Are you missing a trick?

16 April, 2010

It’s not every day that you can taste the most recent vintages while watching the current one in action – certainly not in London. Yet that was the unique prospect awaiting those who attended this year’s Boutique Wineries Tasting.

The event was dominated by a giant screen, featuring a live feed from a Portuguese vineyard where the harvest was in full swing. The message was implicit: at the wine tastings of tomorrow, buyers and journalists won’t merely have to content themselves with tasting the product. They can interact with those who are working with the grapes.

Despite being 800 miles away, Douro producer Oscar Quevedo was able to give the UK trade a view of his vineyards and winery, take questions?, and even allow them to hear his wine fermenting. It was a vivid example of how new technology can be channelled? and can add new dimensions to events as formulaic as a wine tasting.

Social media is now Quevedo’s main marketing strategy? and it has required minimal investment. It plays an important part in the lives of wine consumers – and there are big commercial opportunities for the retailers, marketers and producers who make the effort to keep up with the way the internet is evolving.

Growing potential?At the Boutique Wineries Tasting, pioneer wine blogger Ryan Opaz urged the UK trade to spend a little time understanding blogs, Facebook??, Twitter? – and even the basics of what search engines like Google can achieve for their businesses.

Opaz believes video streaming – in Quevedo’s case via Ustream ( – has masses of potential. “?For a retail shop it would be invaluable. I can put Oscar in your shop and he can take questions from your customers.

“We can really do things differently. We can get a winemaker to sit down and talk about the vintage. It’s changed dramatically how we do things.”?This was no expensive publicity stunt. The video was streamed for free on the producer’s website, embedded by using a single line of programming code. There is no reason, Opaz? argues, why wine retailers could not do something similar.

Opaz, an American now based in Spain, runs the Catavino blog ( and organises annual wine blogging conferences. He argues that although social media is widely misunderstood, its function is remarkably simple.

Share and share alike?“If you walk into a bar, you share information and buy a drink for your buddy. That’s all social media is,” he argues. “Except now when someone says something it can be indexed, tracked and spread.

“What’s great about the internet is you can take a conversation and aggregate and index the data. Knowing how to do it is kind of the trick, but knowing that it’s there is the first step.”?Wine blogging has exploded in recent years and is “changing quite rapidly”, Opaz says. “When I started there were 12 or 13 wine blogs – now we’re tracking 1,200.

“One of the misconceptions is that if I write a blog, everyone will read it. But wine blogs in London tend to be read by Londoners. It’s very regional.

”?Opaz says it is vital that business owners understand the nature of bloggers, and don’t make incorrect assumptions about their motives.

“Any of you can go to blogs and see what people are saying about your stuff,” he told the audience at the Boutique Wineries Tasting. “Blogs are naturally buoyant; they rise to the top of Google. If I say something on Catavino, it’s probably going to be ahead of your page on Google.

“Some people just want to write for their friends and aggregate their tasting notes.

Most bloggers just have a passion and like to share it. They’re not out to get anybody. Sometimes they say something honest that you disagree with. Retailers and producers get upset and blow up over something that was said.”??Online etiquette?Opaz says most of the conventions that apply in “normal” society are also applicable online.

“You never walk into a room and just start screaming,” he says. “If you go in and say ‘my wine’s the best’ or ‘what are you talking about?’ people are going to say ‘what’s this guy doing?’.

Businesses confronted by negative or abusive feedback should try engaging with those who are making the comments – and dilute the bad publicity with something more positive, Opaz says.

Negativity should also be kept in perspective: “?In reality it takes a lot of effort to get noticed online,” he explains.

Retailers should register their shops on Google Maps for free and upload as much content as possible. “Don’t skip the photos of your shop, and don’t just show the outside,” he says.

“It’s easy to bury [negative] content on Google by producing better information about your product. Get people to write about you; write about yourself. Put photos on Flickr. If you don’t engage, don’t expect it to go away.”

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