Robert Parker should be ashamed of himself…

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So there apparently was some information floating out there about the Wine Bloggers Conference that I find very interesting.  Mostly because of the source and because while he should be ashamed of himself, I ultimately agree with him.

It was Robert Parker himself that seems to take issue with bloggers.  The thread on eRobertParker.com centers around bloggers and the fact that they are changing the industry.  Good, bad, whatever your take they at least admit that its changing the industry.

I don’t take issue with that.  What I do take issue with, and I take it directly with Mr. Parker, is his mis-representation of the conference, his lack of understanding of the community, and is unwillingness to even attempt to correct either one of those two mistakes.

First, let me say that the thread calls into question the motivation behind not only the Wine Bloggers’ Conference but the OpenWine Consortium.  The original poster says:

“I believe you and many of the top wine critics are under fire today not by chance but a systematic effort of the wine industry to change the paradigm of the relationship between consumer of wine and producers of wine….”

and then goes on further to say:

“With regard to whether this is an industry planned movement or just a shift in buying habits enabled by technology, I think could be up for debate. But when I look at things like the Open Wine Consortium or I look at www.winebloggerconference.com and examine the participants, sponsors, etc., I think there has to be a strategy for change? The technology industry has made shifts in market conditions through consortiums and conferences for years. It’s not wrong or right. It is an industry doing what is best for the producers.”

Joe (thread originator) – My name is Joel Vincent.  You can read my background here – JoelVincent.com.  I created the OpenWine Consortium and I produce the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I am not someone deep in the California wine industry.  I am fascinated by technology and wine is a serious passion/love.  I created the OpenWine Consortium as a consortium of wine companies all over the world to learn about and drive Web2.0 technologies’ adoption because its GOOD FOR WINE.  I believe that now and always have believed it.  It started as a consortium because that is how I understood how to create a movement like that – I’ve been active in the IEEE and the WiFi Alliance as well as efforts in creating standards for Ethernet and Internet Protocols.  When I saw that the wine industry needed a way to learn about these technologies I created the OWC to try to organize the more knowledgeable companies and have them efficiently proliferate their understanding of Web2.0 to other wine industry people who don’t.  Also, its a Web2.0 community because I believe the best way to learn is by doing.  So just by using the OWC the industry is learning the power of Web2.0.  It has since grown into a much broader business networking platform for the wine industry than I ever imagined attracting people from every continent and every facet of the wine business.

The Wine Bloggers’ Conference was a decision I made to organize the community of wine writers that are blogging and give them a forum to learn from one another.  It wasn’t an original idea – the European organizers and I discussed it for a while then did independent conferences last year and combined them this year.

Since most citizen bloggers are exactly that – citizen bloggers – I figured they didn’t have the funds to attend something like the Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium ($500 admission I think?).  So I asked wine companies to sponsor to subsidize the costs and make it reasonable.  They came in droves.  I’m sure they have their agenda, but I don’t care what their agenda is as long as the goal of getting the community together to learn from each other is met and the prerequisite to that is to make it affordable.  Mission accomplished there.

I hardly think that I am the “industry” but yes, its an astute observation that I have created a platform the for the movement of Web2.0 into the wine industry.  Thanks for the props (FYI to eRob folks – “Props” is short for “propers” and is a slang term commonly used by those under 40 to recognize that one has been afforded the proper credit for their efforts).

Third, to Joe AND Mr. Parker, the Wine Bloggers Conference is held in CA and Europe with affiliated events cropping up in New York now as well.  So this movement is even more widespread than you understand, more pervasive than you’ll every know, and DEFINITELY not confined to California.

Its late and I have two young tots.  So let me get to why Mr. Parker should be ashamed of himself.  I’m personally annoyed because I (and every blogger I know) would never, EVER take anything away from Parker’s importance to this industry or his achievements.  But let me address some of the word, written directly from Mr Parker, about the Wine Bloggers Conference.

“looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry…with much more than minimal hospitality offered…love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel,car rental,hotels and meals?)…”

For someone who continues to make wine blogging synonymous with the Wine Spectator Award debacle, this is one of the most uninformed mischaracterizations I’ve seen in the Inter-webs’ series of tubes.  The WBC is a community organization effort.  Driven in the US by myself and Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures (niether of us are part of the “CA wine industry”) and in Europe by Catavino Marketing and Robert McIntosh – again, no CA there.  Bloggers are paying for everything but a couple of dinners.  It even says that on the site.  Did you read the site?

Next, and this is directly from Mr. Parker:

“or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation,distortion,and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet…”

Is “big and free sloppy wet kiss and then some from the CA wine industry” not misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehood?  I’m just an electrical engineer from MIT but I think “egegious” is a misspelling or I’m just worse at this writing stuff than I thought.  I think those two statement are ironic though…unless I don’t get that concept either.

Moving on:

“no doubt I miss some very fine producers as do others,but their trade associations may have had it with the independent press in search of just the best….and need to garner support from somewhere…by targeting the independent and more established press..it may help bloggers’ readership…the public sucks down anything perceived as “scandal’…even if the story is totally bereft of any investigation or fact checking…”

Mr Parker you need to understand something.  Last year, Alice Feiring gave a keynote speech to bloggers and it was inspiring.  In that speech she said that wine bloggers represent something unique in the entire history of wine writing and that is a community of wine writers.  The one dude who entrapped Wine Spectator is not enough of a sample set to make conclusions on the entirety of the wine blogging.  Again, note the irony of your “blobbers” statement.

More?  Sure thing:

“and of course,and bloggers can’t continue to exist without wine-related advertising(we do and will continue to do so)…”

Now there you are showing again a fundamental lack of understanding of not only wine bloggers, but Web2.0 in general.  People participate because they want to contribute to a community.  I can tell you that no one in wine blogging that I’ve met sees blogging as something that they will do as a business.  And the speakers (who include businesses that are not wineries, Alder Yarrow of Vinography, Steve Hiemoff of Wine Enthusiast, and many others) preach to everyone that comes to the WBC that if this is their intentions then they need to get off the bus right now.

And he continues…

“but that conference sounds like a California wine trade junket to further the interests of the vast California wine industry that feels slighted by coverage from the more established press….as always there is a simple solution for wineries feeling ignored….make better wine…it will get attention faster than you ever dreamed….fascinating list of sponsors under-writing all the costs for that event…not one of them pro-consumer….all of them pro wine-selling business….”

This may be true of the sponsors, but the content of the event is driven by the community.  Topics are discussed in the US conference and expanded upon in the European conference and vice versa.  There are ad-hoc events to discuss topics that weren’t explored at the main WBC.  This movement is much much bigger than you understand, clearly.

For the reasons I stated above, you should be ashamed of yourself.  But now, let me agree with you in a HUGE HUGE way:

“Vinography comes to mind immediately…so it is not so much an anti-blogging position… just anti irresponsible bloggers…”

Yes, Alder is a clear leader.  And we are ALL “anti-irresponsible” bloggers.  Bloggers are a very very new community.  They are trying to understand themselves as much as people are trying to understand them.  The topics that people want to discuss at the conference include:

  • Blogging and the future wine writing and wine reporting
  • Beyond Words: How Video Content is Changing the Wine Biz
  • Create a panel on Unified standards for ethics and disclosure
  • Legalities of Blogging

Wine bloggers are voting to discuss these topics.  They want, collectively as a community, to understand how to be responsible wine bloggers and what that means.  Many don’t have the distinguished career that you have in wine writing.  Blogging is still very young by many standards and absolutely in its infancy in the wine industry.  There are many things yet to be determines and at least the community wants to take responsibility for what is happening.

You and your voice can be a leader to a new generation of wine writers and lead the change that is happening to the wine writing industry.  This change is going to happen.  I’m not forcing it, just giving it a platform.  I’m not the CA wine industry as Joe seems to thing, I’m just a nerd from MIT that loves wine.  If you came to the conference and started to discuss with the community what you believed should be deemed as “responsible” blogging you’d have 200 very enthusiastic bloggers doing their best to live up to the standards set by thought leaders like yourself.

But rather than being the center of the inevitable change, the beacon that guides that change in a responsible direction, you seem to be disparaging what you don’t seem to understand.  Rather than attending, understanding, and helping, you are pointing at the problems with blogging and offering no solutions.

If thats going to be your stance going forward you should refrain from commenting on what you and your Web2.0 advisors don’t understand and stick to tasting wine.

Don’t call it a wrap-up, just a point in time…

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WBC 08 in Sonoma CA

The Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC) in Sonoma has come and gone.  I’ve been toiling around with so many things to write about that I hardly know where to start.  So I’m going to have to write a series of posts about different things.

First, there will be no “wrap-up” post.  The concept of the WBC was to take our online conversations and meet face to face, as a community, to get a better understanding of the issues and each other.  Then we need to talk more about the issues back online again.  So I have always viewed the WBC as another element like our comments, tweets, forum posts, etc.  We need to keep this conversation going and evolve the medium as a community.  Its exciting when you think about it.  Like I mentioned, technology has once again taken an industry status quo and turned it upside-down.  The game has changed and we can influence how things pan out in the future.  Already, as noted by Alice Feiring in her keynote speech at dinner on Saturday, there has never been a community of wine writers and now, if you felt the energy in the room at the conference, clearly there is.  Guess what – thats new.

As a co-producer with so many new friends let me say a thanks and an apology.

First the apology:

While its necessary to get sponsors to pull something like this together on this scale and make sure we’re not just gathering in a park drinking from the water fountains, we tried very hard to make this a re-imagining of a wine conference.  All bloggers welcome and the community is there to interact with each other first and foremost.  We attempted to dedicate an entire morning to the Unconference – a free-flowing session with ad-hoc topics, no sponsors, no pitches, only bloggers.  I personally communicated to everyone that we would have at least that much time to do something completely unscripted because thats what we as bloggers are about really – going off-script, something completely different.  I took my time getting to the Unconference and when I arrived there was already a session about Wine2.0 and getting bloggers involved.  So after all my talk of unscripted, unsponsored, hippy-blogger-love day, a brand ran a session anyway which changed the tenor of the Unconference.  I didn’t take that lightly and I do apologize to the community for it.  We hadn’t intended for there to be any corporate presence in that session and I should’ve paid a little closer attention to what was going on.  I wanted to get that out because its been toiling in my head for days.

Now the thanks.

I’ve been getting alot of kudos, which I do appreciate and I do my best to say so even though I’m not the best at taking compliments, but really Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures turned out to be the perfect partner to pull this off.  I know a few of us had been kicking around the idea of a conference for a while but knowing what it takes to pull off a conference, my hesitation was basically I knew what I didn’t know and that was very daunting.  Allan approached me in April and after talking over what he thought he could do for a conference like this it was pretty clear he had alot of experience and skills in areas I didn’t and THAT is what makes teams, companies, ideas, etc. work!  The success we had was not only fast (April to October – 6 months) but we were able to take care of what we needed efficiently as if we worked together for a long time when in reality we were going basically “site unseen”.  So MANY thanks to Allan, the perfect partner to making this come to fruition.

Next post…the anatomy of a conference – the snafus you DIDN’T see even if you thought it went smoothly!

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Is it me or is this guy a TOTAL douche bag?

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Image by Getty Images via Daylife

OK, so I’m trying to insure that the Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Sonoma has good, solid Wi-Fi access.  I’ve spent a decade and a half in the networking industry and the last 8 years designing wireless products so when I setup a conference for 160+ BLOGGERS, i.e. many many laptops in the same room, I have my concerns because of the physical limitations of Wi-Fi.

So the hotel hooks me up with the contact information for their service provider (the Wi-Fi is outsourced which is typical for a hotel).  I send him a message stating exactly my concerns and pointing out that I’ve setup many tradeshow demos as well as conference networks that got hammered by a techie conference.  Here is the email that he sends back to me (understand, I am the hotel’s customer and I am selling out their hotel for this weekend and giving them untold exposure through media the whole weekend).  Is it me or is this dude kinda of a douche?

Dear Sirs-

There are a total of 19 APs interspersed throughout the hotel, not including extra devices occasionally set up by catering.  Depending on the unit, they’ll support from 12-36 users on the wireless (multiple internals).  This has been the design at the Flamingo since its initial design and installation, almost as if we knew what we were doing…

Please inform the users that the codes will be bound to the MAC address of the NIC they use at the time of connection and entry of the code.  They cannot switch computers and use the same code.  The time in contiguous and not broken up to when they are using the connection, ie: 3 hrs ≠ 9 hrs of 15 minute usage periods.

Also, be aware that the total bandwidth for the Hotel Guests use is 6mb/3mb.  Therefore, this should not be a time for these “HEAVY internet users” to download all the Richard Simmons or Jane Fonda videos as this type of abuse will naturally hinder the enjoyable experience that such a convention should foster, human dialogue and contact.

I hope that you enjoy your stay at the Flamingo and that all elements of your convention are a total success.

JJ

Maybe its me, I don’t know…

Updated: The hotel worked on the service provider to create a parallel network in the main conference area that will be supported by additional APs on non-adjacent channels and they committed to having staff on hand throughout the entire conference should this network shit the bed.  I feel better about the chances of success.

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Wine Spectator Award scandal…yeah, so…

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Image via Wikipedia

OK, so there’s alot of hub-bub about that the Wine Spectator expose that happened by blogger Robin Goldstein.  And first let me say a couple things.  Bloggers are extraordinarily important to the world and this is just the latest example of some good citizen journalism.  Bravo to Robin for the work on setting up this sting.  Nice, ethical, and well executed.

As a marketing professional for a decade and a half I’ll say this though – what did you think the award was?  Wine Spectator is a “for profit” private entity that has what, 100 employees?  I’ve dealt with many many awards for the rediculous number of products and companies I’ve launched and I’ll tell you this, whenever there is a for-profit entity involved then you’re going to pay-to-play.  And if you pay-to-play then you’re probably getting an award!  There are several technology related firms that have pay for entry, then I win the award, then they call me back and pitch me Ad space, and then tell me to be involved in the award ceremony I have the great opportunity to present my product/company at a high profile industry show…for yet another fee.

update: On side note for the history books.  In the late 1990s, what I call “Bubble Days” of tech, pay-to-play got ridiculous.  There were analyst firms that would take EQUITY in a startup and then write a positive report.  Subsequently, these firms would go public and thanks to the Tech Bubble some people got very rich for their “award” or “positive outlook”…nuts…

This Wine Spectator debacle is nothing new or unexpected.  They’re leveraging their brand, which has the power today to make a $20 wine into a $100 wine overnight, to make more money.  What is unexpected is the fact that they were complete IDIOTS about it and obviously do zero vetting not a very thorough job vetting applicants.  Dumb dumb dumb.  But I’m not surprised the award is the way it is.  Not at all actually.  Maybe thats part of the marketer’s secret code or something but thats how these things go.  If this didn’t happen (the dumb non-vetting move being exposed), who wouldn’t pay $250 for this “Excellence” award, hence “profit” opportunity.  Look, even now, if you have a real restaurant whats to stop you from fudging the wine list?  The sting was a totally fake place, but what stops you from doing this again?  Pay-to-play, thats how it works.  Its a revenue generator for the company, thats all.

Now, I do want to point out something in stark contrast.  The “American Wine Blogger Awards“.  Whenever they come around everyone gets in Tom Wark’s grill about “who are you to judge me” and “what makes you think this award is valid at all”, and so on.  I mean he gets HEAVY criticism.  Well guess what – its decided on by people submitting nominations, then the finalists are chosen by a panel and voted on by the people again.  Oh yeah, and it FREE.  In fact, when I offered to sponsor the AWBAs Tom turned that down.  So even though its not perfect I view it kind of like how I view the American Democracy – its not perfect and sometimes its not fair (just look at my tax bill every f’in year), but its about the best you’re gonna get!

Cheers!

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OWC has a Wikipedia Page

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Image via Wikipedia

Here a cool thing. After haggling with the folks at Wikipedia, I finally got a page “OK’d” on Wikipedia for OpenWine Consortium. 🙂

I thought it’d be important as I setup that organization to outlast my tenure as Executive Director. I’m taking it step by step. Its established now, even attracting sponsors and producing the events (like the Wine Blogger Conference in Sonoma in the Fall). Behind the scenes I am preparing to announce the board of directors, a new strategic partner that will help attract potentially thousands of members, and eventually closing on getting official non-profit status (because there isn’t a membership fee I really need to get some revenue to pay for the non-profit paperwork preparation – a non-trivial task).

In the meantime, its pretty cool to have the Wikipedia page, in a geeky sorta way.

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You see, gotta do this Social Media thing…

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Image by hannesseibt via Flickr

This week was the Wine Industry Technology Symposium (WITS) and last week was Inertia Beverage Group’s DTC Symposium.  At both venues I gave a talk about social media (the term that has been hijacked by Web2.0) and why the wine industry needs to pay attention.

My bottom line points are simple.  I’ve written about and preached on the “Wine Life Value Chain” where I talk about how the strength of a relationship basically has direct correlation to influencing a wine buyer.  The closer you are, sociallogically, to the source of a wine recommendation the faster and more likely you are to buy it.  So with that theorum guiding my thoughts we look at social media.

Social Media is basically conversations online, but the nice thing for wine (or bad) is that “word-of-mouth” becomes lightning quick and globally scalable.  So get on board and incorporate it into your business.

The reason for this post is we basically had a case study in the power of social media yesterday with Twitter and the wine crew (or it seemed like the wine “hit men/women” on Twitter yesterday!).  Here’s what happened.

The scene starts with Jill finding a wine writer in Florida at Tallahassee.com using the pseudonym of one of our fellow wine bloggers (DrDebs).  Jill tweets “Hey, someone is hijacking DrDeb’s good name” and to boot she was reviewing TERRIBLE wines and giving them good ratings – Yellow Tail, et al. A bunch of people immediately flocked overthere to check it out and left some choice comments for Fake DrDebs.

Next, one of Jill’s “followers”, Brittany aka WineQT, is from Florida and notices that the reviews from Fake DrDebs is eerily similar to a newsletter written by Nat Maclean.  Sure enough, it was plagarized!  We quickly see WineQT tweet out that “Fack DrDebs ripped it off!”.  Subsequently, Jeff Stai of Twisted Oak Winery sees this, logs a complaint with the website “Tallahassee.com”.  Within an hour the post is removed from the site for copyright violation!

Within an hour, a small post about wine that was plagarized was noticed by someone in LA, recognized as a fake post by someone in Oakland, and taken down by someone in Florida!  THAT, my friends, is Social Media.  That is word-of-mouth to the 100th degree.  And that is what wine companies can tap into if they just take the time to learn how!

Cheers!

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Evangelizing Social Media and trying to get back to the grind

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This weekend was the Inertia Beverage “Direct to Consumer” Symposium. I had the pleasure of presenting one of the larger sessions called “Marketing on Social Networks” and basically took it a little more horizontal and spoke more on “Marketing in Social Media”.

I think the presentation went well but a few things we are very certain in my mind as I start to evangelize and encourage people to participate via the OpenWine Consortium social network – since marketing in social media is a sociology problem and not a technology problem, wine companies have more of a head start then they think. Sure there are a blizzard of tools out there, but what is happening is that these technologies are moving in a direction that allows the skills that every wine brand already has offline – building a community around their product and getting to know their customers – to leverage the Internet to build that community on a much larger scale. Thats the basic synergy with Inertia’s business model. Once that broader community is established beyond just the tasting room, the final step is translating the connections made into a wine sale. Without the technology to do that, a winery is pretty screwed.

I really wanted to wineries to feel a little more comfort then they seem to be. Two main reasons – 1) online social stuff is happening and fast, but its not replacing everything tomorrow and 2) There are ways for wineries to benefit even though they are wearing many different hats already (and many don’t involve sitting in front of a computer 25 hours a day). This is where my talk and my co-presenter – Gary Vaynerchuk – differ. Always one for a bit of hyperbole (go figure) Gary says – email is dead (for some and many millenials, yes, but not completely), you have to be on every network all the time, and you can’t control your brand (which I agree with but influence is different from control). Ah yes, and he believes that there is no role for PR anymore with the new technologies – a point we differ on, its changing but PR doesn’t stand for Press Release so having built billion-dollar brands I can tell you PR is vital to a strong brand. Without PR there would be no Gary Vaynerchuk. PR is the art of image shaping and influence and there is alway a role for that. Most people have to outsource it, but others control it themselves (GV obviously controls his own PR). Anyway, long discussion.

Overall it was a good talk and hopefully we can get calmer heads to prevail and really help wineries to move forward with online strategies rather then just use “the sky is falling” discussions.

Well, now the in-laws are gone, daycare is back on (they had a week off for vacation after the 4th), so I have to try to get back into the groove!

Cheers!

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