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A wine drawing philosopher with a heart of gold. aka. #firekitten

27 Responses

  1. Arnold Waldstein
    Arnold Waldstein at | | Reply

    Quite a retort my friend…and well done.

    Two comments. I applaud you for taking the time to argue against the misinformed and naysayers. I long ago decided not to work with companies that don’t embrace the realities of the market, and as well, refuse to argue with naysayer pundits on this, or my pet enthusiasm, a natural approach to wine making.

    Add time to either of these arguments and the market wins.

    One point of a nudge back at you. Why are people like Hardy and Hank from La Clarine, or even someone like Frank Cornelissen in the able hands of Zev Rovine, stars that have connected directly with their audiences?

    They embrace the web surely and use it well. But more than that, they embrace their customers and get out, touch them, taste with them and then carry that bond online, socially.

    Social strategy without a human touch is noise. Social strategy on a gift like the social web building on core connections, great products and an understanding of a fans need to connect, change the world. Have changed the world for those that care to look.

    Nicely done.

  2. 1WineDude
    1WineDude at | | Reply

    Wow. Just… wow! Can I just be amazed at this and start a fan club for your writing? :)

    This is a long one but cogent and well-reasoned. Personally, I am in just about total agreement with you and I’ve become so sick and tired of traditional media figures proffering misinformed advice about Social Media that I simply have stopped commenting on those missives altogether. People send me the links to a post such as the one Steve published and you mentioned, asking if I’m going to jump in. I tell them I’d rather play with my daughter, and I mean it.

    Having said that… you’re inspiring a screed against the misinformation now brewing in my noggin’, so I do believe I will be writing about the topic very soon, just probably (ok, definitely) not as eloquently as you did! Cheers!

  3. Raelinn
    Raelinn at | | Reply

    Most excellent article.

  4. Damon Levy
    Damon Levy at | | Reply

    This is another great post.

    I am not smart enough to predict the future. However, when I watch what is happening with social media and wine, here is what I observe:

    – some early adopters are using it to re-invent their brands. It isn’t as widespread as the social media world suggests but it is far more prevalent than most winery owners know.
    – most social media conversations are still between influencers — i.e. the trade and press. It would be fascinating to study the 2 million conversations a day into conversations involving consumers and intra-trade conversations.
    – the missing link to consumers (where it really becomes relevant beyond a few brands that have successfully used social media) is getting retailers to move away from reliance on the mainstream print world. Retailers are still the most important influencer and their primary tool is still WA, WS, and WE.

    Thanks for the article, Hawk.

  5. Jameson Fink
    Jameson Fink at | | Reply

    Your oyster wine experience is something that happens so much on social media. Hey, it’s helped me find wine and also someone to fix my freezer and help diagnose a router issue. Not as exciting as wine, but ice cream and the internet are things I like to have constant access to. We’re asking and answering questions. It reminds me of the best parts of selling wine in the retail world, where you have a back-and-forth dialog with customers.

    We have so many more opportunities and avenues to discover new and exciting things.

    Also, I really dig your description of Hardy as having “cherubic liveliness”.

  6. Sarah Pittenger
    Sarah Pittenger at | | Reply

    To answer Heimoff’s question: “What is to break through and make sense? Authority. Where does authority come from? That is the question.”

    It’s actually not much of a question. A recent study I read (created from survey finders of wine purchasers, sorry I can’t find to site it here) showed in no uncertain terms that the biggest influence in wine purchase decisions is a recommendation from someone a person knows, especially if that person has expertise in wine. (a trusted wine shop employee or knowledgeable friend, for example) Social Media does nothing more than give these friends and acquaintances an easier way to communicate, while forging new relationships at the same time… and broadening that sphere of influence.

    What makes social media so threatening and scary to so many? (because I think that’s what’s underlying this whole thing) Just unfamiliarity, I think. Much like email, the telephone, horseless carriages, and probably the wheel – people like to do things the old way until they feel comfortable. Luckily for wineries that don’t feel comfortable with social media, there are a lot of customers that don’t like it either. A shrinking population of customers, I should say.

    Thanks for an interesting read!

  7. Beau
    Beau at | | Reply

    I love this. As I read Steve’s latest misinformed screed, I kept shaking my head going “why does he not get it”? Your rebuttal was spot on and wonderfully clear. Thanks for writing it!

  8. Michael Brill
    Michael Brill at | | Reply

    Awesome write-up and I want to believe, but I really just have a hard time understanding something like your poster child scenario for social media’s influence on wine:

    ‘I posted on Facebook earlier today that I was eating oysters and in short order someone asked what wine I drank with them. A friend of mine is traveling soon to Denver and hopes to find champagne there, so I messaged three friends of mine on Facebook about wine shops in Denver. The next thing I knew two tweets had gone out to people I’ve never heard of asking their recommendation. When I hear back, and tell my friend, she’s going to shop there.”

    – Why would you recommend stores you know nothing about and your trusted sources know nothing about? That chain of trust can’t extend indefinitely… so effectively this is a random retailer recommendation, right?
    – Assuming your friend goes to one of the stores (why do they need to go to Denver to buy Champagne anyway?), how are they going to make a buying decision? Are they going to bust out their phone and start asking their facebook friends whether XYZ is good or start scanning labels and looking up data that way. I’d wager no. They’re going to talk to the sales rep and/or look at the 93 point ratings. Arguably, you could spend an hour of your time researching ahead of time and giving her a few specific wines to buy. But that would (a) take you an hour and (b) why, given that you don’t taste hundreds of Champagnes a year, are you a better guide than a professional critic who lives and breathes Champagne?

    It’s the lack of compelling social media narratives that have me scratching my head. And as an active wine buyer and probably average social media user, I have never had the experience of being influenced by collective intelligence to purchase a bottle of wine. Not once.

    1. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka
      Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka at | | Reply

      Thanks, Michael. Your point is a valid one. I agree, I don’t purchase based on numbers of people recommending either, if that’s how you mean collective intelligence.

      There are two things operating here, however, that differ from your point of disagreement.

      One scenario could allow that I am looking for recommendations and I turn to sources I already rely on for knowing my preferences, and so I am then more likely to be persuaded by my trust of their opinion in relation to me. This also works when you connect to a person at a retail shop or wine bar that understands your palate. When my friend Fred tells me to try a wine, I try the wine. I trust his judgement of what’s good and what I like both.

      Another scenario happens here in the store example I gave. In that case my friend is asking for a much broader recommendation–not what wine to buy but where has the best champagne selection in a town she wouldn’t otherwise know the shops in. Since that’s a broader recommendation it gets vetted differently than more specific cases like individual wines. A chain of recommendations is more plausible in that sort of case.

      Once she’s in the shop she can probably help herself but she might message me too naming wines there and asking for advice. That would work like me asking Fred.

      The paragraph you refer to as my poster child is actually a collection of examples with different types of influence that share social media as a means of communication. That means treating them as identical doesn’t work.

      Incidentally, the town she lives in is too small to buy champagne (no good shop) so she wants to get some when she visits a city, but there is no reason you actually need to know that.

    2. Katherine
      Katherine at | | Reply

      Hi Michael,
      I am going to Denver for work, and taking the opportunity to visit wine shops in search of Champagne for the holidays. The shop recommendations came from people local to the Denver area and working in the wine business. I already have a couple bottles in mind, however, I have in fact been known to whip out my phone and consult others in my search for the right bottle of wine. It is a perk of being a friend of Hawk’s. I have also been known to do some quick goggling if something looks interesting. For my part, I turn to my friends, specifically those that work in wine (I work in politics), for recommendations because I know they know what I like, and what I look for in Champagne. I can’t tell a expert or a sales rep that I want a wine that reminds me of Judith Butler, those sorts of descriptors only work with close friends (and philosophers) with whom you have shared many many bottles. Next week I’ll be in Las Vegas so if anyone has wine shop recommendations there, please pass them on!

  9. Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka
    Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka at | | Reply

    Katherine, Judith Butler on a good day, when she’s happy, pours from Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix. On a day she’s having to do what she can to focus and make it work (but clearly does) you want Jacques Selosse.

  10. Deborah Heath
    Deborah Heath at | | Reply

    I thought I had a lot to contribute about how value and meaning circulate via social media (where I’ve done a lot of work and play in a number of realms). But then I found myself totally distracted pondering just what a wine like Judith Butler might be. Complex, stimulating, norm-breaking– I’m thinking a vin jaune from Jura….

  11. Terroirist: A Daily Wine Blog » Daily Wine News: Invited to Engage

    […] practices. Through social media they’ve been invited to engage.” Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka writes a thoughtful (and fantastic) response to Steve Heimoff’s latest misguided blog […]

  12. Michael Brill
    Michael Brill at | | Reply

    Katherine, good luck on finding your bottle of JB! Hawk, since everyone is beating up on Steve, I thought I’d try to provide some counter-perspective. I *think* the problem that Steve has is that many proponents of SM claim it’s the end of the big critics and it’s nirvana for wine buyers and wine sellers. He hears this over and over again… but the evidence really isn’t there. We can claim it’s early in the game but we’re nearly a decade into this stuff now and dozens (many venture-funded) of companies have tried and failed to make a meaningful dent. I have mad respect for Paul Mabray, but even the poster child of wine SM is a two-person company. In the meantime, a single Wine Spectator Top 100 list will demonstrably sell hundreds of thousands of cases.

    Of course ad-hoc conversations can help sell wine and of course SM is a reasonable channel for most of those. I don’t think Steve would argue with that. Although he might (I would) argue that even though you don’t see the impact of critics’ work when you ask your pal for a recommendation, it does underly your pal’s interest in the wine in the first place or the basic availability in the market that allowed your pal to taste it in the first place. Someone in his blog’s comments used fashion as an example – while ad hoc conversations can influence decisions, they’re dwarfed by the recommendations of a relatively small number of mega-influencers. Wine critics are those mega-influencers. No, their content is not surfaced the right way now but I hope to see that changed soon.

    In the meantime, if I were a winery and I had $100,000 to spend… would I hire a director of social media or would I hire another sales rep or buy better fruit/winemaking to get me a couple point boost. To me that’s the practical decision and I know which way I’d go.

  13. Tyler Thomas
    Tyler Thomas at | | Reply

    Hi Elaine,

    Great post. Unsurprisingly thoughtful. How much would you say of your argument represents the majority of what is happening? What I mean is that I agree largely with your take but I think it represents a portent of what’s to come and not the actual ground state. Dierberg recently received some generous scores and I was surprised by the influx of orders from our distributor partners. But the current reality seems to still be that a good majority of wine is sold by retailers leveraging print influencers. I think it was Damon above who implied a similar point. Hardy’s story is terrific and his success well deserved but he makes such a small quantity of wine can we point to him as an example of a coming trend? Probably yes, but I’ll throw in Jordan as a better example. Probably the only small to medium size brand to consistently crack VinTanks top 40 brands because of Lisa Mattson’s masterful use of digital media. But even withn that what Lisa does best is find the influencers and influencers of influencers and connects with them both personally and through media. Perhaps we are leaving the feudal system but have we arrived at democracy? I’m not sure.

  14. Adam Lee
    Adam Lee at | | Reply


    I very much enjoyed the post and found it very thought provoking.

    One very broad question….that might cause us all to at least be skeptical of some points being made… mention how in the last 15 years print media has declined and social media has taken off (and tie that into the democratization in wine) and then you say, “So, what’s another thing that has changed in the last fifteen years? The volume of wine sales in the United States. The numbers have greatly increased.”

    In fact, that is only somewhat true. Looking at statistics provided by the Wine Institute, during the period 1998 to 2002 total wine consumption increased in the United States by 17.5%. From 2003 to 2007 it increased by 16.1%. From 2008 to 2012 it increased by 14.7%. The rate of growth of wine consumption in the United States is actually slowing.

    Is that in any way attributable to the change in media and the democratization of wine information/experts? I don’t know enough to say, undoubtedly there are many other factors at play. But I would say that slowdown in growth is enough to question whether these changes are occurring without any negative impact, as you seem to be saying.

    Adam Lee
    Siduri Wines

  15. Paul Mabray
    Paul Mabray at | | Reply

    Thanks for your comments. A few points:

    VinTank is a 5 person company (3 full time, 2 part time). We are small because we have self-funded the organization, because we believe in paying ourselves real salaries instead of the usual startup martyrdom, and we charge nominal fees to wineries in order to give incredible value for only $2.50/day or our amazing free version.

    No wine/tech company in the world has more clients (paying or free): 4700+ and 1500+ respectively.

    Thank you for your respect and taking the other side. I never said critics were not important I just posit that there is a new era in wine recommendations powered by social media and the internet.

    There can be no denying the volume and impact that social media is having on the wine industry (over 16 million people talking about wine on social media growing by 450K/month) and approximately 2 million conversations per day.

    My continual struggle with Steve Heimoff is that wineries listen to his perspective and his continual naysaying about the value of SM is irresponsible and ignorant.

  16. Michael Brill
    Michael Brill at | | Reply

    Paul: As soon as I hit return I realized that I actually didn’t know how many people you were and it was really bad form to post an assertion. My apologies and not really that relevant anyway.

    I can also understand that your business requires you to have a strong stance on the topic. As per denying the “volume and impact” … I won’t deny the volume, but I think the burden of proof of impact is on the proponents. The impact of another sales rep or 2 points on a wine is empirically pretty clear… see Tyler’s comment above as an example.

    I’m sure you track Steve’s comments way more than I do, but I’d call them skeptical, not irresponsible and certainly not ignorant. I think you have the acknowledge the cumulative force of SM proponents in wine as an overwhelming perceived threat to professional critics. While you personally may steer clear of that rhetoric and tend to focus on the positive elements, others not so much. If this were Marvin Shanken dictating to his secretary between cigar puffs and sending out a fax then I might be more inclined to agree with you, but Steve’s been online quite some time and I’ve seen him go from a true believer to someone who is questioning to a skeptic over the past 6-7 years.

    The solution to this is quite easy… make your point with well-documented success stories. I mean 10 years into this, there’s got to be tons of success stories, no? It’s hard to argue with those and that would certainly shut down the skeptics and allows them to connect the dots that they cannot right now. But relying on abstractions such as 2 million this or 200K that doesn’t provide the narrative that is going to grab anyone.

  17. Paul Mabray
    Paul Mabray at | | Reply

    No worries. His comments are often more than skeptical (especially his headlines –

    As it relates to proof cases there are 1000’s of small success stories (Winery X got a placement, Winery Y made a sale, Winery Z turned around a bad customer experience, Winery Q got a press story) but they are not, and probably won’t be, I put up a Facebook post and made 10K sales. Regardless there is always one truth to wineries and social media: there is ALWAYS ROI in talking to your customers.

  18. Paul Mabray
    Paul Mabray at | | Reply

    If you want to get a view on the myriad of sensationalist titles and posts regarding Steve’s opinions on social media they are readily available here:

  19. Amy T
    Amy T at | | Reply

    Your writing is always so sharp and illuminating. I’m a big fan.

    Yet, I’m admittedly confused: How is authority that emerges from social media any different from authority that emerges from from print publishing?

    In both cases, “we the people” give power to cultural influencers. When I worked in independent book publishing, my publishers championed obscure voices. Social media did not exist, and we aggressively promoted the diversification of the canon and shared cultural “authority”. Print can be revolutionary. Conversely, social media can be stodgy and institutionalized. It depends on who’s talking/tweeting/posting.

    So, in my view, wine was already democratized. Where free speech reigns, media has always been powered by the people. Social media is simply a method for that to continue.

    Heimoff is right about this: Historically, even the most trusted and useful models of communication collapse. A person doesn’t have to hate on social media to see that reality. As I help plan the future of a small winery, I find social media to be a useful tool–but not the only tool, or even always the best.

    Surely multiple forms of media–and multiple authorities–can peacefully coexist.

  20. Shea
    Shea at | | Reply

    I like Amy T’s point, and it leads into something I was thinking about while reading your post. What, exactly, is authority? Isn’t it hard to fully understand the nature of authority without a full panoply of data to support inferences and conclusions? As a lawyer I think, for example, of how my profession affords authority to certain sources based on a system of rules and entrenched precedential value, but at the same time there is room to be authoritative without these structures by appealing to certain human elements that communicate to a judge. While I recognize that a professional discipline with hundreds of years of history is quite different from social media, I wonder if there is not at least a weak analogy to the average person using social media for consumer purchases. In other words, there are recognized forms of authority (perceived expertise and knowledge, whether that is with a ‘critic’ or a friend), but the way that such authority is communicated and becomes persuasive is open to creativity. Traditional media forms align with the substance of authoritative figures, but, increasingly, social media aligns with ‘trusted’ sources. An example: I was recently in Tokyo and met a couple from New York (I’m Canadian) at an espresso bar in the outskirts of the city who went there because of the very same blog post I read. Neither of us knew the blogger, but we both recognized the quality and knowledge of the writing, and so relied on that source of information as authority. This required both of us to have some knowledge of our subject matter in order to differentiate the quality from the crap, but we were both able to do so, and it led to a very cool connection in a foreign city. Is this perhaps an example of how the substance of authority might remain similar from media to social media, but that the form is changing?

  21. Michael Brill
    Michael Brill at | | Reply

    Man, what’s with the braniac postings here? I have to read everything three times. Shea – I completely agree about separating authority from the way it is communicated. I sort of think of it in three pieces: expertise, channel and delivery. The problem I have with the basic everyman SM story for wine is that expertise is so fragmented that is lacks objective authority (e.g., if I as a blogger only taste 1,000 random wines a year then I only know my little random world). Perhaps the bigger problem is the one you pointed out with your espresso bar review – most people cannot identify authority in wine because they, themselves don’t *really* know how to evaluate wine. When this new tier of experts gets more focused such that some form of taxonomy emerges for wine buyers, then I’ll change my mind. However, in the meantime I think professional critics that in aggregate cover most of the market, are the definitive authority.

    The problem with this expert content is not so much the channel, but the delivery. That is, critics don’t hate social media, it’s just that the vanilla usage it doesn’t improve their product offering. And this applies for anyone delivering content – while SM may be a great tool for scaling human communication, it’s really quite useless for scaling human expertise. I think if you look at Hawk’s Denver example, you’ll see that one person’s single purchase intent created a typhoon of SM communication that perhaps will have taken a couple hours of people’s time. That ain’t good.

    However, when the mechanisms exist to deliver expertise directly at the point of decision (think mobile/iBeacons/inventory/structured product content/personalization), then what you really want is a significant content base that can provide reasonably objective advice… and currently you only get that scale of content from professional critics. Actually to the contrary of popular opinion, I believe that critics will become *more* influential, not less.

  22. Kimberly Charles
    Kimberly Charles at | | Reply

    This media info graphic really tells the tale of the ever-changing landscape of how people are consuming their news, highly individualized, customized with social news and networks eclipsing not only print but most mediums by a longshot…and with this week’s news about the Chronicle food & wine section being folded into a lifestyle section, something I don’t think anyone would have even posited…we’ve jumped the shark, don’t be left behind in the frothing waters.

  23. Why Social Media Advice From Traditional Wine Media Is Almost Always Wrong | 1 Wine Dude

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