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Vin de Napkin – The Compliance Conundrum

A critical impediment with the direct shipping issue in the wine industry is compliance.  Though, it is not compliance from a “oh, I have to be compliant” perspective.  It is more from a, “I care about shipping my wine to anybody that wants to buy it and doing so legally and therefore I pay attention to the changes in laws in order to maximize my business.”

I would hazard a guess that from 2005 to now, post-Granholm, winery owners attention to and interest in compliance, outside of topical headline reading, has precipitously declined.  Simply, it is a lot of information … but somebody at each winery needs to be accountable for, and chartered with maximizing a winery’s direct shipping capability to EVERY STATE where it is possible if not for actual business, for business development; for industry window-dressing.

Many good and valid points are made on a continual basis across the spectrum of vested parties in the direct wine shipping issue, however one issue that never comes up and should is the fact that not enough wineries actually put their money where their mouth is and get the $100 permit in the newly opened state in order to sell wine to maximum capacity everywhere that they can.

How can other people take the issue of winery direct shipping seriously, if wineries are asleep at the wheel?

By some estimates, about 5% of the available wine in the U.S. market is available on a shelf in Indiana.  You would think that wineries would have jumped on the capability to ship to Indiana consumers when given the capability late last year.  Not so much.  Go ahead, I dare you—audit any random dozen winery ecommerce sites.  Ship to Indiana?  Nope.

So, this is the conundrum:  the capability to legally direct ship to consumers is fine, but wineries have to give a damn and get the permits, too.

And, I am not seeing enough of the “giving a damn” part.

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2004 Allan Scott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

So, if you were Alex Trebek and you posed the question, “Scott Dixon.”  My answer might be, “The winner of the 2008 Indianapolis 500” and mimicking Cliff Clavin from “Cheers” fame, I might also add, “An Indy Car driver who has not been in my kitchen.”

I could not, however, answer, “An Indy Car driver who has not been in my mother-in-law’s kitchen” because, well, he has been in her kitchen on two Thanksgivings as the former love interest for a family member on my wife’s side.  He even ate the green bean casserole.  Nice guy, too, besides being polite about filling his plate.  He is a bit quiet, but he is a Kiwi, if not by birth (Aussie) then by homeland proxy, and they are not known for a lot of artifice (read:  b.s.).

This quote from the Indianapolis Star sums it up:

Dixon, 27, is so difficult to read that team owner Chip Ganassi, who fielded Montoya’s Indy-winning car, initially didn’t know what he was getting when he plucked Dixon from the folding PacWest team in the middle of the 2002 season.

“He’s been like that since I’ve known him,” Ganassi said. “At first, I didn’t think he was that excited about racing. “People confuse that with caring about things. You know, it’s a relief to know it was a quiet confidence that sort of is his trademark. That’s a powerful tool.”

You will excuse me for going on about Indy Car racing, a sport that is very niche-y (and the ceremonious winners circle drink is milk), but with my town being Indianapolis and Danica Patrick making magazine covers and Helio Castroneves winning “Dancing with the Stars,” I’ve gotta make hay while the sun is shining.

Speaking of New Zealand and sunshine, I think Eric Arnold, who chronicled a year in the life at Allan Scott, a Marlborough winery, will attest to the down home, rootsy and to-the-point nature of the Kiwi’s, as well.

In honor of the 2008 winner of the Indianapolis 500, Scott Dixon, and as an homage to Eric’s chronicle (Arnold left Wine Spectator for Bloomberg recently, as well), I’m reviewing the 2004 Allan Scott Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.

My review can be found here.


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Vin de Napkin -R.I.P. Wine-ing 2.0

In case you blinked and missed it, there was a snarky, satire-oriented wine blog called Wine-ing 2.0 that shot out of nowhere in March and started making waves with an aggressive brand of humor before meeting a “lack of updating” death beginning in the middle of April.

Perhaps styled after The Onion, the famous and funny news satire site, but executed with more puckish high school clique-style derisive mockery, the site met some swift rebuttals from several folks who didn’t care for the brand of humor of the anonymous authors.

Many people acknowledge that the wine business and wine enthusiasts are serious, too serious.  I, however, choose to look at it like anything else where you have a smart, literate crowd—cheap shots, toilet humor and the obvious just isn’t going to cut it.  If you want to bring some humor to a wine situation, blogging or otherwise, you better bring your ‘A’ game because you’re not likely going to be the cleverest person in the room.  And, there is a subtle difference between satire and mockery and, unfortunately, Wine-ing 2.0 had too little of the former and too much of the latter.

Personally speaking, I batted nary an eyelash at the site while waiting for my close-up ... a close-up that didn’t come.  The site has been dormant for six weeks and seems unlikely to be revived.  Meanwhile, Good Grape remains unscathed. 

R.I.P Wine-ing 2.0. 

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The Wine Book Leader Board

The wine book category continues to be one of the most oft published categories in the book world.  Large publishers have published six wine-related books in the last five weeks alone.  Yet, have you ever wondered if these books actually sell?

Thanks to a couple of dollars out of my pocket and the graciousness of a couple of publicists, I have five out of the six books in my possession.  They are in the reading queue behind “The Battle for Wine and Love: or How I saved the World from Parkerization” by Alice Feiring, a title that I am dog-earing because there is a years worth of blog fodder contained within—inspiration for me offering up scathing counterpoints and beseeching requests for an acknowledgement of conventional wisdom while imploring rationality, mostly. 

The recently published books include the aforementioned and the following:

Reflections of a Wine Merchant by Neal Rosenthal

The Wine Trials by Robin Goldstein

The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace

Passion on the Vine by Sergio Esposito

And
Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines: Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World by some dude named Gary

Based on legitimate (albeit confidential) industry data, it looks like all are performing admirably, though I have to keep the actual sales data under wraps.  Herewith, your wine book leader board based on actual cumulative sell-through sales (this is what a consumer actually buys, not what is sold to a bookstore):

1) Passion on the Vine – a likely bestseller the way this title is moving
2) The Wine Trials – Strong performance with big numbers in the last week or so
3)  The Battle for Wine and Love – narrowly beat out by The Wine Trials, good performance overall and trending upward
4) Reflections of a Wine Merchant – overall good performance on this title, as well.  However, it has a couple of bad Amazon.com reviews, which can stop book sales in their tracks
5) Gary Vaynerchuk’s 101 Wines - Gary has a couple of weeks less sales opportunity and having 9 or 10 Amazon.com reviews bodes well as this gathers momentum
6)  The Billionaire’s Vinegar – This title is coming out of the gates slooooooow despite a ton of promotion.  Not quite a stinker, but not helping any Editor make their bonus, either.

If you asked me ahead of time, I would not have guessed that Passion on the Vine would have started so strong, but I think it is because it is a crossover title that appeals to armchair travelers in addition to wine fans.

Two additional things are interesting to me, and, of course, they have to do with Vaynerchuk.  The first is that if you look at the “Customers who bought this also bought” listing on Amazon.com you will quickly see that Gary is appealing to a whole ‘nother demographic. Amongst items that customers also purchased from Amazon.com alongside his book include video games like Mario Kart for the Nintendo Wii and Grand Theft Auto. 

Another interesting aspect of Vaynerchuk’s promotional tactics for his book is some of the marketing tactics he is employing.  Consider this promo in conjunction with an Internet marketing consultant (Full post here and you do want to follow the link):

Hours after the day’s activities had come to a close, I was walking past the empty ballroom hours and happened to glance inside.

There were maybe 10 or 15 people still there, all gathered in a tight group.
Some were scribbling furiously on notebooks, others watching and listening intently to the person who was holding court.

That person was Gary Vaynerchuk.

I wandered in and whispered, “What’s going on?” to a friend.

“They’ve been here since he finished this afternoon,” he said. “He’s been peppered with question after question about social media. And he answered them in great detail without a break. Literally no one has left–they just keep asking questions. And he keeps on going.”

I looked at my watch. The conference had ended nearly 6 hours earlier.

The post from the Internet Marketer continues with the following offer:

–If you purchase 2-4 copies of Gary’s new book, you’ll receive a special invite to an exclusive invite-only call I’m holding with Gary on May 27th at 3:00 PM Eastern time to talk about social media.

This call will pick up where he left off in Orlando, revealing new and powerful ways to market your products and establish your “mavenship” through the power of social marketing. And it’s exclusively for those who purchase 2 copies of Gary’s book.

But wait! There’s more! (sorry–had to go there)

–If you purchase 5 or more copies of Gary’s new book, you’ll not only get exclusive access to the call, but you’ll have the opportunity to ask Gary direct questions about how to apply social marketing to your business.

This is all interesting to me.  I’m not sure if Gary’s social marketing is going to work, but if I had to bet my money it would be on the crossover title – Passion on the Vine—that appeals to a wide swath of an audience—Italianates, travelers and wine lovers and not on sweaty palmed guys that buy five books to listen to a conference call and ask questions.

As somebody who feels like they have a book inside them, I wish all of these authors continued best wishes and hopefully I will get through all of these books before Dr. Vino’s two books hit the shelves. 


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Vin de Napkin - The Black Brush

I have been eagerly anticipating Alice Feiring’s book, “The Battle for Wine and Love or How I Saved the World from Parkerization.”  Then, however, I started reading it. 

And, while the book is eminently readable, it is very memoir-ish and very much in the mode of “chick lit.”  It is not at all the erudite dis-mantling of “Parker’s palate” that I that I was expecting.  It is smart, but also personal with much allegorical reference between her love life (not that interesting) and wine.

My personal tastes in non-fiction aside, I do have to diverge from Feiring’s agent provocateur approach to book promotion.  With her op-ed pieces in the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle whereby she paints the entire California wine industry with the same brush, I have to note the hypocrisy in doing so.

How can you rail against homegenization in New World wine, leveraging Parker as your foil, and then write op-ed pieces in California’ two largest daily newspapers deriding virtually the entire California wine industry?

It’s a very subtle point here.  But, if you’re going to attack Parker for his influence in creating a “house style” for wine, touting nuanced wine in France, for example, you better damn be sure you’re not pimping your own book in a fashion that is similarly dogmatic in opinion.

It’s like she’s saying, “Parker’s palate be damned.  Hail my similarly one-sided opinion, and I’m taking California down with me.”

It rings a little hollow for me.  Instead of rattling cages, it might be better to cite chapter and verse in well-reasoned opinion. 

Isn’t there a difference between reasoned analysis that leads to provocation and broadside slanted opinions?  I think so.  That’s where Feiring is falling short.  She may be able to write, but she needs a better publicist.

For Additional Reading.

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