Opinion

Steve HeimoffSteve Heimoff’s blog is one I read everyday. As the West Coast editor and critic for Wine Enthusiast magazine, his industry insider experience brings an important point of view and legitimacy to the wine blogosphere. I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Heimoff, and even sharing some wine at the first WIne Bloggers Conference, but I don’t think he will remember this encounter since his expression was somewhere between deer in headlights and, “my brain will explode.” Yes, it was after the speed tasting and humbling blind tasting events.

So I was pleased to see an incoming link from his blog just a week after I restarted here. Following the link I found a somewhat humorous post taking me to task over my review of my past years’ predictions. This post was just a, “clear the desks and start fresh,” sort of thing and I never expected anyone to comment, let alone inspire a post. Since Mr. Heimoff took the time to dissect my predictions, I thought it only proper to answer in kind.

On my first prediction, Mr. Heimoff casts doubt to whether the “luxury wine” segment has really come back in any meaningful way. Apparently he thinks I was referring to $100 plus cult bottlings and not the, “$35 and up” range noted in my original post (in fact, I mentioned $60-80 Cali Cabs specifically). I agree with him that the market for such heavily allocated wines has not returned and will most likely never return to levels we saw just a few years back. The consumer has changed and the “new normal” does not have space for such novelties. I’m not sure where he got his point about China but perhaps that will make a good subject for a future post.

My second prediction post-mortem fared a bit better but it is clear Mr. Heimoff looks at social media with a very skeptical eye. He poses a fair question about what I mean by “integrated.” No, the random Facebook wall post, YouTube video or tweet does not make for an integrated marketing strategy. And yes, there are very few examples of best practices in wine social media marketing. But it is clear this is the way wine will be marketed now and into the future.

The knives are being sharpened on my third prediction about wineries using mobile to reach customers. It is clear Mr. Heimoff is unaware of innovative uses for the iPad being pioneered by wineries like Jordan or of apps such as CONVERGE. I’ll give him a pass here as he’s clearly looking for someone to inform him of these sorts of mobile applications.

I knew my next two predictions would meet with some pointed commentary and Mr. Heimoff did not disappoint. On my aspirational prediction of wine bloggers figuring out a business model, he agrees with my assessment of being wrong but seriously doubts anyone will figure this out ever. My only response is if someone can figure out a business model for blogging to professional bloggers, then a wine blogger will figure this out, as well. It’s just a matter of time.

But it’s on my final prediction that, “A Major Wine Print Publication Will Fold,” where his true colors are revealed (in fact if this prediction was not made, I doubt he would have written his post at all). Clearly Mr. Heimoff has a horse in this race and firmly believes wine print magazines will continue on as they have in the past, while slowly shifting their focus to more online distribution. My point of view is the consumer of the future will not be paying for many magazines, and if they do, it will be $1.99 an issue and they will read them on their iPad or similar device. The entire print business model will change very quickly and only those publications with a solid base in the wine trade will have the resources to make the transition. For others, it will not end well. But that is in the future, as Mr. Heimoff agrees, not in 2011.

This exchange reminds me of what attracted me to blogging six years ago. I hope to have many more of these discussions with Mr. Heimoff and other wine bloggers in the future. Perhaps over an old bottle of Ridge Monte Bello Cab or BV George Latour Private Reserve.

Three hundred and sixty four days ago I wrote up a list of predictions for the wine industry. Like many past years, I had great plans for this blog and podcast and was looking foreword to trying some new things. But as it turned out, 2010 was a difficult year and nearly all of my enthusiasm for this new start evaporated and the year passed with few posts and not even a single podcast.

So as we welcome 2011, I am returning to try some of those new things but also return to the essence of what inspired me to start this podcast up some 6 years ago. But before posting a new audio recording I thought it might be good to revisit by past predictions and see how I did. And then never try such foolishness again.

As I recall, I tried to be somewhat less aspirational last time in order to not look too ridiculous a year hence. So how did I do?

Photo by Charyn Pfeuffer

The Return of the Luxury Wine Segment - While its too early to claim a full return for wines over $35 a bottle, 2010 did see some growth in this segment. But “the new normal” will be different than before the market went off the cliff in late 2008 with consumers being more choosy in their purchases. When the final sales figures come in I would be surprised if this prediction didn’t come true, however.

Wineries Integrate Social Media Marketing – This was sort of a gimme going into the year, and we did see some growth in this area in 2010, but it is still early days before social media marketing truly goes mainstream in the wine industry. I’ll still give myself this point as nearly every winery is doing something on the social web today.

Wineries Will Go Mobile – 2010 was the year of the iPad and smartphone but few wineries did much with this platform. I expect 2011 to be the year of the tablet with a lot of iPad clones being introduced next week at CES. Although I think there will be some interesting developments in this space over the next 12-18 months, I will give myself a miss here. Perhaps my vision got the best of me on this one but watch for the combination of mobile, local and social this year.

Wine Bloggers Will Discover Business Models –  To be honest I have not kept that close to this subject so I don’t really know if wine bloggers are making any headway in this area. What I do know is wine bloggers like Joe Roberts at 1WineDude are taking a stab at it. Best of luck, Joe; show us the way. I’ll call this one a miss, even if it might have been premature, too.

A Major Wine Print Publications Will Fold - I’ve been hard on wine print magazines partially because I don’t read any of them anymore. But no major wine publication closed it’s doors in 2010 so this one is a big miss. But I still think there is a big opportunity in creating a new type of wine publication tuned to the digital medium as more people consume news on tablets and smartphones. Since even mainstream magazines haven’t figured this out yet I don’t think any wine magazines will anytime soon either.

So 2 right and 3 wrong; about par for this sort of thing here. But as I mentioned, I do think at least a couple of my misses might prove correct in the coming year. And, no, I will not make any more predictions in the future as I plan to take this blog and podcast in a slightly different direction. Stay tuned.

My Wine Predictions for 2010

by Tim Elliott on January 2, 2010

Despite my fairly checkered past in making predictions for the coming year, I am back with another batch. I think 2010 will be a transformative year for the wine business and for wine blogging. The economy will show improvement by the summer which will reverse the “nuclear winter” we have seen for the sales of high-end wines over the past 18 months. But there will also be some surprises in 2010:

The Return of the Luxury Wine Segment – It’s been a tough year for wines above $35 a bottle. In fact, Mike Grgich recently commented he had never seen a more challenging year in his 50 in Napa Valley. But that will change as the economy gains strength and American consumers vote with their wallets. There will continue to be a trend toward value but those $60-80 Cabs will start to sell again.

Wineries Integrate Social Media Marketing – As I mentioned in my review of 2009 yesterday, social media was one of the big trends last year with wineries tweeting and connecting with customers on Facebook. This will be the norm by the end of 2010 with social marketing fully integrated into the go-to-market plans of wineries of all sizes. No longer will it be, “nice to do,” or something to get an edge on competitors. Social marketing will be a requirement for growth by the end of this year.

Wineries Will Go Mobile – This is the next frontier as mobile, local and social all converge on smartphones such as the iPhone. Apple’s forthcoming tablet will also change the way consumers use the web to learn about wine and also buy it. Early adopter wineries are already working on their mobile strategies; by year-end nearly everyone will be playing catch-up as this space heats up.

Wine Bloggers Will Discover Business Models – We have seen the rise of the “professional” wine blogger in the past couple of years and I expect more of us will discover how to turn our hobbies into cash. No, it will not be a full-time living for most, but it will be a significant enough incentive to create content on a regular basis. Some will cry foul as monetization can lead to conflicts of interest but there will be several bloggers who will figure this out.

A Major Wine Print Publications Will Fold – OK, so this is my outrageous prediction for the year. And I don’t think this casualty will be the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast or newsletters like the Wine Advocate. But the times are changing and I don’t see a great future for print wine magazines particularly after new technologies that fundamentally redefine what a magazine is hit the market early this year (e.g. Apple iSlate or whatever this will be called). I hope to see some true innovation in online wine coverage, too.

So that’s all I’ve got this year. Let me know what you think in the comments. I wish everyone a very happy and prosperous 2010 (and that’s, “twenty-ten”).

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My Wine Predictions for 2009

by Tim Elliott on January 1, 2009

Photo by Charyn Pfeuffer

Photo by Charyn Pfeuffer

A couple years ago I made 8 bold predictions for 2007. I decided to sit last year out after only the most obvious of the eight actually came to pass (increasing direct to consumer wine sales). But some progress was made on the list in 2008 with Tyler Colman, a.k.a Dr. Vino truly “going pro” with the publication of not one, but 2 wine books. Not to mention the entire Gary Vaynerchuk story which played out in a big way since I made that prediction. Some of my other predictions also made some progress toward fulfillment so I’m going to add six more for 2009 today.

The Year of Value – This prediction is really not that much of a stretch since the world economic downturn has made it a lot more challenging for wine producers to sell higher priced wines. Anything above $25 a bottle will be a tough sell in this environment with a lot of competition for consumers in the $10-15 price category. Look for some producers to just lower their pricing while others, such as Cameron Hughes, Mark West and Castle Rock, will be perfectly positioned to gain market share. 2009 is the year of extreme value that might also spark more interest in wine auctions as consumers look to maximize their purchasing power.

Wineries Really Go Direct – More wineries are exploiting direct to consumer sales and I expect to see a lot more growth in this area particularly for higher priced brands. The economics of direct sales and shipping will be a major advantage for wineries who can create enough pull with consumers. With wine tourism down due to the recession, I see the winners being those who create this pull online via ecommerce and, increasingly, a social media presence.

Yellow + Blue MalbecAlternative Packaging – As wine lovers become more concerned about the carbon footprint of their favorite beverage, more will look for wine packaged in bag-in-box or TetraPaks. As I’ve blogged here in the past, I hope to see better quality wines in these packages particularly those wines intended for immediate consumption.

Wine 2.0 Will Produce A Star – I’ve written about the intersection of Web 2.0 and wine for some time now but there has not been a breakout success story yet. This year will produce at least one star who will finally validate this space. My money is on Snooth right now but this could change as the year progresses. Stay tuned for a lot more on this subject here soon.

Wine Media Goes Digital -The traditional glossy wine magazines such as Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast will be forced to rethink their print business model this year and go more digital. I still think there will be the same amount of wine publications produced but the ones that are left will have figured out how to make money from their online presence and not just by print advertising sales. Of all of these magazines, Wine Spectator is the best positioned to flip the switch, open up their subscription site and become supported by their online advertising inventory. But I don’t expect to see them do this because they will see too much short-term risk in their current, but doomed, business model. 2009 will be a great year for new entrants trying to figure out this territory like Mutineer.

Americans Drink Less Wine At Lower Price Points – This prediction is linked with my first one but I think it’s important to note that the wine market in the U.S. will not grow as it has in the past. Not only will consumers drink less wine they will trade down to lower priced selections. With the U.S. dollar increasing in value, this will make imports more attractive especially from the Old World where vineyard land is a long sunk cost.

So there you have it; six bold predictions for 2009. I’ll revisit these in June and again in December to see what really happened.

Which ones do you think are right, dead wrong or what did I miss?

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