December 16 2009
A highly subjective, non-comprehensive look at my opinion on the best of the online wine world in 2009 … Pt. II of II
• Best Story of the Year / Consumer
This category begins and ends with the Murphy-Goode “A Really Goode Job” story. What could have been a blip on the radar as a copycat derivation of a similar campaign started four months earlier (originated by the Queensland Australia tourism board in January, prior to the M-G launch) instead turned into a mainstream media frenzy and word-of-mouth campaign that will go into the annals of wine marketing history. “A Really Goode Job” was the sort of campaign that would have made a career for a PR practitioner just 10 years ago, prior to the Internet (and life in general) turning non-hierarchical and viral. As it stands, M-G was THE national wine story of the year, as covered by mainstream media.
Of course, continued congrats go to wine blogger Hardy Wallace for spiritually leading the contest from the get-go and ultimately landing the prize – the six month job at Murphy-Goode and the handsome $10K a month salary. However, the real winner is Murphy-Goode for earning public relations mojo that money can’t buy.
• Best Story of the Year / Industry
A train wreck in slow motion, the New Vine Logistics / Inertia Beverage Group / Amazon.com story unfolded over the summer and held the winery side of the industry in rapt attention. It was a “Medusa” story with eight snakes waving menacingly off the head of the logistics portion of the wine business. Who would be turned to stone?
Unfortunately, there weren’t any Perseus-like triumphs here. New Vine is no more, investors lost cash, credibility was questioned, nefarious “deep throat” quotes were offered up and winery customers were held in limbo all before Amazon.com exited the wine segment before they even started.
If Murphy-Goode was yin, this story was the yang.
• Best Wine / Winery of the Year
Dry Creek Vineyards. My interest in Dry Creek Vineyards goes back a decade with a visit to their tasting room and a side of mouth whisper from a friend of mine who lived in Healdsburg at the time. “The Chenin Blanc is always a terrific value,” he said. He was right then and he’s still right today.
To me, Dry Creek represents what is good about California wine – medium-sized, family-owned and operated, well-priced with very strong quality and value up and down their wine line-up. It’s a nicely branded winery with history and a back-story as well as national distribution for a segment of their portfolio. In a brutal economic climate like 2009, this is the kind of winery to root for.
In addition to my natural affinity for Dry Creek Vineyard, the best wine I drank this year actually came from Dry Creek, as well. During the first week of January I had the Dry Creek 2004 Endeavor Cabernet Sauvignon. At the time I said I thought it would likely garner a mainstream review in the 93-95 range. Steve Heimoff and Wine Enthusiast gave it a 93, others were slightly lower. But, relative to everything else I drank this year, this wine was tops – earthy, complex, well-structured and not overly extracted in that Napa Cab way. And, at $55, I’d call it a value. Today, the Endeavor represents a wine style that California will evolve toward in the future – a balance between fruit and earth, short-term pleasure versus long-term patience with some overall restraint. The 700+ cases for the ’04 are gone according the Dry Creek web site, though the ’05 was just released.
• Best “I Knew You When”
CellarTracker has had a very good year – they hit 1 million consumer tasting notes and they’ve been creating strategic alliances for content, iPhones and such with amazing pluck. A revised look and feel is still on the near-term docket, improving an already very usable service.
Usually, I’m pretty good at reading between the lines and analyzing potential outcomes. That said, with CellarTracker I can’t call it. I have no idea where founder Eric Levine’s tasting notes site is going to go, and I’m not sure he does either. However, I have a very high degree of confidence that in the future CellarTracker will be as integral to the wine marketing and consumer landscape as Parker is today. You can go along for the ride, too—use CellarTracker as your tasting notes tool. It’s probably a good idea because at some point in the near future we’ll say, “I knew Eric when …”
• Best “Shaking the Malaise”
Crushpad wine. I tend to fetishize the things I like. Crushpad falls into this category. Separate from their innovative business model, they continue to build out programs and initiatives that are novel and unique to the wine business, shaking off what can be an industry wide “by the book” approach to market engagement. There is significant business risk involved in these efforts, but there is significant opportunity that can be captured, as well. Their Fusebox blending kits and Brixr tasting packs (50ml sample sizes) are simultaneously cool and useful. The Crushpad challenge, however, is cracking either direct-to-trade or traditional distribution and figuring out how to do so within their cost structure because the things they are doing deserve to find a larger wine audience, an expansion beyond those that are online wine habitués.
• Best Winery Blog /Written or Video
Judd’s Enormous Wine Show. Produced by the folks at Judd’s Hill Winery. This is pitch-perfect video blogging. It’s scripted, yet utterly natural and completely original. It’s funny; it’s quirky and has very skilled production values. On the winery side, Judd’s Hill has set the video blogging bar for all others.
• Best Blog Post of the Year / General
Generally speaking, naming a single blog post the BEST of the year is an exercise in futility akin to going to the Playboy Mansion and playing the “who is the hottest?” game. That said, my criteria is based strictly on what individual post implanted itself in my memory bank the most strongly. This honor goes to Tom Wark at Fermentation and the living eulogy he gave to his Mom for Mother’s Day. It’s personal, it’s poignant and it weaves in wine throughout the narrative. This is a fine example of wine blogging at its peak.
• Best Blog Post of the Year / Events & Reporting Related
The best example of wine blogging vis-à-vis reporting goes to Tyler Colman blogging under the nom de plume Dr. Vino. You know you’re on to something when the venerable Wall Street Journal writes a story based on your work while Parker lashes out in one of his (now) trademark rebukes on the eBob message board. Credit Tyler and his investigative work in breaking a report about inconsistencies with Robert Parker’s ethical standards and the standards that his team members follow. This was a high water mark for the reasonably quiet and serene online wine scene.
• Most Improved Player
Mutineer magazine. They’re active bloggers at http://www.mutineermagazine.com, supporting the printed magazine with daily content. This newer and nationally launched beverage magazine has a heavy skew on wine and is an ardent supporter of wine blogs. In addition to providing a legitimate outlet for wine bloggers to earn print writing credits, they win Most Improved Player for coming so far, so fast. Launching a magazine is tough business, launching it in the last two years on a shoestring requires nothing short of full-on admiration.
Yet, Mutineer gets the award not for business fortitude, but for quality in product. Last fall I read the inaugural issue of Mutineer magazine and, charitably, it was rough around the edges. Flash forward to the current issue and it’s a sight to behold in terms of layout, aesthetics and quality of content. It has taken a quantum leap forward.
Credit to Alan Kropf and his editorial team for not just supporting online wine writing, but also creating an ever-improving magazine that speaks to wine and beverages the way most people under 40 want to read about it – culturally literate, smart and interesting.
• Wine Person(s) of the Year
Similar to Time Magazine who named “You” person of the year in 2006 for the move towards community and collaboration facilitated by the Internet, I’m naming winery PR – the whole category—as my person(s) of the year.
In 2008, an online wine writer receiving samples was reasonably cloistered to a few and part novelty as good fortune called your name in the form of an email asking for your mailing address.
In 2009, it’s a manifest reality.
Online wine writers can kibitz about the mainstream wine press ad nauseum, but the reality is that it’s not wine writers –online or offline—who decide who or what is important, it’s wine marketing professionals who peek into this world and deduce quality in the attempt to achieve goals for their clients.
The amount of sample disclosures on wine blog posts speaks to the changing nature of our media environment more so than anybody can express in practical terms.
In summary, 2009 has been a difficult year spent lamenting the economic realities of a miserable business climate. Yet, there have been silver linings – inexpensive wines with high quality seem to be here to stay and luxury wines seem to be adjusting with saner pricing structures in accordance with legitimate housing values and people spending within their means. There’s not much to complain about from a consumer perspective when the value equation increases positively.
But, what will the wine year 2009 be known for in hindsight aside from the economy? 2009 is our Time magazine person of the year, three years later; which is about right for the wine business. It’s “You” and it’s “Us.” It will be the watershed year that
changed evolved the way people view wine media and where and in what form that media is consumed.