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Friday fishwrap: Killer apps, an improved economy and tasting cult wines blind



What’s the killer social media app for a winery?

I can remember back in the early 1990s when the Internet, or the World Wide Web as most of us called it, was so new that nobody knew precisely what it could be used for. The search was on for “the killer app,” the thing that everybody would want to do, which would therefore earn its users a great deal of money.

As it turned out, some young guys, like Sergei Brim and Larry Page, realized that a search function–the ability to find anything amidst the vast (and growing vaster) hoard of information–was the classic example of a killer app: they created Google and got rich. A little while later, Mark Zuckerberg realized that social networking was the most natural thing in the world for a World Wide Web to do. He created Facebook and also got rich.

(A lot of porn site entrepreneurs also got rich. Enough said about that.)

So those were at least three things the Internet could do (aside from obvious B2B functions that are boring but crucial to companies, not to mention email). The question of the last 5 or 6 years has been, what is the killer app on the Internet for small businesses, and particularly for small wineries–the thing that will help them make money?

I’m not prepared to say, because I don’t know; but yesterday I asked my Facebook friends how they use social media at their wineries, and the overwhelming response was typified by this: “As a tool, FB, Twitter, Pintrest, WEM , are all wonderful ways to connect to your clientele” and this: “I rarely use FB/Twitter for promo and sales. Mostly just to reinforce the simple ‘voice’ of [the winery] and stay in front of my ‘likers’.”

In other words, communication. Several people warned that, as soon as the winery is perceived as trying to sell stuff, it turns friends and followers off. This remains the irony and contradiction within social media.

Central Coast Wrap-up

The Central Coast wine industry seems to be booming, according to this report from the Pacific Coast Business Times. Indeed, you can feel this buzz everywhere you go in wine country. Such a contrast to a few years ago, when a gloomy atmosphere pervaded. I’ll be heading down to Santa Barbara next week for the Chardonnay Symposium, and am stoked by the thought of seeing all the winemakers and tasting their wines.

 Blind tasting the cults

Interesting article by my old editor and colleague, Jim Gordon, in Wines & Vines, where he writes of an event at the Culinary Institute of America in which winemakers tasted each other’s wines blind, something they “rarely” get to do.

Winemakers really should do it more often. In fact, they should do it all the time. I know certain cult winemakers who’ve never tasted their own wines blind, much less tasted them against competitors. They might be surprised to find less expensive wines out-performing their own–according to their own palates! But then, that potential danger in blind tasting is probably why more winemakers don’t do it. And anyhow, when it comes to sales, it’s about image as much as it’s about quality. Along these lines, yesterday my sister emailed to ask why some bottles of wine are so heavy. She wanted to know if they cost more than lighter bottles, and, if so, how do the wineries make up for the difference? I explained to her, of course, that some wineries package their wines in heavy bottles in order to make the consumer think the wines are more important. This works very well, and the consumer is willing to pay more for a heavy bottle than for a light one. My sister was surprised, but she needn’t have been. P.T. Barnum spelled this out more than a century ago in his famous dictum about suckers.

  1. The tasting at the CIA was really interesting, but it was not cult winemakers tasting each other wines, As the Wines and Vines article describes, it was a series of experiments and trials that were tasted. Didn’t see any cult members there.

  2. Thanks for the facts, Bill. Steve was overdue for a cult winemaker/blind tasting troll. After reading the article, I saw no mention of who was in attendance, apart from the names of the organizers. Are we to presume that Steve spot cult winemakers from a picture of the back of their head? Most of us come here for his brilliant new thoughts, and expect better. What are the odds there will be another stoic defense of the 100 point system (disclosure: I use it, but don’t go to battle over it) before Labor Day?

  3. Doug, you come here for brilliant thoughts? I thought this blog was for entertainment… Doesn’t Steve and his hats remind you of Fozzie Bear (just a little?)?

    But Steve is correct in stating more winemakers should taste their wines amongst their peers, and preferably blind. Not just high-demand, high-priced wines (not a huge fan of the term “cult”), but winemakers from all regions and at all prices. The Ribolla University series from Elaine at Hawk Wakawaka (another image of Fozzie Bear comes to mind…) wine reviews is a great example of a similar peer tasting effort. I wish CO winemakers do this more often. Speaking of CO, Doug, you should really taste some real high-elevation wine ;).

    Just as critics and consumers can label taste, so to can winemakers and winery owners…

  4. doug wilder says:


    I think Steve is a very good writer. So much so that I include this blog on the recommended resource page of my magazine along with other writers/critics who I read. Hmmm, Colorado sounds enticing but my plate is pretty full doing the west coast(along with those pesky Arizona wines that are increasingly poking into my periphery). Maybe Jeb can review some CO wines for TWA?

  5. As Doug would know, many winemakers in Napa belong to tasting groups which create many opportunities to taste each others wines. I haven’t had the pleasure of working in the Colorado industry but I have worked with enough projects in other regions to appreciate how unique Napa is for the opportunities we have to share information and taste outside of our own cellars. The very tasting so incorrectly described here is a case in point. Winemakers submitted experiments and comparison trials which could be tasted blind throughout the day on a drop-by basis.

  6. Brad Hoffman says:

    I agree with Steve about the importance of blind tasting your competitors. Having worked at a small winery in the Northwest for almost 20 years I frequently found that our winemaking team developed a “home palate.” It was if the wines we produced became the standard for how wines in our particular niche should taste. It was important to get them to see what our competitors were up to and also taste against wines that were, in fact, the industry leaders in their category.

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