Ryan’s Speech at WineFuture Conference in Logroño, Spain | Catavino
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Ryan’s Speech at WineFuture Conference in Logroño, Spain

Ryan Opaz - wine futureRyan’s speech in the written form without any of the additional notes and information that occurred during the conference.

When Robert Parker first started his newsletter in 1978, no one believed that an amateur outside the wine world could say anything worth listening to about wine. Then 1982 happened in Bordeaux, and Parker won the day. I may be simplifying a bit, but what he was responding to at the time was a problem in the fine wine trade with conflicts of interest and unscrupulous salesmen hawking plonk with fine wine labels attached. At the time the wine industry needed a shake up. It needed someone to step up and speak for the budding wine consuming public who wanted to understand and trust in the wine they purchased.

Using the simplest and cheapest method he had at the time to publish content with,  he took a $2000 loan from his mother and a mimeograph machine with which he published the first issue of what we know today as the Wine Advocate. Struggling to find subscribers and make a living at it, his early days draw stunning parallels with today’s new wine media.

Today things again need a shakeup. For the past decades the everyday consumer has been ignored. I’m not talking about the high end or even weekend wine geek, but rather the consumer who likes wine, wants a better bottle and could give a shit if the wine has terroir or 90+ points. They want to enjoy the wine for what it is, social lubricant, and while in some cases this may lead to a new wine geek in training, it most likely leads to some sort of brand, or grape loyalty by an individual looking to unwind after a long days work.

The problem is retailers, importers, and the press were all trying to sell the same package of BS that you need to “know wine” to love wine. It’s the teach first drink later model, which I believe leads too often to consumers afraid that they might do something wrong, and as a result they end up simply buying based on price and what the label looks like. Why, because they are the only things not trying to tell them that they aren’t smart enough to enjoy wine. They were the only indicators of possible quality other than the advertisement hanging around the neck saying so and so thinks this wine tastes like some number.

Today things have begun to change. The consumer has choices, or is starting to, and the internet is bringing us these choices. Gary Vaynerchuck is one of these choices. I constantly hear wine professionals talk about how they can’t stand to listen to him, and they wonder if he knows what he’s talking about. “How can anyone listen to him scream like that?” is the common refrain. Truth is he could care less. We “the wine geeks” are not his audience. We have no value to him. We are observers, jealous that we didn’t see the millions of weekend wine drinkers who were looking for a new voice. Gary found those who didn’t care about wine in any significant way other than to know if it went with their pasta, or if they could woo the women that they were bringing home that night. He speaks their language, one that puts wine in the middle of life and does not try to separate it out.

What is happening now is incredible to watch, these weekend wine warriors, are beginning to care. They are beginning to listen, but they do it without the silly tasting terms that we traditionalists espouse. They do it in a way that makes sense to them and that they can relate to. They own this new conversation, and the internet is facilitating it. Yes there is crossover with the world of us self professed “geeks” but that is simply the grey areas you see in any discipline, where amateur becomes devotee. In the end these consumers now are talking about wine and buying wines, and are doing it with the tools they use to communicate within their social circles everyday.

Facebook, once a college meet up site, is now a place where brands are being built. Individuals can become “fans” of brands, and create groups for their favorite grapes.  On the other hand Twitter, a seemingly ridiculous idea, 140 characters about what you are doing, has become a nexus point for sparking conversations and new ideas, not to mention a place where information about what wine to buy tonight is being searched out. No matter what you think of it, it is powerful, and important. (Photo by vivancowineculture)

While in another more recognizable form for many of us we have Social tasting note sites like Adegga and Cellartracker which are allowing consumers to share online what wines they own and to see what their friends are drinking. These Social tasting notes are even more powerful when you look at the way that Google indexes them. Often times a wine searched for on Google leads a consumer to a social tasting note site, before they find the winery website for the wine (if it exists at all).

These simple internet based tools and networks are making significant waves in the wine world, and they are only now in their infancy? Take for example the AVIN a unique code attached to every wine in the world, similar to the ISBN for books. Today it is being converted to an open source project so that the whole wine industry can benefit from it’s utility and contribute to its success. A lot of people laugh at these online tools  but it reminds me of a quote I found online: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” This was Western Unions response to the telephones invention.

Ironically similar statements are being made about blogging today. The truth is that we are seeing the fading away of yesterdays’ tools of communication, giving way to a new way of looking at wine:

Today we again see the future.

Like before when people said Parker would never get anywhere, we hear the same voices today about blogging. So many misconceptions and falsehoods surround the world of blogging that I could spend the next two days dispelling them, and still not finish. This past week in Lisbon 120 bloggers, or “want to be bloggers” gathered for 3 days to talk about wine, the internet, and to taste and discuss wine. The line was blurred with mainstream reporters, pure bloggers, wineries, and PR types, all trying to learn more about this growing world. The reality is that blogs are today’s mimeographs, and even though anyone can start one, it takes talent and effort to make one work. There maybe thousands of blogs, but only a few that work hard enough to shine. It’s also true that we might not like what they are all saying, but how is this any different from today’s media where every town has multiple newspapers with contrasting loyalties. Smart brands will realize this, and are beginning to pay closer attention to them.

This is the future, some may even say the present. Go ahead stick your head in the sand, pretend it’s a silly fad and that it is just a “phase”. Truth is whatever the look of wine communication is in the coming years, it will be different from todays. Your choice is either to adapt and take advantage of the opportunities it offers, or you can sit there and complain, and let it pass you by.

Today’s consumers have voices. The internet have given them voices, And these voices are not your competitors or enemies, but rather clients, readers, buyers, and sometimes new friends.

Our job as wine writers and educators today is to make sure that these consumers are given good information and an opportunity to learn more.

Our job as wine producers and marketers is to learn how these new tools work so that you can join in the conversations that are going on. The conversations going on today are everywhere. Before these conversations stayed in peoples homes, at parties, in the bar down the street, spreading ignorance and falsehoods without a way to measure  their influence, or a way to correct them. Today these conversations are online. They are searchable, they are contextual, they are everywhere. But most importantly they are offering you a chance to join in.

But the real truth is that the consumer is tomorrows critic. And in the end if they don’t know where Tempranillo comes from it doesn’t matter,  they do know whether or not they like the wine. As a group they have an aggregated voice that is powerful and broad. These consumers may never be the educated WINE GEEKS we all wish they were, but they will be the ones to buy your products, and share their thoughts with their friends, just like they always have. If you do not listen to them…you lose. If you choose to engage with them…you win.

Remember Wine is a conversation. My favorite bottles have been shared with friends, late into the night, searching out the solution for all the worlds problems. At the time of opening these wines, points, varietal, terroir may have all been important, but as the last drop was drained all that mattered was the person I was sharing them with. The conversation, lubricated by the liquid we all love, is what I cherish most and the reason for opening the bottle. Today the internet is also a conversation. It is not monologue it is a dialog. If you are not prepared to engage and talk to your consumer, be prepared for disappointment. Today’s consumer wants a conversation…no they expect one.

Today you can drive your own sales, rather than waiting for the critic to do it for you. But only if your honest, open and real. The internet is not a place to sell BS, it’s a place to have a dialog…join in and you will win.

Thank you.

Ryan Opaz

  • Steve Raye

    Great speech and the head in the sand metaphor seems to have resonated with the press.

    • Thanks, Steve and for the emails, when things calm down I’ll get you a response! I appreciate the support!

  • Excellent speech. Nice and short and full of relevant interesting points. Hope to share a bottle of wine one day and sort the wine industry out once and for all!!!!

  • Great points made, pity I couldn’t hear the speech live.

    I can just imagine how often the word CONTROL (in various contexts) was thrown around the past days: some lost, some gained. Probably why so many companies, producers and publishers feel so naked – everything is becoming so much more transparent. It used to be the voice of few were heard by few – now it’s the voices of many heard by many! Filter out the BS and you have the future.

    The shift is ON! What a great time to be in the world of wine.

  • Well put Ryan! I love the real world perspective you provide about wine consumers and wine business people.


  • Very good speech. Brisk and to the point. Kudos!

  • Bravo!

  • As the Cluetrain Manifesto noted ten years ago, markets are conversations. In fact, markets are now multi-way conversations. A corporation can choose to join the conversation or to remain the subject of it. But the conversation will go on.

  • Simply THE best writing ever published here. Superb!!!

  • Astutely awesome, Ryan! Your voice resonates loud and clear.

  • Patti

    Good job Ryan – wish I could have heard the live speech. Makes a mother proud – Mom

  • Bill

    Now I know why you haven’t got back to me yet on your travel plans. 🙂

    Excellent speech.

  • You killed it, Ryan. Great speech.

    At the close of the conference, I was really shocked at how many of the people on stage prefaced their comments with “I’m not a blogging expert”. You and others made it clear that this stuff is new and open. All you have to do is read a bunch of blogs and participate and there is no need for expertise or certification!

    At least Parker seemed to take the point home. His closing comments seemed like a direct shoutout to you and the other techies at the conference. Way to go!

  • Congratulations Ryan (and to Gabriella, the woman behind the man!). Those of us, who couldn’t go to #winefuture, but tried to follow it via Gabriella and Robert’s hardwork of Live Blogging, we were all very proud, knowing you were up on that stage next to Gary, giving all those iconic figures from the journalistic Wine World a run for their money! A great moment in Catavino’s stellar career!

  • ivo

    Your speach is brilliant, and so true. A quick example is my wine: almost unknown as a young winery. I offered a bottle to the electrician, the builder, the cleaning lady of some friend, my neighbour… they all came back telling me they enjoyed it so much ( esecailly women, wives…) didn’t ask for Parker or any other coments fro the “media people”.. they jsut loved it and bought it for their unique and personal pleasure. YES I believe that internet is giving to all passionate producers a real help, a real possibilty to be widely known…. unless you tell crap to the consumer ! Respect the consumer where ever he is, what ever is his knowledge of wine, listen to him & just give him pleasure ! IVO

  • thanks everyone, it means a lot, all the positive feedback…Thank you very much

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  • Ryan, very insightful…”Share a good wine with a good friend”…has become my motto….it is about sharing..hopefully those of us who care..care about what honestly matters…can open doors to the many who might truly enjoy the wine journey but, as you wrote, are afraid to start.

    I guess its an old story. In the 70’s (in the tech world), the word was FUD..IBM created FUD…Fear…Uncertainty…Doubt..all in the name to intimate those who might seek solutions other than the ones IBM offered…those that have power want to hold onto it…at all costs. Things kept changing…now PDAs hold more power than some of the early mainframe computers. My laptop that I’m typing on holds more power than the computers NASA used t send men to the moon.

    In 40 years from now they may ask “Parker who”? From the Greeks and Romans (& many others) to today’s grape farmers to the future winemakers really than of it matters as long as those “sharing a wine” find enjoyment within!

  • I really enjoyed your talk, Ryan. Thanks for saying it!

  • Hugo

    Great writing, you touched the right points. I guess we’ll be talking much more. In fact this is what is all about: relations

  • Hi Ryan!
    Simply great! I’ll forward it to our Wine MKT students.

    • Thanks, let me know what they think!!!

      • Ryan,

        my congratulations to you on your remarkable insight into the wine world and all these misconceptions.

        I too found myself saying to someone who attendede the EWBC in Rioja that blogging about wine was just a fad. Six months ago I wouldn’t go near facebook and never even heard of Twitter.
        Then someone told me about this new guy in town, Vaynerchuk and everything changed for me. Now I have the blog, I am connected to FB and Twitter and I went to the EWBC in Lisbon.
        Change is hard but yet wonderful, we have to face it sometime and I’m glad I did.

        You hit the nail on the head with your speech and I think this was a good platform for Catavino. Your choice to start off in Spanish was a wise one because I’m sure there are still many wineries in Spain who have never heard of you guys, well it’s time they did, you are their future….
        All the best to you and your charming wife, Gabriella

        • Wow, thanks for the kind words. Fortunately each day more and more people know about Catavino and we fortunate to have had the chance to talk a bit at WineFuture.

          Looking forward to hanign out again soon and sharing more ideas!

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  • Hey Ryan,this is a fabulous speech.You have me totally in.So many marketeers ( wine and not) and producers have forgotten what is their reason to be .It´s amazing how far they´ve moved from consumers.So simple.Go back to the basics.Come in to the conversation.As it always have been.Now we need to start repeating the message until someone gets it.Unfortunatelly most people I know and work with are still trying to convince consumers of stuff they believe consumers should know about.Boring and an amazing loss of time and money!.We´ll get there some day.Loved the wineontherocks.com video too….soooo refreshing!.Thanks

  • Juan P.

    Thanks Ryan, very perinent and profound! J

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