You might not have known it, but the virtual wine world is getting set for another big Twitter tasting event this Thursday in the form of a “Tweetup.” That’s a a meet-up, or social gathering, of people on Twitter. I received word of it in an email from the folks at Paul Dolan Vineyards and Parducci Wine Cellars, two brands of the Mendocino Wine Company in California, which, among others, is building its own event within the event. Users are invited to come to the Parducci tasting room in Ukiah. “You don’t have to tweet to come taste,” says the invitation, “but we do encourage forwarding this invite to all your friends, fans and followers!” You bet they do. Welcome to the brave new world of wine marketing, where it’s all about emails, Tweetups, friends, followers and Facebook fans.
The theme of this latest Twitter tasting is wine blends. Whether at a winery or in the privacy of your own home, alone or in a group, the idea is that while tasting a blend of your choice (a cabernet sauvignon-merlot blend, let’s say) you Tweet about it, thus providing your take on the wine or wines, all in 140 characters or less. Voila! You’ve become an instant critic. All you need is a bottle of wine and a handheld device.
Think about it. If you’re a producer, you’ve now got dozens if not hundreds or thousands of opinions on your wines for all to see, even if most of them represent the views of wine amateurs. A certain percentage of those Tweets are going to result in wine sales, and you will have sold those bottles while bypassing traditional marketing, advertising and public relations and the costs they incur. How far we’ve come from the days when Orson Welles made that famous commercial for the Paul Masson wine company three decades ago and declared, “We will sell no wine before its time.”
Such wine pronouncements from on high are ancient history. These days, much of the marketing is generated by wine enthusiasts themselves, who are encouraged by wineries to participate and spread the word. And they do. The idea of the wine Tweetups was embraced early on by St. Supéry Vineyards & Winery in the Napa Valley, which has hosted several of the events. I was talking about all this the other day with Tina Cao, St. Supéry’s PR and marketing manager, who said that social networking was a great way for the winery to interact with consumers and to provide a high-level of customer service.
I asked her whether bloggers and Tweeters were taking the place of traditional wine critics. “They have a different audience,” she said, “and I think there’s room for both.” Cao noted that those who are using social media seem to have a younger audience, one more likely to take into account what their friends say. Those Twitter followers and Facebook friends can also provide almost instant feedback to the company. “If it’s a great review it’s great for us,” she said. “If it’s not a positive one we want to know why.”
“For instance,” Cao added in an e-mail follow-up to our convesation, “there was a blogger who didn’t like one of our wines and we sent her another bottle on the chance that she purchased an ‘off’ bottle. She did a 180 and became a fan of the brand.” So much so that she held her wedding at the winery.
Beyond their own blogs and Twitter posts, some of these citizen-reviewers are sharing their notes and scores on wine commerce and community sites like Snooth. At a recent wine event here in New York I met one of them, Matt Aronowitz, who revealed that he was one of Snooth’s biggest contributors. When I looked on Snooth, where he is known as “aronowm2,” he had, in fact, reviewed 561 wines, including a California syrah he summed up this way: “killer. nice and lush. opened up nicely after 1 hour....also went well with a Cigar.” In the brave new world of wine marketing, I wouldn’t be surprised if the winery put that up on its Web site.
Robert Parker, watch out.