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By News, The Rant No Comments

Thirty seconds to a minute is all the time a sommelier has to work out what wine a person might like, and that also matches both their dish and price point. When you consider the large, encyclopaedic lists many restaurants have, it sounds as daunting as it does impossible.

But it isn’t.

The skill resides in effective communication. Asking a few key questions and, most importantly, listening to the answers helps you guide a guest to where they feel comfortable, or to their exploratory boundaries.

In all my time as a sommelier, I have never sold a bottle a wine based on facts and figures; always on style and story. When it comes down to it, your customers are not there to have dinner with you and they’re certainly not there for a masterclass, so good sommeliers know to keep it simple without dumbing it down. With such limited time, bamboozling people with winemaking bullshit is neither helpful nor useful.

I used to drill this into my sommelier staff by asking them to describe a wine and timing their responses. Often it would be along the lines of: “Well, it was picked at 13.5 baume, did its primary fermentation in stainless before being transferred to new French oak, from Seguin Moreau with a light toast, before a little battonage to build some texture as well as a partial malolactic fermentation of 30%…” You get the drift.

Say that to someone who knows wine and they’ll look at you, annoyed, and say: “Please go away and get me a glass of wine.”

Say that to someone who doesn’t know wine, and they’ll still look at you, annoyed, and say: “Please go away and get me a glass of wine.”

The issue is getting caught up in the winemaking process without giving your customers a connection to people, place or story. We remember stories more than facts and figures. Why? Because they’re more interesting than stainless steel tanks.

A scenario …

Imagine enquiring about the steak in a restaurant, and hearing this from your waiter in response: “This is grass-fed Angus beef from Gippsland, that was put it on a truck and taken to the abattoir, where it was stunned, its throat was slit, its blood was drained and it was stripped of its skin before being sawed into smaller pieces. It was then cryovaced and left in a warehouse before being sent here, where we dry aged it until it had a light covering of grey rot. We then scraped that off and cut it into steaks.” Still want to order it?

Don’t get me wrong, what happens from paddock to plate is vitally important, but I don’t necessarily want to hear about it over dinner. As a diner, I’d like to assume your produce is from ethical and sustainable sources and I feel confident in that because I trust the chef. It’s the same with a wine or wine list. Assume the sommelier has already done the hard work. Trust and be guided by what they share with you.

Before our events, we say to our wine producers: “… if we hear one mention of baume levels, trestling systems, clonal selections or any other of that winemaking bullshit, we’ll yellow card you.”

While a tad militant, our point is the winemaking process shouldn’t be the default nor opening line.

Why not start with “Hello?”

Much like a sommelier in a restaurant, at an event a producer has between 30 seconds to a minute to tell their story and make a connection with the guest in front of them. Telling them who they are, where they’re from, why they’re there and what style of wine they make will have far more resonance than any production method.

It’s the vinous equivalent of an elevator pitch.

Is yours good enough?

New Year, New Facebook: What these new changes could mean for your wine brand

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Like the rest of us, Facebook has a New Year’s resolution, but guess what? It’s all about you.

Facebook is rolling out a new algorithm to better connect you with your friends on your News Feed. In short, this new algorithm will prioritise posts, stories and photos based on what your friends “…react to, comment on or share” in order to facilitate “deeper, more meaningful conversations with the people you care about”.

But what does this mean for publishers, brands and business pages? Well, it could mean a significant drop in page traffic if you don’t pay to play. Getting your message out there could get very expensive very quickly.


On the positive side, the new algorithm should clean out your personal News Feed quite a lot, hiding posts from pages you really aren’t interested in anymore but are too lazy to ‘unfollow’ or ‘unlike’. But by the same token, the content you’re sharing from your page is just as likely to go unseen.

So now, more than ever, the content you create must put your audience first.

It is no longer good enough to simply broadcast updates, facts, stats or promote ‘Buy Me’ call-to-actions. Do so, and the struggle will be real. If you focus on meaningful engagement, your audience will react with comments, tags and shares, and your content will perform much better.

But this shouldn’t be anything new. This type of content should always be the primary focus of your content strategy.

The first questions you should ask yourself when you’re creating a post for your page is ‘Why will people care?’ and ‘Is this shareable?’

According to Facebook data, on average we scroll through 93 metres of Facebook News Feed every day. To put that in context, that’s the height of New York City’s Statue of Liberty.

That’s an insane volume of content we’re scanning and consuming, so what you produce needs to be compelling and attention-grabbing not only in order to get someone to stop, even for a few seconds, but look at, read and interact with before they scroll on.

You must give your audience a reason to both engage with and share your content. Luckily, there is one simple way to do so: Solve. People’s. Problems.

For wine brands, it is no longer enough to just say ‘Visit our Cellar Door’ or ‘Buy my wine’. Your focus should be a broader narrative about who you are and where you’re from. How do you live?

As an example, if you want me to buy your wine, tell me why I should buy it, how I can buy it, where else is it available, in what wine bars, retail stores or restaurants and where are they in my area?

Then, once I’ve bought it, what should I cook with it? What recipe do you recommend? What kind of meat and where should I buy it? And if what you recommend is local produce, then who and where are they? Tell me about them. Tell me a complete narrative. How can your product integrate into my life?

The biggest problem we all have is a lack of time so help people solve it.

Everyone is busy, after all.

“OK. I’ll just boost my posts to my page fans.”

Sure. That’s an option, but it’s very much a scatter gun approach, and you’ll only really reach those who already like your page. Even then, you might not be reaching the people you actually want.

Data tells us only 3.9% of people who ‘like’ a festival’s brand page actually purchase tickets to that festival. Something to consider if you’re trying to sell your wine via your Facebook page or attempting to target someone else’s.

Strategic Facebook audience targeting is now more critical than ever in ensuring you reach the right people so the dollars you spend can go the distance. You literally cannot afford not to.

And the best way to start is to create compelling, engaging content that solves people’s problems.

The Internal Wine War: Apollo vs Dionysus

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On a recent flight back from Perth on Qantas’s very comfortable A330, I decided to watch Stephen Fry’s live show, recorded in Sydney on his most recent tour.

In it, he spoke of the Apollonian and Dionysian philosophies highlighted in Nietzsche’s The Birth of Tragedy. The Apollonian is the form, structure and rational thought of man. The opposite is the Dionysian, where emotion, drunkenness, madness, enthusiasm and ecstasy influence individual will. For those of the vinous mind among us, this may sound familiar. Dionysus is, after all, the god of wine.

Fry then went on to explain, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, that most things in life can be explained using Star Trek. On one side Captain Kirk had his fiercely logical friend Spock (Apollo), offering rational and impassive solutions to the issues he faced. On the other was Bones (Dionysus), full of emotion, passionately and unequivocally opposed and frustrated by the unaffected Spock. Each argued their point and position at every crisis the Enterprise faced and it was up to Kirk (us) to find the balanced solution. Often with scantily clad aliens.

Onto my third glass of Chardonnay, I started thinking about how true this is for wider world of wine and why there is a constant battle between the two philosophies: the analytical and the emotional.

It made me think of the various vinous camps of MWs, MSs, sommeliers, writers, analysts, retailers, importers, wholesalers, reps, winemakers, viticulturists, marketers and PRs, all attempting to bring a sense of reason and logical thought to the Dionysian consumer.

The critic, for example, attempts to analyse and dissect a wine, applying reason to what should be an emotional response. Even people who don’t know wine still know what they like. Our default is Dionysiac. Wine gives us pleasure.

As wine professionals, it’s our job to take on the burden of analysing and dissecting a wine in order to wholly understand it. But we do this so others don’t have to. Even within us, there lies an animalistic desire to just switch off and consume. Far too often the quest for reason, understanding and knowledge is at the expense of our emotions.

While some of the best wine writers are able to pull on our emotional strings (Andrea Frost especially), sadly they are few and far between. If the aim is to engage consumers, it is so important that the language used engages them on an emotional level first.

Winemaking jargon not only intimidates, it isolates. Leave the reasoning to the converted.

We can’t be emotional all the time, and finding the balance between (the Captain Kirk, to use Fry’s metaphor) the emotional and analytical is one of life’s great challenges.

But, keep in mind that there’s no more appropriate place to submit to our inner Dionysus than wine.



Originally published on Dan’s personal blog in 2014. Still relevant today we would suggest.

A (tongue in cheek) Twelve Days Of Christmas Drinking Guide

By The Rant No Comments

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a fan of Christmas. I am basically the Grinch. Bah humbug, merry kiss my arse and all that.

I put my ill-feelings towards this season down to a 15-odd-year frontline hospitality career, dealing with one office party after another. For me, Christmas Day was a tiny chance to recover (if I was lucky) before Hospo Nightmare Number Two: New Year’s Eve.

But however you feel about it, now that we’re down to the final 12 Days of Christmas, I say we all need some of “Santa’s Little Helper” to get us through the chaos, overly exuberant cheer (seriously, how are people that damn cheerful?) and, of course, to help you deal with that office douchebag.

Here’s my 12 Days of Christmas drinking guide to get you through the final days of the “festive” season.

December 14th
Melbourne’s hot weather has done a sterling job of distracting you from the fact Christmas is under two weeks away. But don’t fight it; embrace it. Head to Bar Liberty‘s Drinkwell and order a bag of Patrick Sullivan’s Rosé.

It’s pink for goodness’ sake. Not even you can drink it in bad mood.

December 15th
It’s the second-last Friday of work for the year, and your last opportunity to get a few things done before the Christmas party onslaught hits. Celebrate by taking your favourite customer or client out for a light lunch. A bit of chargrilled octopus drizzled with lemon and a glass of foine white woine might do the trick.

Try a little Greek number. It will remind you of where you’d rather be,

December 16th
The penultimate Saturday night before the big day means it’s likely your final chance for a Tinder date. So go on, buy that bottle of Pinot Noir (we recommend the Moondarra) — everyone knows Pinot makes you sexy. But don’t go too crazy on the dollars. Next time you catch up it’ll be 2018 and with that new year will come a “new me” mentality. She’ll either not be drinking, or be ready to swipe on.

December 17th
There is a flurry of activity around town and most responsible people are finishing off their Christmas shopping. But you’re not most people, so instead you avoid the crowds and head to the pub in search of the one thing that will never disappoint you: Beer.

And gee, the Sample Brew you picked is good. Don’t worry about your Christmas shopping for the moment. You’ll get it done during the week when it’s less crowded. For sure you will.

December 18th
There’s a week until Christmas and that friend who holds your group of mates together has decided tonight is the night you all have to catch up for a festive drink. An early-evening picnic has been dictated, so you’re going to need a couple of tinnies. But you don’t want beer — this calls for something stronger. Head to Meatsmith and pick up a couple of Continental Deli’s Martinnies. Genius.

December 19th
The office Christmas party. But before you can get stuck into the overpriced function wine at lunch, the self-appointed Culture Captain of the office has put together a bunch of activities all in the name of team building. Thankfully you snuck in a little hand grenade in the form of a 500ml bottle of Brian to make it bearable.

December 20th
Item number one on today’s agenda: Get an Aperol Spritz immediately, otherwise your hangover from last night’s staff party may literally kill you. This “adult Fanta” is the perfect morning elixir and will go a long way to getting the taste of regret out of your mouth. If anyone questions you in the office, remind them that IT’S JUST A SPRITZ and technically doesn’t count as alcohol.

And, god, why do your hamstrings hurt so much? Oh, that’s right. You got a little excited doing an impassioned rendition of Queen’s ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ at that underground karaoke bar at 3am. Nice work, champ.

December 21st
In the cold hard light of Thursday, the Christmas party hangover fog is finally retreating. Your memory is beginning to come back and judging by the looks you’re getting around the office, most of theirs have come back too. Oh dear.

Your best move is to grab your credit card and head straight to Blackhearts & Sparrows as it’s time to repent. And what better way to say “Sorry, I got drunk and nude at the staff party” is to buy a bottle of Champagne to share with the team.

December 22nd
Yay! It’s Kris Kringle day at work and Barry from Accounts drew you. Despite you having no idea who he actually is, he saw on Instagram that you liked wine so bought a bottle of Sparkling Shiraz in an attempt to bond and find common ground.

But as a self-respecting ‘foodie’, you know sparkling red is gross and while you’d normally re-gift it to that family member who voted ‘no’, on closer inspection Bazza (as you now call him) actually nailed it and got you a bottle of Chalmers Lambrusco. Nice one.

December 23rd
The year is pretty much over so you and a few other like-minded souls decide on a cheeky mid-afternoon Negroni. The inspired alchemy of Campari, gin and vermouth makes for the perfect tipple to get you through the final couple of days. It’s also a timely reminder that you need to restock the bar at home, so you pick up a bottle each of Four Pillars GinOkar (an Australian-made amaro, aka Campari equivalent), and Maidenii vermouth on your way.

December 24th
Crap. It’s the day before Christmas and you haven’t done any shopping. Again. For the fifth year in a row.

You’re going to need a generous measure of Starward whisky and you’re going to need it immediately, as it’s the only way to deal with the hell that is Chadstone Shopping Centre. Why on earth do you do this every year? I mean seriously, here you are again in the middle of suburbia buying scented candles and satin boxer shorts as it’s all you can think of to buy right now.

Hold tight buddy, it’s always darkest before the dawn.

December 25th
And so the big day arrives. Not with sleigh bells and carols, but with the very loud beeping of your alarm. There is only one way to get through today. Drink Champagne and not in moderation.

It’s going to be a long day and despite your initial grumpiness, you literally cannot drink Champagne and stay that way. It’s impossible. It’s bubbly, vibrant, refreshing and will add a citrus kick to those prawns and oysters you stood an hour in line for at the market yesterday.

Suddenly, everything feels better. You know, maybe this Christmas thing isn’t so bad after all. You’re surrounded by not only your family, but your friends, too.

So make that bottle a magnum. Because magnums show commitment.