Balancing Act

The two most impactful things I’ve read during my long silence from writing anything on this blog are ‘Creativity Inc.’ by Ed Catmul* and ‘Making an Impact’ – a study by Kantar Millward Brown.

There’s one thing that’s stuck with me when reading both: if you want to build a brand, balance is essential.

Balancing art with science.

Balancing creativity with pragmatism.

Balancing head with heart.

Balancing dreams with reality.

Balancing what you want with what they want.

In all of these, it’s not an “either/or”. Both are necessary to keep the other in check. Creativity at all costs won’t make you any money. Commercially at all cost, and you’ll have no soul. There’s a vital tension between, what often seem like, opposing ideas that brands need in order to succeed.

Building a something that matters to you *and* the people you seek to serve means constantly walking the tight rope. Every day, in every decision, every time.

How’s your balance?

*an incredible book for anyone remotely interested in the creative industry. Hopefully I’ll get round do doing a book review soon.

The Wine Industry Needs To Wake Up, Fast!

Since ever the UK Wine Industry has been an elite club for those “in the know”. For the man in the street, wine has been seen as stuffy and pretentious. The two are closely linked.

The problem with wine is that it is complicated; there’s no getting around it. A subject matter that encompasses geology, geography, agriculture, science and art is bound to make the mind boggle. While knowledge of all of this isn’t necessary to enjoy a great glass of wine, the effort from those in the industry to try and connect with the everyman is quite frankly appalling. As such, wine is losing ground to sexier, more consumer-friendly alcoholic beverages, such as Gin and Craft Beer.

There is an abundance of trade-related media knocking about, telling those who have a keen interest in Wine all about the latest Bordeaux vintage or which Loire Valley rosé came out on top in the latest tasting. But who is producing content for those in this country who famously say, “I don’t know a lot about wine, but I know what I like”?

Today, the Internet is king, and long live the king! It is the great equaliser of our society, providing endless opportunity to learn, discover new ideas, or to be entertained FOR FREE. It is more significant than arguably any other form of media the human race has created. Why then isn’t the wine industry, which is struggling with an image problem and falling consumption, embracing this new technology and taking wine to the people? I am as baffled as you are.

There are a number of wine professionals who have a reasonable presence on Twitter, but the majority of the time is spent tweeting out content that is aimed at others working in the industry. Instagram, the most natural social media site for wine-related content to succeed on, has many accounts that ping out bottle shots, or photos of attractive individuals holding a glass of something while standing in a vineyard, but where is the substance? YouTube and Facebook, great for video content, are full of funny videos that reiterate the stereotype that wine is all a con, and void of any trying to break through that myth. Those who work in the wine industry in this country need to wake up, fast!

There is an enormous gap in the market for someone to come along who is serious about producing high-quality, consumer-led content, that doesn’t shy away from the complexity of the matter, but that informs and educates the man in the street about the world of wine, in a light-hearted way so as not to revert back to the old stereotypes. Whatever your strong point, there’s a content form to suit you: written blogs, video, photo, audio etc. If food-related content can have so much success online, not to mention coffee, gin and craft beer, then wine can certainly work too.

People like wine. Those same people spent vast amounts of time on social media. If you’re a UK wine professional, instead of complaining about price rises or the uncertainty of Brexit, start thinking about how you can produce content for the end-user in a way that matters to them, on the platforms that they spend their time on. Do your bit to generate interest in your business. I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Check out my work and let me know how I do!


Don’t Judge A Book By Its Cover | The Alsace Notebook

Posted 20/6/18 for

On return from his trip to Alsace Sam explains why you should start thinking about trying Alsatian Wines.

The roads in Alsace wind up into the rolling foothills of the Vosges Mountains and all you can see is expansive green fields stretching out into the distance as far as the eye can see. The architecture is notably Germanic and brings life to The Brothers Grimm fairy tales with their gingerbread houses. Numerous times throughout its history Alsace has flip-flopped between being French and German and, as such, has a distinct identity all of its own; “I’m Alsatian first, and most definitely French second,” Eric, Master Sommelier now working in London, told me.

It’s hard to travel to the region and not be blown away by its beauty and swept along with their culture of Haute Cuisine and breath-taking wine. But stop a man in the street, and he’s unlikely to be familiar with Alsatian wines; show him the tall, thin bottles they come in, and he’s bound to tell you ‘it’ll be too sweet for me, that!’

That’s the thing about Alsatian wines; those in the know adore its complexity, the breadth of styles available and are often evangelical about their qualities. However, those who have yet to discover the wines of the region are so easily put off and are missing out on so much! Though, it is hard to blame them for they know not what they do… or something like that.

Vins Alsace, the overarching trade body in charge of the wines of Alsace, have a lot of work to do to bring their wine to the people, and this was the purpose of my recent visit to the region along with 20 or so other wine professionals from the UK. Yes they released a new logo, yes there was a big wine tasting, but the main aim of the trip was to wine, dine, schmooze and amuse us until we too fell in love with the region, so that we could come back and tell the UK how awesome it is, in the hope that you may listen and go out and buy some of their wine.

Well – at least for the first part of their plan – it worked! I can’t claim to be a convert as I have always been a fan of Alsatian wines, their lesser-known grape types and their food-friendly nature, whether it be the fresh, zippy Rieslings or the luscious off-dry Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminers. But, having now experienced the region first-hand, I am certainly ready to tell anyone who will listen about the wonders of the land that lies between the Vosges and the Black Forest.

My main piece of advice to anyone who may be looking to give Alsatian wines a go is simply to have an open mind. Forget the German-sounding sugar juice that your father gave you on your 18th Birthday, and don’t be put off by grape types that you have never heard of before! Like I said, Alsace has such a breadth of styles available, that there really is a wine for you, no matter what usual preference, and that makes the region truly unique.

Next time you’re looking for a dry, crisp white why not go for an Alsatian dry Riesling that has plenty of fresh citrus fruits and not an ounce of sweetness? Or for your next curry night, why not take an aromatic Alsatian Gerwurtztraminer? With its delicate rose petal character, you won’t be disappointed. Or if you’re feeling particularly brave, go for something you might not normally, like a Sylvaner or Pinot Blanc and you might just find your new favourite hidden gem.

It can be difficult in writing to truly express how a wine tastes, or even to put forward such a compelling case for a single wine or region that the reader is desperate to try it. But let me assure you that there is an Alsatian wine out there for you, and let me allow the beauty of the region speak for itself, and if that doesn’t peak your interest and give you the urge to try something new, I don’t know what will!

Wine For The 21st Century | #EnglishWineWeek

Posted 30/5/18 for

In this post, Sam celebrates the quality of English Wine and argues how #EnglishWineWeek should inspire the wine industry in this country to embrace the 21st Century and propel English Wine to the top table. 

Happy #EnglishWineWeek: the dedicated week of the year where all eyes turn to England’s green and pleasant land and, more specifically, to its wines and winemakers. And with good reason! English wine really is something to celebrate and be held aloft as one of the most exciting emerging wine regions of the world.

Of course, it’s Sparkling Wine that has put England on the oenological map, thanks in large part to the likes of Nyetimber, Ridgeview, Gusbourne and Camel Valley, but the still wines are not to be overlooked either! With some great examples of Bacchus, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir coming out of the vineyards of the South East, we’ve got much to be proud about in this country and the potential to be truly great.

There are, however, some hurdles yet to overcome before English Wine can really claim its seat at the top table.

The most obvious of which is, of course, the issue of climate. In simple terms, we could do with being a tad warmer, and not for the sake of a couple more outings of the string vest and knotted hanky, but in order to achieve greater vintage consistency in our wines. Now, I don’t want to get into a discussion about climate and the science of viticulture, there are many who are much more qualified than I to address this. But, the climate will come! Temperatures are rising, viticulture is shifting northwards and we are well placed to be the beneficiaries of these facts, but only in time. So, hurdle number one: the weather. Not much we can do about it, so let’s put a pin in that for now.

The second obstacle I see down the road, however, is something that is within our power to change: image. Now, I am not saying that English Wine has an image problem, but moving forward it’s essential that we get this right. Within my experience of introducing customers to English Wine, I have found that it is certainly a hard sell, with much of the talk being about how ‘great it is to support our very own wine industry’ and how the quality is ‘actually really good’. This can’t be the case. The wine is good and deserves better than to be bought purely for patriotic purposes.

Although still a relatively young wine producing country, English Wine needs to stand on it’s own two feet, shaped by but not entirely defined by its ‘Englishness’ and certainly not by its relation to other regions ie. ‘It’s just as good as Champagne’. So where to go from here?

From what I can see the English Wine trade has a fantastic opportunity to excel. Take a look online and you’ll see that hardly anyone in this industry, home or abroad, promotes themselves effectively online. Take a look at other industries and you see a wealth of engaging content available to consumers: videos, blogs, podcasts, the lot. Herein lies the opportunity: to make English Wine the wine for the 21stCentury consumer.

I don’t mean to make English Sparkling the stuff of hip and trendy Millennials, in the way craft beer has had so much success, but just to use the tools at our disposal to bring the wine to the people, generate some genuine interest, to inform, educate and entertain the drinking public with all things English Wine.

We have the product, the people, and the potential, to effectively communicate the amazing story of English Wine, forge a true identity as the most innovative region in the world, and lay the foundations of greatness for when the climate does us a favour a few years down the line. Leave ‘tradition’ to the Champenois, and let us embrace the future, let us embrace our modernity, and let us give English Wine the image and the global profile it deserves.