Friday, March 19, 2010

Taste and Tweet

While much of the social media world was in Austin crowding in to hear Ev wax philosophic on Twitter last week, a handful of us headed up to the Napa Valley to enjoy sun, wine and general good times. The first annual, or "inaugural" Napa Valley Tweetup" was held this past weekend and included such tasty activities as an evening of heavy sipping at Robert Mondavi Winery and a panel on social media. Driven by Silicon Valley Tweetup founder Gabriel Carrejo of Excite Social Media, the event drew over 100 participants and raised thousands of dollars for charity.

This seems to be the moment for social media and wine. The Facebook fan page for the event continues to drive all kinds of posting. A week down the road, the Twitter hashtags #NapaValleyTweetup and #NVTweetup are going strong. For an analysis of the buzz that was created during the event itself, go to this post on The Cork Board. For a rundown on the whole event, Hello Vino has a lovely post.

I was part of a an intrepid group of die-hards who toured some of the Valley's hidden wineries on the second day of the event. Among our group were such social media-ites as Rich Reader, who had much to say, ask, photograph and video, and photographer Laura Iriarte, known as @lauralovesart on Twitter. Here's a picture I snapped of her before we took off. She and I both made the mistake of thinking that a dress and heels would be the right garb for the event, with no idea that we'd be hiking through muddy vineyards. But she seemed to take it all in stride.

Our tour guide Steven took us to three boutique wineries: Hall, Krupp, and Chappellet, where we guzzled chardonnays and merlots, sauvignon blancs and cabs, learning about harvesting, mulling, mixing, and cooperage. We were quizzed on the five varietals of Bordeaux and lectured on the finer points of soil mineralization. We found out about must and bladders, malolactic fermentation and the benefits of French oak. At Krupp Brothers, we were unloaded from the bus and packed into four-wheel drives so as to climb an impossibly steep, rutted dirt road. Then stood shivering the wind while sipping wine made from rare varietals.

There's a lot of talk about the wine business in general--and Napa Valley in particular--being in trouble. A recent study predicted that in the coming year, as many as ten wineries in the Napa Valley could be sold under distressed circumstances. Yet, this is also a time of immense promise. Many are realizing that the traditional barriers between wineries and end customers are crumbling. Blogs and forums, Facebook and Twitter, the fame of Gary Vaynerchuk, all are conspiring to change the face of this ancient, traditional industry forever.

A handful of folks are leading the charge into social media in Napa. Among the notables are Rick Bakas, social media director of St. Supery Winery (who was at SXSW during the tweetup) and Paul Mabray, cofounder of tweetup sponsor Vintank, a "digital think tank" for the wine industry. Paul was one of the panelists at the event, along with social media heavies Jennifer Leggio and Michael Brito. Coming from a wine ecommerce background, Paul's built an impressive company so far in Vintank. His clients Stag's Leap and Opus One, along with some wine technology plays like social media monitoring service Cruvee and ecommerce solution Vin 65. After the event I reached Paul by phone.

He explained that wine is very much a "long tail" business. It's hard to think of any other product in which there are over 750,000 different labels for customers to choose from (yes, you read that number right). Compare that with the number of wine reviews that come out each year, and you realize how hard it is to get noticed.  Even one blog post that reaches 10 people can serve as word of mouth, he said. In short, this is the place that wine and social media can be blended to create a full-bodied, toothsome creation with plenty of tones and structure.


Rich Reader said...

Thanks for shining a light on how difficult the near future may be for so many winemaking enterprises. I was dismayed to find so many #NapaValleyTweetup-ers putting too much stock in the "impressions" metrics, because impressions are to weak to give valuable, actionable guidance to the winemakers.

It's time for all of us wine enthusiasts to pull together on integrated wine-industry-specific social media tactics (both face-to-face & online) that will help the industry to gain reach, interest, advocacy, and consumption in the face of declining prices. Unless we act wisely and concertedly, the industry will be much less diverse and energizing.

Sunshine said...

Thanks for the comment, Rich. I agree with you. People often jump on the more obvious metrics first before getting more subtle about it. But I think the good news is the amount of energy and new thinking that is going on up there. We've seen notable change even in just the last six months. I like your idea of putting our heads together and coming up with solutions. I think there's a huge amount of potential, for example, in geolocation (again, early days), which so far has been way underutilized. But anyhow, much more to say about this.

SiN2.0 said...
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Gabriel said...

First, let me thank you for joining us at the Inaugural Napa Valley Tweetup presented by Robert Mondavi. Secondly, thank you for "continuing the conversation" about the special community and experience we are all building together.

I think you and Rich bring up some interesting points here. I hope we can all be a part of the "rising tide" and lift each other and the regions, businesses, and people we love.

In closing I must say that I am a man of few regrets. However, missing the wine tour will forever be a thornnin my side!

Cheers to Napa Valley Tweetup 2!

Rick Breslin [Hello Vino] said...

What an excellent post! You covered all the aspects of the Napa Valley Tweetup - the people, the wine business, and of course, the wine. Thanks for sharing!

It was also very nice of you to link to the Hello Vino blog post, thank you!

I'm looking forward to connecting with you online, and sharing in our enhusiasm for wine & the social web,

Rick Breslin
Hello Vino

Sunshine said...

Thanks Rick. Looking forward to connecting with you as well.