Thoughts on Wine Day Out

Dan Sims – the boss guy behind Wine Day Out – convinces us in his opening address that it’s all fucked. Currency issues, distribution woes, downward price pressure, the limitless power of chains, the bureaucracy/staleness/inefficiency of our national industry organisations, saturation across the board, snobby sommeliers, licencing. LICENSING! Everything is fucked.

Then he backtracks: Is it fucked? Really? No, our industry is changing and its just really challenging. He lists some positives: As a whole we’re making phenomenal wine, pushing categorical boundaries, creating strong regional identities, learning about our consumers and finding new ways to connect with them. It’s not fucked.

Except for licensing, which is definitely fucked.

This opening address informs the purpose of this event: Wine Day Out is about asking some tough questions, wriggling around underneath tough answers, generating discussion about the issues that our industry faces and coming together to come together. It describes itself as a Ted X style arrangement, with a mix of panel discussions and solo talks featuring the brightest minds from within, but also outside the wine industry. In my opinion it’s a brilliant and long overdue concept and Dan & the Bottle Shop Concepts team deserve recognition for it. Applause!

Why am I here? I’m the daughter of a grape grower, an unqualified winemaker who needs a lot of help in the winery, creator & manager of a micro wine label Eminence, wine  educator at The Humble Tumbler, event host, a writer (ish), a voracious reader of wine media and all round wine tragic. Wine Day Out is a no brainer. Oh, and there’s tacos and beer for lunch. Win.

First up we’ve got Max Allen and a panel of media stakeholders (Mike Bennie – wine writer, Dr. Dennis Muller – professor of media ethics & Angie Bradbury – chair of Wine Communicators Australia) talking about ethics in wine writing. I don’t mean to discredit the whole conversation, because it was fascinating (you can read Michael McKenzie’s post which covers this session in more detail) but essentially it’s Max versus the James Halliday Magazine. Max makes a fairly startling observation that their A5 Wow Factor Whites magazine supplement is in his view undisclosed advertorial – and Simon McKeown, Head of Consumer Titles at Hardie Grant publishing (who publishes the magazine) argues that the content is already created by the Halliday reviews, the wine producers are merely paying for extra exposure. It was tense, to say the least. It’s fascinating from an ethics perspective, I suspect we’ll see the reverberations of this conversation play out very soon, and very publicly.

Also raised here was the partnership between Dan Murphy’s and Good Food (Epicure) and the whispers that independent advertisers (I imagine wine retailers?) have been refused advertising space in the paper; not to mention the issues raised for Fairfax wine writers Jeni Port, Huon Hooke and Ralph-Kyte Powell who have all allegedly had to fight to convince their readers of editorial independence. This discussion raised plenty of issues about how & when wine communicators should declare their interests and suggestions were made to Angie Bradbury and the board at WCA that a code of coduct would be useful.

Josh Elias is up next – one third of the team behind the celebrated Alquimie Magazine & highly respected wine communicator. Josh delivered a concise presentation focused on the Alquimie philosophy and why not only that print isn’t dead but it can be respectful, innovative, profitable and beautiful. Very inspiring.

Following this was a discussion of Wine Media: A Future Perspective featuring Josh Elias (Alquime), Tim White (Books for Cooks) & Tacey Rychter (editor at Broadsheet). Broadsheet are apparently planning more ‘wine writing’: part of me champions this because it gets wine journalism in front of a massive audience – and part of me is ultimately disappointed with Broadsheet being represented on this panel as I find their content hard to take seriously when in my experience much of the copy is rebadged press releases accompanied by really nice photos. Furthermore, anecdotally they pay their writers very little in return for our old friend exposure. It seems Tacey’s spot on this panel was in anticipation of what Broadsheet are planning, rather than what they have done so far – which I do get, considering the talk was about the future however I thought she was lacking in describing their vision. I see that they are starting to generate more dynamic copy so it will be interesting where they take ‘wine’ writing especially as Tacey was quoted as saying ‘wine is difficult to write about intelligently’. Really?

Other highlights? Patrick Walsh of distribution company Cellar Hand killed it with his talk about Distribution and ‘the long game’. Harley Augustine, director of Future Brand encouraged producers to focus on the ‘why?’ on wine labels (as opposed to the where, how & what) and take some care in writing copy across all platforms. Kelly Burge from Event Brite talked about the value of data and social engagement in relation to events. All extremely relevant and interesting and deserve more than a mention here.

Jeanine Bribosia – director at  The Cru Media talked about the importance of inter and intra industry collaboration and innovation, through a PR prism. Jeanine is no doubt at the top of her game yet her talk lacked bite: wineries have been collaborating with their neighbouring producers, restaurants & sommeliers for years now. We know the value in our ‘story’, we know that teaming up with other producers is a great way to generate exposure and we know that the old press release & sample in the mail strategy gets us almost nowhere. Obviously I have limited PR skills (criticising Broadsheet probably isn’t a great move), however I would have liked this talk to focus on integrating PR into everyday tasks, the importance of brand consistency (tone, pricing, style sheets, packaging, communications), how to nurture relationships with key influencers (especially influential customers) or how to shape a practical social strategy and actually implement it. But that is me, I spoke to plenty of people who got a lot from her presentation.

The second last session titled Speak Up! consisted of an all-female panel talking about gender disparity in the wine industry and whether sexism exists. Of course it does! *facepalm*. This session needn’t have been inspired by the HeForShe campaign – it has enough gravitas already. Although both Kavita Faiella & Julia Sewell (both accomplished sommeliers. And sorry Julia I couldn’t find you on Twitter!) began by saying they had good experiences in this regard, Kavita’s anecdote describing how she was asked to ‘send over the real sommelier’ seemed pretty indicative to me. My issue here is not with the panel, but with the trepidation by which this issue was handled: it has proved its own hypothesis. The exemplary Samantha Connew of Stargazer was brilliant however my impression was that she was holding back. She did raise some interesting questions though (paraphrased): Why is our industry not alarmed by the massive loss of female winemaking graduates into peripheral jobs after they graduate? Why are we not alarmed that only 8.8% of winemakers are female? Why are we not alarmed that buyers still tend to believe that the salespeople are women and the winemakers are men?

This talk raised some points about industry norms, structural deficiencies within organisations (including our governing bodies) and ineffective policies at a macro level which all require more attention. It’s certainly got me thinking and I’m hoping to explore this in more detail in another post.

Anyhow, I have stopped short of a feminist rant but here’s the thing: I’m writing this. Other people are writing things, #WDO14 was even trending on Twitter! People are talking, arguing, waving their hands madly. Some are having moments, being inspired, some are thinking about things they never even knew required thought. Dan Sims is right: although at times it feels like it, it’s definitely not fucked. It’s exciting, challenging, inspiring and ultimately this is an industry which I think at its core champions joy, provenance, agriculture, innovation, quality, people and stories – not bad for humble beverage. Forums such as this give us a chance to take a step back to contemplate & celebrate this.

So, thanks to Dan and the team at Bottle Shop Concepts, thanks to the speakers and kudos to everyone who bought a ticket. See you next year!

**And keep an eye on the WDO Facebook Page for the pictures taken by James Broadway