"I rather like bad wine; one gets so bored with good wine." Benjamin Disraeli, British Statesman
When I started this blog, my goal was to write about wine education, while mostly ignoring the periphery topics that are often the theme of wine blogs, such as wine policy.
Then, I read this: "Iconic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Crowned Best Wine in the World," in the Wine Industry Network's Afternoon Advisor (May 26, 2020). The headline was on an industry press release from Vivino, an online wine marketing firm.
paused and then re-read the headline and the release. The audacity of the claim was stunning; how could any one wine be deemed the best in the world? More importantly,
though,was the misleading message Vivino was sending to wine consumers.
Based on 2019 data supplied by subscribers, Vivino determined that the Hundred Acre Kayli Morgan Vineyard (Napa Valley) Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 was the "best wine in the world." The Hundred Acre Cabernet Sauvignon attained a "4.84 rating," placing it ahead of last year's winner, Scarecrow, also a Napa Cabernet Sauvignon.
Vivino arrived at the rating through a series of submissions, they call "crowdsourcing," from "millions" of people who follow Vivino. According to Vivino's "Content Policy," which you can read on their web site (www.vivino.com), this is how the company gathers contributions about wines: "...Vivino lets user (sic) contribute different kinds of content, including photos, reviews, pricings, places (placements?), top lists (?), articles, videos, and more."
As a wine consumer, you might reasonably ask what a photo or a video has to do with wine quality which, after all, is what you are paying for.
Let me say here that my objection to the Vivino approach to wine marketing in no way reflects on the Hundred Acre wine. I have not tasted the wine and, in fact, know very little about it. But before getting to the gist of my objection, here are a few things to know about Vivino.
Vivino was started in 2010 by two Danes: Heini Zachariassen and Theis Sondergaard; hereafter to be known in this blog as "Z&S." In "About Vivino," on the company web site, there is this statement about the founding: "...before Vivino, there wasn't a way for them (consumers) to easily access information to help them make a decision about their next wine to try or buy." So, Z&S started Vivino. Both men are co-founders of Bullgard, an internet security company and also were involved in several startups.
The next move for Z&S was to secure startup money, first from a Danish billionaire named Janus Friis, then from three European venture capital firms. Total amount of capital raised was north of $35 million.
More from the Vivino web site: "Vivino is the world's largest online wine marketplace and most downloaded wine app, powered by a community of millions...Vivino uses data from 43 million wine drinkers to determine the world's favorite wines...no submissions or payments." Had the Vivino statement stopped with "favorite," I might have read on and not thought more about the "best in the world" claim.
The Vivino Arrogance
So, what irks me about the Vivino headline? The preposterous and arrogant anointing of one wine as the "best wine in the world." The claim may seem innocent enough, and you might ask what's the big deal, but these statements and headlines distort and wrongly influence wine sales.
Vivino is selling the Hundred Acre's wine and it has the right to promote and market the wine. But the rating for this wine is about numbers purchased rather than quality. Wine consumers look at price but they also want quality.
A review or promotion of the wines marketed by Vivino that I've seen is overheated, using words like "iconic" and "legendary." Beaulieu Vineyard Private Reserve and Heitz Martha's Vineyard are legendary Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons, Dana Estates Vaso Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, no matter the quality of the wine, is hardly legendary.
As for marketing integrity, this is troubling. According to "Conflicts of Interest" on Vivino's web site, Vivino clearly allows wineries to rate their own wines, with this caveat: "If you are affiliated with a winery or retailer we remind you to (sic) that your contributions should be unbiased and objective." The open brashness of that statement is almost laughable.
Here is another example of why I believe Vivino is misleading the wine consumer. In the promotion of the online sale of Maroon Napa Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Vivino uses this headline: "For 10 years It (Maroon) Went Straight Into Phelps Insignia...." The accompanying text does add that (the) winery had a 10-year contract in the 1990s. That was more than 20 years ago, so do you suppose the vineyard has changed? Undergone replanting? Suffered from phylloxera?
Then, there's this headline: "Value for Money Wines a Hot Commodity," followed by the list of Spanish Verdejo, Portuguese Vinho Verde, Spanish sparkling, all priced by Vivino at $10 - $15 per bottle. According to a recent Nielsen survey of wine consumption, consumers are looking for wines in the $20 to $25 range. So, it would appear that Vivino's "hot commodity" wines are priced below what consumers favor.
There is one last example of Vivino's questionable marketing. When I asked a friend what he knew about Vivino, he sent me a screen shot of a Vivino e-promo with the following wording: "Based on your taste profile, we think you'll like..." followed by the name of a 2015 Barolo. My friend says he never bought anything from Vivino.
Vivino is not the first company to quantify wine quality by using numerical ratings. But the Vivino method is a popularity contest, not an honest evaluation of wine quality and value. Who are these "millions" of people who send Vivino photos of a wine they just bought? More importantly, what are their qualifications to decide the "best wine in the world?"
Next time you see a Vivino pitch for a wine, look beyond the clever marketing and trust your own palate.
Next Blog: The Many Faces of Montepulciano
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