The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2013

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Page 42 of 152

The Social Vineyard story and photos by Randy Caparoso CYBERTOOLS ARE CHANGING THE WINES WE APPRECIATE AND SELL Owner Kyle Lerner with Elaine Brown among his Zinfandel fermentors at Harney Lane Winery in Lodi. W alking through a Lodi vineyard this past summer, Elaine Brown—the woman behind the popular wine blog Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews—began tapping on her iPhone in the middle of a conversation with Ron Silva, the owner/grower of Silvaspoons Vineyards, who specializes in Portuguese wine grapes. Feeling a little put out by Brown's apparent lack of attention, Silva asked, "What are you doing?" Brown smiled and just said, "Oh, please go on, I'm listening." Turning her iPhone to let Silva see her messages sent to the outside world along with a photo of one of Silva's more exotic grapes (Torrontés), Brown explained, "There are a few hundred other people listening in on everything you're telling me, and soon they'll be telling us what they think in return." This, needless to say, is the new style of wine journalism, and it has become significant. Somehow, for instance, Brown's observations as she travels through wine regions on the West Coast or in Europe have recently been popping up in places like Eric Asimov's New York Times wine articles and Jon Bonné's San Francisco Chronicle pieces. Instantaneity is spreading, and it's catching. Even the famous wine importer Kermit Lynch, who is as old-school as they come, has admitted, "Hawk Wakawaka has become a new standard for wine reviews." The operative term, of course, is social media. You may be sick of reading about how cybertools like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or are supposed to revolutionize our lives. Whether you buy this or not, there is no doubt that new media are making an impact, promoting businesses or selling events that would have otherwise failed. Social media has been a means of creating groundswells of interest in little-known wines, producers or entire regions that, in the past, would have never passed muster in mainstream print media. It would not be an overstatement, for example, to say that the recent demand for various white wines that are leaner, dryer, sharper in acid, lower in alcohol, less fruity or oaky and more "natural" in style—the opposite, as it were, of "cougar-style" Chardonnay—would have been far slower to materialize without the collective buzz generated in social media circles. Brown has put it simply: "It's cool kids talking about cool wines . . . yeah, they're talking to themselves, but you have to pay attention because it's important." How so? Because they're actually influencing tastes, pushing wineries to redefine quality, prompting growers to plant new and different things and now, often enough, carving out Wine blogger Elaine Brown (iPhone in hand) and vintner Ron Silva at Silva's Silvaspoons Vineyards in Lodi. niches in the wine market that were previously nonexistent. Pretty major stuff. Make no mistake, wine journalists like Brown also represent those values often ascribed to recent demographics: authenticity. More and more wine drinkers want "real," however vague that notion may be. Inevitably, Brown tends to cover winemakers and growers with a penchant for the unconventional—leaning towards hand-crafting, minimal intervention and sometimes even the weird (like "orange" wines, crafted from white wine grapes fermented on their skins). Wines of this ilk may not be hugely important in most restaurants right this moment. But history shows us that consumers change— brands and wine types ebb and flow, and entire categories come and go. As always, many of the changes will be sped along by restaurants and retail stores that do push the envelope. If anything, I wouldn't bet on the machinations of this ever expanding cyber world making this process go any slower. 42  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2013 TP1113_034-65.indd 42 10/24/13 9:18 AM

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