William Kelley’s piece on wine and social media in the new edition of Noble Rot got me thinking (and James Springall’s cartoons got me laughing out loud, spot on!). If you are reading this Blog Post, you may well have come to it via Twitter or Instagram, and Kelley is not the first to notice how important these two forms of social media (along with Facebook, and I would add, sites like Tom Cannavan’s Winepages, or Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages) have become to the wine community.
I admit that I rely on both, and especially Instagram, in order to see what my friends are drinking (and eating), and to see what various wine merchants and shops have just put onto their shelves. And I won’t deny that my posts on these sites help generate traffic for my Blog (it seems to work, thanks!). So how do these social media shape wine appreciation, and what are the potential effects of their influence on wine fashion and the wine market? It seems that it might be the right time to start talking about it.
Typical wine geek Instagram feed…oh, that’s mine…damn, no Ganevat there…
Only last night I spotted, via Instagram, that local wine shop Ten Green Bottles had a particular winemaker in for a staff tasting, alerting me to the forthcoming opportunity to buy some natural wine from Bordeaux some time soon. Today, in the same place, I saw that a friend had bought a wine I’m after, and now I know where to get it (if I’m quick). Yes, Instagram and Twitter are pretty essential for me, both as a wine writer and a wine lover.
Most of us who use social media to fuel our wine passion have come to enjoy the real sense of a wine community it has brought about. It connects customers with wine sellers, wine writers with their readership, importers with others who have regional expertise in what’s hot, and wine geek with wine geek. There are people I’d never have met were it not for Instagram and Twitter, and I’m so glad I have met them.
Yet Kelley does identify two issues with social media. The first is very well lampooned in Springall’s two cartoons, which feature bottles of Overnoy and Clos Rougeard. He’s pretty much nailed the wines, although he could have easily substituted a Ganevat for the Overnoy. There is certainly a particular type of wine geek on social media who might be compared to those who post pictures of Porsches and Rolex watches. There’s an assertion of something or other going on, whether it be via pics of Krug’s Clos du Mesnil or one of the kings of natural wine, like those mentioned above. Perhaps it’s an assertion that “hey, look at me, I’m here and king of the castle. Look on my cellar, and my impeccable taste, and despair”.
It’s not really fair to categorise people like this…is it? You drink a nice wine, you want to post a pic, simple as that. You can soon see the type of person you are following…if all they post are trophy wines. It’s not necessarily willy waving, but I know it can look like that. I’ve noticed that, not at all deliberately, I’ve almost stopped liking photos of Ganevat etc. Of course, I still adore the wines. It’s really because I see at least half-a-dozen Ganevats a day. I am trying to turn my likes into an acknowledgement that someone is at the cutting edge of exploration (Pvrvlio, Sanzay, Sean O’Callaghan, or a nice Pineau d’Aunis or Sumoll), rather than them merely being recognition of a wine I myself and everyone and their mother likes.
The other thing Kelley hits upon is the democratisation of wine which social media assists. Or, to put it another way, letting the cat out of the bag. It could be argued, and Kelley does, that a wine like Clos Rougeard was only known to a small selection of insiders before it began to be plastered all over Instagram. Some would argue that its dramatic increase in price is in good part down to the social media effect (although there are a number of other perfectly valid reasons for this in the case of Clos Rougeard, not least people having the chance to taste it at the excellent new breed of wine-focused restaurants like, er, Noble Rot).
Certainly social media has the effect of identifying the cool wines, thus potentially making them scarcer and harder to get hold of. I know this really annoys some people. They are not always shy in saying so.
My philosophy is a little different, but it would be of course, as someone writing about wine. I see my role as trying to be at or near the cutting edge of what’s good in wine, so I have to share what I am liking, and what I am hearing. I loved the classic wines once, and still do, and I’ve not forgotten how, when one wine became too expensive or hard to source, I just moved on to another. I’d still love to own some Haut-Brion, but I’m more than happy with Haut-Bailly these days. Winemaking has improved so much, and viticulture arguably even more, in the past twenty years or so, and whilst we lose some labels to the collectors, a host of new possibilities open before us.
Take one example, Jura. I would take just a tiny bit of credit for helping to bring Jura wines to a wider public (the vast bulk of that credit must go to Wink Lorch). When I first nosed around Arbois in the mid-1980s it was a backwater. Now, the finest producers are in the finest wine merchants and three star restaurants. But prices have risen inexorably as well. Actually, I’m glad they have, because it makes wine production economically viable for the many artisan vignerons who farm a few hectares of vines yet make amazing wines (Hughes-Béguet, Les Dolomies and Bruyère/Houillon are just three of many who are now getting international acclaim, and I hope Les Bodines and others will follow).
I remember, from talking to some of the better known people, what it was like back then. When a region gets no attention, no one can make a decent living. The best names generally get little premium over the ordinary producers. Recognition encourages younger talent to live their dream, and in that particular region we are now reaping the rewards in quite spectacular fashion. We have wines like Stéphane and Bénédicte Tissot’s Clos de la Tour de Curon matching in quality pretty much any Chardonnay Burgundy produces, but we also have several dozen newcomers blazing a trail on the coat tails of producers like Stéphane, now able to make a living where it was impossible before.
[As an aside, I predict the same thing will happen to Savoie once Wink Lorch’s book on French Alpine Wines comes out later this year. I suggest you start acquainting yourselves now.]
My point is that it might annoy those who want to keep great wine a secret that everyone is just a Tweet away from the latest hot Chasselas in the Crépy region, or indeed from the latest exciting cuvée from Julie Balagny. But in the long run, these wines getting due praise benefits everyone. It gives hope and encouragement to producers who might otherwise struggle, be they a farmer of a hectare or two in the Alps, or be they geographically far away from world markets (like, for instance, Okanagan Crush Pad, whose wines have been picked up at the important natural wine fairs and have gained a big British following on social media). Put money in their pockets and they will grow, and make more wines, and their neighbours will look on them and want the same. The best rise to the top.
Social media also encourages small importers to take up the challenge. Take Otros Vinos whose wines are available in Dalston’s Furanxo deli as well as online. They import some brilliant, if obscure, natural wines from The New Spain (Pvrvlio, Cauzón, etc). Or their near neighbour and Austria specialist Newcomer Wines, who import the likes of Rennersistas and Preisinger, along with Milan Nestarec from the Czech Republic. These are wines which without social media would be a hard sell in the UK, and without the help of social media, how many of us would know about them? I actually think we bloggers do a good job in disseminating these wines to that public which most craves them.
The argument that social media helps to put the best wines beyond the reach of ordinary people is, to my mind, at least a little tenuous. It didn’t take social media to make Lynch-Bages and Fourrier so expensive. Wine has taken off, both as a beverage of the masses in the so-called First World (especially the middle classes and moderately affluent), and also as an investment vehicle. The fact that wine has brought greater profit than many other investments to a relatively small number of people is a result of different forces, including supply and demand, but not social media. The same supply and demand issue operates for cult wines, which are usually made in tiny quantity compared to top Classed Growth Bordeaux.
Instagram may give us pictures of Ganevat’s Vignes de Mon Père to lust after, but if we can’t afford the £150-plus asking price today, then there are plenty of really great wines from the same producer that we can afford. Instagram then gives us a window into a world where we can discover other producers and other wines, often no less exciting (if not Ganevat, then Labet nearby, for example). There are very few wines that are unobtainable if we can find out where to look. It’s then just a matter of cost. But at least social media brings them to our attention.
When one wine ceases to be available or in our price range, then another producer or wine comes along to replace it. Do I wistfully recall Latour when I drink my Pontet-Canet, or Fourrier when I drink my Pataille? No, not really. I enjoy the wine of my moment for what it is. I’m more than happy to share that joy with my followers on social media, and indeed to share a bottle if we meet. And I am so glad that they (you) all share back.
Social media has been a catalyst to building a larger and stronger wine community. It has also brought together a much more diverse set of wine lovers, the types of people (young, or tattooed, or female, for instance) you’d not find sipping the Taylor’s in a London Club, and chatting about the merits of Ausonne ’47 and Palmer ’66.
So I’m all for it. Let’s all share our discoveries and enjoy wine together. Especially, let’s share what’s new and exciting in the wide world of wine. If it weren’t for The Wine Analyst, one of several bloggers I follow, I’d have never known (from a post this week) that I can try Palestinian wine in London (at Nopi). Now there’s a thing.
William Kelley’s article “Vinstagram – Is Social Media Changing the Way we Enjoy Wine?“ appears in Noble Rot Issue 14, in many good wine merchants and magazine stores now. You can subscribe to the best smelling wine mag in the world at www.noblerot.co.uk (you can quote me there, guys).
Below are a few of my pretty Instagram pictures of snobbishly obscure wines, just to show how cool I am…not!