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The 2015 Curmudgies

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2015 curmudgiesWelcome to the 2015 Curmudgies, the fourth time we’ve given the awards to the people and institutions that did their best over the previous 12 months to make sure wine remained confusing, difficult to understand, and reserved for only the haughtiest among us. This year’s winners:

Worst news release: Another banner year for releases that insulted my intelligence, committed any number of grammatical errors, and did nothing to promote the product. The winner is 24-Group PR & Marketing for a release for Three Hunters Vodka, which included this foolishness (and a hat tip to my pal Tim McNally, who sent it my way): “We live in a time when some of the most important choices we make come prepackaged and predetermined by companies who know nothing about us. The decisions we make about the things we put in our bodies are constantly manipulated by clever and misleading advertising, and misconceptions about nutrition and health.” Why would anyone write that about vodka? Also, it is a classic example of the pot calling the kettle black.

The regional wine award, or the more things change, the more they stay the same: To every restaurant in Dallas, and there are too many to list here, that doesn’t carry Texas wine. This is a disgrace given the improved quality and availability of Texas wine in the second decade of the 21st century, and speaks to the restaurant wine mentality that makes wine drinkers crazy. If Lucia can find a Texas wine to include on its otherwise all Italian list, so can the rest of you.

The three-tier system is our friend award: To the 200 Minnesota cities that, thanks to one of the oddest state liquor laws in the country, operate their own liquor stores. As the Star-Tribune newspaper reports in a solid piece of journalism, “In 2014, 34 Minnesota cities, all outstate, lost a total of $480,000 on their liquor outlets — money they had to backfill from their own coffers. Another 60 outstate cities saw sales drop from the previous year.” Given how much trouble so many cities, big and small, have doing basics like police and fire protection and garbage pickup, that some want to run liquor stores is mind boggling.

The Wine Spectator will always be the Wine Spectator: For James Laube’s February 2015 blog post, which included this: “If you want to save more and waste less [on wine], consider how much money you spend on wine that you don’t drink, and how many bottles of wine you opened last year that should have been opened sooner.” Wine that we don’t drink, huh? Wine that we let sit in the cellar too long? Wish I had those problems. That one of the Spectator’s top columnists wrote about it speaks to how little the magazine has to do with how almost all of us drink wine.

Would someone please listen to this person? The positive Curmudgie, given to someone who advances the cause of wine sensibility despite all of the obstacles in their way. The winner this year is Forbes’ Cathy Huyghe, who spent the month of November writing about the wine that most of us drink, and not what Forbes’ one percenters drink. “…[I]t has turned out to be one of the most eye-opening projects I’ve ever done. … The longer I’m a wine writer, the further away it’s possible to get from the wines that most people drink.”

For more Curmudgies
The 2014 Curmudgies
The 2013 Curmudgies
The 2012 Curmudgies

Shortlisted for the Born Digital Wine awards

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born digital wine awards iOct. 26, 2015 update: Congratulations to all the winners, which didn’t include me. But that doesn’t take away from the importance of rewarding work written exclusively for the Internet.


 

The Born Digital Wine awards, given to content created for the Internet, are a big deal. For one thing, there’s a cash prize, and that’s about as common as seeing a score on this website. For another, it speaks to the way wine writing is changing — and, oddly enough, how it hasn’t changed.

Which is not to say I’m complaining. That I’m shortlisted (or a finalist, as we say on this side of the Atlantic) in the best editorial/opinion category is a tremendous honor. And I do want to win, and not just for the €500 prize. The recognition would mean a lot, too, that what I do still means something after all these years. As a friend pointed out the other day, I’m one of the few serial wine bloggers left — someone who writes every day and does it himself, without any other writers on the site, no collaborators, no one to offer a different voice or change of pace. Just cranky me, even after almost eight years.

Most of the other successful sites have adapted as the world has changed, adding writers, selling merchandise, doing affiliate marketing, and so forth. Which I’ve thought about, but never seemed to be able to do. Some of it is my lack of business acumen (as well as the fact that the business stuff annoys me), and some of it is the idea that I brought with me from the newspaper business: As soon people give you money for placement, objectivity becomes that much more difficult. And objectivity is why I’m here.

In this, we’ve seen a gradual and significant shift to the Internet for wine criticism. Yes, the biggest Internet sites are the websites for the biggest wine magazines, but the number of legitimate voices that exist that no one would have known about in the old days is amazing — many of whom are shortlisted with me. I proposed a panel for this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference on just that topic, since it may be one of the most important things in wine writing since scores. 

Which never happened. The conference attendees, who vote on panel proposals, weren’t interested. Talk about irony. Even non-traditional wine writers, apparently, can’t see past traditional wine writing. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I won a Wine Bloggers award for best business blog, even though I write for consumers. My approach leaves many in wine scratching their heads. As one of the other shortlisted Born Digital wine writers, Blake Gray, has told me more than once, “You write for people who don’t drink wine.” And, as I have also been told, “Jeff, you write about wine, but you’re not a wine writer.”

At some point, we need to re-define wine writing so I’m not such an exception. How else will will we reach the women who buy Little Black Dress as a splurge because they see wine as too confusing to bother with the rest of the time? Or the men who are too terrified (and too manly to admit they’re terrified) to try something other than the same Big Wine cabernet sauvignon they’ve been drinking every week for the past 20 years?

So, yes, I want to win when the results are announced next week. But I also want to win because my shortlisted entry — how wine marketers, using the Downton Abbey claret as an example, confuse consumers to sell wine — offers more than traditional wine writing. And isn’t that the point of what the awards are about?

The 2014 Curmudgies

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2014 Curmudgies

What do you think? Should I send the winners this trophy?

Welcome to the 2014 Curmudgies, the third annual, presented to the people and institutions that did their best over the previous 12 months to make sure that wine remained confusing, difficult to understand, and reserved for only the haughtiest among us. This was, unfortunately, a particularly fruitful year for Curmudgie nominees, and I could have turned this into a week-long Curmudgie fest. But why subject you to more than one day of this foolishness?

This year’s winners:

Worst news release: I’ve been reading press releases since the days of carbon paper and typewriters, and I’ve never seen as many bad releases as this year. How about the one that made fun of wine writers for making fun of bad press releases? Or the one that touted “artisan chicken fingers”? But the winner, for ineptitude above and beyond, comes from AGA-VIE Tequilla & Cognac, “the world’s first and only spirit created from a distillation of Weber Blue Agave (Tequila) and Cognac.” It commits all of the usual post-modern PR sins — the typos, exclamation points, and hackneyed writing (“To bottle is beautiful and the taste even more so!”). But what it sets it apart is the email subject line: “Must Have Spirt for the Holidays – AGAVIE Tequilla & Cognac.” Yes, the word spirit is misspelled, and this comes from an agency that claims it is composed of “seasoned communication professionals with a variety of agency experience and contacts that blanket the media spectrum.” I wonder: What kind of seasoning? Barbecue?

The regional wine award, or the more things change, the more they stay the same: To Virginia state Senator Thomas A. Garrett Jr. (R-22), who was tired of the Virginia-only selections at Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s cocktail parties and wanted to drink wine and spirits from elsewhere, like Kentucky, California, and France. Talk about jonesing for a Bourbon and Coke. I wonder: Would Senator Garrett object if he was attending a state supplier event where the suppliers had enough money to contribute to his re-election campaign? Or if he was being served one of Virginia’s world-famous hams? “This is junk. Where’s some of that Italian stuff?”

The three-tier system is our friend award: To the Texas Package Stores Association, the state’s retailer trade group, which is suing the Total Wine chain because its owners are not state residents — even though the law that requires the Total owners to be Texas residents was overturned by a federal court in 1994. You can read the entire story at the link, though I would recommend it only if you want to make your head hurt. Dec. 19, 2014 update: A federal court judge, noting that the suit was kind of silly, dismissed the trade group’s lawsuit: “…having to compete in a free and fair marketplace is not an injury.”

The Wine Spectator will always be the Wine Spectator: For Matt Kramer’s July 15 article discussing the not always friendly battle between what he calls the “Mainstream Mob” and the “Natural Posse” over winemaking philosophy. It’s ponderous as only the Spectator can be, and in the end it doesn’t say anything other than both sides have a point but that they should play nicely. No wonder I’m not a scion of the Winestream Media.

Would someone please listen to this person? The positive Curmudgie, given to someone who advances the cause of wine sensibility despite all of the obstacles in their way. The winner this year is British wine writer Tom Stevenson, author of “Buy the Right Wine Every Time.” Writes Stevenson: “Inevitably the most widely available wines include many of the cheapest brands, an area of wine habitually avoided by critics. As such wines are almost exclusively purchased by most wine drinkers, those critics (myself included) have effectively disenfranchised most wine consumers. That is something I want to correct.” That says it all, doesn’t it?

For more Curmudgies
The 2013 Curmudgies
The 2012 Curmudgies
Press releases, the wine business, and doing it right

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