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Bloggers: stop the insults, now.



There used to be sexism in the wine business. I know, because I know some wonderful women winemakers who began their careers in the 1970s and told me their stories. Even though they had winemaking degrees, they couldn’t get hired anyplace but the laboratory, because the white men who owned the wineries thought they’d be incompetent as winemakers.

Well, we don’t have sexism anymore, thank goodness. But we have another form of prejudice that’s just as pernicious: ageism.

Read, for example, this piece, from Snooth, that refers to “old white guys.” The author of the Snooth piece, James Duren, is quoting Jeff Siegel, the proprietor of a wine blog called In the Snooth piece, Duren is writing about the demise of the point-scoring system (yes, again…yawn), and apparently came across something Siegel had written on his blog (I tried to find it but couldn’t, so I will trust that Duren is quoting Siegel accurately). Siegel was going on about how social media is changing wine is such fundamental ways that the entire sales and distribution chain is being upset, which, he claimed, is “something the old white guys can’t even begin to understand.”

Okay, let’s break this down.

First of all, Siegel isn’t exactly some cool young dude. Here’s a picture of him from his website

SiegelPhoto credit:

that makes it clear his younger self is fast disappearing in the rear view mirror. So words of wisdom, Mr. Siegel: Be careful whom you disparage. What goes around, comes around, in this world of karma.

But even worse than Siegel’s uncalled-for rudeness is its absolute incorrectness. I’ve worked with plenty of “old white guys” in the wine industry who are a lot smarter and more successful than Mr. Siegel will ever be. In fact, the winery owners and executives I know understand precisely how social media, online buying and all that is rocking their world. They’re trying to deal with it the best they can, the same as everyone else: the problem, as I’ve pointed out for years, is that there are no easy solutions.

Look: When you’re a little blogger, it’s easy to pontificate. That’s what some bloggers do: From the ivory tower of their desktops they type the most vapid absurdities into their computers, then hit the “Publish” button and think they come across like Einstein declaring the Theory of Relativity.

But not a single one of these bloggers actually runs a wine business! (If I’m wrong, let me know. But I don’t think I am.) They’ve never sold a damn bottle of wine, never had to hit gridlocked roads visiting with on-premise or off-premise accounts, never had to come up with a marketing campaign, never had to develop a winery website, never sent a wine sample off to a critic, never lived with the fallout of a bad review, never hosted a winemaker dinner, never had to meet a payroll for field workers and secretaries, never had to fix a tractor on a cold rainy morning, never stayed up for three days and nights doing a harvest. None of that, nada, zero, zilch. And yet they think that being a blogger puts them in a position to criticize older winery owners and tell them how to run their business.


What is this fear and loathing these not-so-young bloggers have for “old white guys” anyway? Their psychological hangup obviously is connected to their hatred of point scores, and of wine reviewing in general, which they claim is elitist. But then these same bloggers turn around and review wines (from free samples, of course), just like older critics do—and yet without the experience, without the chops, without the context.

Perhaps they’re just acting out subconscious frustrations they feel towards their own parents. Whatever the cause, their anger, rudeness and vitriol is not only ugly, but will hurt them in the long run, because one thing that doesn’t change about the wine industry is that it’s a small town where everyone knows everyone else, and people value respectfulness and kindness. You want to succeed in this business for the long run? Do your homework, learn your stuff, play nice in the sandbox, and wait your turn. You don’t have to tear others down to boost yourself up.

And as for social media completely disrupting the traditional sales model and replacing it with a bunch of “friends recommending to friends,” if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge to sell you. Ain’t gonna happen anytime soon. Social media has become a useful tool in the overall tool kit with which to market and sell wine, but it’s just that: a tool, and not even a very good one, if we’re going to be brutally honest. We’ve been having this conversation now for eight years and social media still hasn’t displaced traditional marketing and sales approaches. If it worked as well as people like Mr. Siegel claim, don’t you think proprietors would have dismantled their sales and marketing departments—thereby saving tons of money—and simply depended on social media? Of course they would have. But they know something that Mr. Siegel doesn’t: Social media doesn’t work as advertised by its adherents. Are these proprietors simply “old white guys who can’t even begin to understand” how the real world works? Or are they savvy businessmen who require proof, not simple, self-serving assertions, that something works? The latter, methinks. No, meknow.

  1. Bill Stephenson says:

    There is still no substitute for the handshake.

    This is not an “old white guy” thing. It is a tangible, personal means of greeting a person with whom you wish to have a relationship.
    The handshake knows no gender, color, or any other bias. (The only exception being traditional Japanese practice of bowing).

    Social media is a useful tool. I use it myself to research subcontractors, make contacts, and start deals.

    But those deals are always closed with a handshake.

  2. Arthur Krea says:

    Here’s the link (not that hard to find, btw)

    Upon reading it, I’m not sure what’s the dust up about, Steve.

    Looks like he’s a journalist reporting what he’s hearing.

  3. Steve–
    No need to fret my friend. These inexperienced know-nothings will look up someday and find a whole new generation of younger-than-thems calling them “old”.

    It was ever thus. I am not so old that I cannot remember the popular saying during SF’s Summer of Love,

    “Never trust anyone over thirty”.

    And then we all turned thirty. So screw all these whipper-snappers with their “we just invented the wheel” attitudes. I don’t see any wine review publication losing customers or followers. And I don’t remember any generation of youngsters who thought they had a better way and then became part of the mainstream as they grew up.

    As for blogger frustration with the established writers, well, what else do you expect. It is a little like Republican Presidential politics. If you don’t say something outrageous, you are just another one of the faceless mass. That has always been the problem with blogging. It can be a frustration business for those who want to achieve but are not.

  4. I know Jeff fairly well. He is an author, wine competition judge, and a long-time writer for mostly print media. I can’t speak for him directly, but if he wasn’t **knowingly** including himself in the “old white guys” platitude, then I will top my sneakers with non-organic ketchup and eat them.

    Steve, you should probably have followed up with Jeff on all of this first.

  5. Ditto the Dude

  6. Since I’m not a blogger, my opinion on the subject is probably not worth much, but I will echo Steve’s sentiment that you don’t really know wine sales until you’ve cold-called a busy restaurant that isn’t happy to see you

  7. Kurt Burris says:

    Steve: I think you might be taking the old white guy thing too personally, speaking as an old white guy. When I read that piece, I wasn’t thinking winery owners, I was thinking more chain of distribution. There are a lot of old white guys working for distributors who don’t have a clue about where wine may be going. And they have never fixed a tractor or gotten up early to pump over. (I actually have done both those things before I decided sales fit my lifestyle better.) Any industry has it’s dinosaurs, and any industry, especially one that attracts entrepreneurs, while have old white guys who remain agile.

  8. Steve, you got this one wrong. Jeff is an upstanding guy. You owe him an apology.

  9. Isaac James Baker says:

    “We don’t have sexism anymore…” Wow. Just wow.

  10. Steve, as a “little blogger, I am feeling the need to pontificate.” What I feel is important to point out is the generalization of bloggers. It’s really no different than sexism and ageism. In the ten years I’ve been wine blogging, I’ve noticed when one wine blogger pisses someone off, their critics will make all wine bloggers the group of the disdained and persona-non-grata – like lepers quarantined on their own island.

    While I am glad you brought up the point of women winemakers, sexism is still very alive in the wine world, and especially when it comes to women wine writers. How many women wine writers do we read in the Wine Spectator? The token “Women Winemakers” focused articles are becoming tedious since I never read an article titled, “Men Winemakers.”

    As far as “old white guys,” the same is going around when it comes to “old white gals” (and I cringe when I say, “gals,” but it is the equivalent). Throw sexism and ageism together, along with “harping gadfly” (Anthony Dias Blue) and “poodle” (Hosemaster) and that is where I sit, along with a few other wine bloggers. The last wine bloggers conference I attended, a couple of young women assumed I was the mother of one of their peers and tried to dazzle me with their wine world brilliance. Unfortunately for them, the more they opened their mouths, the less they actually knew. It’s probably a safe bet that they are no longer blogging. There is where I would agree that wine bloggers need to sell a bottle of wine, or at the very least work in a winery/vineyard for a few weeks and get a feel for the business they write about. However, where I disagree is the generalization that “ … not a single one of these bloggers sold a damn bottle of wine.” Okay, perhaps not these two bloggers you have singled out, but there are a few of us wine bloggers who have sold a single bottle of wine – including me. I believe other wine bloggers have their experience in other parts of the wine business, as well.

    You’re right about the importance of face to face interactions to sell wine. Social media will continue to grow, but it will never rid of the traditional sales model. Wine is too much of a personal thing. However, the two models combined are best sales tools around. In my experience with social media, as an instructor and a speaker at the local college regarding “Social Media for Wineries and Small Businesses,” what I have discovered in my classes there are many young people who do not understand how social media works, either. It’s not just the “old white guys and gals.” While the young person may be on social media 12 hours a day, they don’t always understand the tools of the social media platforms and how to make them effective – beyond just chatter. It’s also been my experience that “old white guys” are just now coming around to understanding the importance of social media. However, they don’t want to fool with it, let alone take the time to learn social media. The good news is at least they are hiring people that do understand. I think social media is very effective to start a wine conversation, but if you want to close the deal, like it has already been pointed out with a handshake, and even a glass of wine together, is going to make a big difference in securing a friendship and a repeat (emphasis on “repeat’) customer for a very long time.

  11. You want to know the best way to cut back on bloggers attacking other bloggers?

    Jesus, Steve, stop attacking other bloggers. It’s not rocket science. You want to stop the cycle of blogging about blogging? Then stop it.

  12. When I think about social media and a traditional winery, I always point to “A Really Goode Job” campaign from 2009. One guy, Hardy Wallace was paid to run social media for a traditional brick and mortar winery, Murphy Goode in Healdsburg. Hardy parlayed that opportunity into his own winery, Dirty and Rowdy which makes wine about 180 degrees away from his former employer Murphy Goode.

    What A Really Goode Job showed me was that with a directed marketing campaign, both employee and corporation can generate social media buzz.

    What I don’t know is, did it generate sales?

    The Really Goode Job only lasted 6 months and Murphy Goode attracted thousands of Facebook likes, Twitter followers and social and traditional media buzz in the early days of social media marketing for wineries.
    Mr. Wallace jumpstarted his career, relocating from Atlanta with $60,000 in his pocket thanks to Murphy Goode and an insight into the social media world of wine that was at that point in the traditional wine industry, a light year ahead of anyone else in the space.

    A Really Goode Job application campaign, a marketing budget and one guy showed what “Friends recommending to friends” could do on social media, generate a conversation and followers.

    What I don’t know about the campaign was what it did for Murphy Goode’s DTC sales both in the short and long term. Nor do I know what it did to change the demographics of their wine club buyers, if anything. And since this type of social media campaign has not been repeated by any other winery since 2009, I have to wonder what the short and long term cost and revenue implications were for Murphy Goode or any other winery that has discussed it.

    Online media is a tool, nothing more. That tool must be useful in generating SALES, period. Generating social media attention or followers is just that, attention and followers; converting ‘followers’ into wine club members is the goal. Winery, large or small must generate sales in order to be profitable; usually through traditional field tested sales people calling restaurants and bottle shops for another 5 case drop, DTC and tasting room club signups in order to pay for marketing employees to take selfies and wear funny hats and generate followers, not buyers.

  13. Interestingly, I was just writing about generational differences in wine culture on my blog. I think Millenials could learn a lot from old white guys. And don’t forget the businesswomen! Of every race.

  14. Stephen Schmitz says:

    “Well, we don’t have sexism anymore, thank goodness.”

    We also don’t have racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia or homophobia either. God Bless America.

  15. As a wine blogger I too take offense at your generalization of wine bloggers. I do admit to being guilty myself of the same offense occasionally though.

    No I have never sold a bottle of wine. Of the wine distributor sales people I have met, however, I haven’t found any that knew much more than the wine was red or white and the price. Maybe I live in too small a town to get the experts but I find most wine bloggers are more knowledgeable.

    As far as social media, bad publicity will definitely hurt your brand and sales. Will good publicity sell more wine? I think it’s too early to tell if it is significant.

  16. Dear Gil Kulers, I’m sure he is. But words have power, and consequences. Just as the confederate flag causes pain to so many people, the words “old white guy” are terribly disparaging. I wouldn’t react as forcefully if I didn’t encounter this kind of thing repeatedly in the blogging community.

  17. Dear Kurt Burris, it did occur to me that the “old white guy’ remark was about sales and distribution people. I know that end of the wine industry quite well, and there are, in fact, a lot of people in it who don’t know much about wine, and might as well be selling widgits, and who wouldn’t know social media from celery. However, most of the sales guys I know are young, not old: in fact, sales is a job for young guys, because of the horrible travel, road warrior existence, etc. So if the blogger had been attacking sales in general, I might not have had the reaction I did. But this instinct to bash “old white guys” for everything someone doesn’t like in the wine industry is a terrible development.

  18. There is not a word in there that I disagree with. Well done Steve.

  19. Bob Henry says:

    Quoting management guru Peter Drucker:

    “The two most important functions of a business are Innovation and Marketing.”

    [Sales is a discipline of marketing.]

    Quoting advertising guru David Ogilvy:

    “If it doesn’t sell, it isn’t creative.”

    — and —

    “In the modern world of business, it is useless to be a creative original thinker unless you can also sell what you create.”

  20. Charlie Thomas says:

    Steve, take heart. I really hate to say it, but it seems to me that all the bloggers here defending Jeff (who very well might be a good guy who meant no harm) are themselves bloggers that love to tell the wine industry how to sell wine, without having ever sold wine themselves. If any one of the self-identifed bloggers here have actually sold wine, for a living, handled a portfolio, gone on ride-alongs, pounded the pavement, speak up. No one? Surprise!! Just what the industry needs – more social media armchair cowboys.

  21. Helen Morrow says:

    Thanks, Peter Bourget for pointing out one HUGE issue in the world of wine. Peter claims that most wine bloggers know more about wine than most wine salespeople. I’m not even going to agree or disagree with that statement because it does not matter. Please, people – those currently in the never-ending “role of the somm” debate included – let’s re-learn our grade school lesson of the difference between knowledge and skill. Knowledge of wine will get you nowhere – until there is a “Wine Jeopardy” show, I suppose. However, skill – in sales, in teaching, in service, in creating and interpreting financial statements, in putting on successful events – now, that will get you somewhere.

  22. Charlie Thomas – I agree with you, and I like your “social media armchair cowboys” phrase! I might use it in the future!

  23. David Scheidt, the success story you like is FROM 2009. One campaign from 6 years ago when it was actually possible to be heard without spending tons of money… that was great. But it hasn’t been repeated despite some ungodly amount of money the industry spends chasing social.

    The reality is that social doesn’t move the needle for 99% of the world’s wineries. Just wishing it did and winging about how wineries don’t get it is really just fucking tired. What I assume bothers Steve is when someone delivers an intellectually-lazy argument and then defends it by painting dissenters as old farts who can’t figure out how to run Facebook on their Jitterbugs.

    If you [and I don’t mean you David!] want to have a real discussion about the state of social for wineries then let’s do it… but let’s do it with empirical data, creativity and some first principles instead of lazy, derivative assertions.

  24. Thank you Michael Brill, a pioneer (Crushpad) in opening wine up to the public.

  25. Sure thing gramps.

  26. Bob Henry says:

    A knowledgeable and skilled salesperson on the floor of a wine store handily eclipses the efforts of any wine blogger in “moving the [sales] needle.”

    Unless a wine blogger embeds a link to an e-commerce site selling the touted wine, there is no way to measure his/her sales contribution.

    Whereas a wine distributor or winery has tangible evidence of which partners in the channels of distribution make the proverbial cash register ring: purchase order-generated packing lists and billing invoices to wine stores and restaurants.

    And those same wine stores and restaurants know which managers and staffers are accountable for making those “outsized” sales, wrung up under the employee’s name.

    There are purportedly 8,000-plus wineries in North America.

    How many winery brand names (and their grape variety offerings) can the public be expected to commit to memory? Be expected to consider joining the winery’s mailing list?

    If through unaided “recall” the public cites (say) 20 wineries, that represents one-quarter of one percent of those purported 8,000-plus wineries.

    40 wineries? One-half of one percent.

    80 wineries? Congrats — you’re a member of the One Percenter!

    The balance of 99% (dovetailing with Michael Brill’s statistic) are “out-of-sight/out-of-mind” to that consumer.

    Good luck getting on that consumer’s radar screen and making a “pitch” to sell to him/her direct. Good luck in inducing him/her to grab the car keys and purchase a bottle at a nearby wine store (“assuming” you have ubiquitous national distribution).

    The retailing research maven Paco Underhill reports that consumers don’t make their specific brand selection until they get to the store.

    In a grocery store, in-store displays and temporary price markdowns and product couponing can trump habitual “brand loyalty.”

    And in a wine store, the “tastemaker” salesperson trumps all.

  27. Bob Henry says:

    Wading into the “old white guys” debate.

    I think it is safe to say that most California winery owners are Caucasians of European descent, who hail from wine-making and -drinking cultures (e.g., Germans, Austrians, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italians, Greeks).

    And I think it is safe to say that most California winery owners are Baby Boomers. It takes time to see one’s professional income rise, and grow the net worth needed to fund a capital-intensive business such as a winery.

  28. Michael Brill…
    The 2009 campaign was the last impactful and viral social media blitz that I can remember. I know wineries chase social, but with what objective? Likes? Follows? Or hard core mail drip campaigns that focus on conversion to Sells/Closes? It seems almost shameful that another winery hasn’t come along and truly found people to follow them like Murphy Goode did. The closest thing I can think of is IPOB in terms of outright followers of the “brand” and those affiliated. But IPOB is being run differently than Goode Job, with different appeal, more akin to a religious zeal than a cool party job. And that movement focuses on several wineries, not just one, like a focused trade group.

    I’d love for there to be more statistics/analytics for conversion/close rates and what social exposure buys a winery. I think having an objective and focusing your attention on singular campaigns with regular evaluation of each social media tool, rather than spaghetti on a wall approach to social might be a first step.

  29. Bob Henry says:


    And those same wine stores and restaurants know which managers and staffers are accountable for making those “outsized” sales, RUNG up under the employee’s name.

  30. Actually, if you are taking ‘old white guys’ as ageism, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t also take it as racism and sexism.

  31. All,

    There are not “bloggers” who “sell” or “don’t sell” wine. There are people who talk about wine across many different media types, some of whom have wine industry backgrounds, and some of whom do not. Their backgrounds inform how they talk/write/etc. about wine on those media; the backgrounds do not necessarily dictate the value of what they have to say. For example: I know winemakers and salespeople who are gifted writers; I know some who are terrible writers. So do you.

    I count Steve as a friend, which is why I am pointing out that he got the take on Jeff colossally wrong in this post.

  32. Chris, not a lot of discrimination against white males… yet.

    David, thanks for the response. “Hard core mail drip campaigns” are an email thing, not a social thing. There is a way to do drip with social in a mostly-automated way, but it takes a lot of technical skill that wineries don’t have. But that is the right mindset – instead of thinking about one-off stunts, how to nurture 1:1 relationships and turn that into repeat transactions? There’s nothing intrinsically bad about mainstream social networks other than they’re noisy, hard to scale interactions in, and the distance between a social interaction and a transaction is far too great to be an effective driver of sales. Yes, that’s where the people are… I think at this point it’s a matter of needing better tools for wineries.

  33. Joe, I don’t want to talk for Steve (this may all be wrong) and Jeff may simply be a trigger point for him having to deal with years of people delivering opinion dressed as fact… and, btw, opinion that is empirically contraindicated.

    That opinion has historically been a direct attack on his livelihood. Now, I *assume* he has everyone at work asking him to snap his fingers to help build their social juggernaut that everyone seems to be talking about. But his personal experience – and you know this is a smart guy who has thought a *ton* about the subject – is that it’s far from a no-brainer.

    And so he’s dismissed in public as not getting it because he’s too old, when indeed he gets it far, far better than most. And now he has to spend his days explaining why social isn’t a no-brainer and be cognizant that the person he’s talking to just read a blog post that says he’s too old to get it.

  34. Michael – That social should be part of a fully-formed marketing strategy is, in fact, a no-brainer.

    The key is How, How Much, and To What Extent. People get hired to figure those things out. Steve is part of that mix for KJ. I find it difficult to believe that there are data / examples that show that a proper mix and use of social channels proved to be a contraindicated effort for a wine brand. It’s like saying that not answering the phone is good for your business. That’s just… totally nuts.

    “Opinion dressed as fact” probably describes over 90% of all media. That includes bloggers AND print – and most of us who consume media are used to that now. So if that’s an issue for Steve in that he cannot navigate it, again, I’ll eat my sneakers.

    I’m not trying to upset anyone here, Michael, I’m just saying that the arguments are very typically crap on both sides of an issue that **hardly ever gets debated outside of the wine business.** Remember that business is **artificially protected** from some market trends because it is currently over-regulated and near-monopolized in its distribution channels.

  35. Susan B says:

    Sorry, 1WD, but there ARE bloggers who sell, and bloggers who DON’T SELL.

    Just because you click your heels together and wish upon a star, does not mean your fantasy statement comes true.

    And as long as I have the choice, I will only take wine sales advice from people with a successful record in WINE SALES.

    Call me crazy.

  36. Ageism, sexism and racism exists as a mindset, Mike Brill. Quantity is irrelevant. One chooses to be or not to be offended wherever it rears its pretty head.

  37. Susan B – Your apology and reply to me make little sense to me, so I might be missing something. I am not saying that there are bloggers who don’t sell?

    To what heel-clicking, star-wishing fantasy statement are you referring?

  38. Joe -I’m referring to this statement of yours, and I quote: “There are not “bloggers” who “sell” or “don’t sell” wine.”

  39. Susan – I guess I wasn’t clear enough there; the point is that talking about any one group in media these days is too narrow, to the point of being almost blinkeredly pointless, because so many people blog, including professionals who do actually sell wine for a living.

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