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It’s a Magazine, No it’s a Catalog:  The birth of the Wine Magalog

I’ve always been a fan of the so-called “magalog” –the hybrid magazine and catalog.  It’s really what the Internet is these days—a blend of content and commerce.  From a business perspective, I think they are masterstrokes … if you can get somebody to sit down and spend an extended period of time with your brand then that’s going to pay dividends.

Because of the general genre of publishing and shopping, you mostly see magalogs for lifestyle brands like teen clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.  And typically these are more photo books with some light content printed on exceptionally heavy stock.  Psychologically, the darn thing is so heavy you don’t want to throw it away so it instead goes onto the magazine pile … likely until the next quarterly installment comes out. 

It’s just good marketing.

And, in fact, A&F executed their holiday magalog brilliantly a couple of years ago—it was a tad on the risqué side and they pulled it from stores after a firestorm of controversy when some Mom’s got up in arms because of some sexually related content.

Nothing spells success like a little controversy around nudity, puritanical society that we are.  A&F is geared towards college students and any Mom that gets excited about nudity hasn’t spent a freshman year in a coed dorm.  The bacchanalian life that happens that first semester would surely divert any mother’s attention away from a retail catalog. 

But, I digress …

Interestingly, Wine Enthusiast magazine has launched their own “magalog” geared towards consumers aged 25 – 45.  Called “The Wine Enthusiast Guide to Wine Essentials” they are already getting docked a point for a lame title, but, overall, I think this is genius.  First, there is not a good magazine out there for a budding wine lover. 

To wit, I write a wine blog, yet I only just recently started a subscription to Wine Spectator—there’s an entire, unrepresented portion of the wine public that is young, with-it and not quite a Spectator subscriber.  Wine & Spirits magazine is probably the closet and Wine Enthusiast magazine seems to be trending that way, but there’s no clear cut magazine that has captured a nightlife-oriented joie de vivre that includes a foodie orientation, cocktail culture and a strong emphasis on matters of the grape, from a lifestyle perspective.

From an article announcing the magalog:

The Wine Enthusiast catalog and Wine Enthusiast Magazine target consumers between the ages of 35 and 55 years old. The new title is going after a younger audience in the range of 25 to 45 years old.

“There’s a new emerging wine consumer in their 20s,” said Wine Enthusiast Companies chairman/founder Adam Strum about the decision to launch the new magalog. The company hopes to attract them with a combination of content and product that consists of a basic introduction to wine and a selection of the company’s bestselling, more-affordably priced items.

Hopefully the magalog encourages Wine Enthusiast to move in the direction of youthfulness from an editorial perspective.

Unfortunately, I haven’t received my issue of the magalog, though they are mailing out 500,000 in waves.  I’m a subscriber to the magazine and I’ve ordered from the catalog in the past year, so it’s likely a matter of time.

With all the sanctity that I can muster to pass criticism without having actually seen the magalog, a couple of red flags have been raised that do not give me warm fuzzies.

1)  The magalog is sponsored by Gallo with a prominent picture of a Gallo bottle on the cover

From the article:

The premiere issue also features E. & J. Gallo Winery as its exclusive partner. Gallo purchased eight pages of ads within the magalog, in exchange for which Wine Enthusiast has given Gallo brands prominent placement within its editorial.

Now, I understand that Gallo is actually producing some decent wines, but by doing a triage with a corporate sponsor, this immediately crosses the line from content & commerce to pure shilling.  Bad news.

2)  The actual content around the magazine is the same tired “select, store, serve” suggestions that gets published in book form 25 times a year with not a single interesting new thought.  Snooooooozzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzze.  I’m going to start sending up an S.O.S. every time I see a reference to the three S’s.

Here’s an idea for a successful magalog—focus the content on people, travel and lifestyle including nightlife.  That sells.  That gets people interested.  Serving suggestions for a $12 bottle of wine, when research indicates that most wine, particularly with this demo, is drunk within 3 days of purchase, makes my eyelids flutter and get heavy.

Secondarily, they’re crossing two demographic swatches—18 – 34 and 35 – 45.  You have youth and you have young family.  The way to do the content successfully for this crowd is to not make it too trendy, but make it hip. What’s the difference?  Nightlife in Miami, FL is trendy.  Nightlife in Chicago, IL is hip.  Go for hip.  And, unfortunately, I’m not sure if Gallo is being served in either locale.

Alas, I’m sure they’ll work the kinks out, but for now, it looks like the publishing void will remain. 


Virtual Vacations in the Wine World

I’ve been reading a lot about the next generation of the Internet, and certainly it holds tremendous promise.  Web 2.0 will soon segue into Web 3.0 and soon our Google Map mashups will seem as quaint as using Lycos as a search engine.

For the intrepid amongst us, Josh at PinotBlogger is blazing a trail by creating by creating a winery island in the online environment “Second Life.”

For the uninitiated, Second Life is an online 3D virtual environment where people can interact, play, do business, and otherwise communicate virtually.

From PinotBlogger (excerpted):
My main reason for pushing to get Capozzi into Second Life is to expand brand awareness by giving one of our target demographics a novel experience. I admit I also just wanted to be first, to do something no one else in the wine industry had done before. But finally there’s also the feeling I share with John (PinotBlogger’s winery island developer) that 3D environments are the Next Big Thing to hit the internets, and I want to get on board that train early.

John thinks that the future will include an internet of open 3D environments that internet users will surf to much as they do web pages now. Imagine a 3D Myspace where you can check out your friends’ homes, flip through and listen to their music collection, watch video etc. As people get more and more comfortable creating stuff in 3D, and as the tools to do so get easier and easier to use, people will be slapping up virtual 3D spaces just like they do blogs right now.

From my point of view, the potential for turning such an environment into a place to better interact with customers, sell wine and provide an interesting and unique level of service intrigues me. And right now Second Life is the best place to cut my teeth exploring such an environment.

Josh is well ahead of his time and he’s on to something here. 

What powerful marketing this can be for a winery where the story and the environment sells the lifestyle and the wine.  Imagine for a moment the incredible graphics that games on Xbox and Playstation are achieving and then translate those quality graphics online to an immersive environment.  Or, to use another analogy, what if the movies “Finding Nemo” or “Cars,” with their incredible graphics, was rendered for a different, adult topic, say wine, and was called “Napa.”  What if that amazingly detailed, realistic and lifelike environment was navigable online?

In theory, I could take a virtual three dimensional trip to Capozzi winery, walk through the vineyards at a selected time of day, say sunset, head past a virtual replica of Josh’s wagging dog and ease into the virtual tasting room before buying a couple of bottles and having them sent to me.  Commerce is rapidly coming to this environment. 

Prior to recently reading a couple of articles about Second Life, frankly, I didn’t get it.  But the following links are good background reading and food for thought for something that can realistically be the next significant mile marker in Internet development. 

The Economist        
Living a Second Life

BusinessWeek Online  
My Virtual Life

Second Life Residents Build Stores Around                  

Is this whole thing far off, though?  Blogs took off in 2003 and have yet to reach their nadir on the cusp of 2007.  Corporations are starting to get into the Second Life action and where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire.  I think it’s realistic that by 2009 Second Life and other virtual worlds will start to make significant mainstream penetration.

If I’m not mistaken, Josh’s first vineyard designate vintage will come out in 2008, making his Second Life bet a pretty good one likely for the investment he’s probably making and the timing.

In the meantime, though, in between Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, we’re going to have to slog through the YouTube portion of this lifecycle … and I’ll be glad when it’s over.  I got an email the other day to check out the “Thirsty Traveler” and every time I watch a clip of James Suckling on Wine Spectator’s web site I’m reminded that TV talent is taken for granted and there’s a reason that most local PBS stations have public access channels. 

Alas, in between now (bad wine drinking videos) and then (immersive 3D environments) there’s still a lot of wine to be drunk, and I may need it, but a clink of the glass to Josh for not being afraid to try something new.


Signs that the Apocalypse is Upon Us

This past week I awoke to the melodious tones of my alarm clock and a radio commercial for Leinenkugel’s beer. 

To most people, “Leinie’s,” as it’s known colloquially in the Midwest, is a medium-size brewer that was purchased by Miller Brewing Co. and now operates as their craft-brewing arm.

Not a big deal.  But, literally, the commercial that I heard had a couple guys ruminating on the fruit aspect of wine, the sometimes difficult aspect of picking up the nuance and then suggesting that they (and the consumer) should drink Leinenkugel’s Berry Weiss beer instead.

Bizarre.  6:20 am on an adult alternative album-oriented radio station based in Central Indiana and a commercial suggesting that guys make the switch from wine to Berry Weiss brew.

Not to be outdone, later in the day, I received David Letterman’s Top 10 List from Thursday night that gave the top 10 slogans for Wal-Mart Wine:

Letterman: Top Ten Slogans for Wal-Mart Wine

10. “When Kmart Wine Just Won’t Do”

9. “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Wine”

8. “Show Your Friends How Little You Care”

7. “Kills Germs on Contact”

6. “Recommended by 4 Out of 5 Drifters!”

5. “Crack Open a Can Today!”

4. “Fresh From the Vineyards of Aisle 6”

3. “Here’s to Making Bail!”

2. “Feeling Down After Being Thrown Out by Britney?”

1. “Goes Great With a 20-Dollar Hooker”

Wal-Mart does have private-label wine, but the #1 reason from David Letterman’s list is the kicker.  Goes with a 20-dollar hooker … that Dave …

Then, at the end of the day on Friday, I was reading the current issue of “Sporting News” magazine and they had an advertisement for “Hooker Wine.”

No, no, not the David Letterman kind of hooker.  This wine’s shtick and namesake is Rugby’s hooker—the position that generally works the ball (hooks) in scrums and throws the ball in bounds at line-outs.

The ad’s headline shows a female rugby player in action with the headline, “Full-Bodied, Great Legs, Nice Finish.”  Though, a quick review of the web site indicates that all labels have manly gents on the label.

To me, this is ponderous.  In college the rugby club teams across the country are known as much for their machismo drinking as they are actually playing any sort of match … I mean these guys drink—they rollup kegs for the pre-game; this is a game in which being “socially adjusted” before the game tends to a good thing.

Rugby is not exactly the kind of sport that meshes with wine just as being an equestrian isn’t the kind of sport that meshes with a “Jack and Coke.”

As the coup de grace for this triage during 16 hours of wine weirdness, the Hooker Wines web site has a gift three-pack called the “Ho Ho Hooker.”

No apparent irony intended.

And, how was your Friday?


A Bottle of Red with Rover

It’s a natural fit, really, dogs and wine. At least three out of five wineries have a dog as a part of their backstory, if not an even five for five.  There are at least two wine dog related web sites that I’m aware of and even a calendar—Winery Dogs of Napa Valley.

I love wine, but, sadly, up till last year the dog part had been missing from my adult life.

My wife, prior to December 26, 2005, had never had a dog and was, frankly, lukewarm about the prospect of a four-legged friend being in our house.  She never grew up with a dog and just wasn’t sure how she was going to acclimate to the slobber and general blusteriness of a dog, especially as compared to the dainty aloofness of the cats that populated her childhood.  I persisted and insisted that we get a dog as couple’s training in advance of family planning.

This is the natural order of the universe.  Get married.  Get a dog.  Have a kid.  Or some order of those three.

My wife gave in, and we decided to get a mixed breed from a rescue organization.

My wife, a short time later, actually right around day nine, became a dog freak.  Actually, it should be “Freak” with a capital “F.”  I was on a business trip in early January and out of town for a week.  I came home and it was game over.  She and the dog bonded and I was relegated to second banana.  To say that she loves our dog is an understatement.  The “bark park,” walking and going on adventures with our pug/beagle mix, Coco, is now her primary hobby and one that I enjoy her enjoying, if that makes sense.

Frankly, it gives me more time to work since my job and this site occupy a lot of my time not otherwise taken up by Notre Dame Football or family.

I love wine.  She loves our dog.  We’re a matched pair.  I love our dog, too, it should be sharply pointed out, but there’s only room for one person’s monomania for Coco right now. 

When I started a new job recently, I was turned onto Windsor Vineyards, a winery that does custom labels for wine. Our CEO received some wine from Windsor with the beautiful face of his newborn son on the label—sent by the winery, a customer.  It was a nice touch and a pretty cool concept. 

Windsor Vineyards was founded by wine industry titan Rodney Strong in 1959 and as the story goes, so many customers asked Strong to hold their favorite wines that he started to put their names on the label.  One thing led to another and Strong decided to ship directly to consumers with personalized labels and the tradition was born. 

There’s a longer, and very interesting story to it, check out the long form version at their site here.

What’s really interesting about this tale of dogs and wine is the fact that my wife truly has become a dog lover of the first order—a passion that equals my love of wine.  So, when I was flipping through her Bark magazine, a kind of Martha Stewart Living for the dog set, what did I see but an ad for Windsor Vineyards.

My worlds are colliding. 

Windsor Vineyards is running ads in Bark magazine with the headline, “Photo for your Fido.”  You can order a case of personalized wine for $99—just $8.25 a bottle and the case is mixed so you get twelve different varietals.  And, the kicker is a portion of the proceeds are donated to ASPCA—The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  The offer is slightly different on the web site then in the magazine, but can be found here.

The good news for me is I’ve now found the perfect excuse to buy a case of wine—a reason even my wife, a relative teetotaler, can get behind. 


Bargain Shopping Wine Style:  Heitz Cellars

The other day I wrote about Cameron Hughes wine and my revisited quest to find an every day drinker and get off a six month bender of expensive wine. 

This quest actually started at Kroger’s a week or so ago.  I browsed the wine section, a place I haven’t haunted for many months simply because the labels staring back at me were saying “penguin plonk” and the like.

But, necessity is the mother of invention and my wine buying habits have got to start getting closer to $10 - $15 a bottle and away from the $35 - $40 bottles.

Mind you, there are two types of people in this world—those that love finding a bargain, a deal, clipping coupons, saving a buck (like my wife) and then there are people that prefer to work hard because they are certain that green pastures are in front of them, forsaking a dollar today for what will surely be $10 tomorrow (me). 

My local grocer, Kroger’s, (the one on Keystone north of 62nd if you’re in Indianapolis), happened to have some Heitz Cellars Cabernet tucked in next to some $12.99 bottles.  This struck me as very odd.  I haven’t had the Heitz Cellars before and really didn’t even know much about it except that the price for a 1999 Cabernet from Martha’s Vineyard seemed off, low perhaps.  Napa Cabernet, especially a vineyard designate usually is at least $50 a bottle. 

I made mental note, took a business trip, came back to Indianapolis and took a trip back to the store, still not sure about this wine.  Sitting as lonely and unattended as it had 10 days before, I bought a bottle for $39.99 deciding that I’d Google it when I got home and get the skinny.

Well, all I can is sometimes you get the bear and sometimes the bear gets you.  I’ll be damned if I didn’t search for this wine and everywhere on the Internet it came up for sale for at least $110 a bottle and usually $130 + plus!

Hot damn!  What’s a guy to do?  I went back and bought the other four bottles, cleaning them out.

Now I know why my wife is such a bargain hunter … what a thrill to get a deal.  Under current Internet pricing, it’s like buying two bottles and getting two for free.  Ah, the lure of the deal, like shoes for my wife.  Like the “Buy two get the third for free,” come-on when you were actually only browsing for one pair.

Indulgently, I opened a bottle tonight, let it air for a ½ hour and I’m drinking it as we speak. 

It’s a beauty, too, from the wine rags:

The Wine Enthusiast:  Opens with powerful aromas of cedar, toasty oak and vanilla perfume framing ripe black currant and mocha. Turns wonderfully smooth in the mouth. Plump and ripe in cherry and currant fruit, it’s beautiful now, but has the tannins and balance to last forever.  Score: 94. —Steve Heimoff, November 15, 2004.

The Wine Spectator “Spicy mint and bay leaf aromas mingle with ripe currant and black cherry fruit, turning smooth and elegant on the palate while displaying richness, depth and concentration; finishes with a full chorus of ripe fruit flavors and firm yet supple tannins. Drink now through 2012.” Score: 92. April 06, 2006.

Of course, now I’m conflicted … what to do about the hypocrisy of trying to get back into $10 bottles?  Well, I saved myself $300 bucks over retail with my purchases, so I’ll give myself a little reprieve.  Now, I have to go back to Kroger’s after doing some more research … there was a 2001 Mondavi Cabernet sitting next to the Heitz Cellars … hmm … I wonder if it’s the Stag’s leap district for $40 or the Reserve for $100 … if it’s the Reserve, then I can save another $70 bucks a bottle … this bargain shopping is kind of fun … and don’t you know my wife has made the comparison to my wine shopping and her acquisition of shoes.


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