Not too long ago, I was contacted by a PR firm regarding one of their wineries, J Vineyards.
This is nothing to write about in and of itself. What is worth writing about is why they were reaching out to me.
As a wine blogger, they wanted me to know that J had launched their own blog, J News You Can Use. A winery that's taking part in the wine 2.0 wine conversation? Now that I find worth writing about - not just because it adds a potentially compelling voice to the on-line mix; it also shows that I'm (thankfully!) being proven increasingly more incorrect about my dire assessment of the influence of wine blogging in the 'real' world!
To get a better feel of what J is all about, you of course need to sample their wine. So, I grabbed a bottle of their 2005 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. First, the numbers: 100% Pinot Noir, aged in French oak barrels (30% new) for 11 months, 14.5% abv.
My take: Ripe strawberries on the nose, cherry cola on the palate, and a touch of toasted breadcrumb on the finish. The finish also contains some alcohol - there's just no escaping it with that much powerful booze in this wine. Still, there's no denying the Russian River fruit - it just kicks all kinds of ass; the question will be if it can stand up to that alcohol with enough structure for any long-haul aging (at close to $30 / bottle, you should expect some aging potential in your Pinot).
To really understand a winery, you also need to know what the winemaker is up to...
You have to totally respect what George Bursick (J's winemaker, pictured) is trying to do. Bursick has been experimenting with longer fermentation times, utilizing techniques like batonage (stirring the wine with its yeast and sediment to impart extra creaminess and a rounder mouthfeel), and resurrecting the use of rare Burgundian yeasts that haven't seen the dark of fermentation since the 1930s.
But I'm not really writing to tell you about J's wine (good as it is); I'm writing to tell you about J's blog.
You might expect that I got the info. on Bursick from J's blog. But I didn't. I got it from their press materials. And, unlike J's wines, in today's social-networking-obsessed Internet world, that's probably not good enough.
It's great to see wineries like J embracing the on-line wine world. With social networking officially overtaking porn as the most popular website destinations, if you're not into social networks then you're not really on the web these days. Anyone who wants to connect with consumers and doesn't have a socially-oriented on-line presence is officially behind the times (and the competition).
Having said that, J's blog is useful if you already know about J's wines, or to have a central place to catalog their news and accomplishments. J's blog is a good first step, but it's already behind the times when compared to some other wineries, such as Tablas Creek. Tablas Creek's blog is winning awards because it's being used to give us deep insights into how the wine is made, and the trials and tribulations of day to day life at the winery. Consumers want to know more than what awards a winery is winning - they want to feel more connected to the brand.
My advice to J, and any other winery that wants to take online promotion seriously: get connected, and do it quickly. Get a blog, and get personal in it. Get on twitter and follow some of the wine geek crowd. Sign up at OpenWineConsortium.org and converse with bloggers, distributors, and consumers.
If you don't, the online wine world very well might pass you by. And sooner or later, that means the 'real' world consumers might pass you by as well...