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The future’s already here – you just didn’t realise it

“If you walk into a bar, you share information and buy a drink for your buddy. That’s all social media is”

Social media is widely misunderstood – but at two seminars at this autumn’s Boutique Wineries Tasting in London, Ryan Opaz told wine professionals it was cheaper, simpler and more effective than they dared to imagine. Report by Graham Holter

It’s not every day that you can taste the most recent vintages while watching the current one in action – certainly not in London. Yet that was the unique prospect awaiting those who attended this year’s Boutique Wineries Tasting.

The event was dominated by a giant screen, featuring a live feed from a Portuguese vineyard where the harvest was in full swing. The message was implicit: at the wine tastings of tomorrow, buyers and journalists won’t merely have to content themselves with tasting the product. They can interact with those who are working with the grapes.

Despite being 800 miles away, Douro producer Oscar Quevedo was able to give the UK trade a view of his vineyards and winery, take questions – and even allow them to hear his wine fermenting. It was a vivid example of how new technology can be channelled, and can add new dimensions to events as formulaic as a wine tasting.

Social media is now Quevedo’s main marketing strategy, and it has required minimal investment. It plays an increasingly important part in the lives of wine consumers – and there are big commercial opportunities for the retailers, marketers and producers who make the effort to keep up with the way the internet is evolving.

At the Boutique Wineries Tasting, pioneer wine blogger Ryan Opaz urged the UK trade to spend a little time understanding blogs, Facebook, Twitter – and even the basics of what search engines like Google can achieve for their businesses.

Opaz believes video streaming (in Quevedo’s case via Ustream) has masses of potential. “The exciting part of this is that for a retail shop it would be invaluable. I can put Oscar in your shop and he can take questions from your customers.

“We can really do things differently. We can get a winemaker to sit down and talk about the vintage. It’s changed dramatically how we do things.”

This was no expensive publicity stunt. The video was streamed for free on the producer’s website, embedded by using a single line of programming code. There is no reason, Opaz, argues, why wine retailers could not do something similar. But there are some even easier wins.

Opaz, an American now based in Spain, runs the Catavino blog and organises annual wine blogging conferences. He argues that although social media is widely misunderstood, its function is remarkably simple.

“If you walk into a bar, you share information and buy a drink for your buddy. That’s all social media is,” he argues. “Except now when someone says something it can be indexed, tracked and spread.

“What’s great about the internet is you can take a conversation and aggregate and index the data. Knowing how to do it is kind of the trick, but knowing that it’s there is the first step.”

Wine blogging has exploded in recent years and is “changing quite rapidly”, Opaz says. “When I started there were 12 or 13 wine blogs – now we’re tracking 1,200. Region by region and country by country, they can vary a lot.

“One of the misconceptions is that if I write a blog, everyone will read it. But wine blogs in London tend to be read by Londoners. It’s very regional. That’s just the way it works out.”

Opaz says it is vital that business owners understand the nature of bloggers, and don’t make incorrect assumptions about their motives.

“Any of you can go to blogs and see what people are saying about your stuff,” he told the audience at the Boutique Wineries Tasting. “Blogs are naturally buoyant; they rise to the top of Google. If I say something on Catavino, it’s probably going to be ahead of your page on Google.

“Some people just want to write for their friends and aggregate their tasting notes. You also have people who want to be the next Robert Parker – but only two or three of them have any aspirations about that. Most bloggers just have a passion and like to share it. They’re not out to get anybody. Sometimes they say something honest that you disagree with. Retailers and producers get upset and blow up over something that was said.”

Opaz says most of the conventions that apply in “normal” society are also applicable online.

“You never walk into a room and just start screaming,” he says. “If you go in and say ‘my wine’s the best’ or ‘what are you talking about?’ people are going to say ‘what’s this guy doing?’. Remember this is a human thing. Just because it takes place on a computer does not make it a robotic thing, and if you don’t act human don’t expect anyone to treat you with respect.

“Bloggers make mistakes but the great thing about a blog is if you point out a mistake, the blogger can correct it and learn from it.”

Businesses which are confronted by negative or abusive feedback should try engaging with those who are making the comments – and try to dilute the bad publicity with something more positive, Opaz says.

Negativity should also be kept in perspective: “in reality it takes a lot of effort to get noticed online,” he explains.

Retailers should register their shops on Google Maps for free and upload as much content as possible. “Don’t skip the photos of your shop, and don’t just show the outside,” he says.

“It’s very easy to bury [negative] content on Google by producing better information about your product. Get people to write about you; write about yourself. Put photos on Flickr. If you don’t engage, don’t expect it to go away.”

Below are some tips from Opaz


Opaz says Twitter is a phenomenon that people need to discover for themselves. After opening an account, he claims, people typically go through a phase of disliking Twitter, and six months later recognise that it’s a valuable part of their marketing strategy. “You can reach out to people and have them reach back to you,” he says. Already there have been live wine tastings on Twitter.


“Get on,” is the Opaz advice. “It’s really changing quickly. If you sign up, sign up under your own name. Create a fan page for your product. You have this community growing and you have the ability to share a huge amount of information and have people interact with you. Without them really knowing what’s going on, you’re collecting their addresses and demographic information. It’s free market research. Same thing with Twitter.”


Opaz says bloggers should use platforms like WordPress (free) or Squarespace (where a small monthly fee covers hosting). “Pay for the consulting, not the software,” he advises.

Just as there is no simple definition of an average human, neither is there a typical blogger, Opaz says. There are professionals and amateur bloggers flourishing, some with tiny followings. Increasing the number of site visitors is essentially the same process as acquiring more friends – “boring people tend to have fewer friends” – but Opaz stresses quality of reader is more important than quantity.

“The numbers need to be thought of differently,” he says. “If you can get 100 fanatics coming to your site every day, you can have a lot of social influencers. It’s important to have big numbers, but you need engaged people.”

Opaz says bloggers who write solely about their own businesses should “get back to traditional marketing”.

Recommended sites

Opaz urges wine professionals to visit Adegga and Cellartracker, a massive repository of tasting notes and for those people with wine to sell: “People can put their entire cellar online and sell from it anywhere in the world, and it takes care of all the legalities”. Those who struggle to find relevant wine-related information on Google are directed to Able Grape, a search engine which has more than 20 million pages of wine-focused content.

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