Friday, 13 November 2009

The future of wine writing (part two)

I've surfaced from the online coverage of winefuture hoping that no-one else has been listening to it. This is because I'm steadily coming to the conclusion that if things continue, wine writers won't matter and the ones that do matter might not be able to get themselves heard.

The main problem: we've all got to be friends.

Many people on Twitter (a self-selecting bunch, I admit) kept banging on about how all these new web tools would bring wine into a glorious new age. Everyone, from writer to marketer kept harping on about it. One person even talked about 'developing the future for the common good'. What does that mean?

Well it means that the all-encompassing power of the internet and its tools, such as the aforementioned Twitter, will be able to bring wine lovers into a great global community.

We'll just have one big chat about wine.

So who's got the most important voice? Well, whoever's got the best statistics. It's all 'hits' and 'unique users', which only shows that some wine websites have good search engine rankings. Although a good search engine ranking means more relevance to the subject in hand, it doesn't mean the writing is (a) any good or (b) objective. Because if wine estates got their websites right, their website should rank top in google when someone types in their name. Relevant? Yes. Friendly? Yes. Impartial? Probably not.

If I wanted to blow the dream that we can all be a happy, sharing community with wine in common, I'd haul up the example of Jancis Robinson. And she might well be more canny than most wine writers. Refusing to put the all-inclusive '#winefuture' sign in front of most of her Twitter posts, she ensured that anyone looking for (her) coverage of winefuture had to go to her Twitter page and did not participate in the general discussion. Assuming she had an audience it bizarrely restores some of my faith in the future of wine writers and their willing readers.

Some people really do have an audience. With producers like Randall Grahm leading the way on Twitter (he has a quarter of a million people following him) the idea that wine writers can use social media to communicate with consumers is, to all intents and purposes, over. If corporately applied, producers using Twitter will be able to jam the airwaves with endless, self-congratulatory dross (imagine it: "Lafite RT @MichelRolland Just put the microx bulb 2cm too deep in the Cabernet tank ROFLOL").

Talking of 'bigging yourself up', another theme was the importance of 'the human story' behind the brand, or the 'personal content' of its website. The subtext here is twofold: the product itself (what's in the bottle) is merely a cipher. What is important is the story that goes with it. If you think some of the dross on back labels is bad, brace yourselves - it's going to get worse. Wine may well be on the brink of entering the vacuous world of the cult of personality.

So if the quality of the product is of less importance, that everyone's voice is getting mixed up, and we're all trying to be friends, where does that leave (a) the future quality of the wines we drink, (b) those whose job it is to assess them and (c) how on earth we communicate about wine?

What's the solution? Well, I have to be honest here - there isn't one. If anything, winefuture perfectly illustrated the future of wine. In a mix of voices, some were good (interesting), some were bad (self-promoting), it was just impossible to tell which was which from the program.

Labels: , , ,

The future of wine writing (part one)

I'm not even at winefuture in Rioja and I feel I can contribute to the debate. For starters, this is both a good and a bad thing. Good in that it shows the usefulness of social media (two words I hate - it's like calling a text message a conversation), and bad in that, well, I really should be there.

Firstly, Gary Vaynerchuck of winelibrarytv fame had all the bloggers and twitters in raptures. Which is fair enough: he's very good. I'm also sure his contribution to the discussion was the most valuable. But we all seem to suffer collective myopia when it comes to Vaynerchuck because, after all, he's actually a wine merchant.

Odd, then, that he's up there on a podium with a bunch of journos, telling other journos how to communicate on the web. If that's the future (which if more producers and salesmen were more canny, it would be), then I'm sorry folks but objective wine writing has died.

But, I hear everyone cry, his heart's in the right place. And this heralds my second point:

There seems to be this unspoken, collective idea that because we're all on social media (staring blankly into a screen with a glass of wine by the keyboard, blogging, twittering, etc) we are collectively nice with each other. We're facebook friends with PRs; our twitters are re-tweeted by producers; and our blogs are commented on by 'rival' journalists.

How can the volume of information (from all sources, be they PR or journalist) that these social media sites provide make the future of independent, clear-sighted wine writing any more secure?

Because, as Gary Vaynerchuck has shown, the content (or the context) doesn't matter, it's the delivery that counts...

Labels: , , ,