Thursday, August 20, 2009

Twitterrhea and Bloggerballs

I am bone weary of all the endless talk on wine blogs about the place of Social Media in the wine business. I'm talking to you, Heimoff. Endless carping about how wineries need to use Social Media, find a way to incorporate Social Media into their marketing plans, must utilize Social Media or risk losing their future customers to wineries that do use Social Media. Well, for those of you still wondering what purpose Social Media plays in the wine biz, I'll tell you--Social Media exists solely to reinforce its own importance. It don't mean crap. Is it just me, or whenever you hear Social Media do you think of what they used to call Social Diseases--syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, chlamydia? Wineries can't wait to get screwed and catch Twitterrhea, Scarfacebook, and Bloggerballs.

The Social Media effect is simply making folks stupider and lonelier and less well-informed. But, hell, wineries pay marketing people a lot of money to try and achieve the same thing. Marketing is about manipulation, just like text messaging. Marketing is about creating a fictitious face for the winery, a Hardy Wallace, just like Facebook is about creating a fictitious persona. Marketing is about simple and dull statements that reach the lowest common denominator just like Twitter. After all, stupid, lonely people spend money, mostly to make themselves feel better, why not convince them to buy your overpriced Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir by taking advantage of that? Tweeters actually want to believe several hundred people give a crap about what they're doing, despite massive evidence to the contrary. Folks on Facebook believe they have 216 friends, which dilutes the meaning of friendship down to the equivalent of Soave Bolla. Text messaging, while requiring great thumbs, makes a mockery of communication, substituting its own little lingo for what we think of as language, and mimics actual relationships with inanity and empty thoughts.

But boy oh boy, the folks who are addicted to Social Media are convinced it will change the wine world--democratize it! What an insipid and jejune opinion. And it's mostly held by the folks that either earn a living directing Social Media, or those that do it instead of actually living. When every winery in California, to stay local, is on Twitter, what possible meaning does that have? Do consumers pick the best Tweeter? (I don't know, but with all this attention barking of lonely humans, it shouldn't be Tweeter, it should be Woofer.) You buy wine because the hired Social Media consultant is a better Tweeter? You feel connected to him because he subscribes to your stupid Tweets about your recent bowel movement or what your cute kitty has done lately to Mommy's hidden sex toys?

Wineries, and lots of other folks, believe Social Media will be the next big movement in the wine biz because they really want to believe it, and every time they turn on their computers they read another stupid opinion that says it will be the next big influence on wine buying. And they want to believe it because they can't sell their overpriced wines at the moment. Wine inventories are bulging like Fred Franzia's eyes staring at grape surpluses. Restaurants aren't buying high end wines, the Las Vegas market has dried up like the Australian wine country, wine shops are just shopping for deals and wines under $15, and wineries really want to think that if they cleverly Tweet, start a Facebook page, kiss bloggers' butts, the cases will go flying out of the warehouse. They believe this right into bankruptcy.

Wine and the wine business are about personal relationships, and always have been. Wines come with a story, for the most part, and the more compelling the story, the more you feel connected to the wine or winery, or to the merchant you trust, or the critic you've come to trust (a tip of my Hose to Puff Daddy), the more likely you are to respond to them. Social Media Stooges think you can establish this kind of relationship through blogging or Tweeting or texting, but, really, even the people who use Facebook know that those 216 people aren't really their friends, they aren't really people they can trust. Most of them are former friends they don't really want to even know any more, or people more important than they are, people they hope will make them seem more interesting. And even Tweeters know no one gives a shit about their Tweets unless it's a link to the latest Hollywood celebrity sex video (seen the Jonas Brothers menage a talentless?). Texting is only about what you have to say, not what others think. So how will this democratization sell wine? About as well as it's selling universal health care.

I'm sure the four people who read this will disagree wholeheartedly. Look at Gary Vaynerchuk! Why he's a celebrity! Like that's praiseworthy. He's an idiot about wine. Great at Social Media, an idiot about wine, and he makes the rest of us look like the Marquis Chimps. But all the folks that will disagree have something to lose by agreeing, either self-esteem or a job. When it comes to the wine business, Social Media is a disease that serves only to reinforce its own
importance, like cancer.

The best wines will endure, the best wines will sell, have no problem selling, with or without Social Media. And folks will not turn to bloggers and Tweeters and Facebookers for wine advice. Unless they have already established their credentials in the same old ways they've always established them--talent, experience, integrity, taste. Do any of those words remind you of bloggers?


Anonymous said...

I'm lost in the (Rutherford) dust, I suppose. What's social media? I'm afraid to admit I don't know what Wine Two-Point-Oh is, as well.

Many years ago, Richard Paul Hinckle was asked what qualifications one needed to be a wine writer and his answer was a simple one: "A pencil." These days, it might be "a keyboard."


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Anon 1,

Wine 2.0 is their grade point average.

Anonymous said...

You are right. The alcohol did kill your brain cells. If you had half a clue you'd realize social media IS about making it personal. Instead of focusing on reaching the masses, it's about reaching the individual.

You probably won't reach either.

Anonymous 2.0

Erin said...

I agree completely, I always thought folks put too many eggs in the Smedia basket.
Folks come to my wine bar regularly because we make the effort to get to know them. That's why my fiance and I were regular customers way back when at the very bar I winetend at: we loved the staff.


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Ah, yet another personal and cowardly letter from an Anonymous. What lovely character Social Media creates.

I don't need half a clue, Anonymous. I have clowns like you proving my point. Twitter is personal? Facebook is personal? About as personal as all the other spam our lives are drowning in. Believers in Social Media rank right up there with Scientologists for logic, brains and personality.

But then there's the lovely Erin, who has a name, and who came to love wine the way almost everyone does, through a personal touch. Erin, I adore you. Stick around, let's talk, have some wine, get to know each other.

Man, lately this blog has been like a Town Hall meeting about health care.

Ward Kadel - drXeNo said...

Hey there Ron. It's refreshing to see that you are still just as polite, devoid of cynicism and sarcasm and full of just as many happy thoughts as before! Keep up the fine work.

For what it's worth, I am a proponent of social media, myself. I do, however, believe that enthusiasm for wine and smedia could be a bit is, after all, just another way/tool to (personally) spread the word about your nifty wine and to meet new people and possible customers.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Ward,

In a world full of mealy-mouthed bloggers, someone has to have an actual voice and strong opinion. Interesting how on household cleaners now it says, "If accidentally ingested, read wine blogger tasting notes to aid in inducing vomiting."

And now we're calling it "smedia?" Wasn't he Captain Hook's first mate?

I am trying, singlehandedly apparently, to temper the enthusiasm for Social Media and the vastly overrated influence it has on wine and wine sales. Gosh, I guess this means I won't be getting a house full of free wine samples like 1WineDude and all the other smedia titans. Damn, I sure will miss that mass marketed plonk! But I can read all about it when I swallow some Comet.

Arthur said...

I have also been skeptical of social media, initially seeing it as frenetic and a disingenuous form of friendship. Nevertheless, the general public responds to this mode of communication.
I suppose I still see it as the pet rock or mood ring of this decade, but just the other day I say a young woman (in bell bottoms, I think) talking about her new mood ring with her friends.
So my point is that this phenomenon is likley here to stay - for better or worse. I agree that paradoxically it seems to lead to greater isolation between participants. However, we cannot deny that it also facilitates a lot of off-line interaction.

Steven Mirassou said...

The HYPE wasn't going to go quietly. It thanks you for your contribution. Good news/Bad news, just spell the name right, etc.

Smedia, SocialM, SocMed, whatever... just a tool that in the best hands, can help to create a sense of story for a brand. Too early to tell whether it will help sell wine.

Science has already told us unequivocally that distributing companies distribute less wine for wineries than the winery did itself in its seminal research paper entitled..."Losing Money on each Case, but we'll Get it back in Volume: Distributing your Way to Wine-world Riches!"

Any way, right or wrong your opinions are flavorfully presented. I feel strangely more alive today.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Welcome Steven,

Wonderfully distinguished family you're part of, thanks for stopping by.

Yup, smedia (I hate that) is, in fact, just another tool, but apparently such a complicated tool that wineries think you have to hire another tool just to use it. Marketing people LOVE to hire more marketing people, they're like Tribbles, so a Social Media Director is just another lame marketing person who knows how to use the tool of Social Media, essentially a hammer when it comes to marketing tools--doesn't take much talent or skill to use it, just use it often.

And thanks for noticing that I am not concerned about being right or wrong, just about being a tiny bit entertaining--there are a lot of Anonymous dimbulbs (not you Anon 1) who don't quite get that.


Of course this phenomenon is here to stay, there is gigantic money behind it. I don't care if it stays, I just want it to be seen for what it is, impersonal rather than personal, and relatively useless for selling wine. Hell, Wine of the Month Clubs sell way more wine.

And you're the one guy I knew would notice what pants a woman with a mood ring was wearing--probably didn't even notice if she had a blouse on...

Doesn't Social Media facilitate off-line interaction precisely because it is so impersonal?

Arthur said...

I can't help being observant, Ron. It's one of those traits that get ramped up in med school.

I think it's not the impersonality of SM that is a factor in facilitating off-lines.
I think it's the user.
There has been a great social shift underway for several decades now - and it started when people began to lock their doors during the day.
It used to be chats and IM that connected socially awkward (Asperger's spectrum types) and the shy and horny types in the 90's.
These then, after reaching some level of comfort, would get together - for drinks, hanging at the mall or a tryst.
People are increasingly isolated physically - because of their work schedules, locations, traffic, etc. They connect online and take it offline when they are ready.
Advances in technology - be it more cable channels or Google talk have paralleled these physical isolations so that now you have husbands and wives siting on adjacent couches, watching Steve Colber(t) and IM'ing to each other.

Arthur said...

As for the blouse, I was too distracted by the leggy brunette who had stripped to her teeny black bikini panties to try to retrieve the Blackberry that fell out of her pocket and down the embankment at the gate to the boat that would take us from Catalina to San Pedro... My son did not notice the mood ring girl at all....

Steven Mirassou said...

Thanks for the kind words Ron.

The more authentic the interaction, any interaction, the greater the chance the relationship will grow, I think.

We're a small winery; all the tweets, and Facebook postings and blog entries are done by me and my marketing team of one other person. We tell our story in the only way we know how...our way, with our voices. We hope that those voices are attractive enough and the story compelling enough to lead to the actual tasting of our wines...we're very happy to let the wines do all the talking from that point on.

Keep up the good work; I'll be reading!

Steven Mirassou

Ron Washam, HMW said...


So how many samples of your wine have you sent to bloggers? If you did send samples, how many interesting reviews did you receive, and did they affect sales at all?

Your use of Social Media is understandable and maybe even necessary. My points are aimed more at the delusional bloggers and Social Media "experts" who actually think their poorly written, vacuous blogs are going to lead to a career in the wine business, to them having influence. That's what makes me laugh. One clown, Hardy Wallace, whose blog is abominable, landed a gig with Huckleberry Jackson, and the rest of the wine bloggers think they're next in line for the big bucks. Social Media Consultants? This year's version of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.

Fred said...

How often do you see "jejune," "bowel movement," and "Puff Daddy" is a single post? Brilliant.

Diane said...

Dear HMW,
Your comments are spot-on. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Smedia does have it place BUT it can never, ever replace the "people" factor. Can someone tweet about a new release or blog-it? Surely. Does it sell wine? Not a chance. Most bloggers or tweeters(?) would not know tetrachloroanisole from brettanomyces. And they want to have my trust. News Flash! They all get-off in front of their bedroom mirror with a picture of Robert Parker taped to it.

Excuse me, but when did any reputable wine "organ" tweet or Facebook anything notable? It is "hard" enough for them to legitimize their worth to the wine industry.

The soul of a wine is in the vineyard! Not on a palm pilot, an inbox or iPhone.

My ex-cheap-ass boyfriend sucks-up to so-called wine expert bloggers' every breath. What a fool and how lucky I am.

Your wine bitch,


Ron Washam, HMW said...

Diane Darling, Beloved Wine Bitch,

Where have you been? I've missed you! Glad you're rid of the cheap-ass boyfriend. He definitely cramped your style. He was so tight you could sharpen pencils in his butt and sweep up the shavings for his gerbil.

Nothing works better for selling wine than simple experience, the experience of tasting, of being in the vineyard, of feeling a part of the whole mysterious process. Social Media is the antithesis of that; it mocks genuine experience and connection and makes its frequent users pathetic examples of our species.
Perhaps they'll have the last laugh, but, as always, they'll be laughing alone.

I adore you, Wine Bitch, come see me more often!

Steven Mirassou said...


I get you. We don't send a lot of samples out anyway but haven't found that group of ink?-stained wretches yet that we want to send our wines to. I have no problem at all with anybody and everybody trying to make a living making/writing/blogging about wine. Wine is a very capacious thing, a taste for every taster and an angle for every writer.

Blogging is so new that the cream hasn't risen yet. There are talented writers out there (I think you're one of them...perhaps a little heavy on the cynicism sometimes...but, hey, if it ain't interesting no one's going to read it, anyway); there are those less talented, too.

Remember, the medium isn't the message. The medium's just a democratizing voice that's messy, less than authoritative, young, did I say messy?, and perhaps will spawn more truly individualistic, focused viewpoints down the road.

Samantha Dugan said...

I was just Tweeting about this very thing and all my friends on facebook gave me that little thumbs up, "I like" thing when I posted as my status, "Samantha Dugan is so over social media". You have inspired me...gonna go blog about it.
By the way, kinda dig the "grumpy guy" snarl in your voice...rawr.

Charlie Olken (aka Puff Daddy) said...

Steven Mirassou, I am assuming the younger, not the elder, is posting here, and his eloquence is hard won. He went to college, has written or promises to, write a novel, and just happens to make very good Pinot Noir under the La Rochelle label.

But, Steven, do not confuse Ron's cynicism for lack of enthusiasm. He is very enthusiastic at taking the piss, as the English saym, out of everything and everyone because we in the wine biz are too damn serious. I have been serious about wine writing a long time. Look where it has gotten me. I am reduced to reading the Hosemaster. If you don't escape soon, you too can learn to be cynical.

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey Steven,

What's difficult about wine writing, of course, is not only do you have to have the talent to write you also have to know what you're talking about. Some bloggers have one gift or the other, few have both. Unfortunately, 80% of them believe they're in the top 5% when it comes to both.

I'm not actually that cynical in real life. The HoseMaster is just my voice, he's not me at all. But I let him out a few times a week to vent his opinions. I rarely agree with him either.

I'm going to seek our your wines, Steven. It's been a few vintages since I've had any Steven Kent and I've never tasted La Rochelle, but if Charlie says it's good Pinot Noir I have no doubt that it is. Are you at Family Winemakers this Sunday?

Charlie, Puff Daddy,

I'm honestly flattered that you hang around here. And, you're right, I do think the folks in the wine biz take it way too seriously. Reading the vast majority of wine blogs would lead one to believe that wine is the dullest subject imaginable after kitties. The parade of all but useless and indecipherable tasting notes (I include mine in those) is depressing and really just symptomatic of having nothing interesting to say. So the HoseMaster just tries to be interesting. Funny, not so much.

No one is more surprised than me that the Puff Daddy has sunk to the HoseMaster level. Next you'll be reading Vinography.

My Gorgeous Samantha,

Me, Grumpy? I see myself more as Dopey. But I'll be all seven dwarves if you'll be my Snow White. Except Bashful.

I so adore you.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, with respect to most wine blogs, Facebook and Twitter postings remind me of the phamous philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and nobody is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Why is it called "Social" Media when so many blogs and these inane postings (MyFace, etc.) are really "anti-social"?
That Mirassou name rings a bell...wasn't that "Santa Clara-Speak" for "Mondavi" back in the 1970s?

Steven Mirassou said...

Charlie, there definitely is a time to be serious, and a time to realize that we aren't curing cancer (or I might have just missed the headline?). I tweeted yesterday that going to taste wine out of barrel was like the first day of summer vacation. There really are few things as much fun as surfing the barrels!

This business is galling sometimes, no doubt. But, you know, when someone likes what you make, and takes his/her hard-earned money and exchanges it for a bottle, the dealings with the distributors, and the lack of attention, the profligacy of brands, etc. skulk away...for a while.

Ron, not at Family Winemaker's this year. Made the calculation that being in a room with 400 other wineries wasn't the most efficient use of the marketing time...I do believe their mission is of critical importance to small brands like mine, however. I'd love to get your honest feedback to the La Rochelle wines and the new vintages of Steven Kent. If you get to Livermore, please let me know. I'd love to taste with you.

Anon, I think Mondavi was Napa-speak for Mirassou in the 1970s:) Not that it means anything now, but my grandfather and great-uncle co-signed on the $100,000 loan that Robert needed to start Mondavi after he was kicked out of the family business. No family in North America has been making wine continuously longer than mine. Again, not that that really means anything. All that matters is what is in the bottle, how authentic it is, how delicious.

Charlie Olken said...

Steven, you are being too serious. Must be the blue, eastern education. Pity about that.

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Let's see, in a room personally with 400 other wineries, or impersonally on Twitter with 10,000 other wineries...

No, I hear you, Family Winemakers is something of a beauty pageant where they don't rule out the ugly ones. I only go because there is something ultimately hilarious about the whole affair, although this year it will probably feel more like the Titanic. The economy is the iceberg.

I would love to taste with you in Livermore! I'll make a point of doing it fairly soon. I'll be in touch.


You started this whole "serious" thing on HoseMaster. You with the blue, western education. Thanks for that. Who next, Morton Leslie? God forbid.

Steven Mirassou said...

Charlie...I'm still a work in progress.

Ron, I look forward to seeing you soon. Thanks.

Charlie Olken said...


Stevem promised me a novel a couple of years ago. I am still waiting. Of course, I am still waiting for my novel as well. And as for blue educations, I don't have one. Mine is all red.


Have you been reading this blog for any length of time? If so, are you sure you want Washam anywhere near your winery?

Ron Washam, HMW said...


Can't wait for the publication of your first novel, "Puff Daddy Dearest."

My education, for those who care, is mauve.


Don't listen to Charlie. I come in peace to Livermore.

Steven Mirassou said...


Even the HoseMaster deserves the benefit of the doubt (one time, of course!). You should come to Livermore too.

Charlie Olken said...


I have been thrown out of Livermore more times than I care to remember. The last time, I wore sunglasses and a Robert Parker nose. The tasting room lady sussed me out when I told her that I did not use my mood ring to choose wine and her $12 Chardonnay that was four vintages old and had been reduced from $30 was still not worth the time of day. So, now, I try not to get off I-580 when passing through. The police have my picture and I don't want to spend a day locked up at the Wente tasting room. After all, they don't have Gray Riesling anymore.