I realize that this rant will likely not make me popular with other wine bloggers, but it really has been bugging me for some time:
I really don’t “get” online wine tastings.
For those of you that are not familiar with the concept, an entity (usually a winery, a PR firm, or even a wine region) will send the same wine to a number of wine writers/bloggers across the country (it varies, but there are usually at least a couple different wines sent). Then, on an appointed day and time, there would be an online “chat” about the wine, usually for an hour, on Twitter (some of the chats use different methods to run the chat, but most go through Twitter in some way).
I guess over the last few years I have done a couple dozen or so such events and I always have the same question running through my head:
“What’s the point?”
I do not ask that question as if I were a petulant teen being asked to make his bed (I never quite understood why I needed to make it just to sleep in it again later that day). Nor do I think that the chats are completely devoid of any possible benefit to the wineries that have supplied their product for free. I am sure there is a certain amount of exposure involved.
But I still don’t “get” it.
Most of these wine chats have a similar format: the winemaker and PR people are “present” and the participants are encouraged/expected to ask questions about the wine via Twitter using a pre-determined hashtag (for those of you unfamiliar with Twitter, a hashtag [e.g., #winelover] is used so that other people on Twitter can follow the conversation easily, and if enough people start using the hashtag, well then it is “trending” and the people who care about such things completely lose their minds).
At least to me, the concept in theory is rather straightforward and easy to comprehend.
What ends up happening though, is you have twenty people (or more) firing questions all at once since that is what we think we are supposed to do and it becomes a bit of a free-for-all. Imagine you were a teacher and every one of the 30 kids in your class started screaming questions at you simultaneously. That is how I see an online tasting since “decorum” and “Twitter” are close to polar opposites.
Thus, it turns into a bit of a mêlée, and there is no possible way that the winemaker can ever answer even a quarter of the questions that are tossed his or her way.
That brings me back to my initial question: What is the point of an online tasting? Or perhaps more precisely: What is the goal?
As far as I can tell, here are the possible goals:
- Create a “buzz” around a wine.
- Generate sales.
- Provide useful information about the wine.
- Get writers to try the wine (and hopefully write about it).
- Because everyone else is doing it.
The problem is that the writers (at least me) are never told what the goal is, so we are left to figure it out on our own.
If “Creating a Buzz” (i.e., try to become “trending”) is the goal, then tell me that. Since it does not really matter what you say to become trending (all that really has to happen is that there be a boatload of tweets with the same hashtag in a relatively short amount of time), I will tweet my brains out for an hour, instead of trying to think up intelligent questions that will go unanswered.
I am not sure to what extent any of the next two goals (#2 and #3) are realized, since as far as I can tell the only people following the chat are those writers who already got the wine for free–I doubt that the general public even knows that the chat is going on, let alone following it. (These events are usually during the week, starting at either 8 or 9 p.m. on the East Coast–“Hey honey, turn off Duck Dynasty and come join this Twitter chat where people are drinking a wine we don’t have–it’s riveting!”)
When it comes to #4, personally I feel like you have to chose: do you want me to tweet about it, or do you want me to write about it? When I receive a sample, I make an honest effort to write my thoughts about the wine and I include it with other tasting notes of wines that I have received. That takes some time as I almost always have the sample with a meal as I believe that is its intended purpose (as opposed to tasting 40+ wines before 11:00 in the morning, which I find to be a completely asinine way to evaluate wine, but that is for another rant).
When I am in a Twitter chat, it usually starts after dinner, during a time when I usually try to write (or catch up on Game of Thrones–I can’t lie, I just started watching it and I am hooked). To stay up another hour or so and try to write something intelligent just is not going to happen (sure, I could do it beforehand, but… OK, I do not have a great excuse as to why I don’t do that).
I really don’t know what to say about #5 since no one will likely admit it, but in my opinion, it seems to be a rather powerful force.
So what do you think about online tastings? I will probably continue to do them to a certain extent (yes, that makes me a hypocrite), but I have cut back on them quite a bit and really do not miss them all that much.