wine — 25 November 2013

There’s an old joke in the wine world and it goes like this:

What’s the difference between God and a winemaker? God doesn’t think he’s a winemaker.

Corny yes, but vaguely indicative of some winemakers overblown sense of themselves. Although they may doing holy work, winemakers are indeed fallible and prone to gaffes, just like the rest of us.

As a wine writer and blogger, I see a lot of annoying things that winemakers do (and don’t do) and I just have to vent.

Here are the top five.

wine pourBeing unable to talk and pour wine at the same time

At every wine tasting there is a winemaker who simply can’t keep pouring while running his mouth. You see him “engaging” with one person for the longest time to the complete exclusion of every other taster that comes along.

They talk loud enough to draw you in while simultaneously leaving you out, as if they are riding a train of thought they can’t get off.

No amount of eye contact or arm extensions catch their attention, so you end up standing there, looking stupid with your glass held out, wondering if hanging around this table is worth your time, and sometimes deciding no before walking away.

Embarrassingly annoying!

winemaker comment copyForgetting to thank writers

Then there are the winemakers who don’t take the time to comment on a blog post written about them, even though you know they have Google Alerts set on themselves. Because who doesn’t Google Alert themselves these days?

Bloggers live for comments and a quick, “Hey, thanks for reviewing my wine,” or even “Get a palate, loser,” can be a big boost to their day, and may even prompt a follow-up post. What’s more annoying is knowing the winemaker is losing a marketing opportunity by not engaging online, even to RT a tweet .

He or she won’t shut up at a tasting table, but cannot speak up online.

Uncommentably annoying.

visa wine, tastingroomconfidential.comWithholding discounts for media

Following their antipathy toward bloggers, here’s a sure sign the winemaker (or winery) couldn’t care less if you wrote about them: no media discount.

Sure, not every wine writer or blogger bothers to write about those discounted bottles, but the good will inspired by a discount makes them more inclined to scratch a little post. And for wineries that can’t afford to pay a PR person, one well-written post is worth the piddling discount they give a writer. To a wine writer, bottle discounts are priceless.

Financially annoying.

Back-Label1Keeping wine blends a secret

The wine has no varietal designation on its label but it does have a funny name. It must be a blend because it tastes unidentifiable as a single varietal. Turn to the back label, hold a magnifying glass to the words, you see that all it offers is a vague description of the flavors and a food pairing suggestion.

But what the hell is in this wine? Wine geeks want to know. We’re not talking about state secrets here. We shouldn’t have to wait for Wikileaks to tell us if this a cabernet mixed with petit verdot. Why the secrecy, winemakers? Just put the blend details on the label and cut the coyness already.

Covertly annoying.

cork screwtopUsing corks

We live in a modern world where the printed page is obsolete, smart phones are sometimes used for calls, and Apple is not just a fruit.

So why are winemakers still using corks as bottle enclosures? Following the use of rags and sealing wax, corks were the hot new thing four hundred years ago when bottlenecks started being uniform in size.

But guess what? Technology has made the screwtop superior to the humble cork for two reasons: speed and ease of opening as well as elimination of spoilage. Since screw-topped wines are never “corked,” compared with around 1% of cork-topped bottles, you’d think a winemaker has got to be crazy to keep using cork. Plus, no one ever got carpal tunnel syndrome twisting off a screwtop.

Technologically annoying.

Now, Now…

And yet, on the other hand, if these are the most annoying things winemakers do, then maybe they’re not so bad after all. The annoying things winemakers do are overwhelmingly outweighed by the satisfying things, like making great wine and selling it to us.

Where would be be without that?

But enough about my pet peeves. What do you think are the most annoying/satisfying things winemakers do?

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About Author

Mari is a writer, blogger and WordPress consultant, living in Vancouver, BC, the most wine-soaked town north of the 49th Parallel. She also blogs about blogging Blogsite Studio. Follow her on Twitter or Google Plus.

(29) Readers Comments

  1. Well, you’re bang on with this stuff, Mari But I think this is about winery owners, not wine makers. (although they are sometimes the same thing)
    In the defense of wine makers, sometimes the faux pas mentioned in your piece are out of their control.
    Items 2, 3, 4 and 5 are ultimately under the control of he/she who writes the cheques. If you’re a hired gun, the best you can do is to encourage positive behaviour in your masters. Or stomp your feet, gnash your teeth and quit.

    • Thanks for commenting, Bradley!

      It’s true that sometimes the winemaker is the winery owner, and sometimes they are not. The winemaker’s power all depends on the scale and structure of the company. So, readers, in the case of large wineries, please substitute “Winemaker” for “Winery Owner.”

      However, I disagree about point 2 that a employee winemaker can’t use social media at his/her own discretion. Would a suit from corporate offices really constrain a winemaker’s freedom to comment online? Don’t they encourage that?

      • My feeling is employee wine makers are closely monitored. They’re free to comment about whatever in new and traditional media but there are guidelines, written or otherwise, for wine-related commentary. I think there’s an expectation to be brand loyal.

        • Sure, but commenting on a story about your employer’s wine can’t be brand disloyal, can it?

  2. More specifically, in a lot of winery operations, somebody else is collecting the media clippings. I don’t Google alert my name anymore. Just my brand and I get so busy I often miss the notices.

    • Ok, so again substituting winery for winemaker, why isn’t the marketing/PR person engaging with bloggers? Wouldn’t that be part of their job?

  3. Interesting post – as was commented, many winemakers are not empowered to change some of your annoying points.

    Also a comment from my experience – most bloggers and writers I am acquainted with don’t pay for the wines that they review – they are issued bottles as samples. I am willing to bet that if you told a winery you are considering their wine for review and want to purchase it, that they would at the least offer you a discount.

    Our PR team always thanks writers for their coverage, but we don’t always comment on blogs – my take away is that I will be sure to comment on blogs as well as thank and social share. Thanks Mari.

    • Thanks Leeann-
      I have received comp bottles when I know I plan to write a piece about the wines and when I’ve asked they winery ships to my door. But when I visit a winery, and am less certain about how I’ll be writing about a winery, I don’t mind paying, but a discount makes me feel better about the place. Also, I’ve heard disgruntlement from wineries who’ve comped bottles to bloggers who never wrote about the wine, and that’s not cool. Gives bloggers a bad name.
      Thanks for vowing to comment more. Bloggers live for comments and when no one pays attention, you wonder why your’e doing it. Funnily enough, winery-focused posts get the least amount of comments, while general wine stories like this get the most. I should kvetch more.

      • Oh, and I intend to bring this post to my clients’ attention.

        • Thanks Leeann. That’s the nicest comment yet.

          • Dear Mary Kane,

            I am one of Leeann’s clients and just read the post with interest and amusement. Must comment on the cork smackdown, though:

            Corks are the most sustainable closure, and are an example of humans harvesting from mature forest ecosystems. Better than mining metal for screwcaps from an environmental perspective perhaps? Also, there are indeed flawed wines under scewcap including wines oxydized from broken seals and wines gone reductive.

            Cheers,
            Ezra Cipes
            Summerhill Pyramid Winery

          • Whew! Glad it got a laugh out of somebody. Thanks Ezra.

            Ok, maybe screwcaps aren’t 100% infallible, but you have to admit they are incredibly convenient and there is no way to break a screw cap or get one stuck in the neck when unscrewing it. It’s just 1- unscrew, 2- pour.

            Compare that to 1- find corkscrew, 2- trim foil (cut finger), 3- twist worm into cork (keep straight), 4- yank out cork 5- pour.

            As a consumer, that convenience alone is worth buying a screw topped wine over corked.

  4. I find it interesting that you have a screwcap on a technical cork. I happen to like them. Met a winemaker in Mornington Peninsula, Australia, selling his wine for $100/bottle using microagglo corks. He said he uses them because of no TCA and they perform like a natural cork (removal and cellaring) which is why I like them. We need to keep an inventory of capsules and screwcaps have a limited life if you inventory them. Have used technical corks for more than ten years with not one corky bottle. Don’t like twin tops. I value the cellaring issue of cork products. Technical corks unlike regular corks are the same so no case variation. I would use all technical but my
    daughter wants to use high end regular corks in our reserve pinots. Compromise everything else is technical. Still no TCA. No issues with cellaring. In a cool climate the wines benefit from bottle time. No question, especially in later vintages. This is a complex issue like everything else in our industry.

    • Thanks Trudy-

      If you mean the picture, I just grabbed what I had on open bottles at hand and shot a fast pic on my iPhone. It was from a south african syrah. That is so funny you should notice the difference between technical and natural. I didn’t even notice it at the time.

      Thanks for the elucidation!

  5. Interesting piece. Just two comments, the first much less important than the second
    1. Blends are blends for a reason. Sometimes there’s nothing on the bottle so people don’t overthink it. At some point we’re going to get back to a place where taste matters , not blend, or alcohol, or wood.
    2. Screw caps are not cork. I don’t care what you say, wine does not age the same in screw cap. I use both, but C. Donatiello has always used cork.

    • Thanks Chris-

      I can certainly see the value of using a cork for wines meant for long cellaring, but most people like to drink ‘em young. So I am often surprised to see natural cork on a young, weekday kind of wine.

      I disagree on the blends. Some folks like to over think and putting the blend on the label, even without the percentages, goes a long way toward helping drinkers understand what they’re tasting.

  6. I hit many wine events and I agree your listed #1 is far too common. It is interesting that in many cases I experience this in a media portion of an event. I cannot imagine how many consumers get lost in the main tasting. I have walked away many instances after waiting patiently for a few minutes. I should think the embarrassment should fall upon them.

    I have spoken to a leader in screw caps and he said something interesting. He said many of his consumers have told him that they love the wine, but cannot take it to a party or give it as a gift because of a screw cap. The consumer thinks it cheapens the look or experience in many cases to the point it impacts sales negatively.

    We understand the screw cap technology is superior, but the consumer has not caught up.

    • Thanks Shawn. It’s good to know that men also get ignored at a tasting table.

      It’s true the public is uncertain about the value of a screwcapped wine, but I’ve also heard seniors say it’s nice not to handle a corkscrew when you have arthritis, etc. And for parties screw tops are a godsend. Less time corkscrewing, more time chatting. Some people are more about appearances instead of substance.

      Times are changing…

  7. Most of this is bollox. I’d love to give discounts to press, but I don’t have enough money to drink even my own wine without paying for it.
    I use social media, but I’m too damn busy to keep up with that twitter shit. You know how stressful and time consuming winemaking is?! Thanks for the tip of google alerts though!
    I make it a priority to get my wine in your glass before I start blabbering on about it. I’m proud of my wine. I want you to drink it.
    I go steps further than just revealing the blend, I list and discuss every addition and process my wine has gone through, including all the shit that happens along the way and what I do to sort it out.
    But I use cork. Because I prefer it and it’s cheaper than screw cap and the bottles look rubbish with screw lines on the opening. Screw caps look shit. End of.
    Cheers for the advice of commenting to get noticed. Hope this works!

  8. Thanks Birds, but again, this list is not meant to be All things about All winemakers. Glad none of it applies to you.

    Glad also you discovered Google Alerts. I suggest you set it for everything you want to be updated on.

    And now you have another link to your very interesting site. I like what you’re doing there.

    Cheers to ya!

  9. Hey Mari,

    First – great job on the article = lots of comments = much discussion. Very cool. But of course, I have something to say.

    Re: Discounts – I very much appreciate getting wine mailed to me directly or getting discounts and freebies as a blogger / podcaster. Anything that helps is always greatly appreciated. However, I also work on the wine-shop side of that equation and I also appreciate it when a media-type / blogger visits with advanced notice rather than just showing up at the busiest time of day unannounced and expecting a discount. For myself, if I show up unannounced (which I like doing because I can see a true representation of the wine shop experience) I don’t ask for or expect any special treatment or discounts. If it’s a planned meeting, it’s nice to have a discount, but at the same time, I know that most of the wineries I visit (typically the smaller ones) can’t afford to just give away their products and I don’t expect them to. If a winery contacts me though, it’s a different story.

    And as for the the cork / screw cap thing, I think different styles for different wines isn’t really too much to ask for. Wines designed to age are better in cork while those for consumption in 3 years under screw caps. To lump all wines together suggesting that one is superior to the other is just an endless argument of personal preference that I really wished the mainstream wine media would just give up. A few years ago it was an endless parade of articles with ‘Thank goodness it’s in a screw cap” or “Summer wines to me mean screw caps” as if they were on a coordinated mission to change public opinion. From my experience, Canadian customers seem to have accepted the screw cap as normal for good quality wines. Americans however, have not. I had a customer in the wine shop where I work *love* one of the wines – raved about it – but could not bring himself to purchase it because it was closed with a screw cap. He even asked to taste it twice, just to make sure! I couldn’t convince him that it was OK to purchase a wine with anything other than a cork. Ironically, the ‘tainted’ image of the screw cap remains regardless of the media’s persistence. Even Road 13, one of the more vocally pro-screw cap wineries in the past has now quietly returned to using corks on some of their wines.

    As for your second point, it’s one thing to write a post and not receive a thank you but it’s another thing spending hours editing audio, assembling the podcast, post-production, uploading, and writing a post to accompany a podcast without any thanks at all either. There does need to be more thank you’s in this industry sometimes.

    Anyways, like I said before – great article Mari! Thanks for writing! Cheers!

    Luke

  10. Well, thanks for writing such a thoughtful comment Luke. I really appreciate it. I’ve learned so much from you and all the commenters.

    It’s sad what you say about the Americans hang up on corks. I thought attitudes had progressed since I left in 2005 but I guess not.

    I’ll give you an example of a winery discount fail I experienced kinda recently. I was at one of the Wine Bloggers Conference events at a good-sized winery, and even with a room full of bloggers buzzing around they refused to give me a discount. And I was the only one who wanted to buy something! Go figure.

    Thanks again.

    • The discounts thing is ridiculous. I have to turn down discounts all the time. I make sure I pay what the asking price is. If I feel what they are doing is good and deserves to be rewarded I buy a bottle. I don’t deserve a special price because of who I am, nor would I ever ask for one. These guys get pinched by importers, distributors and retailers at every turn to lower their price. When someone like me walks up to them to buy I am proud to know that every dollar/euro/pound goes back to the person who made the wine. The person who deserves it.

      Oh and I work with plenty of wineries who have policies on social media. Not all wine makers can respond, and most winemakers I know do NOT know what a google alert is. Sad but true. Most winemakers I know work in wineries and leave the marketing to the sales people. I regularly meet winemakers all over Europe who struggle with email. Less than before, but even today it is rare to find a winemaker who is tuned into the web.

  11. Hey Ryan-

    I’m not asking for free wine, as a lot of bloggers have come to expect. Just a little discount to help get my hands on the bottles that are too expensive to buy at full price. I’m basically promoting the wineries for free, so realistically, taking a few bucks off is a modest way for them to subsidize my writing about them. After all, I’m the non-profit here, not the wineries.

    It is sad to hear that European winemakers are tech illiterate. I’ll cut them some slack on that. Still, Europeans are only a portion of winemakers in the world.

    Thanks for writing!

  12. Bloggers need to realize they are not media. This is a business, grapes/glass/cork/labels cost us money, a lot. Try making it then see how verbal you are with criticism.

    • How do you determine who is media? Why are bloggers not media?

      • Bloggers are media, Beh. Alternately called New Media or Online Media, but if the writing is widely distributed and has an influence on society, it’s media.

        The difference between a winery and a blogger is that wine is a business, a profit-making one. Blogging is unprofitable almost all of the time. Bloggers promote wine and give wineries exposure they may never get otherwise. So tell me again, why bloggers should pay full price on a wine they write about.

        My takeaway from these exchanges is that winemakers and wineries are not criticized nearly enough. They aren’t saints, you know.

  13. Mari, you have some interesting points here and most I agree with. One person who said perhaps this should be winery owners and not winemakers, unless they’re one and the same, might be on target. Perhaps things are different in the great state of Texas where I am but after visiting over 200 Texas wineries and meeting a lot of owners and/or winemakers, maybe people are friendlier in Texas. Sure there are new wineries who are opening who haven’t yet gotten used to your five points but they probably will understand some day. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth my time to blog about wineries, and then a winery owner/winemaker says something and that just gives me the justification that it is worthwhile.

    • Thanks Jeff- Of course, the term winemaker can be substituted with winery owner or even wine corporation, but at the basic level of a business, the buck stops with the winemaker.

      I’ve been blogging about wine for 5 years and I often question whether anyone appreciates it – the readers or the wineries -but like you said, one little instance or comment just keeps me coming back to write more. Wine blogging is a little like an addiction, kinda Brokeback Mountain-ish where “I don’t know how to quit you.” Hopefully, blogging turns out to be a fruitful use of our time.