jamie goode's wine blog

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Alcohol regulation: is minimum unit pricing the answer?

Looks like Scotland may soon get further alcohol regulation in the form of a minimum price per unit. According to this BBC news report, a minimum price of 40 p per unit would save many lives. This would make the lowest price for a bottle of wine £3.60.

The alcohol industry has campaigned against this sort of intervention, but the current government sentiment is one where they are almost bound to take some sort of step to lessen the social harm of cheap alcohol.

I was discussing this issue with Chris Losh on the way back from Noval. He's an experienced trade and consumer journalist who has written quite a bit on these issues. Chris reckons that the industry has basically ceded ground to neo-prohibitionists simply because it hasn't come up with any strategies of its own. It has simply opposed every form of regulation that has been proposed.

I agree with Chris that the best form of regulation would be for the drinks trade to campaign for a ban on alcohol price promotion. While this is undoubtedly more complex than it seems initially (Where does it leave bin-end sales? What can show owners do with slow moving stock?), I think it would be the least problematic of all strategies.

It would make it much harder for supermarkets to use drinks as a loss leader. It would create a level playing field [surely there has to be a less tired metaphor than this?] for wine sales. It would do away with these depressing soft brands that are priced artificially high only to be discounted deeply.

And it would force Laithwaites to change their business model, too.

The question is, in the long-run, would the consumer suffer? Do consumers really benefit from price promotions as they are now?

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Social media - let's not over-sell it

You can't go to a big tasting these days without someone plugging social media.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm a huge fan of Twitter and Facebook (and of course blogging, if that counts - I was one of the first wine bloggers in the UK, starting in 2001), and I think you are borderline nuts if you don't use these incredibly useful communication tools.

But I worry that social media is being over-sold to the UK wine trade, most of whom are still trying to get to grips with the internet itself.

Although it may seem to those of us on Twitter and Facebook that we are at the centre of the universe and that the whole world is watching, that simply isn't true.

If you are in the business of selling wine, don't expect social media to save you. [Yet.] Most of your potential customers aren't there. They won't be listening.

I think this will change in the future, however. But it may take five or ten years.

And the other thing to remember is that these are just tools, and tools can be used well or badly. I worry that wine companies will rush to social media, do it clumsily, find it has no effect, and then abandon it. A measured approach is called for, and I reckon that unless you have someone who is prepared to learn (and understand) the medium, and who is a gifted communicator, then perhaps now is not the right time for your company.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Wine marketing: "stories rule"

I'm currently turning my thoughts to marketing wine. Specifically, can wine's 'naturalness' be used to help sell it? Do people care whether wine is produced sustainably, with a natural approach in the cellar?

I came across this wonderful quote from Seth Godin:

“Stories rule. Stories make us vote, or buy an iPod or give money to a charity. Stories trump science very time.”

With wine, what sort of stories can we tell? I think they are crucial if you want your wine to resonate with consumers. The stories must be true, they must be engaging, and they must be easily remembered. And how can we tell those stories? I think modern forms of communication make this achievable. You want to engage with your customers, and get them talking about you. But to do this your wine must be remarkable, and have a good story. While we face difficult economic times, there are great opportunities available for anyone who is prepared to step up to the plate with a product worth talking about.


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Meeting Jason Korman, the Stormhoek dude

Had a really interesting conversation yesterday evening with Jason Korman, who is one of the dudes who devised the Stormhoek wine brand, with its emphasis on making use of novel 'Web 2.0' marketing. It was Jason who linked Stormhoek up with leading blogger Hugh MacLeod, whose cartoons (example, right) have since become firmly established with the Stormhoek brand. Together, they adopted initiatives such as sending free bottles to 85 leading tech bloggers, and then a well publicized 40% offer with Thresher that went 'viral'.

But then things went a bit 'sideways' with Stormhoek as they ran out of money (cashflow issues) and went into administration. The brand was bought by Origin Wines, and now they are back in business, with Jason and Hugh on board once again.

Our discussion this evening was wide-ranging and provocative. I learned great deal: Jason is an entrepreneurial guy who has some interesting ideas about how to sell wine and engage consumers. It's really helpful to be exposed to fresh thinking like this. I came away thinking 'why not?'

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Retro Fitou, yeah baby!

Interesting sample in the post today. A 'retro' Fitou, from hugely successful coop Mont Tauch. Though there's nothing terribly retro about the closure (screwcap with a saranex-only liner, just right for this wine), the label is very attractively retro, with a mock-torn effect. I think it works really well, and the whole thing looks very good indeed.

What about the wine? Like many of the wines in the Mont Tauch portfolio, it delivers without threatening to overdeliver. It's lacking a bit of concentration and stuffing (I didn't say dilute, although there is a risk that it is heading that way), but aside from this it is very well made with attractive spicy, earthy, dark cherry and red berry flavours. Nicely savoury, and very drinkable. Remember, though, this is an inexpensive wine and it's much, much better from a lot of the new world offerings at this price point.

Mont Tauch 'Retro' Fitou 2006 Languedoc, France
Light, with savoury, spicy, slightly earthy cherry and berry fruit, as well as just a hint of that wild herb complexity known as 'garrigue'. A versatile, drinkable red with a sense of place to it. 83/100 (£5.99 Tesco)

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Rosemount Cabernet

Brands have a life span, or at least this is what marketing dudes tell me. Marketing dudes are usually smarter, better dressed and considerably richer than me, so I should listen to what they say.

Anyway, it goes like this. You build a brand. If it takes off, there is a growth period. You want this to be pretty fast, but you also want it to keep on going. Then there's a plateau period, where a successful, mature brand continues to sell well. The smart dudes reading this will be thinking that this is the phase you want to milk for all it's worth. Stretch it. Because next comes the decline phase. Your brand loses influence and sales. It's suddenly uncool, or boring, or out of touch.

Rosemount was a wine brand that recently, some commentators suggested, had entered the dreaded decline phase. Urgent action was called for to salvage it, and FGL Wine Estates revamped the range, paying attention not just to the liquid, but also the packaging. A simplified, elegant label and a square based bottle are the key design features in question.

What about the liquid itself? Well, the reason I'm blogging on this topic is because I'm drinking the Rosemount Cabernet Sauvignon 2005. And I'm impressed. This is not a geek wine, but I reckon they got the winemaking just right for this sort of brand.

It's deep coloured, with a forward, perfumed nose of sweet red berry and blackcurrant fruit, with a bit of spicy presence. There's a subtle herbiness, too. It is pretty refined. The palate shows sweet ripe blackcurrant fruit, with just enough spicy structure to counter the sweetness of the fruit. Any rough, slightly herbal edges are papered over adequately with the fruit sweetness. I reckon there's also a bit of residual sugar here, which rounds the palate, fleshing it out a bit, and making the wine a lot more accessible (I'd love to know how much - it's notoriously difficult to judge by taste alone because of the way sugar interacts with other components of wine, such as acidity). Look, this isn't the sort of wine that the readers of this blog are going to want to rush out and buy in quantity. But for a commercial style, it's extremely well done. It's tasty; it tastes of Cabernet Sauvignon; it's extremely well made; it avoids the obvious confected or green character a lot of commercial wines in this style display.

So here we have it. A wine I'm impressed by, but which I wouldn't buy. And the brand owners are probably relieved to hear this, because they aren't trying to sell to me.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Finding love with cheap South African wine

Have you heard about Stormhoek's new social experiment/marketing tactic? It involves taking a film director, a strategic communications operative (Catherine Monahan, ex-Cube, now working for Orbital) and Stormhoek's celebrity blogger Hugh MacLeod around a large number of Tesco stores to talk about love...and presumably Stormhoek's new rose wine, which is on the obligatory promotional offer at £4.99 down from £6.99.
Hugh's mission is to chat up girls in the supermarket and convince one of them to come on an expenses paid date in South Africa.
As he says on one of the videos, 'I think there's something totally kind of surreal about what we are doing, but if you don't do something slightly surreal, you are not going to sell any wine, you are not going to get a date in South Africa'. He concludes that, 'nothing worth doing is ordinary'.

The two weeks are up today, and Catherine has sent in the following report, and I don't quite know what to make of it:

"1. Hugh has decided that he loves a girl he met in Blackpool called Lois Quinnelle - but she's not miss right cos she's gay... so he's decided that never mind, he and Tesco will sponsor the gay love story of the year and whisk her down with her partner tonight, to a private London Eye Valentine's Cubic Capsule, filled with Champagne and Rose and Chocolates, followed by a champagne cruise, dinner at Bibendum and stayover at the Sydney Street Hotel, London.

2. Hugh has a secret "evil plan" as he calls it... He reveals all about his secret love plan and his love affair ... it's much bigger and more evil and exciting than we thought... but i don't know about it until tonight...AND you have to keep watching the movies from tomorrow to find out!So, if you fancy joining us in the celebrations,(if you're not otherwise engaged tonight!) come meet us tonight at 7:30pm at the London Eye where all the excitement begins and will continue with a twist in the tail....we're filming, signing cartoons, handing out Valentine's cards, prints, t-shirts, boxer shorts, g-strings, caps and we'd love you to join us!"

Sadly, I'm otherwise engaged tonight. So what happens? Does Hugh get together with Catherine?
You can see the videos and Hugh's commentary on the excercise at: http://www.gapingvoid.com/

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

Plenitude Madiran

What was going through the minds of Les Producteurs Plaimont when they came up for the idea of one of their top cuvees, named 'Plenitude'. Now the Plaimont Coop are normally on top of their game. They are making some really nice wines from various southwestern appellations. But with Plenitude, which translates as fullness or abundance, they've whacked the volume knobs up to 11, and the result is kitsch wine in kitsch packaging.

Weighing in at 14% alcohol, this offers lots of everything. Yes, there's a bit of tannic Madiran bite (which I love), but this has been masked a bit by the abundant new oak that has been lavished on this wine. It's as if they've said, 'Australian wines are popular, so how can we make this wine taste Australian?' They don't need to do this.

Madiran is great, and so is the Tannat grape. There aren't many wines that taste like Madiran, so by trying to make your wine taste unlike Madiran, you are in danger of losing your USP. Be proud of the wines of the southwest France: in a world where wines are tasting worryingly similar, here's a wine that's a bit different. Tell the world about it. Don't apologise.

And then there is the packaging. What possessed them to go for the neo-viking plate metal look, topped off with some wax? It's absurd. Look, don't get me wrong: this isn't a bad wine. I don't mind it, although I find it hard to get past the oak. Perhaps in 3-5 years the oak will have been absorbed and it will enter a stage of mellow maturity. It's just that I reckon it could have been better. £14.99 from Bedales, Adnams and Grape Ideas.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Stormhoek's Threshers discount goes big

The BBC News site has picked up on the Threshers (UK off licence chain) 40% off deal - a piece of viral marketing originated by Web 2.0 dudes Stormhoek. The downloadable pdf coupon seems to have spread like crazy.

The beauty of this bit of marketing is that everyone benefits, and it isn't as mad an offer on Threshers part as it seems: they have a 3 bottles for 2 across almost their entire range, which works out as a 33% discount. Punters with the piece of paper effectively get another 7% off. So they won't be losing money on the deal. [The wines are priced such that they are good but not exceptional value at the 3 for 2 price.] Everyone seems to be selling wine cheap these days. The UK's two largest supermarkets are currently offering 25% discounts on multiple purchases.

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