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I am writing this blog post from the Rennaissance hotel in Vienna. I am here to attend the European wine Bloggers conference and to extend my network with like-minded people:).

Whilst I know that attending a conference is a  more classical way of networking, I want to share that I already have connected with quite a few of the other participants via the web (Facebook, Twitter) before ever meeting them in person. Reaching out and communicating with others via the internet is one way of defining Social Media.  The reason social media is social is that it is two way. E.g. I post something on the internet, and others replies, leave comment or post something else in relation to my post.

Why do I think networking via social media really can make a difference for your wine business?

Well first and foremost it’s a direct communication between you and your consumers, distributors, distributors sales reps, store owners selling your wine and sommeliers and waiting staff pushing it on-trade. By reaching out and connecting with these people  you can transfer your knowledge (eg what is going on at the vineyard and winery, what events you are attending, accolades you have received etc etc) and  educate the people in your network. This will make it easier for them to push your wine (if they are in the trade) or feel more connected to your winery and hence make it their wine of choice (for consumers).

Further more social media updates can be read by people who had never heard of you before, so it is a great opportunity to extend your network and consumer base.

There are indeed many advantages to be had by social media networking, but how should you go about it and is it going to be expensive?

There are many different types of media out there that you can use to connect and communicate with people which are free eg Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Bloggers, Youtube and Flickr. All you need is a little time to invest in communication to your network. Remember you need to be willing to take the initiative here time after time.

An easy way to start is to create an account in Facebook and Twitter. Spend a little time setting up your profile – because this is where it all begins. Your profile is your personal billboard – give a short overview of your business – be concise and direct when doing so! Remember, your profile is what will attract followers and friends -adding your website address here is also a must as once people are intrigued they will want to find out more about you:)

Updates in both these media are generally short and do not require a lot of time. Both media actively encourage and support the ability to connect to all your email contacts. Do invite all of your existing contacts to connect with you here as well, and once you are connected reach out to them to spread the word about your winery.

Both media also allow you to post links to other sites, use this ability if it will further promote your winery – eg a glorious review by a wine writer -(NZ winegrowers and wineries Man o’War and Misha’s Vineyard are very good at this!) or a youtube video of harvest in progress – this was done by Huegel very successfully last month.

I will post some more examples of wineries and wine related businesses using Social Media during the conference and hope their success will rub off on you!

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The USA is an important target export market for most wineries around the world as it is the fastest expanding wine drinking market. The market is also totally driven by the Wine Spectator scores (http://www.winespectator.com). The Spectator scores play at every level – in the same way as a trophy or gold medal can make a huge difference to a winery’s sales. A 90+ WS score is almost essential if one wants to sell a good volume of wine at a price point higher than $10…  A 90+ wine is an easy sell for the distributor’s rep, because the 90+ WS score tag will attract shoppers and will help the wine sell through.

Because it’s the most influential magazine in the USA, Canada and many other countries, it’s maybe not surprising that the Wine Spectator is often being (wrongly or rightly) criticised.

Earlier this week I read an interesting  blog post by Blake Gray  (http://wblakegray.blogspot.com/2010/09/open-letter-about-wine-spectator.html) – where he elaborated a bit on his Open Letter to Marvin Shanken – the WS ‘s editor. His open letter caused quite a stir in the wine world, with quite some reactions on Gray’s own Blog post (http://wblakegray.blogspot.com/2010/09/open-letter-to-marvin-shanken.html) lots of tweets and more on the the WS forum (http://forums.winespectator.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/6826053161/m/717100867)

Whilst I feel I am in no position to voice an opinion one way or another on James Laube’s palette and his way of scoring Californian wines for the Wine Spectator, I do have an opinion on the Spectator’s policy of having just one person conducting the tastings. I feel the magazine is far too influential and too crucial to a winery’s commercial success in the USA for it just being up to 1 person to decide on the wine’s faith…  I also feel that it’s not fair that the person tasting knows exactly what wine he is tasting – I feel it’s very difficult to mark a wine objectively if one knows the wines – i.e. what if the winery is a major advertiser in the WS, or the winemaker or owner is a friend of the taster – by seeing the label, the taster will often already have a preconceived idea of what scores he should allocate to these wines…

In my opinion, it would make much more sense to follow the model most important and influential wine competitions use: a blind tasting by a (multi person) tasting panel. This will allow for an objective weighed score reflecting a joint opinion of the real quality of the wine. Its a known fact that the WS has a significant depth in their editorial staff (ie tasters)  and I feel the wealth of tasting knowledge of the individual tasters can only add value to the ultimate score they will jointly allocate.

Whilst I know some people do follow the WS tasters very closely, it’s also a fact that the vast majority of the distributor’s reps, shop owners and general consumers do not really know who tasted these wines – what style they like and how they generally score – all that matters for them is that the “Wine Spectator” considers this wine to be extraordinary and allocated it a 90+ score. So with this in mind I really do not think they would be aghast by the fact that the wines are now tasted blind by a tasting panel rather than knowingly by 1 taster.

And I feel it would also be easier for the wineries to accept a weighted score – most wineries I have worked with say they stand for quality and I think this should come through better in a weighted score.

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