Albert Woolson died in 1956 having served in the American Civil War and watched the government of the Union it created end an even bigger conflict by harnessing the power of a split atom.
He saw some shit.
He straddled eras so different his life could’ve started on one planet and finished on another.
I think I have some sense of how Albert may have felt for I have seen the role of the wine communicator shift from the eloquent expert to just any old plodder with an iPhone.
I am of an age that makes me the last of our species to ask a girl out by calling her from a phone box. She will be the last of her kind to think a ‘tidy Brazillian’ is Miguel, the family’s exchange student. My generation will be the only one that ever loaded a computer game by cassette then kicked the footy outside for an hour until it was ready to go.
The last to ride in the backseat of a smoking lounge on wheels, the last to hear our fathers explain “But it’s good for the FBT,” when our mothers berated them for coming home pissed from lunch, and the last to pair a tri-colour Fruit Cup with a ham steak in the dining room of a pub without pokies.
And the last to think a prerequisite for a wine communicator was to actually know something about it.
There once was a time when writing about wine required at least some proficiency in one, ideally two, of the disciplines required for the craft.
There were wine people eloquent enough to share their knowledge in print and writers whose words acquired even greater rhythm and grace when drenched in wine.
But now all you need to do is set up an Instagram account, take a bottle shot on your phone and suddenly you’re in the wine communication business. And it’s those that are focusing on the last word of the previous sentence that concern me most.
I’ve got no problem with punters posting pictures of wines that excite them – we should all encourage that – and there are established wine writers, winemakers and hospo-types doing great things recording the highlights of their drinking.
But there’s a new type of Instagram account polluting my feed these days that, quite frankly, gives me the shits.
They start with stock images of bottles or glasses and go heavy on the hashtag #wine to draw some traffic, drop a bit of cash to buy a tranche of followers here and there so the numbers start to look good, and before you know it a bunch of PR kids not much older than the phones through which they view the world, have you marked down as a ‘key influencer’.
I met a couple of blokes at a function in Sydney a few months back who have done just that. “People like wine, people like cheese. So we set up an account that’s just pictures of wine and cheese.” No original photography, mind you, just stock shots. Every image you’d class as terribly cheesy even without the dairy product in it. “Mate, we’ve got 80,000 followers and now we get invited to drink free piss and gigs like this. When we get to 100k we’ll sell it.” That’s how you become an influencer in the new social media world of wine, apparently.
They’ve also registered an account called Bondi Bikinis. I suspect they’ll enjoy that even more.
There’s another one out of Sydney with a fairytale-inspired pun for a name that features some bloke clutching bottles of wine for the camera and rehashing press releases verbatim in the place where personal insight or capable assessment of the wine might otherwise go. He’s progressing a vinous narrative that stretches back millennia about as far as I can stretch in an attempt to touch my toes, but being both pointless and boring hasn’t stopped him ‘amassing’ a publicist-impressing 76,000 followers. You can see who falls for it because he shows you a new sucker every day.
I’m fully aware I sound like some paranoid dinosaur trying to protect his patch, but this ranting isn’t motivated by self-interest. It’s actually motivated by a love and respect for the craft of communicating the wonder of wine and I just can’t help thinking these blokes are taking the piss.
To those of you who talk about new channels and untapped audiences, consider this. Some bloke who can’t say anything about a wine other than what you told him in your press release has 50,000 more Instagram followers than Halliday, Hooke, Stock, Stelzer, Bennie, Otten, Faulkner, Mattinson, Walsh, Tony Love, Gourmet Traveller Wine, Winefront and this publication combined.
If you really do favour quantity over quality, then perhaps these guys may be the best judges of your wine after all.
And to those considering carving out a vinous niche on Instagram all their own, I have three slivers of advice, delivered in a way you might understand.
How is your wine brand using Instagram? How many followers do you have? Tell us your social media secrets! Let us know here or in the comments.