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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:


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

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


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

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

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