Our neoprohibitionist friends at The Marin Institute are at it again. I mentioned these anti-alcohol crusaders last week, after they freaked out about funny whiskey ads on buses. Now, they’re carrying the battle to social media (and the young people who hang out there). The latest is what they call “the country’s first anti-beer ad contest.” Marin Institute is calling for “youth from 13 to 20” to create “original anti-beer [video] ads of 30 to 60 seconds…”. The campaign is dubbed Free the Bowl, as in Super Bowl. Seems the beer ads on America’s favorite televised sporting event of the year are offensive to the Institute’s Board of Directors, and they’re out there recruiting impressionable young people to their cause. First prize for the lucky young videographer: “a brand new 13” Apple Macbook with Final Cut Express 4.0 software.”
Heck, if I was 18 years old and into making videos, I’d enter the damn contest myself, and if I won, I’d celebrate by drinking a bottle of Champagne.
Crushpad is a very cool place in San Francisco where, for money, you can produce your own wine, under your own label, made from grapes grown in some very good California vineyards. Now, they have a cool thing they’re calling The Wine Bailout, AKA Dude, where’s my 401K?
Before I sound off on it, I need to get this off my chest: I HATE to give free publicity to businesses that are shamelessly angling for it. Which Crushpad is: I got a personal email from them. The gist is, you pay $39 as futures on a 2007 Napa Cabernet that will be bottled next August. Then, “If the Dow goes down, you get an economic stimulus check of $2 per bottle for every 100 point drop. If it goes up, then your 401K is looking good and the maximum of $39 is a steal for similar wines we produce that command $75+ at retail.” It’s hard to know, under these circumstances, whether to root for the Dow to go up, or down. If it falls 2,000 points, you get your wine for free (actually, Crushpad would have to pay you a dollar). If it goes up, you’re still guaranteed the 39 bucks.
It’s a cute scheme and maybe worth looking into. We’re all a little meschuggina with the markets tanking; maybe The Wine Bailout is a way to laugh through the tears.
Another interesting post from WineDiverGirl, who continues to explore the ways wineries and bloggers can work together. As readers of this space know, I was critical last month with some suggestions WDG had made, although I allowed as to how she was asking some interesting questions. Read her new post. The money line isn’t from her, but from the blogger 1WineDude [Joe Roberts], whom she quotes: Heaven knows I’ve got no problem whatsoever being courted by winemakers, PR contacts, or the wine media in general (in fact, my view is that it’s about time this has happened). The trick is maintaining the willpower to keep a unique, individual, and (hopefully) credibly opinionated voice as a blogger while the “courting” ramps up. As one who’s long used to being “courted,” I couldn’t agree more.
Yesterday’s post explored Napa Valley Vintners’ exploration of social media, and promised to follow up today with how Twisted Oak, a Calaveras County winery, has pioneered the use of platforms such as Twitter. By sheer coincidence, in the last 24 hours, I stumbled across this blog from a San Diego woman, Eve Sieminski, a recent convert to Twisted Oak, which she discovered on Twitter. She writes:
Six months ago, I would never have dreamed of discovering a favorite wine through a site like Twitter. But that’s just what happened when Jeff Stai (aka El Jefe) and other wine buddies started twittering and raving about Twisted Oak wine. I loved the twisted name, trusted the reviews–and winemaker Jeff suggested I try their 2007 Calaveras County Viognier and the 2005 Murgatroyd.
Stai — El Jefe — long has blogged at Twisted Oak, and happily discovered that “We have definitely been found via search, and have gotten both direct consumers and distribution as a result.” But more recently, he’s gone beyond blogging into social media, to further drive Twisted Oak’s sales. “What social media has done for us is create the opportunity to interact with our community on a daily basis, almost 24/7. The platform doesn’t really matter – the important thing is to find those platforms where you are being talked about, and to find platforms where you can stimulate a discussion.”
Stai describes Twitter as “a sort of extended virtual water cooler – you choose who you want to listen to, and you just offer up what you are doing right now, and whoever is listening to you can respond.” Twisted Oak has garnered “new contacts and…business activity via Twitter,” as Eve Sieminski’s experience dramatically illustrates. But Twitter’s short attention span is such that “in all cases we move to email and/or phone after the initial contacts,” Stai says.
The other platform Stai refers to is Woot, which describes itself as “an online store and community that focuses on selling cool stuff cheap.” Stai says, “By being available on the Woot forum during the sales period to answer questions and comments, I believe we significantly drove sales higher – this is based on statements made by several of the participants.”
One final statement by Stai will be of interest to those who follow the ongoing issue of “old” versus “new” media and whether wine blogs will eventually replace traditional paper-bound media for reviews. “For us,” Stai says, “wine blogs have become a new way to generate meaningful reviews that aren’t limited by physical space and that can include food pairings, etc.” As Wine Enthusiast’s West Coast Editor, I know how hard it is for any one winery to obtain precious real estate on the pages of a print magazine, so it was especially interesting for me when Stai noted, “If we can get a major blog to say good things about our wines, it can have an effect like a feature article in a major magazine or newspaper.” (Stai does, however, concede the importance of print periodicals in driving sales, particularly those that employ a point system. As he says, “No score no pour.”)
The point of this 2-part series is that wineries and winery organizations are feeling their way along the outer edges of computer-based digital reality to figure out how to promote themselves. Some, like Twisted Oak, are further along than others. It’s likely that, before too much more time elapses, more and more wineries will turn to blogging and social media in order to become part of the extended conversation.
Mia Malm, who I mistakenly identified last week as being with Cornerstone Communications (she’s actually with Icon Estate’s P.R. department), wrote to tell me that the Napa Valley Vintners had advertised a tasting event on Facebook “and in short order it got Twittered and passed along and they saw a big bump in attendance.” That prompted me to call Terry Hall, NVV’s communications director. Turns out when they had one of their Nightlife Napa Valley events earlier this year in Tampa, someone from a local P.R. firm down in Florida touted the tasting (which is aimed at Millennials) on her Facebook page. “And for that whole week,” Terry said, “if you Googled ‘Napa Valley,’ it was the top listing, based on how many people were hitting on it.” Terry hadn’t been expecting the event to sell out. “It was during Florida’s high season, and there were a lot of other events going on.” But it did sell out. More than 450 young people came.
NVV now is “trying to figure out if it’s appropriate for us to have a Facebook page,” Terry said. Like almost everybody else, NVV wants to know what this emergent brave new world of digital media is, and what their role should be with respect to it. “As a trade organization, what does one do?” he asks. NVV, obviously, is different from an “ordinary” blogger or social media user. It’s purpose is to promote the wines of its members, which means it needs to understand both what its members want (while educating them to the possibilities) and to understand what the public — mainly younger people — expect from social media. “This is our new ongoing role: to figure out how people want to get their information,” he says. It’s likely that sometime next year, NVV will be, not only Facebooking, but Twittering and blogging and who knows what else.
Image courtesy of webguild.org
For her part, Malm, who’s chair of NVV’s P.R. committee, sees social media as a “vital new paradigm” for marketing and promoting wine. “Twitter and other social media offer a forum for winemakers to talk to the people who drink their wines. Paying attention to the community creates loyalty which in turn generates multiple brand ambassadors at the grass roots level.” Malm points to Twisted Oak as a prime example. “Twisted Oak gets selected for featuring on Twitter Taste Live simply because the winemaker (Jeffrey Stai) has been interacting with the twitterati,” she points out.
TOMORROW: Jeff Stai on how social media is driving Twisted Oak’s sales
I don’t usually single out individual wineries for praise in this blog. There are many that are involved in charitable activities, which is only fair, as there are a good many rich people in this industry, and many worthy causes to support. But today, I do want to talk about Lookout Ridge. This is a Kenwood-based winery owned by a guy by the name of Gordon Holmes, whom I’ve never met. I’ve followed their wines for a few years and found them to be quite good.
What’s so cool about Lookout Ridge is that all profits go to providing free wheelchairs for disabled people around the world, through their Wine for Wheels program. What’s also cool is that Holmes has recruited top winemaking stars to donate their talents, and each of these winemakers deserves credit. For example, Cathy Corison makes a Kronos Vineyard Cab, Greg La Follette makes a Van der Kamp Pinot Noir, Andy Erickson (Screaming Eagle) makes a Cab, Marco DiGiulio crafts a Syrah and a Cab, and Gerhard Reisacher (Delectus) also makes a Napa Cab. The wines are pricey — $100 for each of the new releases. That buys a lot of wheelchairs.
The news hasn’t been particularly cheerful lately, but every once in a while, there’s something bright and hopeful to report. Lookout Ridge is one such.
All I want for Christmas is…
…my very own Fort Knox wine rack.
Luxist says “the Fort Knox displays and protects a single prized bottle inside a cage of shining gold.” It’s the perfect gift during a Depression for a loved one, or even yourself, you betcha! The price is “available upon request,” which means if you have to ask, you can’t afford it. If you readers want to take up a collection for me, you can send the check to my offshore account in the Caymans. I’ll let you know what special bottle I proudly display in my Fort Knox bling.
There seems to be a movement around the world to ban alcohol advertising. From Australia to France, from England to right here in the U.S.A., even the most inoffensive ads are under attack. In this country, at least 11 transit systems — including Los Angeles MTA and Golden Gate Transit — have banned alcohol ads. In France, cradle of gastonomy, the courts have affirmed the illegality of Internet wine advertising. In Australia, the NSW Health Minister again has demanded a total advertising ban on all alcoholic beverages.
Leading the charge against alcohol in this country is the Marin Institute, a San Rafael-based non-profit largely funded by the Buck Trust. The Institute’s attitude toward all things alcoholic is the opposite of a smiley face — a frowny face that never met a drink it didn’t hate. On their blog is a post that criticizes a bus booze ad from Marker’s Mark whiskey that reads “blue or red, Democrat or Republican, we’re all united in one party: The Cocktail Party.” I think it’s funny, but the Marin Institute says the ad “trivializes the election,” as if a little humor about politics is unpatriotic and bad. Paging Tina Fey!
Times are tough all over the world, and it seems like politicians — clueless when it comes to actually solving problems — are letting themselves off the hook for their ineffectualness by blaming alcohol, among other things, for the situation. This is a first step toward the Nanny State, a big government that “protects” its citizens by intervening in their personal lives and institutionalizes its own narrow interpretation of moral behavior. This is not only dangerous, it’s downright silly, because no form of prohibitionism ever has worked. A study of the relationship between restricting alcohol ads and alcohol consumption came to the following, unsurprising conclusion:
“The relationships between consumption and alcoholism rates for the U.S. and advertising regulations were very weak and not statistically significant. Subsequent to a restriction on beer advertising in Manitoba, beer consumption in that province rose at a similar rate as in a control province of Alberta. It is considered unlikely that restrictions on advertising will reduce consumption.”
America has far more serious problems than banning Marker’s Mark ads from buses on the Golden Gate Bridge.