Archive for February, 2009


Yesterday the annual Free the Grapes Direct to Consumer Symposium was hosted at the Meritage Resort in Napa.  For our 50 state union, there are few, if any substances as regulated in this country as alcohol.  In their words, “Free the Grapes! is a national, grassroots coalition of consumers, wineries and retailers who seek to remove restrictions on wine direct shipping. Our goal is to augment, not replace, the three-tier system with limited, regulated wine shipments from wineries and retailers to consumers.”  Indeed their work is essential for our industry.

The conference offered some interesting insights on hospitality and customer relationship management from beyond our own industry as  well as insights from a few successful wine industry executives describing their own best practices making the difference in their business.  There were some specific details in the Iron Marketer Challenge segment and a detailed presentation of  “aspirational customer service programs” from the VP of Best Buy that I thought warranted taking notes.  On the heels of a timely release from Lesley Berglund’s WISE Academy, what was left untouched by the conference pointed me to this educational program.

No doubt there was great value in the day including the exhibit hall and the sponsors appearing there.  The only things I thought were missing are as follows:

  • 1.  A much deeper and more detailed set of solutions for direct to consumer questions and needs including hospitality training, e-marketing, online presence, social  media, and wine club management.
  • 2. A better execution of the sessions and use of the internet/social media/networking back channel.  There was no twitter search tag (perhaps because only a handful of tweeters were on during the conference?).  So we created our own tag #DTC.  This is as much for the attendees as for the folks on twitter who didn’t attand but were curious to listen to the day’s events.  Similarly, presentations, links, power point decks, etc. could have been and should have been made available in real time…or immediately after the presentation.  We’re told they will be available next week.  I think there were missed opportunities here.


With 7 sessions and only 2 time slots (sessions 1,2 & 3 were at 1:30, sessions 4,5,6, & 7 were at 3:15) I could not attend more than 2 sessions.  There were 3 or 4 sessions I thought could have been valuable to me, so it is possible that the deficits I listed above were detailed in a session I couldn’t attend.  On the technology possibilities listed above I watched and experienced them during the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City.  What a great standard they have set.   And the technology is not out of reach for a Napa conference.  There is an opportunity being lost that is well within our reach. Check out this fantastic post about using the back channel to add value to a conference.

I certainly understand that conferences are a bear to produce and my evaluation comes with the hope that we all work with constructive criticism to make our work in the wine industry better by leaps and bounds.  There are a few conferences in our industry (Wine 2.0, WITS, WBC) that I applaud for surveying their attendees for feedback.  I know as a presenter I value that response and use the feedback to prepare the next time I am in front of an audience.  So it is in that spirit that I offer my thoughts here.  The need for DTC training, conversations and networking  is too great to go without.  Thanks for working to fill that need.

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These are people who care, they are great at what they do and are down right passionate about it.  It is hospitality.  And it is the greatest investment any business can make in customer loyalty.  On the heels of my experience last weekend, this is even more breath taking to me.  The Roger Smith Hotel didn’t spend an outrageous amount of money or time…and this gesture pictured below meant the world to me.  This photo they e-mailed me a week after I left was a brilliant stroke of follow up.  Simple, sincere, sweet.   I’ll continue to sing the praises for my permanant New York City hosts, the Roger Smith Hotel.  Thank you gentlemen.

Jamile and Paul work at the Roger Smith Hotel in mid-town Manhattan.  They were part of the extraordinary team of hosts for me weekend there in early February.  This was not a singular experience.  Roger Smith Hotel is hospitality.



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Clearly I’m pissed…annoyed, perhaps.  Actually embarrassed.  As tweeted earlier today, I took friends, a wine blogger from SF and a Food and Beverage manager from New York (this is all context) on a spontaneous wine tasting day in our beautiful Napa valley.  Sunday morning seems to be one of those days that begs for bubbles.  We headed north to Domaine Chandon.  The rain, the fog, the day was, frankly, stunning.  We arrived at D.C. as the prologue to start our venture into the best of Napa Valley Hospitality.  Or not.


We entered the store where 3 employees chatted amongst themselves and greeted us before resuming their conversation.  Heading upstairs for the tasting room, we found a place at the bar and tables ready for us.  Fantastic  blood oranges adorned the champagne cocktails as winter life during the mustard festival buzzed on this delicious Sunday noon.  As we chatted about where we’d lunch and visit it was almost 15 minutes of waiting without a single word, glance or acknowledgment,  from anyone working there.  Totally invisible, we looked around, found another place at the bar for about 2 minutes before deciding we were not going to be helped in any way.  Domaine Chandon was clearly too important to care.  With too many choices in the valley we left.  Sadly surprised at this discouraging start, we walked out past the same 3 chatting employees (greeters?) who didn’t say good bye or interrupt their conversation…yet another missed opportunity.

Generally we expect adequate service.  That’s the kind of service you barely notice as it becomes part of your daily routine…basically it is the bare minimum.  Occasionally we get really good or even great service or great hospitality.  When we do get that kind of service, it changes our day.  We talk about it …a lot.  We go back.  We take our friends.  When we get bad service we talk about that too…but it also changes us, or at least it changes our day.  Soured, disappointed,  a hospitality fail is incumbent on every person working there.  From the manager down to the newest tasting room hire, any guest leaving with a bad experience does so because each and every person on that team failed to do their job.

Simply put, we were ignored…for over 15 minutes.  No “hi”, no “welcome” no, “we’ll be right with you”, no nothing.  I would never do that to my friends coming to my home.  Why would any winery let that happen?  We left with me embarrassed by my choice to go to Domaine Chandon and the lack of hospitality here in Napa.  I am so grateful that Elizabeth Spencer (a fabulous tasting room just across from the Rutherford Bar and Grill), and specifically, Vanessa, turned our entire experience around.  With a calm ease and charm, she shared the wines and delightful conversation reminding me that a Sunday with friends in Napa Valley can be a spontaneous joy with just a little hospitality.

I’d recommend anywhere else for bubbles in Napa: both Domaine Carneros and Mumm are less likely to ignore you than Domaine Chandon.  But at Elizabeth Spencer (and at Darioush, Rutherford Bar and Grill and Rubicon Estate) you’ll get at least good service, if not great hospitality.  Customer service is the best marketing, hands down.  For another perspective on the same visit, check out The Luscious Lushes’s Blog, or The Roger Smith Life. It wasn’t just me.

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The hosts (Rachel Maddow, Keith Olberman, Don Lemon, Larry King, Anderson Cooper…) talk about twitter and facebook on cable news shows.  Politicians, internet businesses and even businesses like Whole Foods are on twitter…but many of my friends still say “twit-what” ?  They know what facebook is…but don’t have a profile.  Or if they do, they attend to it maybe once a week or less.  Many have yet to find their social niche on the ning platform  Can you believe many wine folks are now early adopters thanks to Open Wine Consortium, Wine 2.0 and almost 30 more social networks dedicated to wine!!??  Granted most of those participants are in the wine industry or wine blogging world or tech. Heck, the internet, and all of these online social tools, are credited with helping to elect President Obama!  So Social Media is almost mainstream…but not quite.


So what or who am I waiting for?

I guess I’m waiting for folks like my aunt or my mom to be on twitter or facebook or any social network (even AARP has a social site…and of course they should!).  Or even some of my closest friends in their 30’s n 40’s who have no idea about the online world beyond e-mail and shopping.  I’m waiting for them to get connected.  I have faith though:  they all chucked their answering machines in favor of voice mail.  And they all have cell phones; they even text.  So not being the most patient person in the world, I it is only a matter of time.

Then what?

Well, I’m curious and eager for the information and connection that twitter, ning and the blogosphere bring to the conversations.  Perhaps I’m already primed because I’m a news junkie: world, tech, wine, entertainment, travel and politics…gimme news!  And when those folks are connected, I can’t wait to see how the marketplace inserts itself into the conversation.  We’ve already seen them blocked, booted or blasted for spamming their messages into conversations.  It’s like being at a cocktail party and walking up to people chatting (say they are chatting about a back yard bbq with their friends and family) and you start shouting “Hey I have this great deal on Office Copier Machines!  Get it right now!  Go Here to buy it!”.  Don’t you think people would just look at you like you were crazy?!  So I’m curious to find out how the next leap in social media evolution will look…will it be so gradual that we won’t notice?  I kinda doubt it.  Will it make the coolness of twitter, the blogosphere and online conncting evaporate?  I sure hope not.


Whatever it will be, my hope is that the social media tools enhance connecting both online and in real life (IRL); that it will be a hub of information, authenticity and buzz about what’s happening right now, where can we go next and who can we find to engage!

Funny, I just got a phone call from the brother of the president of my company asking me about groups on twitter and facebook…maybe we’re closer to mainstream than when I started this post!

Images courtesy of Google images.

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I’m kind of in my own world here both at my company and in the wine industry, living in social media.  Ok, wait!  Yes, there are a few hands-full of early adopters, bless you!  The wine bloggers, the tech savvy, the curious, the adventurous…you know who you are.  But on average, in the general part of my industry…where I live, we are in the minority.  My point is that the leadership at my company (thank you Bill Leigon, Evelyn Pool) are dedicated to connecting online with wine lovers and allow me to participate, learn and share with you all a great deal.  But that’s not enough.  Within the rest of the company (a couple dozen talented sales reps and admin across the country as well as a winery full of craftsmen & women) I feel compelled to convert the un-initiated at Hahn to a high level of social media participation…to participate somewhere, anywhere online.


I think it is the essential place to start.  As a brand or company, you can’t go forth and exist online for your brand alone.  Working toward a tipping point within your own company is critical.  Your co-workers may all participate at different levels and perhaps even in different places, but that they ARE participating online is essential.  It is a slow process inviting and training people into the medium, we’re all so busy already.  But, in addition to the presentations I do at every National Meeting, I work to send regular updates, links and direction on participating online whether that is inviting our people to comment on a blog (personal interest OR professional, anywhere is a great place to start), learning about “Twitter in Plain English” or getting them on ICanHasCheeseBurger …whatever it takes.


We all know from experience that once you get the bug, whether it was from wine, biking, politics or just connecting with your family, you get hooked.  And that is the addiction I am pushing: an electronic connection with others that broadens our social circle and our filter for information.  We all know that amazing things happen when we do that here, on twitter, blogging, on facebook, wherever.  But it takes time.  It can be frustrating.  It can be very slow going….and it must be one of the primary pursuits of any company working to thrive online.  So I approach my co-workers with the suggestion that they pursue what they love to do in real life…and find a place that fits in with that passion online.  Whatever your passions, professional or personal, there are groups, social networks and loads of sites online where you can connect, learn, share and participate with other people who share your passion.  It makes you an essential connector within your company; a powerful brand ambassador, and a socially knowledgable participant in what’s happening right now.  It is another way to get an edge in your own marketability too.  Just make sure you do it right. (And that is in  several other blog posts!)

Now get in there!

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Yesterday, the wine industry’s most curious and innovative gathered at Cuvee in Napa to hear VinTank, discuss the strategy, approach, and methodology of their study of social media and the blogosphere.  This report was created to help wine companies sort the relevant from the noise online and focus on developing an e-strategy.  VinTank is the latest start-up that says, “At VinTank we understand the key questions and help industry leaders formulate winning strategies.”  With co-founders Paul Mabray, Joel Vincent, Eric Hsu and Patrick Angeles, VinTank is positioning itself to evaluate and chart the currently flooded waters of social media in the wine industry in an attempt to make sense of this strange new online world.  Sorting relevance, influence and impact appear to be their primary focus.


The conversation/presentation at Cuvee shared a basic outline without giving too much away.  The study (expected later this month) aims to cover the broadest reach of social networks (for wine) and wine bloggers with detailed attention to the math behind their traffic, their influence, their relevance and how these cyber-space tools can help sell more wine, increase value or add to wine commerce/communication in some way.  I have to admit, as the expanse of wine in social media spills beyond my reach, I’d be happy to read multiple evaluations and reports offering me a snap shot of relevant, demographic specific direction.  I do this for a living for Hahn Estates, and I still don’t have time to get to them all.


Finally, the best part was the Napa Tweet Up that was augmented to the post VinTank presentation.  The conversation continued and everyone from bloggers to winery GMs, from Bank executives to Wine Tech start-up founders was able to connect and consider the possibilities for our industry.  There was indeed a buzz as people from more than a couple different generations and multiple disciplines crossed paths to learn about each other’s work, whether it was tweeting on a daily basis or running a winery from top to bottom.  It was technology and the common passion for wine that brought everyone together.


Photos courtesy of my BlackBerry Storm.

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Every commercial for travel, wine, restaurants, tourism, etc. all end up being about lifestyle, hospitality and the extraordinary lengths to which the hosts will go to take care of you during your stay with them.  Once you have the essentials met, a comfortable bed, room essentials (iron, mini fridge, mini bar, toiletries, wifi, i-home …) it becomes a matter of not just making your stay comfortable, but extraordinary.  To me, this includes anticipating your needs, going the extra mile, and a kind of unassuming kindness that’s subtle and authentic.  If you’re heading to New York that place exists in mid-town Manhattan.  That place is the Roger Smith Hotel.


The bar & restaurant, Lily’s, looks like an avant garde art gallery and feels like that artist’s family room.  The bartender Paul (see smiling bartender, Paul, pictured below) makes you feel like most great bartenders and hair dressers…you can tell him anything and he’ll not only have humor, compassion and words of wisdom, he’ll know exactly what cocktail to make for you.  I couldn’t get enough of the house plum infused gin and tonics he made for me.  Brunch on both days were delightful twists on traditional fare:  I had granola crusted french toast one day, vegetable frittata with fingerling potatoes the next …I’m not admitting to any morning cocktails.


The weekend I was there also happened to be the start of Social Media week in New York:  A set of meet ups, openings, releases and social media focused gatherings that includes Twestival NYC and the regular Social Media Breakfasts at…you guessed, The Roger Smith Hotel.  So on Sunday, Mr. Hospitality (see Brian Simpson pictured at top) hosted a Tweet Up (#tweetuprsh)…and since @ChrisBrogan was also staying at the RSH for the week, we amassed an impressive gathering that went for over 12 hours including a raucous, impromptu Grammy watching party to close out the evening.  Some attendees include: @coffeewithian (going for 100 hugs by Feb 14 and documenting them all on twitter via i-phone), @sukifuller (completing her MBA), @emilyspearl, @rachelreuben, @nexeus (NYC DJ, U-Streamer), @robbin_g (East Coast wine goddess), @hvwinegiddess (managing the Hudson Valley Wine Competition this spring), @chazfrench (winner best T-Shirt at the meet up…ask him),  @davekerpen (ZBuzz Marketing), @sandraschubert, @robblatt, @nadiapayan, @daveyarmon, @chrisbrogan, @bsimi, and me…@winedivergirl.  Though there were 20+ tweeters there, if I missed you, please let me know and I’ll add you right into this list!

cbroganrshAn additional set of concierge services from RSH pointing me to fabulous shopping, restaurants, great bars and transportation back to the airport  made my weekend overflow with something beyond satisfaction.  New Yorkers are the friendliest f*cking city people ever (RSH and beyond).  While I was in NYC for an Art Opening at the Walter Wickiser Gallery, my time there was jam packed from end to end with the best of what New York could offer me in a 3 day weekend with only 10 hours sleep total.  I made the most of it.  Now it’s your turn.

Photos from my Blackberry Storm

P.S.  I didn’t even get to Henry, the RSH mascot (see below left…)  That will be it’s own post altogether!

Yamile, Chief Restaurant man at Lily’s…demonstrating hospitality pictured below right.

For the best photographic pictorial : visit @BSimi ‘s Flicker page.



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