Monday, January 24, 2011

We've Moved!

OK, I finally got religion and moved to a Wordpress platform.  The news site URL is

See you there!

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time...

So what did we find out?  We did  in fact prove that copper makes better egg white foam in a Pisco Sour...when you make it without the lime.  We also find out that contrary to what we had read, Lime doesn't help , in fact just the opposite. 

Here's the process we used...the recipe was of 2 ounces of Pisco Porton (from my private stash handcrafted by the inimitable Johnny Schuler), 1 ounce of fresh-squeezed lime juice, 1 ounce of simple syrup (1:1 concentration) and three drops of bitters on the foam.

Method 1 was a steel one-piece shaker loaded with a handful of copper plumbing fixtures.
Method 2 was the same recipe using a traditional Boston Shaker.

(For one set of the tests we also tried whisking the mixture in a copper bowl which just made a big mess.)

Results...disappointingly, they were very comparable in terms of amount of foam and stability (I can't tell you how long it lasted because we drank the samples...hey, I'm just saying!)

Then we decided to isolate one of the variables. So we did it a couple of times with the same two methods but without the lime and found that we ended up with much better foaming properties for the copper fitting method...we could even create little peaks in the foam. 
Better foam with the copper, but without the lime.
When lime was used we couldn't reproduce that.  So while that absolutely trustworthy resource Wikipedia said that you can duplicate the effect of whipping egg whites in copper by using citric acid from a lemon, or using cream of tarter (potassium bitartrate), in our tests, we were not able to reproduce those results.
You can see the difference in texture with the copper.

OK, so using copper fittings isn't necessarily a commercial solution, but Fred Yarm suggested we try copper scrubbing pads, which we'll do tomorrow...more surface area in contact with the egg, less fracturing of the ice which led to somewhat watered down drinks.  then I'm going to go on the hunt for a copper lined shaker...anyone know of a source? Sphere: Related Content

Optimizing Egg White Foam in a Pisco Sour

The idea occurred to my daughter Lindsay and me when she was making a birthday cake for my wife.  Why do cooks whip egg whites in copper pots?  My first stop was a query to Darcy O'Neil, of Art of Drink fame, drink chemistry guru and author of the definitive book on soda fountains titled Fix the Pumps.  His answers combined with a little digging in the literature surfaced the chemistry behind it. There are basically two factors at work here, one physical, and one chemical.  The physical whisking folds air into the albumen creating the foam.  But it also unravels some of the amino acid molecules "opening them up" to combine with the air and water.  When you whip in copper, the physical contact with the whisk frees up some copper ions that combine with the sulphur in eggs to make those unraveled amino acid bonds with water and air much more stable...yielding a more stable foam.

So the next question was, how come we don't use copper lined shakers in bars that make drinks with egg whites as an ingredient like the Pisco Sour, Ramos Gin Fizz et al.?
Darcy didn't have an answer to that one, nor a source for copper-lined shakers, though he did suggest testing the theory with copper ball bearings, the thought being ice may not be hard enough in a shaker to release the copper ions. (and a suggestion to use a solid metal shaker rather than a Boston Shaker!)

Two other alternative methods that improve foam stability are to add an acid (citric acid from the limes in the recipe may already be maximizing the foam),and cream of tartar which also lowers the pH.

So we're going to do some experimenting and determine whether or not we can use this copper/egg white interaction to make a better Pisco Sour.   Not having access to copper ball bearings, I'm thinking I'll stop by the hardware store for some copper plumbing  fittings and  a micrometer and stop watch to measure foam height and stablility.

Stay tuned...more to come. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You Want Me to Do WHAT????

    David Honig of Palate Press and my fellow bloggers, I feel your pain. As authors of six blogs, some for the company, some for clients and some just for fun, we see our fair share of outrageous PR pitches.   So I thought I’d post a few excerpts of some of the more egregious examples and share some yuks.  I welcome my fellow bloggers to add their contributions to the PR Pitch Hall of Shame.

1. Sounds like a plot line for a porno film (but at least they said "  Please"

Subject: Please Cover:New Tech Product- Jumpstart Emergency Phone Charger Can Be Hung, Like a Charm, From Cell Phones

Hi Steven,

Please let me know if you are able to cover or feature the following. Digipower is officially announcing today two of their coolest products to hit the tech accessories market called the "Jumpstart" and the "Jumpstart Sport".

2.  We’ve already decided what you are, now we’re just quibbling over the price

Subject: Advertising and PR
Hi, I’m contacting you regarding your site at
Datadial are a digital PR and marketing agency currently representing several clients that would be very interested in gaining some exposure on your site.

I’m writing to ask,
a)      If you accept press releases and what you policy is regarding these
b)      If you accept paid editorial and the costs and terms associated with this
c)      Your advertising rates

3. Anything Else I Can do For a Perfect Stranger?

Subject: Blog Question
Hi there, I am looking to get some information about your blog. I work for a PR agency in Chicago and am building a media list for one of our liquor clients. I am wondering if you might be able to tell me the number of hits your blog receives each month?

NB:  As many of you know, I’m sort of anal about analytics.  Some wag once told me “Hits” stands for How Idiots Track Success.
4. Should I be Flattered or Insulted, You Want Me to Re-publish Your Content!?

Subject: An article on Label Profile: Canadian Club by
Hi, My name is (name withheld to protect the clueless) from – a unit of FOX Interactive Media. As the world's largest  men's web portal, attracts more than 7 million readers each month.

I wanted to take this opportunity to let you know that recently published an article entitled “Label Profile: Canadian Club” that I think would be of particular interest to your readers.
The article takes a look at everyone’s favorite whiskey label; well at least it’s my favorite label. Canadian Club whiskey has been around since the 1800’s, believe it or not, and they are not showing any signs of slowing down. I’m sure you know everything there is to know about liquor, but check it out anyways. 

5. Aren't You Going to Buy Me Dinner First? 

This one’s my favorite, again, hiding the name to protect the clueless, but what was particularly aggravating is this came from a competitive bev. alc. industry PR agency with which some of our clients currently work.  Makes me wonder who’s minding the store

Hello.  Would you mind telling me how many unique pageviews you get per month.

Unique pageviews?! never heard of that metric. That's sort of like a question I got some years about about this "Mapster" thing....they got the concept, but are a little sketchy on the specifics.

6.  From the “Totally Out of the Blue Department"

Hello.  I’m the webmaster of  I wanted to know if by any chance you would be interested in doing an unbiased review of our site on your blog?
Turns out the site sells a cure for urinary incontinence.

Now that’s relevant content!

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Notes from the EWBC, PR folks, Please Get a Clue!

   One interesting event occurred was a criticism leveled at “whoever keeps flooding my office with unsolicited samples of wines.”  That was a quote from David Honig of Palate Press.  It was a comment during a session on “generic promotion”  (new title to me for country trade associations) featuring panelists Willi Klinger, MD of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board and Michael Cox who heads of up Wines of Chile UK. The subject being discussed was the role and resources that these groups provide to bloggers and other online authors.  David’s point was that for bloggers in general and particularly sites like his, what the authors want are “stories”.   They don’t want to be fed a company line with a prepackaged release and unexpected samples that are being sent to a lot of writers at the same time.
"Generic" or Country Wine Trade Promotion Group Panel at EWBC.  Willi Klinger of Austria on the left, Michael Cox of Wines of Chile/UK 2nd from right.

     What they do want …and value and respect…is for a PR agent to understand the content and “voice” of each site and author, and to present them with story concepts that the writer can then decide to work with.  So for example David pointed out, don’t send out a banal self-promotional press release and unsolicited wine samples.  But if your agency is so clueless as to still be using this archaic strategy, for god’s sake don’t send them the same thing to more than one writer.

    Do read the author, understand their interests, engage with them through comments on their blog and conversations elsewhere on the web where they’re active…twitter, Facebook e.g.  That earns you the credibility and receptivity to reach out with story ideas that would be relevant to their conversations and most importantly, of value to their readers. 

     This is a definitive change in the dynamics of online wine PR.  As more and more wineries, generics and other entities discover blogs and wine websites, the ones that don’t get it and do it badly are doing more damage to their clients than whatever good they hope to accomplish for them.

     Certainly there are still writers out there to whom free samples are a primary motivator, as most bloggers have accepted the fact that they’re not going to making money from their blogs.  But what’s most important is that PR folks recognize they need read and listen before they start talking.  It’s a lesson I have to relearn on a regular basis too.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

European Wine Bloggers Conference

I'm in Vienna this week at the European Wine Bloggers Conference hosted by our client the Austrian Wine Marketing Board. Kudos to Robert McIntosh, Gabriella and Ryan Opaz who organized the conference and did a fabulous job.

  The venue was pretty outstanding too…the Orangerie at the Shönbrunn Palace, home to the Hapsburg emperors.

17 Students from the Burgundy School of Business attended the conference under the able leadership of Damien Wilson, MW
Schoenbrunn Palace (this is a pic taken in the summer)

The focus of the conference is not necessarily on blogging per se, but also the revolution that social media is fomenting in the industry.  Keynote speaker Elin McCoy framed the theme of the conference with an overview of some of the issues we’re dealing with…from journalistic standards to revenue generation potential and realities.

Keynote Speaker Elin McCoy
Elin joined Constance and our client Wines from Santorini on a trip last summer last summer, but this was the first chance I had to get to know her myself.  Smart lady, incisive and insightful.

Melanie Stumpf of VDP and Steve Raye of BAT

Damien Wilson, MW, Director of Burgundy School of Business Wine Dept.

Michael Cox and Juan Somavia of Wines of Chile bustin' moves in Vienna
What would a party in Vienna be without a Waltz?
Willi Klinger of Austrian Wine Marketing Board leading a technical tasting
Gabrielle Savage of The Drinks Business (I think she looks like Jodi Foster!)
AWMB Social Media Team at the the middle is Susanne Staggl who honcho'd the crew at the conference.  Danke Susanne!
Steve Raye, Stevie Kim of Veronafiere/Vinitaly and Giampiero Nadali of Aristede

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

US Drinks Conference Distributor Panel

One of the highlights of the U.S. Drinks Conference was the distributor panel moderated by Ted Roman, EVP of William Grant, with panelists Kevin Fennessey, CMO of Southern Wine and Spirits; Efren Puente, VP of Marketing at Charmer Sunbelt; Bob Hendrickson, President of RNDC, and Jeffrey Altschuler, President of Allied Beverages.

Here are the key takeaways:
·        There was general agreement and recognition that entrepreneurs are the ones driving innovation, not the major multinationals, so distributors have to be open to new ideas that may come from people outside the industry.  industry outsiders need to bring in folks with industry experience for credibility and practical advice.
·        For brands trying to pitch a wholesaler to take their products:
o   Primary question you’ll get asked: “Is the proposition unique, does it fill a new niche distributor does not have a current entry in”.  If the answer is yes, then follow ups will be “do you have industry experience or are you working with someone who does?”, “Is the marketing plan complete and comprehensive, not relying on one gimmick?”, “Do you have sales management people with industry experience, and do you also have street sales people (brand ambassadors/market managers) with industry experience, trained, on the ground, and supported with a good budget?”,
o Come to the distributor with the flexibility that allows them to help shape the idea /be willing to listen to and respond to  distributor advice
o   Midcourse corrections need to be anticipated…you will NOT get it right from the beginning, probably won’t even get it close
o   Have we done business with this person or company before…wholesalers will always take a meeting from people we have worked with
o   Ask for one market, not the whole system.  You need to prove your concept, and accept the fact that however well planned and executed, you’ll learn and adjust.  It’s unlikely you’d get more than one or two markets anyway, asking for the whole system is naïve at best and impractical and probably not executable by you at worst.
o   The bigger you go the harder it is to see results and make changes
o   FOCUS, FOCUS, FOCUS Stay focused on a limited number of accounts, don’t do promo in one and then move on.
o   Do not pipeline volume…it may generate a big number at first, but it will hurt you in the long term…distribution is just the first step; customer and retailer reorders are what the distributor wants to see.
o   The best way to expand in a given wholesaler’s network is to have a testimonial from a state GM.  Prove it works in our system, “works” being defined as repeat orders at retail and on premise.
·        Chocovine is a new product that has surprised everyone…It may have received a smirk in the first presentations to the importer, but the astonishing success it has had reinforces the point that a new idea that connects with consumers, and fills a new niche, has potential.
·        Local market themes and approach will be much more interesting to a distributor than a generic national program. So be prepared to work with distributor to do POS around local events.  Retailers love it because they want to be unique and not have the same thing as everyone else. Most distributors have the internal graphic resources to help you.
·        That said you still need to have sufficient quantity of flow materials, but recognize most won’t get used.
·        It’s imperative to allocate a budget for local or Account Specific POS materials rather than flow.
·        Wine brands should recognize that small wineries will find a home in mall houses first.
·        There’s an inherent paradox that if you go to a small wholesaler and build your brand, they won’t be too pleased if you end up pulling it to go to a major.  By the same token, most majors won’t take one-off small volume brands because there’s little upside potential for the time and attention they take.
·        A wholesaler agreement (contract) is absolutely necessary. Recognize for a new brand or company, the distributor will dictate terms.
·        DEMONSTRATE PASSION don’t just talk it.  Wholesalers are much more likely to work with you if you’ve got skin in the game, or you’ve burned your ships.
·        They also want to see a commitment of as much of your people’s time as possible.  Have people stationed in the market, don’t think you can fly in and out and make an impact.
·        Should you include an incentive program in your plans?  Not early on…distributors don’t want suppliers managing their staffs or taking them out of the market on trips as a regular program.  However there are two circumstances where they are important: When you can define very specific targeted distribution (but not loading), or secondly, where a product is close to the tipping point and incentive program will help it get there.
·        Steve Luttman of Leblon Cachaca…who came out of Moet Hennessey and knows his stuff said it’s taken him three times as long and cost three times as much as he anticipated.)

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

US Drinks Conference

I'll be making a series of posts on the USDC, but thought I'd get some of the early pix up in the meantime. A big shout out of thanks to Denise Menefee for being the unrelenting driving force that made the conference a success. She's pictured here with husband Jeff who managed all the graphics for us.

Me and daughter Lindsay Raye

Carter Reum of VeeV Acai Spirit

Colleen Graham of

Tyler Colman, aka Dr. Vino

Jeff Grindrod, Gary Vaynerchuk, Steve Raye
Conf. Organizers: John Beaudette of MHW, Mike Ginely of Next Level, Denise Menefee of USDC, Steve Raye and Jeff Grindrod of Brand Action Team

Social media panel:  Tyler Colman, Christian McMahon of Heineken USA, Colleen Graham, Carter Reum, me

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Tuesday, October 12, 2010


The U.S. Drinks Conference 2010 kicks off today.  We're at a bigger venue this year but still will pack the room with an SRO crowd of 200+ from 14 countries.

We're especially pleased that CNBC will be covering the conference this year with a film crew working with business reporter Brian Schactman.

I spoke with Gary Vaynerchuk yesterday and he's pumped for his presentation at 9:30.  It will be a challenge to follow him, but our social media panel has some major street cred with Tyler Colman aka Dr. Vino, Colleen Graham of, Christian McMahon CMO of Heinken USA and Carter Reum, founder of VeeV Acai spirit.

I'll try to post more on Twitter during the day, follow me at stevenraye. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Dutch Point of View

I’ve been in Holland for a few days for meetings with our client Canei wine and next week with the folks from deKuyper.

Jean Erickson and I did some busman’s holiday work and checked out a bunch of retail wine and spirits stores as well as on premise accounts for a sense of what’s going on here.

Door 74 looks like it would be at home on the lower East Side, 
Door 74.  We were directed (actually got a great cocktail bar recco sheet from the Bols Experience, see below) to one of the top cocktail bars in the world, right here in Amsterdam.  Door 74 was a finalist in last year’s TOTC best international bar competition, and now that I’ve been there…I’d have voted for them. It's got a PDT-like vibe in that the entrance is an unpreposessing door, with no signage to indicate what's there.

We met mixologists Remco Babay and Bas Verhoeven and partner in crime Frederico Fusco
Simon Difford doppelganger Bas Verhoeven
and had a couple of wonderful evenings talking bidness.  First item was my request for somethign special with Mandarine Napoleon.  Remco did great, but for the life of me, I can't remember the recipe.

Bas explained a drink concept he came up with for one competition that involved real smoke, wood chips and shaved chocolate in a two layer glass…it takes molecular mixology to a whole new level.  He also treated me to his signature drink, the Martila:  

½ shot Reposado Tequila
1 Barspoon of lemon rind scrapings (not a zest, but scrapings with a serrated knife)
2.5 Barspoons of Maraschino Liquor
1 shot of dry white vermouth.

Stir, garnish with lemon twist and voila…

We talked at length about Pisco which they were somewhat familiar with.  I gave the 5 minute version of  Pisco 101, told them all about Pisco Portón and the mosto verde process, and promised to get them the first bottled that exports to the Netherlands. (Johnny and Andrea…you’ll have to help me with delivering on that promise)

The Wine Side

I’ve seen more presence of Chilean and Argentinian wines than I had anticipated.  I expected to see French/Italian and Spanish wines, which I did, but there is surprisingly noticeable distribution of New World wines, according to my unscientific retail review in Amsterdam, Delft and The Hague.  Pricing seems to be a bit lower than the U.S. and in fact I saw a bunch of entry level wines at the 6.99 /7.99 level…translated into dollars that’s still below the $10 price point.  Valdivieso from Chile was especially noted as having good floor stacks in stores that had very limited real estate allocated for displays.  Canei was pretty well distributed by commonly on the bottom shelf with just one or two facings.


We had stopped by the Bols Experience, a mini-exhibit that was very well done.  The location can’t be beat…right across the street from the Van Gogh museum.  There were some good displays of atomizers with flavors used in their liqueurs and real samples of the various botanicals used as well.  They end the exhibit in a real bar (albeit stocked only with their products), but you can design a drink or choose one of their cocktails and have it hand-made and served with a flourish by bartenders trained upstairs at the Bols Bartending Academy.

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Are We Engaged Yet?

I had just finished writing my presentation for the U.S. Drinks Conference and was reflecting on a few recent conversations I had on social media marketing and it dawned on me that we’ve turned a corner.
Within the past two days I’ve spoken to self-described Luddites or representatives thereof (guy has his secretary print out emails for him), expert practitioners of the craft, and a bunch of folks somewhere in the middle.

That whole spectrum will always be there, but what I realized is that I’m no longer an evangelist having to explain the new thing.  We’ve finally reached a point where at least everyone’s heard of social media. And while they might be a bit hazy on the definition and terminology (social media, social networks, word of mouth, viral marketing etc.) there’s pretty much universal recognition of its existence and importance.

That’s progress.  In spite of the few comments you still hear that “this Internet thing is gonna blow over” I think most people in the marketing business recognize that there’s been a sea change in the way we need to communicate with our customers, prospects and suspects. 

Simply stated, it’s no longer a situation where marketers are shouting at the multitudes and hoping someone hears and maybe even pays attention, but rather a conversation among and between people whose actions indicate they share an interest in a subject.  Whether they’ve become a Fan of a Facebook page, bookmark a forum or newsgroup, read or get an RSS feed from a blog, they…WE… all have one thing in common…we’re ENGAGED.

Engagement, however, is a two way street and has an implicit agreement that the commitment is mutual.  So it’s incumbent on marketers to recognize that at its very core, social media is personal.  Even a brand with a quarter million Facebook fans has to make each one of them feel an individual connection.

Coming back to my intro thought here, we have turned a corner, but we still have a long road in front of us.  The challenge now is how to scale personal communications within larger communities. 

That’s one of the subjects we’ll be hearing a lot about at the USDC…I’m psyched to hear what Gary Vaynerchuk has to say, as well as the folks on the panel I’m moderating on social media.  So Tyler Colman, Colleen Graham, Nora Favelukes and Carter Reum….what do you think?
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Let's meet at the VinItaly USA Tour 2010 in NY 10/25 and PHL 10/27

     VinItaly returns to the US in October with two events, one in NY Oct. 25 the second in Philadelphia Oct. 27.  The NY event will be held at the fabulous new Eataly venue on 23rd and 5th that's managed by the Bastianich family and Mario Batali.  More about Eataly below.
     The trade tasting in New York is from 2PM – 6PM at Eataly (200 Fifth Avenue) followed by the consumer tasting  from 6PM – 9PM.  There will be a closed pair of B2B sessions for the participating wineries and  I'll be speaking on a panel discussion focusing on how producers can find importers in the US.  On the panel with me will be Nunzio Castaldo, SVP at Winebow, Gianfranco Sorrentino of Il Gattopardo restaurant and Bill Ippolito, of Charmer Sunbelt.  A second session follows on marketing and promotion of Italian wine in the US with Enore Ceola of Mionetto USA, Susanne Bergstrom of Folio Fine Wines Partners, Gino Colangelo of Colangelo and Partners PR and Jay Spaleta, Assoc. Publisher of Wine Enthusiast.

     The Philadelphia trade event takes place from 5PM – 9PM and I'll publish the participants on those panels as soon as they're finalized

     Have you checked out Eataly yet?  Imagine a microcosm of a street in Roma, a trattoria from Venezia  a pizza joint from Napoli and a grocery store packed with more Italian cheeses, olive oils, meats and bread than you'll see in a hypermarket.  But that's not all, right next door is a fabulous wine shop with a selection of some of the most interesting wines from Italy. It just opened last week and there have been lines out the door for real Italian gelato.  Constance stopped by yesterday and saw Mario Batali, and when I visited with Stevie Kim of Veronafiere last week I spotted actress Emma Thompson mmmming on pistachio gelato. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, September 9, 2010

U.S. Drinks Conference 2010 coming in October

As many of you know we’re one of the organizers of the U.S. Drinks Conference. This will be the fourth year that we’ve held the event and is scheduled for Oct. 12 and 13 in New York.  Check out the website ( for more details on speakers, agenda, registering, and hotel accommodations. Registrations are running at 3X the pace of last year and we fully expect to max out the room.  We moved to a bigger space this year, but indications are we'll have to expand further next.

Here are just a few of the highlights of the program:

Social Media:  Gary Vaynerchuk.  He’s been a one man revolution in the wine business in the U.S. and globally as well.  .  Gary’s cut back his speaking engagements as he’s broadened is brand to be a media and marketing consultant.  So we’re thrilled that the USDC is one of the few events that he’s kept on his schedule. (I’ll admit I was a little worried earlier this year, but thanks Gary for the commitment.)
For those of you who don’t know about him, that alone is a compelling reason to attend this year.  Word is he’s more influential to a broader audience of wine consumers than Robert Parker, Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast…combined.  His grasp and application of social media strategies is setting the bar very high for the wine industry.  Not only that, he’s one heck of an entertaining speaker…expect your boat to be rocked.

Complementing Gary’s speech will be a panel I’m moderating on social media and I’m particularly pleased and proud to have Tyler Colman of Dr. Vino, Colleen Graham of, Christian McMahon of Heineken USA and Carter Reum of Veev Acacia spirits on the dais.  They all bring a level of expertise in social media to the discussion that’s unique their field of interest, and our focus will be on real world best practices in this new media channel.

Distributor Panel:  One of the most popular sessions, you’ll get an earful of good advice from distributors on how they decide which brands to take on and support what they expect from suppliers and how they manage and motivate their sales forces. The moderator will be our good friend Ted Roman from William Grant and panelists include Kevin Fennessey of SWS, Efren Puente of Charmer Sunbelt, Bob Hendrickson from RNDC and Jeff Altschuler of Allied Beverages.

Financial Panel:  New to the roster this year is a panel on finding financing in this changed economic climate. We’ve got speakers from some of the major VC and investment capital sources working in our industry, and I’m really looking forward to what they have to say.

As I said, details are on the site, but here’s a list of the other panels…each boasting a stellar list of industry luminaries.

  • Regulatory Panel:  Answers to the questions you didn’t even know to ask
  • Navigating (what may seem to be the labyrinth of) brand entry and distribution including price structures and logistics options
  • Supplier Panels on spirits and beer, and a separate simultaneous session on wines sharing case histories and lessons learned.
  • How to allocate marketing budgets
  • Retailer panel including on and off premise independent and chain specialists.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Reflections on Tales of the Cocktail

Having spent a necessary few days detoxifying from Tales of the Cocktail, I once again raise the rhetorical question of why we so rarely see spit buckets at spirits events, when they’re de rigueur at wine tastings?

I attended this year’s event in the company of Stephanie Jerzy who manages social media marketing for spirits at BAT, along with my daughter Lindsay Raye who is a brand ambassador in the New York market.  We were also joined by several clients including Johnny Schuler from Pisco Portón and Marc de Kuyper, Albert DeHeer and Arno van Eijmeren from Mandarine Napoleón.  It was interesting to see the event through the eyes of these folks, several of whom were Tales virgins.

My observations, in no particular order:

-New Orleans was cooler than CT…figuratively and literally that week.
-You can’t walk five feet in the Monteleone hotel (or on Royal or Bourbon St. for that matter) without seeing someone you know and REALLY want to talk to.
-It’s great to meet people in person whom you’ve only met via blogs or online
-The camaraderie and sense of community was outstanding…and it’s pretty cool when regular consumers are so interested in our business that they pay to come to what’s really a trade event.
-I’ve GOT to get my partner Jeff Grindrod to attend next year.
-the Faulkner bookstore was a pretty groovy place (and I saw a real pirate in Pirate’s Alley)
-Paul Pacult is a great presenter and guide to tasting spirits in a manner that makes the subjective, objective.
-Paul Clarke really knows his stuff or did his homework…or both.
-Darcy O’Neil always brings something new and interesting to Tales (but he does have some pronunciation issues, and I’m not talking “aboot” the Canadian accent.)
-I missed Camper English’s social media session and really wished I’d made it. 
-Spirits blogging is evolving…rapidly.  It’s no longer just a singular channel; Facebook, Twitter and the plethora of new media coming down the pike are magnifying our reach.
-Johnny Schuler has really nice manners (he stands when a woman arrives or leaves the table), and his passion for Pisco is palpable.
-Marc de Kuyper is the 11th generation of his family in the business, how cool is that!
-Francesco Lafranconi and Diego Loret de Mola are the Blues Brothers of booze, only wearing guayabera shirts and Panama hats instead of sunglasses and skinny ties.
-Sandro Bottega of Alexander Grappa is one crazy dude, and he makes some fabulous grappa.
-The Mixoloseum house was great fun, and having the shuttle van was a super idea.
-Tales is growing every year and more of the bigger brands and companies are exploiting it.  It will be important for the organizers to maintain the sense of fraternity and shared passion that has characterized the event in the past.
-Call me a Philistine and a Luddite, but I don’t think cocktails go with dinner.
-The Carousel bar at the Monteleone is a royal pain…it’s impossible to keep a conversation going when one person is moving and the other isn’t. (And the quality of drinks and bartenders there should really be top drawer at Tales showcasing what cocktails really can be and how they should be prepared and served.  I had too many mediocre drinks, but the Bloody Mary was killer.)
-I’d like to know who stole my bottle of Mandarine Napoleón XO from the Summer in Paris lunch at Antoine's. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

American Wine Bloggers Conference, Walla Walla, WA

We're back from the American Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla,Washington (our friends in Europe get a kick out of the name) which Constance I attended. This is the third year for the event which attracted 300 attendees from the ranks of bloggers, wineries and PR agencies. We returned with enhanced perspective on the state of social media in the wine industry. 

The sense I got from the conference was that wine blogging is coalescing into something more than a loose association of citizen-bloggers.  There was general agreement that the influence of wine blogging is increasing and that both domestic and imported suppliers are starting to “get it.”  Also, the audience that reads blogs is a whole lot broader than the readers of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and the wine criticism and reviews found in the Wall Street Journal, Food and Wine magazine and the like.  But many of these are now incorporating online blogs and functionality related to their print vehicles…Andrea Robinson and Lettie Teague’s active participation at the conference being indicative of that.

And I think that’s where a distinction--and some might say chasm--between wine blogging and “traditional” wine journalism has formed.  With traditional media and wine criticism there is an implicit and commonly understood notion that it’s all related to the ultimate sale of wine. People read these in large part to find out what wine to buy for what occasion and food pairing situation. 

But for most wine bloggers, what they do is a labor of love and an avocation.  So the commercial imperative is a bit hazier.  In many cases…perhaps most…a blog generates little to no income yet takes up a lot of time and commitment.  So issues like “transparency” (a euphemism for policies on accepting samples, whether to go on sponsor-paid trips etc.)  and “ethics” (if a blogger accepts a sample or a trip, is there any responsibility expressed or implied to write about a given wine/producer/region?) came up again and again at the conference.

There is a distinct generational difference in readership as well.  It may be an oversimplification to say that Millennials only read blogs and GenX’ers and Baby Boomers read traditional media (see the VinTank report for more on this.)  But there is decidedly a real distinction between the way Millennials look at wine compared to those of an older persuasion.  In some informal research I’ve done, when you ask a  Millennial where wine comes from, the answer you’ll get is Australia, Argentina and Chile…in their world, France and Italy are irrelevant at best, unknown at worst.  The growth of irreverently labeled wine brands is an additional indication that some suppliers are seeing the democratization of wine and developing products oriented to these new consumers.

One of the other recurring themes I heard was in regard to the metrics of cause and effect and the inability to connect the dots between what’s written in posts/comments and reader activity…like purchases. Even among the PR folks working on bigger clients who one would assume have more resources available, the general consensus was there are no systems in place that allow marketers to get a read on the actual commercial impact of blogging.   Of course, that’s in large part true for the traditional print media as well.

OK, so back to the AWBC.  Cool event, great people, new relationships and a broadening of my worldview of wine and wine marketing.  I’ll be going to the European version of the event which is being sponsored by the Austrian Wine Marketing Board in Vienna in October, and will be interested to see how things are developing there. Sphere: Related Content