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by Cyril Penn | October 18, 2012 | 2:00 PM

I was chatting with a gent who has run national sales for a number of well-known wine brands the other day, when he asked what I think about wine bloggers. I noted that there are a few top bloggers I follow regularly – that I’ve attended the annual wine bloggers conference, and said bloggers have helped wineries to get their stories out.

“If a blogger says something nice about your product, the chances of a consumer buying it are so slim it’s pathetic,” he declared.

“Here’s my issue with PR, advertising and blogging,” he continued. “Unless you’re a really large winery with lots of points of distribution, having someone hear about your wine via a blog or an ad in Architectural Digest and having them remember that product and then find it in a store - find it and act upon it and actually buy it? … It’s so f@%##g slim it’s never going to happen. Seventy-five percent of the decisions are made at the point of purchase. Unless you’re Gallo or Sutter Home you don’t have those points of distribution like most consumer goods do. Coca-Cola is everywhere: Absolut is everywhere.

“What matters is distribution,” he said. “What matters is whether you have your product out there in mass where someone that read about it or heard about it can find it in the first place. Unless you’re a multi-million case brand, you just don’t have enough points of distribution in the United States.”

“When a blogger, blogs, ‘Hey, I just love the @#&* out of x Petit Syrah’ and production is 5,000 cases – the odds of it being in a store anywhere near where that blogger blogged is one out of ten thousand.”

“I had 20 people from a hotel chain come out to the winery,” he said. “I guarantee we sold more wine through them than we’ll ever sell with 1,000 bloggers.”

“The fallacy of, ‘I will sell more wine if I get my social media up and running is false,’” he said. “Scores matter,” he added, “but they matter from just a handful of people: Spectator, Parker, and maybe the Enthusiast or Wine & Spirits.”

Erica Valentine with WineDirect comments:

Isn't the 'gent' missing the point that people are reading wine bloggers on their smartphones, tablets or computer and can instantly search online, find and purchase the aforementioned wine immediately, ideally in a minimum of clicks? In most cases this is the ONLY way that wine can get to an interested consumer.

Tom Wark of Wark Communications comments:

I'd love to talk with this gent, if only to explain that he's lost sight of how one properly utilizes a good review or good article to enhance one's marketing.

The idea that few folks will take a blogger's advice or recommendation and go out and buy, fails to appreciate the myriad ways a brand can utilize such a 3rd party endorsement outside the context of the medium in which it originally ran.

Larry Chandler with Cedar City Wine Club in Utah comments:

Erica, can this be measured? Many people who read wine bloggers can of course search for the wines to see who might be carrying it. But are they?

Perhaps wine bloggers who truly want people to try the wines they recommend can also do that research first, and either list or link to wineries and stores (and even wine search engines) where a reader can locate and purchase that product.


Mike Dunne with A Year in Wine comments:

In reply to Larry Chandler's remark, as both blogger and wine columnist I routinely try to find out where wines I write about are available. That's easy when I've bought the wine, though it is no guarantee that the wine still will be in stock where I bought it. Other than that, I routinely ask wineries where their wines are available within my primary area of coverage. They generally have a pretty good idea, though surprisingly often they don't. They refer me to their distributor. Unfortunately, I learned long ago that when a distributor says that a wine is at this and that outlet what they really are saying is, "We hope to have that wine at this and that outlet," and then fail to follow through. I no longer can count on them. And to judge by my experience recently with a winery with a wine I've written up they also have been misled by their distributor. The wine just wasn't where they thought it was, and maybe never had been.

Cindy Molchany with zephyradventures (Wine Bloggers' Conference) comments:

Hey - I know this gent! I think I worked with him when doing social media for a winery a few years back. Now I know where all the antagonism came from, and all this time I thought it was because I once caught him in front of a mirror referring to himself as "master of the wineaverse".

Kidding aside... It seems like this gent is actually confusing a blogger with a point of purchase. His 20 hotel guests are points of purchase - they sell the wine at their hotel! There is value in those relationships and visits, certainly, but it doesn't negate the value of a blogger. In any way.

What has always frustrated me is that gents like this guy fail to realize how much more successful they would be at their job if they took the time to establish and nurture a blogger relationship here and there.

Alana Gentry Girl with a Glass comments:

Great little piece. The gent is unfortunately not alone in his lack of knowledge about blogging. I am sure he is an expert in his limited field of vision, but I would bet money he'd fail a basic primer questionnaire about blogging. Here's some starter lessons - many bloggers include clear information about where to get the wine, they refuse to write about a wine without providing that information. They usually provide a link. At the very least, people who read wine blogs can just Google the wine name or use a service like Snooth that provides a list of where the wine is available. Another misconception that has always bothered me is when people think it matters where a blogger lives: blogging is done on the worldwide web, where a blogger is blogging from is completely insignificant. (I blog about imports and live in Napa/Sonoma.) Of course distribution is important, but if you can buy it online and it will ship to your state, you're good to go. Many wineries have their own online shops now and specials that aren't available elsewhere. There's also great small online shops that specialize in imports or boutique wines. There are so many ways to get wine to people these days and bloggers are an excellent marketing tool to direct folks right to the place where they can purchase the wine.

Chris Kassel with Intoxicology Report comments:

C'mon, Cyril. Let's name names. I'd like to have a shot at this wanker. He may have made a couple of points, but I guarantee you I can make a couple about his gig as well.

Jim Smith with comments: 

My guess is this piece, and the comments quoted are of the 'Shock Jock' variety where any pub is good pub.

I don't know of a single vineyard, winery or wine maker that would not agree that Blogs are far more important than any single distributor's network. I recently saw a stat that 85% of Oregon's Artisan winery sales derive from their tasting rooms. Bloggers put butts in the seats at those tasting rooms. Social Media puts butts in those tasting rooms. Distributors do nothing for direct sales, mailing lists or club memberships.

I suggest that he put his paper map, yellow pages and fax machine in the garbage and step into the modern age of relationship marketing. If not, his retail distribution network will soon shrink as the wine shops will no longer need his archaic methods.

Bill Ward with comments:

I have no idea if a recommendation of mine at the blog has sold a single bottle, but just in case I always link to the wine's page on Wine Searcher.

Arthur with comments:

l love how indignant some people get. Yes! We have to educate the uneducated throngs of consumers and wine schleppers that the unknowledgeable winelearnersastheytype are oh-so-valuable to moving cases.

Nobody buys wine because a blogger wrote about it.


Get over it, folks.

Don't believe me? Ask your mother/aunt/grandmother who does not know how to open an email attachment how she selects wine for purchase.

Weren't we just recently reading how the hip, iGadget-toting hipsermillenialgenafteryer demmo is just a fata morgana?.....

Jim Smith comments: 

I assume you were looking in the mirror when you wrote your first sentence?

Perhaps you should look at the fastest emerging demo in wine consumption. It isn't Grandmothers, and what they lack in sophistication they more than make up for in purchasing power. They also are twice as likely to make a purchase based on a recommendation from a friend or trusted source.

The 'Wine schleppers' have made you and the haughty, arrogant and elitist wine 'Connoisseur' irrelevant. They fill the tasting rooms, they flood the wine bars on tasting nights, and they carry away wine by the trunk load.

Give Kings Estate a call and ask them how they feel about blogging. Call Domaine Droughin Oregon and ask them about Social Media. Call Bruce at Vino and ask him about mailing lists.

Arthur comments:

Oh, Jim. You found me out. Damn. Sob.....

That large demmo you laud is short on cash, given the economy (that, and because they blow their spare cash on new iCrap every year).

Not sure what you meant about irrelevant Connoisseurs, but I bet you it's not the folks who know a few things about wine and not what they just learned by journaling what they got in PR packet.

I've been enjoying King Estate a smidgen longer than they knew what blogging is, but thanks. :)

BTW. Am I the only one to see the irony that wine blogging - social media - has one of the highest rates of prevalence of Asperger Syndrome and Autistic Spectrum Disorders of all hobbies? You know... 'cause Asperger Syndrome and Autistic Spectrum Disorders are typified by varying degrees of social ineptitude and awkwardness and all?..... Just askin', cause I was struck by this at the first bloggers' conference....

Arthur comments again:

While the fine bloggists sharpen pitchforks and light torches in the wings, I'll remind us all of a quote from the movie "Almost Famous":

"They are NOT your friends"

This is an industry and anyone helping the bottom line is a.... well... a tool – in the means-to-an-end way.

Many winery owners and winemakers live and die by the pen of The Bob. They may enjoy the extra relatively free publicity, but they will turn and bite (like they did with a formerly-mustachioed wine critic with a low detection threshold for halogenated anisoles) when crossed, or when something newer comes along.

There are too many mortgages, deeds, loans and sometimes liens on the line for them not to do so.

Doug Wilder with PDWR comments:

As Alana pointed out, where a blogger lives has nothing to do with their reach as the web is a global media. As someone who stepped away from blogging wine reviews to publishing a magazine reviewing a distinct niche of american wines, I observe that the top wine bloggers are probably not best suited to reviewing wines, rather, writing compelling stories about a narrow, manageably finite subject that is always fresh that they dig into in depth.

The bottom line for a blogger's influence being meaningful to a winery's success in moving boxes is for that writer to have an overriding expertise/focus that is delivered in a timely fashion. What I mean by that is establishing credentials of telling their readers about wines ahead of the major critics. Seriously, few care if a wine gets a badge from a blogger three months after it has received a 93 in Wine Spectator.

Arthur comments:

Doug has it right. There is a reason why traditional media wants to get the scoop, be the first and have the exclusive.In order to contend with and surpass established wine publications, one has to apply a superior standard to produce a finished product for which there is a demand. Having reader/user-generated content is pointless and has low potential for monetization. One has to run with and outrun the big dogs. There are many long, unpaid hours in the run up to that.Until one is able to consistently do that over a long period of time (and make money at it, because one WILL have to quit their day job to do this), they will just be re-blogging the PR email that Steve Heimoff gave the so-an-so Syrah 91 points.There is no viable business model (thus no competitive advantage, recognition, influence or future) in that.

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