose opinions I do respect (I still might not take their recommendations – but hey at least I know who they are!) Want to find a friend who likes the same wines that you do? Then these sites provide that platform as well as daily content that educates those with a passion or curiosity about wine.
Prediction for 2010. Snooth did a deal earlier this year with Epicurious.com (and others) to provide a suggested wine paired with the vast catalog of recipes on that site. Ultimate goal? To drive wine sales to the retail network on their site. Look for other partnerships in the content space as lifestyle brands seek to add more wine info for their subscribers/members.
Video/TV. GaryV’s Wine Library TV is the hands down winner in this (and other) categories. At almost 800 videos, the breadth of content is enormous and provides vino-tainment for zillions of wine lovers around the world. Look for more video, video personalities and tv on wine – Season 2 of The Winemakers took us to France and other shows scheduled to release on small (and large) screen in 2010.
Prediction for 2010. Every winery will own a Flip video and we will see a ton of tasting videos up on youtube (again the 21+ thing might start happening). More ‘personalities’ will emerge via video – bloggers will add video to their blogs for live tasting experiences with the blogger.
i-phone. Ultimately, with the true benefit of the immediacy of tools to search reviews, shopping and other info about wine when you’re out shopping for it or ordering it in a restaurant – all wine lovers will end up here. My frustration? I can’t seem to get cell reception for the internet when I’m in aisle 4 of the supermarket or large box store looking at a wine that is vaguely familiar and wondering if I should buy it. Users will create their own photo libraries of their favorite labels, post them on the web, wineries will ask that fans and twitter followers take pics of themselves drinking and enjoying their wine and post them on the web. Everyone will use Cellartracker to record their purchases and when you swipe your credit card at the point of purchase it will put your wine into your notes on their site (ok, maybe not until 2011). Will the new Google Nexus have the same rate of adoption at $530 unlocked when it’s released this next year? Hard to say but in the wine category they have some catching up to do.
Other Things We Saw (or Didn’t See) and Predictions for Social Media and Wine in 2010
Things that didn’t happen in 2009.
Amazon got out of the wine biz before they got into it and Costco pulled wine as a category from their website. The NYTimes and USA Today and the Wall Street Journal all added wine clubs but the LA Times didn’t. Bon Appetite started a site just for their wine sales but would Gourmet have survived if they started selling wine to their more upscale urban subscribers? Large, small and medium size wine retailers didn’t close at the rate one would have expected given the competition from online but advertised sales and price cutting prevails.
The ‘Skinny Wine’ introduced at the 2009 Oscars by Chateau Thomas Winery in Indiana did not cause a spate of look-alike wines that are sugar/no calorie (thank god).
Two Buck Chuck sold a ton of wine in Europe but didn’t start selling wine online (yet).
Will the web reflect trends that are already happening offline with an increase in sales of lower priced wines? Will internet sales this year cross the 5%-10% benchmark that we have been waiting for (at last reported out sales of wine in 2007 were less than 3% of total sales). Will FREE shipping (or close to it) become a lasting incentive for bargain hungry consumers who shop on the web?
Will there be more sites launched just for Premium wine drinker (bottles over $20) as the larger sites talk about deals and buys under $20 or will wine drinkers who pulled in their belt in 2009 decide that they want to trade up and start talking about/researching the new second labels by Premium wineries that are in the $20-45 range? Will wineries hire social media gurus like Rick Bakas at St. Supery and Hardy Wallace at Murphy Goode to work full time at providing excellent content and insight into a lifestyle filled with wine and good food? Yes! And Social Media Wine Guru will be one of the most coveted jobs for recent college grads in the class of 2010 as the wine industry seeks to crack the millennial code for selling more wine to those 21-30.
For sure we will see investment and innovation in the social media contest category – see Firestone Vineyards call for videos for a Chef’s Challenge and a month long trip to the Inca’s – as wineries launch new labels and seek new customers via the web. We’ll see more countdown sales tools and wine auction style sites and offline more point of sale info about websites and facebook pages, promotions and other ideas to generate online interest in a specific winery. And yes, we’ll probably see celebrity endorsements of wine too.
Finally, Maynard Keenan of Tool will release his new film about making wine in Arizona http://www.bloodintowine.com/ in February and it will be a cult hit with heavy metal fans but my guess is that it will be the largest grossing film about wine since Sideways (which grossed $109 million).
And what about you? Will you dip your toe into the social media waters to share your love of wine? It’s about time.
Wishing your glass full of wine and a year of good health and happiness.
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