Friday Rant: Online Tastings

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.

rantFor 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.

My hat of choice for Twitter chats.

My hat of choice for Twitter chats.

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.

In theory.

This is what it looks like when you are in a Twitter Chat. Riveting....

This is what it looks like when you are in a Twitter Chat. Riveting….

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:

  1. Create a “buzz” around a wine.
  2. Generate sales.
  3. Provide useful information about the wine.
  4. Get writers to try the wine (and hopefully write about it).
  5. 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.

 

The wines from my last Online Tasting (I supplied the Champers).

The wines from my last Online Tasting (I supplied the Champers).

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.

 

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About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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35 Responses to Friday Rant: Online Tastings

  1. Recently Quini did an online tasting using their wine education/tasting app. It was a refreshing twist to online tastings. Check it out and like to know what you think. http://www.quiniwine.com

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Kristy says:

    Very good points. I’ve only done one and I enjoyed it. That said, I don’t follow anyone elses when I see them happening. I do see them though, so perhaps that’s some kind of exposure for the wine. It is a curious thing. On a side note, enjoy GOT! We were hooked early on. My favorite show of all time.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Well as a writer who is convinced that the best way to spend an afternoon is sipping wine at a winery with a sketchpad,I find the twitter thing a bit sterile. I know there is an academic side to wine, but I prefer to leave that to others and tasting wine on twitter just does not give me the ambience that is its own terroir.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well put! While I agree with you on all of your points, I live in PA, a it far from most of the vineyards and wines that I review. I understand the idea of sending out wines for people to try, but I think you are right that Twitter is difficult to grasp.

      Like

  4. Beth says:

    The value? For me, long lasting connections with people and wineries. I know that if it weren’t for participating in Twitter tastings in 2010, before I had a blog, I most likely would not have discovered wine and forged ahead with a blog and a career change. I like the connections I’ve built these past five years. 🙂 http://travelingwinechick.com/2011/08/02/the-value-of-twitter-wine-tastings/

    Liked by 3 people

    • I certainly agree that they have served to forge stronger relationships with other bloggers like you! 😉 I am not sure that I could cite a winery that I have actually “connected” with during a chat. Usually, as I mentioned above, there are just far too many people involved in the chats to really get any “quality” time. I have subsequently met up with a few, which I would say was the start of any relationship.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. SAHMmelier says:

    I see all of your points. I would add that I find it difficult to evaluate wines as quickly as we are supposed to. I have even begun tasting and taking notes ahead of time. I am pretty good at multi-tasking but I feel that the wines deserve my full attention, as does the winemaker, as do the participants. Challenging.
    I do, however, like the opportunity to chat with the winemakers, learn from others’ evaluations, and say hello to people I really like.
    I think limiting the number of people participating becomes a catch 22-less buzz (not that kind) and chance of trending, sure. But, also the chance to actually read and respond to all involved. What is the answer? Not sure.
    Also, it is painful to open 5 bottles of wine on a Tuesday and not be able to properly pair/enjoy them. I try not to drink much during the week and hate to waste and some wines jut can’t hold up that long.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You make a lot of great points and I agree with all of them–it is tough for me during the week to commit time at 9:00 at night. It is equally hard to evaluate the wines at that point. I should open them earlier and take some notes, but I always feel like that is cheating.

      As for your other point, I feel like the organizers have to choose: do you want as much exposure as possible (i.e., “trending”) or do you want to build community/relationships? If it is the former, let the writers know that the wine is being sent to numerous people across the country and that you just want us to tweet a lot. If it is the latter, send it to many fewer people and organize it as such so that there can be “real” dialogue.

      In my mind, you can’t have it both ways….

      Liked by 1 person

    • That is always my concern as I never seem to get the wines that far in advance of the tasting to try them ahead of time and there is so much going on in that 1 hour I dont like to rush through them. I don’t drink as much during the week either and it’s a waste to not enjoy the bottles in their entirety unless I really decide to hit the bottles ; )

      Liked by 1 person

  6. wineismylife says:

    #2. That’s pretty much it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Jeff! Well since I’ve been the host of many of these I thought I should chime in here… I think that you have some valuable points and that fact is there is no one answer to “why” because not all Twitter chats are the same. It really depends on the host, the wines, the ultimate goal of the program, etc.

    So.

    Why do we host Twitter chats? Well, speaking as a wine region, we think it’s a valuable way to reach many people with a series of facts and an organized tasting that would not otherwise all be able to attend such a seminar/tasting/event in real life… especially for those who do not live in cities that the regions we represent reach… which is common with the “underdogs.”

    Also, we don’t try to do it in a way that is just sending a bunch of people wine and then having them tell me what they’re eating with it while we’re going along. Many people are focused on this, what we try to do is a create a (for lack of a better term) “master class” that provides valuable facts about the region/country with the wines as a reference point. Our goal is to provide useful knowledge that will resonate through tasting the wines with the participants and, hopefully, stick in their minds when they go forward to taste other wines from the region/country and/or do write about the current wines. I counter your point that if you’re writing about a sample one time without any other sort of background being presented, are you likely to remember that wine/grape/region as a further date?

    We actually make a script containing all pertinent information about that wines, the region, the winery, etc. that we are prepared for such questions already. Sure there is sometimes an outlying question, but since we’re prepared with other facts, we are able to answer all the questions.

    As with any sample sent, an article about it would be fantastic and I highly encourage this behavior! But this isn’t 2009, and we aren’t naive… it’s irrational to think that every writer that receives a sample is actually going to write about it and we don’t provide samples with the promise that they will anyway… a popular blogging topic for discussion on a another day.

    Alas, we aren’t the type of group that focuses so much on the “trending” fact, though impressions are really the only immediate way to measure these programs so it does come into effect through services such as TweetReach, etc. Again, the goal is more to increase the overall level of knowledge and to encourage continued tasting of these wines and beyond. I can imagine it’s the same with a winery… you have the chance to talk with a winemaker you may normally not have access to, you taste the wines with him/her, you learn about the winery (more than you would reading it from a pamphlet/website), and so you can begin with identify with that winery, no?

    Anyway, my two cents as a marketing person who hosts these. Interested to hear your reply.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Constance, thank you so much for your well thought out and eloquently written response. I have never participated in one of your “chats” but had I, I am sure that I would have an overall different opinion. I have been involved in a number of chats that seemed to have been well organized, with a focus or goal in mind. Perhaps they all are, but some certainly seem to exhibit that organization better than others.

      In my article above, I neglected to include that there are certainly benefits to increasing awareness and providing “education” about wines and regions that people might not otherwise experience. I would argue that my contention still holds true, however: organizers of online chats could do a better job communicating the explicit goals of the chats to the participants, which based on your response, it seems as though you might be well ahead of the curve.

      Like

  8. This is so spot on! If the intent is good I’m all for it. I’ve been in various group panels for things and usually everyone is cordial. But every once in a while there’s a bad seed, someone trying to stir the pot and go into business for themselves. We’re all in this thing together (whatever the topic), so if there’s good coming out of it, then heck yes! But I’ve seen some of these marketing groups seems so robotic and formulaic, with the hashtags, buzz words, etc. That doesn’t seem as natural. I’m all for organic and people being allowed to be themselves.

    Like

    • Precisely! If the intent and goal are clear, then count me in. But if it is a bit of a buck shot approach–throwing a bunch at the wall, hoping something will stick, well, that’s less interesting for me….

      Like

  9. Kara Sweet says:

    I have not taken part in an online event such as this, but I have witnessed the “trending” Twitter feeds after they happen. I admit the trend has never made me run out to purchase any of the wines, but often the feed has made me aware of certain producers I may not have known. In that sense, the buzz could have been seen as somewhat successful…if that was one of the goals of the online tasting. Do you think producers or marketers should have these goals in mind beforehand? Should they let participants know? I’m interested to hear opinions on this.

    Like

  10. Thank you FranklinLiquors for mentioning the Quini tastings. We’d love to have everyone join us on our next event as we fine-tune the process even more, to get your feedback and present to you a new way of doing things.

    Our events are also not ‘same wine’ events. They are ‘same category’ wine events depending on the topic of the event. That could be Aromatic wines, Napa wines, organic wines, Italian wines, etc.

    The purpose is also not PR but to truly do a virtual tasting and share tasting notes with each other following a unified system. There everyone also gets to, if they like, share their visual tasting notes at the end of each wine they taste, via social media, showing the same five aspects of a wine evaluated on their own mobile device or laptop, using the same standard.

    This way everyone gets to learn something new, have fun gatherings in our homes or offices, rain or shine, taste new wines and record our impressions in a way where we can access them in great detail afterwards. Each person also gets to discover their palate as it evolves, using the system’s Taste Profile utility, and meet some good people.

    One of the greater benefits for the industry is that we all begin to use the same wine language and standard to taste and rate wines, so we can finally start to compare apples to apples across the country and the world.

    Here is an example of what a Quini tasting note looks like: https://quiniwine.com/review/5600a198d147580300000096

    Please drop me a note at roger@quiniwine.com if you’d like to find out more and join us on our next event. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I don’t agree Jeff–seems to be a rant for rant sake. You certainly don’t have to participate and it sounds like you won’t in the future.

    Immediacy and wine is important and Twitter or other social media platforms do offer this. And while perhaps bloggers may not care what other bloggers might say online I think these tastings can and do offer target audience information, thoughts, opinions. Wine is a complex subject that is ultimately less complex by commenting and imparting facts online. I do think there is a synergy when many comments in a short span i.e. a Twitter tasting can and do offer insightful and perspective to someone else.

    Social media and wine is a successful category and I cannot imagine not having online tastings. I think Twitter can offer not just only a few people to participate but rather a forum for others to hear the conversation and participate. Twitter is a great way to register thoughts and if I looked at my Tweets they may not logically flow from one conversation to the next–and I think that is alright–that is the point of Twitter–let the end user select what Tweet they want to read or not or engage or not.

    I don’t agree with any of the points you highlighted.

    Like

    • James, first, thanks for taking the time to comment since my goal in ranting is to stimulate dialogue. I do not, as you suggest, just rant for the sake of ranting. I agree that participation in these chats is certainly voluntary, but that seems to be a “emperor has new clothes” approach to me.

      I guess I disagree that any of these chats involve many people other than the recipients of the wine–I have yet to see that occur (although, I will grant you that you have participated in far more than have I, so perhaps you have seen evidence of it).

      In the end, I think that organizers of the chats can do a better job of letting participants know what their goals are. Perhaps it is just me, but I am more than willing to do so, but I never know which direction to take.

      The result often seems like a crowd of people all shouting for attention often by asking rudimentary questions the answers to which they easily could have found on the winery’s website.

      Like

  12. Joe Roberts says:

    Couple of points:

    1. You never asked me to be riveting when you took that photo! 😉

    2. Like anything else, there will be some twitter tastings that are executed better than others. If only caution here not to throw the learning opportunity baby out with the logistical challenges bathwater here.

    3. When it comes to find wine, any buzz is probably good buzz. It’s a competitive market, so almost any grab at any mind share is probably a smart move on the part of the brand.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Immediate thought: it’s ALL about #2, with #1 & #3 contributing. Is that bad? No, if the wines don’t sell, we lose the producers and all they have to offer. #3 is interesting to the blogger because we love to learn more and useful to the presenter because of #2. Thanks to SAHMmelier for pointing out the networking aspect. Constance, do you ever provide that script afterwards to participants? Terrific for #3. Cyclist, thanks for being thought-provoking!

    Like

    • Thanks for the comment and I am glad you saw my main goal: to be thought provoking and conversation generating. I always assumed that the bottom line drove all decisions, but that might be a bit too simplistic. Certainly, wineries would not get involved if it an activity were shown to hurt sales, but I guess I am not smart enough to understand how one could show that these chats drive sales. Alyssa and others pointed out the networking aspect and that is a valid point that I did not consider initially.

      Like

  14. I think it also depends on whom is conducting the tasting. I recently attended a virtual tasting that was very well run and engaging with the winemakers. The host was good at addressing many questions being sent over as well.

    Like

    • I agree–I have been in some that were fantastic, others, not so much. I am going to start paying a little more attention–I would not be surprised if there was an inverse correlation between the number of participants and the quality of the event, but I can’t say that for sure at this point.

      Like

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