To be a wine communicator

I’m greatly honored to have been shortlisted for the IWSC Communicator of the year 2013 award. As a token of gratitude to all the people who have noticed this peripheral wine writer exercising his craft out of all places in Helsinki, I decided to share with you my take on the topic of being a good wine communicator. Hope you enjoy it and share your thoughts with me.

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To be a wine expert is to take a stance. To form an opinion. To spit it out. To not hold it back.

Let me tell you why. Whether Vin Jaune from Jura, Casablanca Carménère or Moscato d’Asti, one cannot prefer every style out there. Hell, if you like everything, you are probably an alcoholic and would benefit from discontinuing drinking wine. No need to like every style.

Not to worry: the things you don’t prefer can be valuable assets to you. Let me open up this thought a bit for you.

To be an opinion leader is to have opinions. Sounds self-evident (not to mention tautologic) but is unfortunately far from it in the world of wine. As a wine communicator opinions are your most valuable possessions. More lucid, pronounced and articulate, the better. Your palate is fundamental, because you cannot access a wine without it. It is vital that you do not disrespect yourself by not trusting your own palate. You’ve drank a bottle or two. That’s why they call you a wine pro. Stay true to your palate, that is your job.

For example, my palate tells me it doesn’t approve 95% of Sauvignon blancs out there. You see, I dislike most aromatic white wines in general, but find cheap SB particularly nasty. I find it mostly boring and irritating and as far as I’m concerned, producers could rip all the Sauvignon blanc vines off and replace them with something better. Why? Because that’s what my palate tells me after hundreds of samples. I’m not proud about the fact that I have trouble respecting wines that other wine pros find delicious and palatable. But you see, it’s not at all about me being proud or ashamed of the matter. It’s about my palate communicating it to me as a highly subjective fact.

All I have to do is to own it. And that is the most difficult part of being a wine communicator.

To be a wine pro is to not be ashamed of your preferences. Instead of hiding the dislikes, build your personal brand around the things you love and the things you don’t. You are an unique voice in the world of wine. Do not blur that voice by being a forerunner of safe and mediocre. Communicate your preferences clearly so people will know where you are coming from. By accumulating vast amounts of knowledge but not communicating your preferences, you’ll end up being another walking dictionary with little relevant to say. We don’t need those anymore. We have Google for that.

To be a wine communicator is to be fallible, so be mistaken regularly. That’s what evolving is all about and you are not ready. You will never be ready. Allow yourself to evolve through discussion with the world. Don’t fix your position too firmly, allow the world around you to change. It will change no matter what you do. Be sensitive to change. Have a dialogue with it. Embrace the fact that you don’t know everything. Be open to insights from others. If it means eventually changing your position 180 degrees, do not hesitate to follow suit. People who know they are always right are not good wine experts. They are self-righteous schmucks. People who never recognize their shortcomings are disconnected and thus inevitably boring. Be authentic and thus interesting.

To be a wine lover is to share your passion. The more you share it, the more you generate it. Period.

To be more than wine lover, is to form opinions. Whether your perspective is utter bullshit or a valuable insight to some, is not for you to decide. It may be both at the same time. Your task is to form an opinion through your knowledge and not be intimidated by the fact that you are unfortunately not the infallible Pope of vinous matters. Others will disagree with you. They will sometimes think you are an idiot. It is their right, do not try to take it away from them. Let the people decide whether you are onto something or totally clueless, do not strain yourself with the task of being your own judge. Instead follow your instinct.

To be a wine expert is to take a stance. It’s good for you. Sometimes you intuitively hit the mark when you are forced to form an opinion on something you are not sure how you feel about. That’s silent knowledge in action. It forces you to improve your thought process. So go and embrace the discomfort zone. Growth happens outside the boundaries of cosy and nice. Discomfort is your friend. You see, brain is like a muscle. Exercise hurts a bit, but eventually you become a better thinker. That means you will become a better wine expert not to mention a better communicator. And that my friend, is a worthy goal.

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19 thoughts on “To be a wine communicator

  1. Paola Tich says:

    I love this! I don’t agree with everything, of course. It depends what sort of communicator you want to be: to the trade (where strong, fresh opinions count) or to your target consumers (where dismissing their tastes because you don’t agree may make them feel inadequate). For me, the infallibility bit chimes the loudest. A great piece and congratulations on making the shortlist.

  2. Viinipiru says:

    Thanks! You are quite right about the scaring consumers part. They are already quite justifiably horrified by the sheer richness of wine culture and the amount of options available :D That’s why I usually try to squeeze few drops of carnivalism and humor to my ramblings, just to take away the most intimidating edge of my somewhat silly opinions.

  3. Long John Silver says:

    I’d say Arto is spot on with his insight. “The consumers” are not an uniform monolith which can be courted. There are about 2.5 to 3 billion people connected to the Internet. You can’t please them all and you shouldn’t even try. Instead you need to be someone who is relevant to others who relate to your tastes and preference: out of billions of people, you can carve out your own audience, which can still be counted in millions regardless if your “thing” would be considered marginal or even outlandish in comparison to the more “approachable” character.

    I say, you cannot bow down to one direction without mooning the other and if you stay upright you don’t court anyone thus becoming a generalist bore incapable of taking a stance. While bowing to all directions will also be inevitably also be mooning to all directions, alienating you from the followers who look for authenticity and insight they can relate to.

    This I think is the essence of Arto’s argument: Be someone who is relevant to particular audience if you intend to stay in the business. The time of a generalist who doesn’t offend anyone has been made obsolete by the Internet.

  4. Paola Tich says:

    Yes, audience is key. And relevancy. My point. I don’t hear this often enough among bloggers. It seems to be: “Here’s what I have to say, hear me roar!”

    But I was talking about communicating – how your roaring is received and how it makes people act as a consequence.

    I also wasn’t suggesting sitting on the fence regarding “consumers”. I don’t think you should pretend to like something when you don’t. Like Sauvignon Blanc. But – if your target audience loves the stuff – you can a) steer people towards the ones that are good (in your opinion) b) steer them to an alternative without totally insulting them along the way.

  5. Viinipiru says:

    In all honesty, I think it might serve us writers well to leave calculating target audiences for big corporate players and just try to attract people by being transparent and authentic. By being more human and less a walking wine score calculating computer. Being honest does come with a price, since some people will find what you think offending, but that is a price one should afford to pay to play…

    Long John Silver: well put, very eloquently. Respect. Thanks.

    • “In all honesty, I think it might serve us writers well to leave calculating target audiences for big corporate players and just try to attract people by being transparent and authentic.” – Arto this really resonates with me. I do believe that in all walks of life, many of the greatest exponents are those who just do their thing, with such veracity and passion that others cannot help being sucked in to their worlds.

      Having said that, I like to think there is also a place for the focused and targeted approach that Paola champions – but it is a different way of reaching people.

      Ultimately, the beauty of (good) writing/criticism/journalism is
      its richness and variety There’s no right or wrong way – if it works, it works.

  6. Long John Silver says:

    I really don’t think a reviewer / expert is in the business of “steering consumers” to one direction or the other. I think the expert is in the business of being interesting and engaging to attract an audience. As such, he can totally disagree with the audience about tastes and preferences and still attract a loyal audience, who are entertained to read a “good bashing” of something they might like, and be entertained in engaging with expert in a pitched argument :-)

    For expert / reviewer the currency is engagement to attract audience, for a sales person the currency might be to steer audiences to products, but these two characters are in totally different businesses and they should not be confused (even many expert has done their utmost to do exactly that, undermining their own authenticity and credibility)

  7. Daniel Matos says:

    Replace “Wine” with “Technology”, “Music”, “Movies”, “Food”, “Whatever” and you are still right on the spot! Loved it!

  8. WineSagasu says:

    Great piece Arto, there is definitely something to be said for ‘carnivalism and humor’ in wine writing, it could use a lot more of it I reckon.
    ps how is the English translation on the book coming along? My offer still stands ;)

    • Viinipiru says:

      Haha WineSagasu, the translation…! I’d probably get it translated in no time but to actually sell it might be a bigger problem. Maybe selling in Amazon or in iBook could make some sense? I’m clueless :D

  9. […] pitkästä aikaa postauksen Lontoon kieliseen blogiini. Käy tsekkaamassa! Käsittelen siinä murroksessa olevaa viinikommunikointia; aihe, josta olen puhunut painokkaasti […]

  10. Eder Gonzalez says:

    Very well written Arto, I dislike 98% of wines made of cabernet sauvignon out there and I think you hit a big important issue that good wine communicators go again the mainstream of wines styles that “everybody must like”. Palate is subjective but there is a way to differ between a poorly made wine and a wine with soul….

  11. Liked that Arto. You had the guts to do some straight talking about Sauvignon Blanc. Most probably the SB Winemakers will drown you in the Loire if they ever meet you there. I had similar ugly experience, because I do not mind communicating my opinion about the majority of the badly made Rieslings in Germany. Living in Germany and saying a bad word about Riesling is like insulting Football. i think some German Winemakers would gladly make a sausages out of me. There are exception though in the way you treat a grape and both SB and Riesling can be made into good wines. You even said that about Stephan Riffaut and I say that about Leitz, Wittmann, Christmann to name a few. But seen on the whole, a huge amount of shitty Riesling and SB are on the shelves waiting for an unsuspecting customer who thinks Riesling is always good. Keep up the good work and be true to yourself. Your Blog Fans will be grateful for that.

  12. Thank you for your amazing article,
    I already felt like the world around me, and myself, were changing but didn’t really know what path to take. You just might have pushed me in a new direction!

    Have a nice day Mr. W. Communicator.

  13. Really enjoyed this post, thanks.
    It’s impossible to work in wine over the long haul without trusting your own palate. And this forms opinions, hopefully not too dogged and still open to new experiences.
    Best wishes

  14. Lourdes says:

    Reading this article could not have come at a more crucial time in my “career”. Great and wise words that I will try to adopt in my future as a wine blogger and what not.

  15. poucmabon says:

    Congratulations Arto ! Me too…. really enjoyed this post. Isn’it about saying : “The king is naked” ?? Go on, I like your writings, the one about Hades is great.
    I quite agree about the high % of the SB on the market, which is in no way agreeable to my palate, although, opposite (?) to your taste, I like aromatic wines.
    Greetings from Switzerland.

  16. parklifehk says:

    Your article is certainly an inspiration, not only for those who want to be a wine communicator. You are absolutely right! l really enjoyed this article. Thank you for sharing!
    I will always remind myself with your advice here.

  17. Viinipiru says:

    Thank you all so much! Thoroughly appreciated. I feel that a tide is changing in the world of wine and that is why I wrote the post. Now I see that many of us share the same kind of hunch. Let’s keep the conversation alive, sorry for replying with delay. – Arto

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