Alert: Earth Day is here!

It’s never too late to celebrate Earth Day, which is April 22. Check out Google’s special animated feature as a way to start contemplating.

Established in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day was initially conceived in the aftermath of the huge oil spill in Santa Barbara. Twenty million people rallied to bring attention to the environment…and it’s still relevant today.

It’s not too late to put up a Facebook post or a display in the tasting room. Maybe there’s time to eblast a message to your customers.

 It is, however, probably too late to reach out to journalists. We bring you an example here of one very well-done treatment of the topic.

Drip, drip….drought!

What you’re about to read has probably been rattling around in your mind as something you know, as a communications expert for your winery, that you should be addressing.

water-huz6.jpg (1433785 Byte) rain drops on window

What’s all over the news? The drought! What Governor Brown is doing, what ordinary people should be doing, what and how we should all be sacrificing, and more, right? Agriculture—with a capital A—is coming in for a lot of focus and a lot of criticism.

In The New York Times this past week, Mark Bittman mulled over the topic in a strong op-ed column. In “Making Sense of Water,” he made several points:

  • “The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.”
  • “California produces more than 400 commodities in many different climates, so it’s difficult to generalize about agriculture. Many farmers are cutting back on water use, planting geographically appropriate crops and shifting to techniques that make sense, like “dry” farming.”
  • “California grows fruits and vegetables for everyone; that’s a good thing. It would be an even better thing, however, if some of that production shifted to places like Iowa, once a leading grower of produce.”

The average person does not understand the nuances of farming; it’s our job to educate them. In addition, grapegrowing is so very intimately connected with specific terroirs, as we know so well—those terroirs can’t be outsourced; they are the lifeblood and identity of each winery business and its marketing.

Do some research and you’ll see that there’s another side to this coin. For example, also this week the AP reported on a study from the state’s legislative analyst that “California’s four-year drought has forced farmers to fallow 400,000 acres and driven 17,000 farmhands out of work” but also that “agriculture makes up only 2 percent of the state economy.”

How farms—yes, a vineyard is a farm!—use water is a very complicated question. Young vines may need more water or not. Weather may impact how much water is used in maintaining a healthy crop. Maybe your vineyards are dry farmed, but no one knows about it.

Sit down with your team and put together a position paper or a report on how your winery is handling the drought. Are you doing anything innovative? Are you moving to dry farming and is that necessitating changes in what is planted or how grapes will be harvested or whether or not you also adhere to organic or biodynamic practices?

Wine PR Lesson 201: take advantage of a controversial topic in the news and make it yours. Be a leader; be out front in explaining how you’re addressing the situation.

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……?