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A thoughtful visit to the far Marin coast

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It was an unusual quintet that gathered around the little kitchen table in Bolinas yesterday. There were Jo and Jose Diaz, the husband-and-wife team who run Diaz Communications, a wine and spirits P.R. company; the vintner Sean Thackrey; Hardy Wallace, the “Really Goode Job” winner who, until next month, runs social media for Murphy-Goode; and me.

The trip had been arranged by Jo. She doesn’t represent Sean Thackrey wines — Sean doesn’t appear, quite yet, to need P.R. help, for his wines are coveted. But she knows Sean because he’s a Petite Sirah producer whom she previously invited to speak at one of the events she runs for P.S. I Love You, the Petite Sirah advocacy group she started and manages. Jo invited Hardy because she’s an inveterate people collector, and why would you not invite Hardy on an adventure? He’s so eager and fun and easy to be with. And Jo invited me, I suppose, because some creative part of her thought it would be a hoot to have me round out the menagerie.

Much of what we talked about all day was just as you’d expect: the wine industry, traditional and social media, P.R., blogging. Jo, Jose and Hardy spent as much time twittering as they did actually talking, which mystified Sean a little, I think, as he is not a twitter kind of guy. Nor am I, ever since I largely abandoned efforts to keep up with the demands it makes on one’s time. It’s still difficult for me to get used to people I’m with in a small group who are multi-tasking. When you say something and their heads are bowed down looking at their cell phones and they’re pecking away, you don’t know if they’re hearing anything you say or just tuning you out in favor of some phantom presence who might be anywhere on Earth. But it was really interesting when, at one point during lunch, Jo announced that we were sharing our experience with many different people, who were tweeting and re-tweeting about the fact that she was actually eating lunch and drinking wine with the fabled Sean Thackrey. That’s pretty impressive.

Hardy took a lot of pictures and I’m not sure what he intends to do with them. Could he put up Sean Thackrey pictures on his Murphy-Goode website? I don’t know, but probably not. Could he put them up on his own Dirty South Wine blog? Maybe so. At one point he mentioned that he considers himself to have a day job and a night job. That’s an interesting balance beam. You can perhaps be more yourself during your “night job” but not at the expense of alienating your “day job” employer. It made me understand how it is for a young man, like Hardy, who when his six months at Murphy-Goode are up hopes to land a permanent job in the wine industry. So many things to be careful of, so many lines not to cross and bridges not to burn. Good luck Mr. Wallace!

Then there was Mr. Thackrey, who was a generous host. I had the feeling that, for him, we were rather generic guests. Winemakers are used to hosting all kinds of visitors: private consumers, distributors, restaurateurs, wine writers, merchants. After decades of doing so most winemakers develop a sort of auto-pilot shtick. They say the standard things, make the usual jokes, offer the routine information. It is necessarily “all about them” and they rise to the occasion, to entertain, educate and, ultimately (they hope), do their business some good. Sean doesn’t send me his wines, and I didn’t ask him to and don’t care if he does, but he doesn’t need a good review from me to sell them. Parker does Thackrey, and Sean has his own contacts to sell his 4,000 cases each year.

For me, the visit was an opportunity to get out of Oakland into the wilds of western Marin. Also to see what was up with an old-time winemaker whose career I haven’t really followed, and with a smart, young ambitious kid (which is what Hardy is to me) whose career is just getting started, and with a veteran couple who, like me, have made a successful transition from traditional to digital. Part of what the Diazes and I admire about each other (we’re roughly the same age) is that both of us have managed to continue at our jobs (P.R. for them, print journalism for me) while expanding into social media through our blogs and, in the Diazes case, Twitter.

It was a complicated melange of experiences and points of view that sat around that kitchen table yesterday, a co-mingling of past, present and future. I think it left everyone, in his or her own way, marveling at the vibrant, future-oriented state of the wine industry.

  1. Lively piece of writing.

    But if you believe that this: “marveling at the vibrant, future-oriented state of the wine industry.”

    Means more of this:

    “heads are bowed down looking at their cell phones and they’re pecking away, you don’t know if they’re hearing anything you say or just tuning you out in favor of some phantom presence who might be anywhere on Earth”

    Then we’ve all got a big problem :)

  2. Like Allan, I found that passage about the twittering people — “heads are bowed down looking at their cell phones and they’re pecking away, you don’t know if they’re hearing anything you say or just tuning you out in favor of some phantom presence who might be anywhere on Earth” — remarkable. I use and like Twitter, but using it while you’re visiting with other people? That’s just wrong on so many levels. It’s rude to the people you’re with, particularly your host … it assumes the outside is eagerly panting for your thoughts … it diminishes your ability to truly engage and have real, deep experiences … I could go on. But hey, if people want to conduct their lives that way, that’s their choice. But I won’t and I won’t be spending my time with people who do.

  3. Steve- I had a great time with you, Jo, Jose and Steve yesterday. Sean was indeed an amazing host, and kudos to Jo and Jose for putting this together.

    Just a few points to chime in on–

    1. I had a heck of a time twittering from Sean’s– AT&T has lousy service in Bolinas. But– If I could have, I would have (probably like a maniac). As you mentioned, Jo was interacting with people who were following our events and keeping them posted (live). I don’t feel that anyone was being ignored, more so people were being pulled in to the experience. Due to my lousy service, I received tweets on the ride home with people from around the US wanting to ask questions to Sean. That’s pretty awesome. (I wish that could have happened).

    2. Putting the post up on the Murphy-Goode blog wouldn’t make sense. I frequently post a lot of other stuff on Dirty South Wine (other trips to wineries, other wines tasted, etc…) A healthy percentage of our traffic (web and tasting room) comes from links or connections made via Dirty South Wine. Keeping that alive is good for goode.

    3. I actually got a hall pass from Murphy-Goode to head on our adventure. Seeing that it was a full day in the middle of the week, I asked. Otherwise there may have been an APB on an AWOL WCLC (Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent) ;)

    Again, what an awesome day. Sean’s winery, location, and approach are truly memorable.

  4. I still can’t quite get used to people playing on their cell phones during a get-together.

  5. “I still can’t quite get used to people playing on their cell phones during a get-together.”

    Get used to it, Steve; it’s marketing presiding over culture. The American way!

  6. I think there is a difference of opinions on the reason behind the trip. Steve seems to have felt it was a personal visit, while the others tended to believe it was a business call, allowing the marketing angle. Social media knocks down many barriers, but too often the barrier it knocks down is the barrier between business and personal affairs. If the point of social media is all-encompassing truth, then the truth tends to follow you were you don’t always want it to go.

  7. I think it depends on the situation. With all of you being PR people in the wine business, going to talk to a well-known winemaker, it doesn’t sound to me it was just a off-the-cuff get together of friends for lunch even if he doesn’t necessarily need the publicity as you mention. It was an event. And as PR folks, is it not part of the “job” to publicize the event and the man? With tools like twitter, events like these can now not just include the 5 of you but bring in many, many others and in real-time to the conversation and like Hardy said, it’s unfortunate some of those questions from the twitterverse could not have been shared.

    Having said that, twitterers still need to have some sort of etiquette when it comes to when you pull that iPhone out. Ask my wife, she tells me all the time ; ) I can understand how at times this task can be rude, but it just depends on the situation. Maybe there should have been some up-front expectation-setting as well to help those who are new to this methodology and technology. They may still be offended and simply say no, which must be respected, or they just might be intriqued and curious.

  8. Well,

    Lots of ideas here about right, wrong, and so on.

    It’s so easy to pass judgment, when all the motivation behind it isn’t considered, because it’s not known or completely understood.

    Twitter etiquette… fun.

    Here’s the deal, it was a virtual day… It was planned that way. Some had heads down, while others didn’t; and, as we said while we were in the radio business, there was no dead air. After our visit, I sent Sean his Twitter audience Tweets, so he got to read what fans have been saying and thinking about him for a long time.

    Without this recording from his audience, it would have just been another day at the winery int he woods of Bolinas for Sean.

    Think of it this way… When at a sporting event, there are reporters giving a play-by-play, and it’s traveling over the air ways. No one says, those guys int he media booth, they’re just wrong. Like it or not, this was nothing more, and it’s what to what we’ve evolved.

    Sean knew we were there as commentators/bloggers, to give him publicity, and some of it was instantaneous.
    Thackery poured wine, and I shopped for food and cooked for a couple of hours before arriving… I put a lot into this happening, and will continue to do so, because I’ve not written my own thoughts about it. I have, though, continued to communicate with Sean behind the scenes.

    I’ve given him about 15 hours of my time already, gratis, so if I’m rude and “just wrong,” hang me. ;^)

  9. And… oh yes… We hired a car to do this (Diaz Communications). Look into that pricing for a 10 hours day, and think about how much was given away to hang out with awesome people, just because.

    I’m not seeing rude in any stretch of the imagination. (I think I took Sirius offense to the so stated.)

    ;^)

  10. Final, final… re: “And Jo invited me, I suppose, because some creative part of her thought it would be a hoot to have me round out the menagerie.”

    This is always the case for me. Steve is just one of my Merry Prankster, and no party is complete without him.

    Also, I completely understand his non-need for social media with Twitter… No complaint, there.

    When I read Pete’s assessment, however, I saw red…. I have to admit.

    He wrote: “I use and like Twitter, but using it while you’re visiting with other people? That’s just wrong on so many levels. It’s rude to the people you’re with, particularly your host … it assumes the outside is eagerly panting for your thoughts … it diminishes your ability to truly engage and have real, deep experiences …”

    Unbeknownst to him, I was part of the host of this event… Having hired a car for us all, so we could enjoy responsibly, having purchased and prepared all of the food, having made all the phone and Email arrangements, I could do as I please, including the broadcasting of this event.

    It’s not Pete’s fault, though, because he’s not a proclaimed publicist, and didn’t/doesn’t know the hours that it takes to set up this kind of appointment, and then execute.

    He missed – because he’s never done my job – “The trip had been arranged by Jo. She doesn’t represent Sean Thackrey wines.”

    There are those hours (pre, during, and post) that are non-billable.

    This was a $2500-$3000 value – if a client had paid me for my services… That’s where the red comes in, punny as that is.

    So, either walk in my shoes, or judge not, those who comment with no understanding, because I WILL defend myself against statements based on unknowing.

  11. Readers, this above post is from Jo Diaz’s blog. I highly recommend you read it.

  12. Oops, I mean the below post entitled “Understanding Twitter as a Wine Marketing Tool”

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  1. Understanding Twitter As a Wine Marketing Tool - [...] This event included Hardy Wallace of Dirty South Wine and Murphy Goode’s Very Goode Job fame, wine writer Steve …

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