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Alan Kropf and the 4 pillars of wine marketing


My favorite under-30 mover and shaker in the American wine world, Alan Kropf (who’s 29, so he’d better get busy preparing to be one of the most important 30-40 year olds) is the publisher of Mutineer Magazine. He also has this traveling roadshow he calls the Millennial Wine Marketing Circus, a sort of pop-up that features speakers on various aspects of all things marketing.

Alan’s a smart, ambitious guy who’s achieving a solid foothold in wine media. I don’t know exactly where he’ll end up, and probably neither does he, because the future of the field he’s chosen to play in–which lies at the nexus of publishing, social media, event management, public speaking and consulting–is so obscure. There’s a lot of jockeying on the part of a lot of people to succeed in this nexus, and the way I see it, Alan has as much of a chance as anyone, and maybe better.

Anyhow, according to the article, at the Circus, “speakers will discuss notions such as authenticity, affordability, rejecting elitism and ‘inspiring’ consumers.” Alan didn’t invite me to be a speaker, but if I were, here’s what I’d say on each of these topics.

authenticity What is “authenticity”? It’s awfully hard to define, but I think most people recognize it when they see it. I think authenticity is based on the person’s personality. A strong personality that registers as authentic is perceived as honest, knowledgeable, incorruptible and opinionated. It also is free of contradictions. As we see all around us, people whose positions change with the weather are widely viewed as inauthentic. For an expert in wine, authenticity is very important, because it is the basis of credibility.

affordability Of course the world is searching for affordable quality wines. It’s impossible to argue with such an assertion. But stressing “affordability” can lead down a slippery slope, as I’ll explain in the next part.

rejecting elitism Let’s jump right into this. While I am first to admit there’s plenty of snobbery in the wine world at the top, I firmly reject the notion of “elitism.” What do people really mean when they criticise “elitism”? Usually, they’re people who are younger, less exposed to the great wines of the world, who can’t afford expensive wine, and often have an ambition to succeed in their field. In order to accomplish the latter, they have to knock off those ahead of them who already have succeeded–and an increasingly common way of doing that is to accuse them of being “elitists.” Needless to say, if these people eventually succeed, they themselves will someday be accused of being elitist.

Now, if what Alan means by “rejecting elitism” is simply that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to find good wine, I’m onboard with him! That’s obviously true. I recommend Best Buys all the time. But the “slippery slope” I referred to is that this anti-elitist attitude can lead to a dumbing down of wine understanding and knowledge. I don’t think that’s a good thing.

‘inspiring‘ consumers Let’s break this down. On the surface it sounds a little silly. Religious and political leaders inspire us. Sometimes a work of art can inspire us.  Can wine inspire us? Not really. So what does Alan mean? If I can crawl inside his head, I’d say he’s talking about average Joes and Janes who have an interest in wine, but are intimidated by what they perceive as its complexity. From their point of view, there’s so much rigamarole around wine that they shy away from it, even though they really want to get into it.

Enter Alan. He’s very good at public speaking. He’s a good-looking guy who pays attention to what he wears. He’s hip-cool. He’s like the old-fashioned circuit preacher who travels from prairie town to prairie town, exhorting the masses to Come to Jesus. In this he has his finger on a certain pulse of the masses. I think he means to inspire people to not be afraid of wine–to start by taking baby steps, which is where we all start all of our journeys. He tells them, “If I could do this, you can too,” which is the message all charismatic preachers deliver. So, if this is what Alan means by inspiring consumers, then he’s the perfect person to do it.

That’s what I’d say, anyway.

  1. raley roger says:

    Sounds like a cool guy. Nice to see young people step into crucial roles within the wine media. I’ve read Mutineer a few times and it’s a good read; light, interesting and democratic.

  2. Elitism isn’t always bad. It can be a good thing when you believe some individuals have exceptional training and experience and their views and skills and abilities can be used for constructive purposes. Elites can be powerfully influential and beneficial when they really have the goods. The problem with wine is that individuals make themselves out to be experts when in fact they are pretenders. And the younger generation who might like to learn, quickly recognize the pretense and are put off.

    As a young man in Davis in the sixties when it was us against “the man” I was introduced to a man who spoke and read in several languages, had the knowledge to teach chemistry or biochemistry or plant physiology or microbiology at the college level, thoroughly knew wine chemistry and wine production world wide, traveled extensively, wrote the definitive text on wine production, and savored the finer things of life in a thoughtful manner. His introductory course on wine had to be held in the largest lecture hall because of its popularity and was also taught non-credit at Berkeley. His book introducing American’s to wine was a bestseller and went a long way in paving the path for today’s wine market. I recognized the real thing immediately and was not at all put off.

    The problem is that many of today’s wine elite are really regurgitating winery PR which they have bought hook line and sinker. They are pretenders. And the young person sniffs this out immediately. And my take is that today’s self proclaimed experts on wine marketing who talk about elitism, really need to understand what they are talking about.

  3. I’ve had the privilege of working with Alan previously and hope to again in the very near future. His entire group are dedicated individuals working tirelessly to change the beverage industry and how “young” people get intorduced, meet, learn, enjoy and get exposed to adult beverages. He’s a passionate crusader for clean water access for children and is redefining an all too often stale channel–wine. Oh, and he’s having a helluva fun time doing it.

    He does appreciate authenticity/affordability and condemns elitism. Morton is correct, “elites can be powerfully influential…”, but no one is saying that influence is positive. Too often wine elites use their knowledge, obtained through books, classes, the Court, MOW, ISG, WSET, etc, as a way to artifically prop themselves up at the expense of others. I believe that is what Alan dislikes about wine elites, as do I.

    Based on his accomplishments in his twenties, the next decade will benefit all interested in alcoholic beverages as he has the talent to accomplish whatever he desires.

    Martin C
    Cellar Angels

  4. Ashley Pengilly says:

    Very excited to be working with Alan and the Mutineer team this coming week for the Wine Circus! It’s great to see an organization like Mutineer giving light to businesses who want to know more about the Millennial consumer.

    Ashley Pengilly

    Foley Family Wines

  5. IF you discover that you love a bottom shelf bargain wine that you brought home from the big box AND hesitate to recommend that wine to your friends,
    THEN you might be an elitist (my apologies to Jeff Foxworthy).

    When entering a tasting room at a winery or a multi-winery coop, all consumers need to watch out for the possibility of elitism wrecking their experience. Upholding our trust in authenticity and affordability goes hand-in-hand with rejecting elitism.

    If someone can taste blind, rely upon what their own senses tell them, and freely share their impressions without a sense of superiority over others, then they have taken good steps towards rejecting elitism.

    When one decides that they are dedicated to the wine of a particular locale (or state, or continent, or country) over all others, to such an extent that their prejudice poisons their senses and opinions, then they might possibly be called an elitist. If one’s prejudice biases how he/she ranks and rates known individual wines in a flight, it’s hard to imagine accepting recommendations from that person about what to drink.

  6. Dear Rich Reader, I frequently go out of my way to recommend inexpensive wines, including boxed wines, if I think they’re good. That gives me as much pleasure as rating a $100 wine at 95 points.

  7. “Needless to say, if these people eventually succeed, they themselves will someday be accused of being elitist.” That sounds like the evolution of philosophy all the way to skepticism, or one tyranny replaced by another tyranny.
    As for asking the question you immediately reject out of hand: can wine inspire? If you mean “inhale”, I agree with you, but if you reject the notion that wine can “fill (someone) with an exalting influence” I’d disagree; I’ve experience that. Or another definition: To inspire is “to arouse feeling or thought.” I suppose we can now rid ourselves of the ‘Cerebral’ descriptor. If the wine itself doesn’t inspire, surely the memories associated with wine should; I’ll embrace both reasons to be inspired.

  8. Hello Dennis. Thank you for commenting on this point. I hoped someone would. When I said wine cannot inspire I meant to the degree that other life-changing things can. JFK inspired many people to change the course of their lives. Jesus Christ obviously has inspired people for 2 millennia. Wine can be inspirational but not to that degree. Of course an individual winemaker may have been inspired by a wine that he or she tries to achieve over a long career, and I don’t mean to diminish that, nor do I demean a wine lover who remembers a particular wine that sent him on a lifelong search for something as great. But when you put it all into perspective, wine is, and should be, among the lower forms of life inspiration.

  9. Thumbs up to Martin’s comments and Go Alan! Let’s keep wine fun… I had a painting teacher tell me that I couldn’t compete with the great masters so make your work fun. So if we’re a lower form…

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