The past is prelude to the future, or How I invented the Internet
Well, I didn’t really invent the Internet. But I did write an article in the May, 1997 issue of Wine Enthusiast — twelve years ago — that was pretty prescient in its predictive power. (And that is a 98-point alliterative triumph.)
I came across an old copy of the ‘zine last week. Re-reading my article, Wine on the Web, I was reminded of the heady excitement of the mid- 1990s when the wine industry and the Internet collided. But what really struck me was how many of the issues back then are still with us, unresolved and perhaps unresolvable.
By the second paragraph, I’d identified the key: “…vintners sense an opportunity to market their wines…”. I quoted the then-PR manager of St. Clement to explain why her winery had rushed to set up a Web page. “We didn’t have a goal,” she explained. “We just knew we had to be a part of it.” From there, I quoted Peter Granoff, an original founder of Virtual Vineyards (which went belly up; it’s now morphed into wine.com). “[M]ost wineries are still caught up in the Web for its own sake and are struggling to find out what to do.”
Peter, or that PR manager, could say precisely the same things today! It’s amazing that, as far as we’ve come, most California wineries remain well behind the digital curve and don’t seem to know what to do with the Internet, including social media (which didn’t exist in 1997). True, most wineries have a website. But most of them are boring, unfriendly, and not even up-to-date with new vintages (which you’d think would be easy to do with a computer). Wineries should be leading other businesses in forging ahead on the Internet, not dawdling behind.
I also wrote: “There are only two things a winery or wine company can do on the Net….marketing and sales. Although intimately related, they’re really quite different.” I called marketing a “soft activity,” meaning it did not directly make money. Concerning sales, I wrote: “this is the hard part of the transaction. It’s where the customer actually forks over a credit card number.”
Couldn’t have said it better today.
I quoted an electronic marketing expert: “The question today is whether the Web’s primary value to business will be as a revenue builder, a cost-cutting device, or a brand builder. I believe that brand-building will win out.” That woman was right. We’re seeing that brand building and customer loyalty are the end products of web sites, blogs and twitter, not sales in and of themselves, much less cutting costs.
In my article I also quoted Granoff as saying it didn’t make sense for mass-produced wines, which are readily available in supermarkets, to sell direct over the Internet. “Why would you buy it on the Net and pay the extra cost of shipping, and then have to wait to get it?” The same is true today. Instead, he and others told me, it would be smaller wineries that would benefit from DTC sales. (Of course, this was well before the Granholm v. Heald 2005 Supreme Court decision.) Let’s hope that day is near when all 50 states allow shipping of wine. That will be the salvation of many small family wineries that otherwise may not make it.
I quoted de Toqueville: “Time has not shaped it into perfect form…and it is almost impossible to discern what will pass away…and what will survive.” He was speaking of America in the 1830s, but we could use those exact words about the Internet right now.
Dept. of Oops
The Associated Press is reporting that “A man suspected of breaking into a Maine restaurant will have to get used to jailhouse food after workers at the eatery discovered lobsters and wine missing – and the suspect asleep on a bench. Police said [name withheld] broke into the Portland Lobster Co. through a rear window and stuffed his pockets with cash before chowing down on the better part of 11 prepared lobsters worth about $300. He washed it all down with a white wine…”
Same thing happens to me when I eat 11 lobsters. I just wanna close my eyezzzzz and drifffftt… By the way, I went to the Portland Lobster Co.’s website to see what white wines they have. I hope the thief washed his crustaceans down with the J. Lohr Chardonnay because that’s what I would have picked.
And you thought “Sonoma Coast” was too big
The TTB in its wisdom announced its latest Frankenstein AVA yesterday. Quote from the PDF: “The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) published a final rule in the Federal Register establishing the Upper Mississippi River Valley viticultural area. This viticultural area consists of 29,914-square miles…”
In other words, just your typical tiny little appellation.
Thirty-thousand square miles! That’s 175 miles on each side. Here’s the truly pathetic part of the press release: “We designate viticultural areas to allow vintners to better describe the origin of their wines and to allow consumers to better identify wines they may purchase.” Yes, it’s truly helpful to the consumer to know that the wine hails from somewhere in the upper Midwest.
Your wine comes from someplace in here