Killing the Wine & Arsenic Story – Before It’s Too Late

Killing the Wine & Arsenic Story — Before It’s Too Late

By Tom Wark

Cross posted from Fermentation – The Daily Wine Blog

“Boy, who knew about the arsenic in wine. I’m a beer drinker.”

“Great, now there’s another way I can die…Just drink wine.”

These are two comments that were directed at me this weekend. Both were unsolicited and both in response to me being asked what I do for a living and responding that I work in the wine business.


Here’s what I can guarantee: sales of wine will decline over at least the next two months, if not further, due to the report that some wines have elevated levels of arsenic in them.

It does not matter that the report is bogus.

It does not matter that those reporting it are extortionists.

It does not matter that you’d have to drink yourself dead to be harmed by the arsenic in wine.

What matters is the perception and the impression.

If you’ve ever wondered why you pay dues to your state winery association or to your regional/appellation association, the reason is for moments like this. If your state or regional trade association is not on the phone with reporters of a national or local perspective, then you better get on the phone with them and absolutely demand they start making calls, setting reporters straight, telling the real story and doing everything they can to discredit the people who are spreading the story that wine is dangerous.

So, as a winery, retailer or member of any other sector of the wine industry, what should you do?

1. Contact your regional and state-based trade association just to remind them that you hope they are addressing the arsenic controversy.

2. Put a statement on your website discrediting the controversy and explaining why there is no danger of arsenic poisoning from drinking your wine.

3. Create a short and sweet fact sheet about the controversy that you can send to customers or trade that ask about the issue.

4. Use social media to direct your followers and friends to the best discrediting of the report that you’ve seen. Here is a good one from the California Wine Institute.

You’ve got to kill these kind of damaging disreputable claims in their crib and you’ve got to do it with hurricane force because if bogus claims like this are left to metastasize it can grow into a cancer on the industry that will be hard to overcome.

The 7 Rules of Commenting on Wine Blogs (and everything else)

commentBack in the day, when questions were asked about how to interact with bloggers and how generally to interact on blogs, I always told audiences and clients that it will serve you very well to be an intelligent contributor to conversations on wine blogs.

This holds true today as very often consumers and trade mingle at various wine blogs and your presence there can not only introduce folks to you and what you offer, but can convince them you have something of substance to offer a conversation as well as a parched throat.

However, there always were and there still are good rules of thumb to follow when interacting on a blog as a commentator or interacting on any forum on the net.

1. Don’t Flog Your Own Wine or Winery (Or Service or Product)
It will come as a surprise to no one reading your comment that you think your own wine is fantastic. There is no good reason to remind them of this.

2. Don’t Try to Hide Your Affiliation With A Winery When Breaking Rule #1
What are the odds people reading your comments won’t discover you are just flogging your own brand? Really? Who puts down $1 on a bet in the hopes of making 10 cents back? It’s not a good bet. Folks will find you out and think less of you. And there’s no good in that.

3. Always Use A Signature in Your Blog Comments
The signature is that little thing that is usually always added automatically at the end of your comments that has your name and your affiliation with a link to the web page of your affiliation. That’s all you need to do to identify who you are and bring a little attention to what you do. If the signature isn’t added as a result of you registering with the blog or their commenting system, then manually add it yourself.

4. Think Before You Write
What you write is probably permanent and it’s likely your grandchildren will be able to read it when they are researching you on the interwebs of the future. So, basically, don’t be stupid. If you have nothing intelligent to add, don’t add anything.

5. Be Timely in Your Comments
Unless you really MUST have your say on a blog, try not to comment on a blog post that is old. Try instead to comment soon after the article is posted on the blog when the most people will be reading it.

6. Be Prepared to Follow Up.
If you comment, for example, that “Natural Wine is the Devil’s Juice” or something else equally provocative or controversial, be prepared for responses and be prepared to respond. Responding to comments on your comments is not only another opportunity to make yourself visible, but it’s a common courtesy. Don’t be a hit and run commenter. Oftentimes blogs will allow you to subscribe to comments, meaning you’ll get an email when someone else comments on the post. Use this service if you’ve commented and if it is available. Otherwise, look in on the post every couple of hours for the next day or so.

7. Be VERY Judicious Adding Links in Your Comment
It’s considered somewhat bad form to place a link in a comment that takes a reader of the blog away from the blog. However, if you absolutely must add a link to an outside source 1) make sure it is relevant to the conversation and 2) that it isn’t a self serving plug. An example of a self serving plug looks like this. “Oh, and by the way, I wrote about this subject on our very own TOM WARK ESTATE WINERY blog just two years ago…Please go read it.”

These rules apply not only to blogs, but also to the various community and discussion forums that serve the wine community and wine geeks who exist across the Net, as well as to commenting on news articles that allow the practice. The point is to make your point, make yourself known and not to make an ass of yourself and your company.

Warren Buffett & the world of wine

On February 27 Warren Buffett released his annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. It’s worth a read.

I’m highlighting it here in the context of wine PR to illustrate a key aspect of doing business today: what a difference an articulate and savvy leader can make. Maybe that’s the owner or proprietor, or the GM or President, or the winemaker. Someone who is dynamic, full of personality, full of opinions, interested in people, with a can-do attitude, good on her feet. This is the kind of person a journalist wants to spend time with and is eager to quote.

If I’m talking to a prospective client, I’m that much more interested and eager to jump on board if there’s a leader in their winery organization who fits this bill. Ideally this Mr. or Ms. Dynamo is also not afraid to have opinions.

Yet another important quality is this leader’s ability to think creatively and express him/herself with colorful language.

That said, let’s step into the world of Mr. Buffett. In his multi-page letter, here are some gems:

  • Charlie and I frequently get approached about acquisitions that don’t come close to meeting our tests: We’ve found that if you advertise an interest in buying collies, a lot of people will call hoping to sell you their cocker spaniels. A line from a country song expresses our feeling about new ventures, turnarounds, or auction-like sales: “When the phone don’t ring, you’ll know it’s me.”
  • My successor will need one other particular strength: the ability to fight off the ABCs of business decay, which are arrogance, bureaucracy and complacency. When these corporate cancers metastasize, even the strongest of companies can falter. The examples available to prove the point are legion, but to maintain friendships I will exhume only cases from the distant past.

Sense of humor, remember? If you didn’t already know, Berkshire Hathaway is a believer in the media. One of the events in their several day shareholder meeting is this:

At about 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, we will have our fourth International Newspaper Tossing Challenge. Our target again will be a Clayton Home porch, located precisely 35 feet from the throwing line. When I was a teenager – in my one brief flirtation with honest labor – I tossed about 500,000 papers. So I think I’m pretty good. Challenge me! Humiliate me! Knock me down a peg! I’ll buy a Dilly Bar for anyone who lands his or her throw closer to the doorstep than I do. The papers will run 36 to 42 pages, and you must fold them yourself (no rubber bands allowed). I’ll present a special prize to the 12-or-under contestant who makes the best toss.

Lastly, journalists can quickly suss out if your Mr. Dynamo is a ‘real’ guy who is also nice and who is a team player, appreciative of his colleagues. Here’s Mr. Buffett:

For good reason, I regularly extol the accomplishments of our operating managers. They are truly AllStars who run their businesses as if they were the only asset owned by their families. I believe the mindset of our managers also to be as shareholder-oriented as can be found in the universe of large publicly-owned companies. Most of our managers have no financial need to work. The joy of hitting business “home runs” means as much to them as their paycheck. Equally important, however, are the 24 men and women who work with me at our corporate office. This group efficiently deals with a multitude of SEC and other regulatory requirements, files a 24,100-page Federal income tax return and oversees the filing of 3,400 state tax returns, responds to countless shareholder and media inquiries, gets out the annual report, prepares for the country’s largest annual meeting, coordinates the Board’s activities – and the list goes on and on. They handle all of these business tasks cheerfully and with unbelievable efficiency, making my life easy and pleasant. Their efforts go beyond activities strictly related to Berkshire: Last year they dealt with the 40 universities (selected from 200 applicants) who sent students to Omaha for a Q&A day with me. They also handle all kinds of requests that I receive, arrange my travel, and even get me hamburgers and french fries (smothered in Heinz ketchup, of course) for lunch. No CEO has it better; I truly do feel like tap dancing to work every day. Last year, for the annual report, we dropped our 48-year-old “no pictures” policy – who says I’m not flexible? – and ran a photo of our remarkable home-office crew that was taken at our Christmas lunch. I didn’t warn the gang of the public exposure they were to receive, so they didn’t have on their Sunday best. This year was a different story: On the facing page you will see what our group looks like when they think someone will be noticing. However they dress, their performance is mind-boggling. Come meet them on May 2nd and enjoy our Woodstock for Capitalists.

Who are the Warren Buffetts of the wine world today……?

Six Important Seminars for the Wine Writers Symposium

winepenpaperiAs I write, the Wine Writers Symposium is underway in Napa Valley at Meadowood Resort. For the wine publicist, this gathering of well established wine writers, simply established wine writers and others who identify themselves as “wine writers” would be nirvana. Imagine, all these wine writers with digital ink to spare all gathered in one place just dying to hear about my clients.

However, I am not allowed within a mile of the place, even if I paid to go. This is true despite my more than a decade of blogging about the culture, business, marketing and politics of wine. I’m not allowed precisely because I’m also (and primarily) a wine publicist and the organizers of the Wine Writers Symposium properly prefer the event to be about the writers in attendance and writing…not about my clients.

All that said, working with many wine writers in my line of work, I do have some ideas about what kind of seminars I might deliver up if I were organizing the Wine Writers Symposium. Some would say this is a list of “My Problems With Wine Writers” but it’s not. Rather, it’s a list of “What It Takes to Be A Great Wine Writer.”

So, what would my seminar look like?

Seminar #1
How To Fact Check
Believe it or not it’s not unusual to see my clients placed in regions they’ve never been in and find their tasting rooms open hours after they close. We would assign Eric Asimov of The New York Times to administer this seminar.

Seminar #2
How to be a Wine Drinker’s Advocate
Despite the absurdly numerous and ancient anti-consumer laws on the books in nearly every state, you rarely see a writer address these laws by calling on consumers and lawmakers to change them. If this isn’t the job of the wine media, then I don’t know whose job it is. I would assign Jerry Mead the task of overseeing this seminar. Only a small hitch with that plan: Mr. Mead has left the building.

Seminar #3
How to Make Your Readers Laugh & Cringe—Simultaneously
Satire and straight talk and a little bit of wit is a rare commodity in the wine writer biz. But when it’s done well everyone comes out of it with more than they went into it with. This kind of writing keeps folks coming back for more. For this seminar, Chris Kassel would be tapped.

Seminar #4
How To Make Money Writing a Wine Blog
The elusive desire! The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And the question that countless would-be self-publishers have pondered for near a decade now. As yet, we have not determined who would moderate this seminar nor who the panelists would be.

Seminar #5
The Art of Tasting and Reviewing 200 Wines in a Day
If you are going to dispense information every wine lover wants, then you need to get to reviewing. But four of five wine reviews a week just won’t do the trick. That just the thirsty reader wanting more. Thousands of reviews. That what you need. And there is obviously a trick to getting that many wines reviewed for your readers. Whether it’s advice on how not to ruin your keyboard to how to undergo a palate replacement with minimal hassle. Of course, Robert Parker Jr. would chair this panel with Antonio Galloni as his second.

Seminar #6
How to Be Nice to a Wine Publicist
Hey, we just want the chance to pitch a story; maybe just get our client’s wine in front of you. There are a number of easy tips available that will show you how to be nice to the folks who just want to give you the best story idea of your life. Any young wine blogger seeking free wine samples could oversee this seminar.

Ready, set, New Year!

The New Year is now well and truly launched. No more introducing emails with ‘happy holidays’ or ‘happy 2015.’ Time to buckle down. Still restless?

This is a good time to take that energy you stored up over a few days off over the holiday and turn to looking at everything you do. Try to have fresh eyes.

GloZell Interview About Barack Obama and Michelle Obama

President Obama with the YouTube personalities who interviewed him after the State of the Union speech

To get you started:

Use those ‘new’ eyes and re-read all of your materials. Are they really as well-written as they could be? Are they intriguing? Are they insightful? Are they compelling? Maybe you should take another stab at them…or maybe enlist someone else to assist.

How about your graphics and photos? Maybe it’s time to commit to a new round of photography—whether of people or vineyards or winery. Fresh photos, new images, seasonally appropriate: there may be news lurking somewhere in there.

Do you have a list of media at hand whom you’re targeting this year? Do you have distinct differentiated pitches ready for each of them or were you going to use your ‘same-old’ approach? Are they the ‘usual suspects’ or are there some new names there?

Are you making time to read the many trend reports flooding our inboxes? What about the latest DTC report ? Are you keeping a list of what your winery could be doing differently or is doing differently? Ideas to discuss with your management colleagues? Why aren’t we using concrete eggs, for example? Are we doing trials with any unusual varietals, and so on.

New voices, new channels: are you going to try to find a new voice or platform this year to reach out to? I was interested to see what three Youtube personalities the White House included in post-State of the Union discussions (hyper link to How or why did they choose Hank Green, Bethany Mota and GloZell Green? Who’s out there talking about wine whom you could approach?

Maybe it’s time to freshen up your winery’s elevator speech, that unique selling proposition boiled down to just a sentence or two.

Maybe the most important thing to try to think freshly about right now, at the beginning of a new year: what do you want to accomplish in the next twelve months? Is it getting media to take a fresh look at your winery? Is it getting key media to profile you, writers who’ve never talked about you before?

Here’s an insightful post by Seth Godin to spur this type of January contemplations: