Santa Claus, Loch Ness Monster and Social Media Experts

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Santa Claus with a little girl
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A few weeks ago I was pitched (again) by a "social media guru" from San Francisco.  After meeting him through a friend of a friend, and about 17 emails I finally gave in and invited him to stop by the winery.  Seems like I'm getting pitched every week by another social media expert who has all the answers to our wine business needs.  I was hoping this guy would have something different to say, or at least I was hoping he would take the time to look at the wine industry for real, and not just the romanticized vision of it.

I see him roll up in his recently buffed pearl white Mercedes SUV and slicked back hair, and I knew right away what this guy was about.  In my mind, he represents what's wrong with the social media landscape right now.  So many businesses are realizing they want to "socialize" themselves, but they don't know how to do it.  Suddenly, out of the woodwork comes armies of "gurus" and "experts" with all the answers.  The wine industry is especially susceptible because wineries aren't especially tech-savvy.  It's easy to be confused by snake oil salesmen promising big numbers.

So I listen to the pitch about all the powerful social media ROI his team can produce, and I wait until the end.  I asked the guy what he knew about our winery.  "Nothing," he replied.  I asked him who he thought were the wineries who were succeeding with social media.  "There's a winery in Illinois called Lynfred Winery, but no one around here," he said.  I thanked him for his time and sent him on his way.  He failed to do any research about me as a potential client, and he failed to look at the wine/social landscape.  I think they call that due diligence.  I had looked into his online efforts before he arrived, and discovered he didn't even have a Twitter handle, nor a Facebook page.  Basically, he and his team go into blog comments on behalf of clients and essentially spam the hell out of wine blogs.

It seems many wineries may have similar experiences, which is probably causing confusion.  In my job as the Director of Social Media for St. Supéry, I live and breathe this stuff every day, and I feel like we're just now starting to understand it.  Through a lot of trial and error we've had some successes and some things that didn't work.  After a year and two months in my role, I am just now starting to feel like I'm getting enough experience to no longer be called a beginner.  Maybe intermediate...maybe. . .

Some people say you have to do something at least 10,000 times before you can be considered an expert in anything.

. . For wineries trying to make sense out of who to trust and who not to, I put together a few tips that should help determine if someone is capable of executing any sort of social media campaign: 1. What is their Klout score? Klout.com is a tool that helps measure influence.  Influence is established by having an idea of what you're doing.  Amazingly, many social media experts have very low Klout scores.  Hmmmm  Bullshit meter is already starting to hum.

2. Do they have a LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blog presence? Those are kind of the main social sites these days.  If they're going to build your business online, they need to show mastery of those sites.  Understanding how all the social sites fit together is critical because web 2.0 is all about open source, or the ability to share between sites.

3. Are they promising ROI? Hardly anyone has figured out how to manufacture and measure ROI.  Even the Old Spice campaign, which is considered to be one of the best social media efforts in history isn't fully understood yet in terms of ROI.  You can't promise a certain increase in followers, fans or ROI because all those things are out of your control.  Free will can't be manipulated, and that's what social media is.  You can't make someone become a Facebook fan or follow organically.  The only way is through gimmicks like contests or something that bumps numbers up, but doesn't create an authentic connection.

4. What do their online conversations look like? There's a social media "expert" in Northern California who's Twitter stream is only Foursquare checkins.  No actual conversation are taking place.  Having engaging conversations is a pretty important part of the equation.

5. If they can't build their brand online, they can't build yours Sounds obvious, but there's truth to that statement.  Walking the walk and talking the talk is important because it demonstrates how well someone can do what they're saying you should do.

I'm going to make a blanket statement and say anyone who refers to themselves as a Social Media Guru or Expert isn't.  Ironically, this is the easiest way to find the people are aren't.  Like Santa Claus and Nessie of Loch Ness, Social Media Experts don't exist.

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Wine+Food Review: Thistle Restaurant in McMinnville, OR

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Ever walk into a trendy restaurant where all the furniture looks futuristic and the decor is hipster, and notice how beautiful everyone is? You just feel like you're hanging with the "it" crowd and that's the place to be. Maybe it's on the 26th floor of a new skyscraper in Manhattan or in downtown San Francisco where the founder of Twitter like to been seen.

Thistle is the complete opposite of that. The glassware and silverware look like they were purchased from a garage sale and the weathered wood floor creaks. Located in the heart of Oregon wine country, Thistle is the perfect anti-trendy place to eat. When James Beard award-winning chef Eric Bechard and his equally qualified front-of-the-house wife/wine buyer Emily Howard opened Thistle, it was all about the good stuff.

I sat at the counter, which felt like sitting in my Grandma's pantry. There were jars lining the wall and a tiny kitchen tucked in the corner.  There were all the things I remember about my Grandma's kitchen, except my Grandma didn't have a stellar wine list.

I loved Thistle.  Sitting at the bar was cool because I was able to chat with Chef Eric throughout the entire meal.  It was also cool because it was located in the heart of downtown McMinville, OR.  So many cool places are just steps away, including McMenamins Hotel Oregon.  Thistle was unpretentious and all about relaxing with a good meal.  How often do you get to chat with the chef during and after dinner?

If the food wasn't impressive enough, the wine list was equally as impressive.  I liked that Thistle didn't have Oregon wines only on the list.  Emily put together one of the most impressive wine lists I've seen in a long time.  There were esoteric wines from all over the world, and they were all high quality as well as well priced.  I took her suggestion and did a glass of wine with each course.  Here's what I had:

First pairing: 2008 Auxerrois from Adelsheim, Ribbon Ridge with Chioggia Beets, Arugula, Chevre & orange

Second pairing: 2003 Alicante Bouschet from Esporao, Portugal with Flat Iron Steak w/ spicy Chimichurri, Potato and Brocoli

It was hard to pick from the menu because everything looked SO good.  Even the bread was good—fresh baked down the street.  You gotta love a restaurant that has the menu up on a blackboard that changes every day.  Each time you go into Thistle, you can expect a unique experience.

The whole time as I'm licking my chops, Chef Eric kept coming over and chatting with me about this, that or the other thing.  He talked about working in Seattle and how it is working with his wife in a new business.  Chef was rocking a faux hawk that day.  You kinda get the sense there's no rules for employees at Thistle, other than good authentic food.

The beet salad stood up well to the Auxerrois without overpowering it.  Auxerrois is not much unlike Pinot Gris, so it has some similar notes, especially (in this case) wet rocks, mineral notes and asian pear.  I thought the acidity or tartness might be too much for the salad, but the beets and orange danced together nicely.

But what really blew my hair back was the beef with Chimichurri sauce.  I've made flank steak with Chimichurri a few times, and it was good.  But this one was completely different.  There was a tangy spiciness that lit up my taste buds like a pinball machine.  The steak was cooked perfectly, only to be perfected even more with the Portuguese red.  Seven years of age was perfect for the Alicante Bouschet grape. There was enough sweetness to offset the spicy flavors on the beef.

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Pinot Noir from Marin County

The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco as see...
Image via Wikipedia

When you drive over the Golden Gate bridge leaving San Francisco, you immediately go from city scape to Marin county.  Marin was home to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead as well as some of the bay area's wealthy residents.  Marin is the great outdoors with mansions and high end car dealerships.

Right off highway 101, rolling hillsides meander towards the Pacific Ocean covered in lush green vegetation.  The coastal area is largely undeveloped.  Marin's wine growing region is just south of the Sonoma border, and of all grapes that should do well there, Pinot Noir is it.  The cooler temperatures in Marin county keep the Pinot grapes from getting too much sugar during the growing season.  Some of the vineyards sit on hillsides protected from west winds above the fog level.  This ensures the Pinot grapes get enough early morning sun to help the grape ripen and keep up with the acidity from the cool temps at night.

Soils can be erratic with a mix of clay and high magnesium from serpentine soil.  It's not uncommon to see rock outcroppings that were volcanic tubes filled with magma 150 million years ago.  Over time, the magma cooled leaving rock formations all over the coastal area.

Kendric Vineyards is operated by Stewart Johnson, who is responsible for all aspects of the winery.  He farms the land, he manages the vineyard and he makes the wine.  I met Stewart last month right before the Pinot Summit in Marin.  We had a good laugh that the summit was held in Marin, but his was the only local wine at the event.  The rest of the pinots came from all over the globe.  Stewart and I tasted the 2006 and 2007 side by side.  Case production is close to 375 cases.  I liked the lighter, more refined balanced style of the 2006 over the bigger 2007.  Both offerings were good representations of Marin.

I came away intrigued by this region for growing Pinot Noir.  Keep an eye out for other offerings or grapes that make good use of the cooler weather.  Next up? Chardonnay.

Some possible food pairings to play with for this recipe:

Maple Soy Salmon

Baked Chicken with Rosemary, Bacon and Balsamic

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