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Community Tasting Notes and The Wineries Who Need them?

Community Tasting notes

Approximately a month ago, Gabriella contacted all the major community tasting note sites to see whether anything had changed since Adler’s scathing review of their “worth” approximately a year ago. Had they grown to encompass more users? Had the overall notes increased in their quality? Had the problem of creating an effective wine database been addressed in sites other than Cellartracker? Finally, and most importantly, do these sites have a future in influencing wine sales?

Well here are the stats today:

BASIC STATISTICS

Log a Bottle
Number of Users = 1,000
Wine Reviews = 5,000

Cellartracker
Number of Users = 32,430
Wine Reviews = 305,745 wine reviews

Cork’d

Number of Users = 18,500
Wine Reviews = 16,000

Winelog
Number of Users = 3,100
Wine Reviewed = 3,300 notes and 6,100 rated

Open Bottles
Number of Users = Goal of 10,000 by the end of 2007
Wine Reviewed = 19,000
(sidenote: Open Bottles said their user numbers were confidential. Why? Wouldn’t you want everyone to know that you are growing, or that you x amount of users. The only reason that I can think of for not releasing this information would be a lack of users and the desire to look stronger than you are)

Impressive, not really. Eric over at Cellar tracker provided some extra stats that touch on the amount of notes at his site versus professional wine writers/sites:

As of 6/26/2006:

Wine Spectator: 161,000 notes (paid subscription only)
Cellartracker: 129,581 free notes
Robin Garr/WLP: ~80,000 free notes
eRobertParker.com: ~70,000 notes (paid subscription only)
Tanzer/IWC: ~50,000 notes (paid subscription only)
Belmaati.com: 21,831 free notes
WARPA: 15,387 free notes
WineDemocracy:: 6,975 free notes

As of 4/4/07:
Cellartracker: 278,204 free notes
eRobertParker.com: ~100,000 notes (paid subscription only)
Wine Spectator: 172,000 notes (paid subscription only)
Tanzer/IWC: ~59,000 notes (paid subscription only)
Belmaati.com: 23,713 free notes
WARPA: 15,853 free notes
WineDemocracy: 7,422 free notes
Robin Garr/WLP: ~80,000 free notes

To start off with here are my quick thoughts looking at Alders’ previous points from last year.
#1: In order to be really useful, you gotta have a hell of a lot of wines in the system
Still not impressed – Numbers have gone up, and I believe Cellartracker is on the right track, but the rest of the sites are just not there yet.
#2: We users are stupid and we don’t know how to write.
Still a major problem and one of the most annoying ones at that. If these community note sites are supposed to help others learn more about wine(s) then a note like this, taken from the first page of TN results at Cellartracker, doesn’t cut it:1999 Jean-Jacques Confuron Chambolle-Musigny (France, Burgundy, Côte de Nuits, Chambolle-Musigny) – No formal notes, but this was my favorite wine at a wine tasting.
#3: There is not enough incentive or reason to use the system regularly
I don’t feel as if anything has changed since Adler pointed this out a year ago.
#4: There just aren’t enough wine lovers to go around
I don’t think this is the problem. There are a TON of people out there interested in wine, but they enjoy wine as a beverage and not an analytical tool. We “geeks” think that you need to enjoy wine by learning about it, when in truth, you only need to enjoy it. If by the end of the day you want to learn about it, great, but it’s not a necessity. Writing tasting notes is a geeky thing to do, and if everyone did it, we geeks would no longer be special.

Alder finished his point showing how Cellartracker really stands out from the crowd, as a result of not having some of the problems that many other sites wrestle with or fail to address at all. I agree with Alder that if Cellartracker were to redesign itself, better integrating a social networking feel to parts of it, it might gain a lot more users. Personally, I have my cellar and most of my notes on Cellartracker. Having been a user from the inception of the site, I am accustomed to both the layout and the lack of style. For me, it works, and though I don’t manage a cellar to the same degree that I used to, I still like using it for my tasting notes.

Approximately two months ago, I emailed various community tasting note sites offering 500+ of my personal tasting notes, which I currently keep on Cellartracker, to add to their database. I assumed that because my notes were mostly Iberian wines, one of the sites would be interested in having them added to their database, thus helping it to be more comprehensive. I received only one response from Jason of Winelog.net. He offered to import all my notes and my cellar into Winelog.net, while I used my account to add a any additional notes later. I have to thank Jason for responding and hope my notes enhanced his DB; but to be honest, other than being impressed by the design of the site, I’m not a convert to the system. My main beef being that instead of the process of selecting a country, then region, and then sub-region, you are told to enter a “region” on his site. In Spain, this would be a major problem as Catalunya can also be spelled Catalonia or Cataluña depending on the language of the label. I really hope they fix this problem. Other beefs, include no way (that I can tell) to browse my notes, nor a way to search only my information.

Something else to consider when looking at the stats Eric provided for us, Cellartracker contains more notes than any professional site. Great, but let’s be clear that the professional sites have full tasting notes while Cellartracker does not. In addition, these full tasting notes on non-cellartracker sites most likely were tasted outside of “get togethers with friends” with some modicum of professionalism. Would you go to Cellartracker to find a new wine or might you go there just to research a wine you already know about? How do you the consumer use this site?

In conclusion, after all of this rambling, I come to my main point. After working with wineries on marketing their wines, I have begun to wonder if the day Parker points fade away, will wineries turn to community tasting note sites or will they just find another Messiah to sell their wines for them? At FENAVIN this past week, I slowly became more and more numb and irritated when the opening line at most stands was something to the affect of “We have been given X number of Parker points. Would you like to see?” Yes, we’ve ranted about Parker and his points more than enough, but I still think that a marketing plan that is only limited to the number of PP a wine is given is myopic and places power in only one set of hands. Can community tasting note sites offer an alternative? Should wineries be paying attention?

Questions for everyone to answer:

  1. Should a winery take an active part in watching there “community notes” profile?
  2. Can there be a model for Community notes to actually effect sales?
  3. Can there be a way to get non-geeks (the people who spend the money!) to actively participate in online wine communities?

I have my opinions, though I mainly am still in the questioning phase. What do you think?

Till soon,

Ryan Opaz

  • Joel

    Ryan, Great post and thanks for the information. I'm wondering if there isn't an easier way to get people to use them. I think alot of these are designed the way the owner would like to use them – notes, number ratings, etc… Problem is that its not simple enough. There needs to be a way for people to just say "Yes" or "No" and then somehow convert that into a meaningful wine rating. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Something like that. Then compile a statistically significant sample (which it typically very very large) and make a conclusion. The problem is that there aren't enough people tasting the SAME EXACT wine to create a statistically significant sample and create a meaningful rating. If wine was exactly the same every year (like, say, Vodka) then we'd be able to grow the sample set over multiple years and make a reasonable conclusion. 12-18 months would mean a wine would need VERY wide distribution to get a significant sample set to make a judgement on. The best be is to circulate among people with similar tastes and get personal, one-to-one recommendations from someone who knows you. Ratings from magazines or anywhere else should just be a 50,000 foot view, a barometer for a wine. But think about it. Lets say one of these sites was actually working. Wouldn't that take some of the fun out of wine? If you could go to a magazine or a site and just get a good wine, doesn't that take the adventure out of it for us on this life-long journey (or at least some of it)?

  • http://www.winelifetoday.com Joel

    Ryan,

    Great post and thanks for the information. I’m wondering if there isn’t an easier way to get people to use them. I think alot of these are designed the way the owner would like to use them – notes, number ratings, etc… Problem is that its not simple enough. There needs to be a way for people to just say “Yes” or “No” and then somehow convert that into a meaningful wine rating. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Something like that. Then compile a statistically significant sample (which it typically very very large) and make a conclusion. The problem is that there aren’t enough people tasting the SAME EXACT wine to create a statistically significant sample and create a meaningful rating. If wine was exactly the same every year (like, say, Vodka) then we’d be able to grow the sample set over multiple years and make a reasonable conclusion. 12-18 months would mean a wine would need VERY wide distribution to get a significant sample set to make a judgement on.

    The best be is to circulate among people with similar tastes and get personal, one-to-one recommendations from someone who knows you. Ratings from magazines or anywhere else should just be a 50,000 foot view, a barometer for a wine.

    But think about it. Lets say one of these sites was actually working. Wouldn’t that take some of the fun out of wine? If you could go to a magazine or a site and just get a good wine, doesn’t that take the adventure out of it for us on this life-long journey (or at least some of it)?

  • Andrew

    I throw my notes up on BottleTalk, a UK based service. No idea how many users (not many in comparison to the sites you list I expect) or the number of wines listed. My main gripe with all these services is "what are they actually for?", "what benefits do they give me" (more exposure for my blog?) and, perhaps more importantly "what does the non-wine writer gain"? Do they invoke a 'community' atmosphere (not really is the answer). Are they just for tech-geeks with an additional love of wine? More questions than answers I am afraid. But unless they can capture the imagination (usefulness too) of both the frequent wine blogger/writer and the passing interest wine lover I can't see them lasting or ever building a 'vital' resource.

  • http://www.spittoon.biz Andrew

    I throw my notes up on BottleTalk, a UK based service. No idea how many users (not many in comparison to the sites you list I expect) or the number of wines listed. My main gripe with all these services is “what are they actually for?”, “what benefits do they give me” (more exposure for my blog?) and, perhaps more importantly “what does the non-wine writer gain”?

    Do they invoke a ‘community’ atmosphere (not really is the answer). Are they just for tech-geeks with an additional love of wine? More questions than answers I am afraid. But unless they can capture the imagination (usefulness too) of both the frequent wine blogger/writer and the passing interest wine lover I can’t see them lasting or ever building a ‘vital’ resource.

  • Dr. Debs

    I love CellarTracker, and use it all the time to find out about wines that I know nothing about. I often muse over a bottle in the store, am not convinced it represents good value, or don't know anything about the produce. Then I go into CellarTracker where I can see how drinkers reacted to this particular wine, whether the producer reliably makes good win in the eyes of these consumers, and what the prevalent cost is. Often, I discover that it was a good buy on a good wine, and return to the store to buy it. Sometimes, I think "Thank God I didn't buy that." Not everyone who uses CellarTracker is a wine geek–that's exactly what makes it useful. Yes, it can be annoying when someone drinks a Beaujolais and says "no oak, weak wine, 75 points" but it's pretty easy to filter those comments out. The only problem is if you are being a points-jockey, since the CellarTracker scores are typically a few notches lower than WS and RP. What I particularly like is when there is virtual unanimity that a WS or RP score is just plain wrong. These are always the fullest comments, and there is often amazing consistency. CellarTracker works for me, and I think its a tool that I will be using–in its current form–for years to come.

  • http://goodwineunder20.blogspot.com Dr. Debs

    I love CellarTracker, and use it all the time to find out about wines that I know nothing about. I often muse over a bottle in the store, am not convinced it represents good value, or don’t know anything about the produce. Then I go into CellarTracker where I can see how drinkers reacted to this particular wine, whether the producer reliably makes good win in the eyes of these consumers, and what the prevalent cost is. Often, I discover that it was a good buy on a good wine, and return to the store to buy it. Sometimes, I think “Thank God I didn’t buy that.”

    Not everyone who uses CellarTracker is a wine geek–that’s exactly what makes it useful. Yes, it can be annoying when someone drinks a Beaujolais and says “no oak, weak wine, 75 points” but it’s pretty easy to filter those comments out. The only problem is if you are being a points-jockey, since the CellarTracker scores are typically a few notches lower than WS and RP.

    What I particularly like is when there is virtual unanimity that a WS or RP score is just plain wrong. These are always the fullest comments, and there is often amazing consistency.

    CellarTracker works for me, and I think its a tool that I will be using–in its current form–for years to come.

  • Alder

    Ryan, Interesting survey. I wonder how many of cellartracker's 200 thousand notes are like the one you found. It would be very interesting to see the ratio of useful to not useful notes. Just to clarify about my comments on "not enough wine lovers to go around:" my point was not that there aren't enough people out there that love wine, but that if you think about the entire wine loving community and then you: a) filter out the people who are not online, then b) filter out the people who can't be bothered to sign up to be a member of one of these sites, then c) filter out the number of people who are already loyal to some existing large wine community like eBob and Cellartracker, then d) filter ot the people who can't be bothered to or don't know how to write a tasting note, then e) filter out the people who after writing one or two notes would never come back to the site You're left with not a very large population of viable users that ALL these community notes sites are competing for. Combine that with the fact that in order to be really useful to even those members, these sites need a critical mass of good notes, it becomes a VERY challenging proposition. Not saying it can't be done, but no one on your list, or on the list of sites I've started compiling in my sidebar on Vinography is gonna do it with the offering they've got now.

  • Ryan

    <blockquote cite="But think about it. Lets say one of these sites was actually working. Wouldn’t that take some of the fun out of wine? If you could go to a magazine or a site and just get a good wine, doesn’t that take the adventure out of it for us on this life-long journey (or at least some of it)?"> Joel I like your points, as to your questions, I don't think it would take the fun out of it per se. I do think that for community to build, there needs to be more individual contact among people. Andrew – I totally agree right now these sites are for geeks. The average customer at my store back in the states would always say, "Wow, great idea" then leave the store drink the wine and try to let me know what it was the next time they came back in. Debs- You seem to be doing what people need to be doing to make this system work. I haven't really done the checking that you do. But I'm pretty sure I would if I still had my old shop or was an above average wine drinker. I do wish CT was a bit more community like. I would love to be able to get to know some of the raters there. Also I would love a profile page to let people know who I am, and to allow me to explore some of the more prolific note takers.

  • Ryan

    Thanks for clarifying Alder! I agree it's going to be awhile for it too catch on. But do you think wineries should start being proactive in these communities? Should they care about what is being said?

  • Alder

    I'm not sure, to be honest. Pretty much everything a winery does is interpreted as marketing by communities such as these. There's always a danger of being seen as trying to "influence" people or "sell" rather than just being good citizens of the community.

  • http://www.vinography.com Alder

    Ryan,

    Interesting survey. I wonder how many of cellartracker’s 200+ thousand notes are like the one you found. It would be very interesting to see the ratio of useful to not useful notes.

    Just to clarify about my comments on “not enough wine lovers to go around:” my point was not that there aren’t enough people out there that love wine, but that if you think about the entire wine loving community and then you:

    a) filter out the people who are not online, then
    b) filter out the people who can’t be bothered to sign up to be a member of one of these sites, then
    c) filter out the number of people who are already loyal to some existing large wine community like eBob and Cellartracker, then
    d) filter ot the people who can’t be bothered to or don’t know how to write a tasting note, then
    e) filter out the people who after writing one or two notes would never come back to the site

    You’re left with not a very large population of viable users that ALL these community notes sites are competing for. Combine that with the fact that in order to be really useful to even those members, these sites need a critical mass of good notes, it becomes a VERY challenging proposition.

    Not saying it can’t be done, but no one on your list, or on the list of sites I’ve started compiling in my sidebar on Vinography is gonna do it with the offering they’ve got now.

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Joel I like your points, as to your questions, I don’t think it would take the fun out of it per se. I do think that for community to build, there needs to be more individual contact among people.

    Andrew – I totally agree right now these sites are for geeks. The average customer at my store back in the states would always say, “Wow, great idea” then leave the store drink the wine and try to let me know what it was the next time they came back in.

    Debs- You seem to be doing what people need to be doing to make this system work. I haven’t really done the checking that you do. But I’m pretty sure I would if I still had my old shop or was an above average wine drinker. I do wish CT was a bit more community like. I would love to be able to get to know some of the raters there. Also I would love a profile page to let people know who I am, and to allow me to explore some of the more prolific note takers.

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    Thanks for clarifying Alder! I agree it’s going to be awhile for it too catch on. But do you think wineries should start being proactive in these communities? Should they care about what is being said?

  • el jefe

    Heckuva post Ryan! Several random thoughts: For myself, you might be surprised that I have no interest in putting my wine collection on CT or any similar site. Well, I take that back a little – if one day I woke up and found all my stuff listed nicely somewhere, I'd probably like that. But I don't see me spending the hours to make that happen. I'm more like the typical wine drinker that Ryan describes: when I'm not working, I'm enjoying a great beverage. I'm not keeping notes, and I likely will not remember what I drank a week later (unless of course it is the bomb :) I bet there are more wine drinkers online than you think – most of them are lurkers that will never post an opinion about wine – but many of them are reading the opinions of others. There is a lot of wine writing out there of this kind: "We were on vacation and visited this great winery called Twisted Oak and we really liked their Tempranillo." People who like wine sharing their finds on their diary blogs. There is also a lot of wine writing on wine-related social forum sites. I now participate in the Wine Library TV forums because a web search turned up the fact that these folks were talking about my wines. I figured I had better get over there and join the conversation! I find that most of the forum members do not post formal tasting notes and instead treat the site as a social place to meet friends with a common interest. Posts often simply just mention wines liked, wine styles liked, or have nothing at all to do with wine. I'm not quite sure where I am going with all this randomness, but my feeling is that a smart winery pays attention to everything said about them – formal wine notes sites and everything else – and participates in conversations whenever possible. Just don't tell this to my competition!

  • http://www.vinography.com Alder

    I’m not sure, to be honest. Pretty much everything a winery does is interpreted as marketing by communities such as these. There’s always a danger of being seen as trying to “influence” people or “sell” rather than just being good citizens of the community.

  • http://www.elbloggotorcido.com/ el jefe

    Heckuva post Ryan! Several random thoughts:

    For myself, you might be surprised that I have no interest in putting my wine collection on CT or any similar site. Well, I take that back a little – if one day I woke up and found all my stuff listed nicely somewhere, I’d probably like that. But I don’t see me spending the hours to make that happen. I’m more like the typical wine drinker that Ryan describes: when I’m not working, I’m enjoying a great beverage. I’m not keeping notes, and I likely will not remember what I drank a week later (unless of course it is the bomb :)

    I bet there are more wine drinkers online than you think – most of them are lurkers that will never post an opinion about wine – but many of them are reading the opinions of others.

    There is a lot of wine writing out there of this kind: “We were on vacation and visited this great winery called Twisted Oak and we really liked their Tempranillo.” People who like wine sharing their finds on their diary blogs.

    There is also a lot of wine writing on wine-related social forum sites. I now participate in the Wine Library TV forums because a web search turned up the fact that these folks were talking about my wines. I figured I had better get over there and join the conversation! I find that most of the forum members do not post formal tasting notes and instead treat the site as a social place to meet friends with a common interest. Posts often simply just mention wines liked, wine styles liked, or have nothing at all to do with wine.

    I’m not quite sure where I am going with all this randomness, but my feeling is that a smart winery pays attention to everything said about them – formal wine notes sites and everything else – and participates in conversations whenever possible. Just don’t tell this to my competition!

  • Ryan

    El Jefe it's good to see you being so active. I think your the exception, and sadly not the rule. I had a client of mine's wines appear in the infamous eRobertParker Forums. When I mentioned it, they panicked and begin crafting a response, eventually no response was the result. The sad thing is all they needed to say was, hey thanks for trying our wines. Alder I didn't mean for Wineries to adjust/twist the message, but rather I wonder if more wineries shouldn't be proactive like ElJefe is being. Knowing where they are exposed on the web, and joining conversations when they have the chance or time. Thanks for an interesting discussion so far…

  • el jefe

    hi Ryan – I am a lot less active than I have had time for lately, but I'll be back on track soon, I hope! You have hit the nail on the head: a "crafted response" is exactly the wrong response. What is called for today is an honest response, an open response – like "hey, thanks for trying…" And if you are part of the conversation, you also run the risk of learning something…:)

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    El Jefe it’s good to see you being so active. I think your the exception, and sadly not the rule. I had a client of mine’s wines appear in the infamous eRobertParker Forums. When I mentioned it, they panicked and begin crafting a response, eventually no response was the result. The sad thing is all they needed to say was, hey thanks for trying our wines.

    Alder I didn’t mean for Wineries to adjust/twist the message, but rather I wonder if more wineries shouldn’t be proactive like ElJefe is being. Knowing where they are exposed on the web, and joining conversations when they have the chance or time.

    Thanks for an interesting discussion so far…

  • http://www.elbloggotorcido.com/ el jefe

    hi Ryan – I am a lot less active than I have had time for lately, but I’ll be back on track soon, I hope!

    You have hit the nail on the head: a “crafted response” is exactly the wrong response. What is called for today is an honest response, an open response – like “hey, thanks for trying…”

    And if you are part of the conversation, you also run the risk of learning something…:)

  • Joe Belmaati

    Hi Ryan, you should have gotten in touch with me regarding your 500 notes on Spanish wines. Belmaati.com would have been very grateful for the notes and I would have imported them for you as I have for numerous other people who have contacted me. I try to filter out any useless notes, such as "no notes on this wine, I was too drunk". I think you will find that hardly any TNs at Belmaati.com fall into the category "useless". Furthermore, most of the TNs at Belmaati.com are written by enthusiasts who are very serious about their wine hobby and who attempt to provide as much details as well as objective criticism as possible. Maybe this is why site isn't growing as fast as some of the other sites you mention. If you would still like me to import your notes into the database at Belmaati.com then please get in touch with me: joe at belmaati dot com Sincerely, Joe Belmaati

  • http://belmaati.com Joe Belmaati

    Hi Ryan,
    you should have gotten in touch with me regarding your 500+ notes on Spanish wines. Belmaati.com would have been very grateful for the notes and I would have imported them for you as I have for numerous other people who have contacted me. I try to filter out any useless notes, such as “no notes on this wine, I was too drunk”. I think you will find that hardly any TNs at Belmaati.com fall into the category “useless”. Furthermore, most of the TNs at Belmaati.com are written by enthusiasts who are very serious about their wine hobby and who attempt to provide as much details as well as objective criticism as possible. Maybe this is why site isn’t growing as fast as some of the other sites you mention. If you would still like me to import your notes into the database at Belmaati.com then please get in touch with me: joe at belmaati dot com
    Sincerely,
    Joe Belmaati