Felicity Carter: «Wine blogs changed the whole wine media landscape»

The Wine2Wine Business Forum is the Italian Industry Forum entirely dedicated to the Business of Wine. Drinks+ became an official informational partner of the event this year and today is publishing the interview with Felicity Carter, who on 18th of October gave her speech on historic perspectives on wine blogs.

Alongside with other 11 world-recognized experts of the field, Felicity Carter has recently joined a new international project – Wine Travel Awards, where Drinks+ Communication Media Group became a co-organizer.

Felicity Carter, Biography

Felicity Carter is the Executive Editor at The Drop, the content arm of Pix. Previously she worked for Meininger Verlag, Europe’s biggest wine and spirits publisher, where she built Meininger’s Wine Business International into the world’s only global wine business magazine, with correspondents from 30 countries and subscribers in 38.

Before arriving in Europe, she wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers in her native Australia and is now an occasional contributor to The Guardian USA. She is an international wine judge and speaker, and editorial consultant to Liv-ex, the London-based fine wine exchange.

Ms. Carter, tell our readers about your presentation, why did you choose this topic, why do you think bloggers are important for wine and tourism industry development?

I am Felicity Carter, I am the Executive Editor of Pix, and I was asked by Stevie Kim (note: Stevie Kim has launched and now coordinates a series of new initiatives connected to the Vinitaly brand) to present on history of wine blogs, which she was interested in and I knew that this topic would be very interesting. But when I started to research, I discovered that wine blogs changed the whole wine media landscape. First of all, it happened because blogging was about personal experience, it was about how people felt about things and that wasn’t what wine media did at that point. Wine media was about reporting about big regions, big producers, famous producers. And wine bloggers were very interested in smaller produces, smaller stories. So, by the way, when they started to choose these stories, they opened up the whole wine landscape, the one that we have never seen before.

Do bloggers have value for wineries and wine tourism right now? What is your opinion, do bloggers help to promote not only wines themselves, but destinations?

First of all, blogging has changed. Now we would say wine communications rather than blogging. Now we would talk about people who are on Instagram and people who are on Facebook, for older demographics, and now there is a hybrid emerging when people move from Instagram to blogging, to Facebook, to mainstream media, so there is no single type of communicator anymore.

It´s very difficult to talk about wine tourism because the World has changed so much. So, everything I´ve said about wine tourism refers to two years ago, but certainly social media are extremely important, and not so much for big companies, but they are very important for the small ones. So, for people who manage smaller business, it is certainly a brilliant tool.

What do we know about wine tourism at the moment? Foremost, we know it became risky because there have been sudden outbreaks of Covid-19, and everybody became affected by that. It became difficult for overseas tourism. So, the thing is tourism, wine tourism particularly, became all about domestic tourists. And that is interesting because many wine regions of the world have never cared about local market, they cared about overseas market. So, what we see in a lot of places now is that people, who are responsible for the wine tourism and destination´ promotion, they started thinking about their own people for the first time. And that is quite interesting trend.

In the professional community, the transformation of wine tourism models to digital has been recently discussed, and social media are a big part of it. Do you see strategies for how wineries, wine tourism enterprises can make it smoother?

There are always so many things that they could do! There is a great social media involvement, but the thing in wine tourism is people want to come and they want to touch it, they want to meet people, they want to participate. So, in a way, you can make all of those experiences in a virtual format, but people should take as many advantages as possible. And now, we have been living digitally for 2 years and people want even more to come and experience things by themselves.

Felicity, you joined the Wine Travel Awards as a jury panel member, do you think the project is capable of helping to restore the wine tourism offer, as the project has a hybrid format helping businesses to turn their models online?

The biggest and the most exciting things about the pandemic weren’t Zoom sessions or online tastings themselves, it was all about these small bottles, samples, when people realized that they could sell them to each corner of the world, and it did not cost a crazy amount of money. Now we learned to do such online tastings, when 20-30 people are joining, drinking wines at the comfort of their homes and communicating with the winemakers using digital technologies. And I think this is a true innovation, of which people should really take advantage. That has been a big thing that have changed.

And we have seen some businesses like the 67 Pall Mall wine club in London as a good example of those who completely succeeded during the lockdown and brought a virtual wine tasting to the next level during the pandemic:  they launched face-to-face tastings and when everything was closed down, they started distributing their wines in these small bottles, in parallel trying to find tools to keep the wine fresh. They have been doing it so well, that they have built the entirely new business, business-model, new revenue stream. So, that is definitely a new type of thing people should think about.

Felicity, returning to the online marketing tools, how can we touch a person’s heart by storytelling, by online communications? Can it compete with the real-life communication bringing additional tools to the business?

I know that some companies really dominated online and did very well. Germany and Australia came to my mind, where wineries started telling the truth. They said: “Look, nobody buys our wines, we can´t export them anymore and we need your help. You know we have not got enough people to pick up our harvest, you know all of these disasters have happened…” They started a real talk as people were fed up with glancing shiny messages, they wanted to hear the truth, including information about what wineries experience and how they operate. I think the crucial thing we learnt from the pandemic is that people do not want a fake life. Even if the communication is going through the digital tools, they want a real life, people want to see the truth, they do not want to hear made-up stories.

I love this idea so much. Talking about online communications, do you agree that when we show our true selves, when we are honest, we could connect better to others?

Yes, completely! Honestly, some of the most disastrous wineries’ online communications I have experienced last year were when people decided to use the Hollywood standards and values. They started using scripts, they started trying to be perfect in everything, following someone’s else standard. It was a disaster, really horrible, they lost their authenticity. It was those online communications which already took away some part of human touch, and what is more – those people were not real, they were faking, what made it only worse.

And now a very exciting part, before off the record discussion about the Western and Eastern Europe wine world unification, do you think the wine community can be truly united, do online tools could really facilitate it? Are the Wine Travel Awards too ambitious to have an objective to unify the community?

If you look at the communications of the world of wine, we do have two separate types of worlds. It is something that I have recently written an article about. We have America, which is a very self-contained place, because people very often go to America to sell their wines as there is a good market there. In contrast, Americans have not been great travelers, and when Americans did travel, they tended to focus on France and the Old World. To be clear, there are really brilliant American wine writers and Wine Spectator has always been interested in the New World. And as I said, people always go to the USA to talk about wine. But the rest of the World has been always dominated by the London wine trade. So, London moved out and started to tell everyone about wine, they brought the Institute of Masters of Wine, they brought the Wine and Spirits Educational Trust, Liv-Ex to find wine exchange, Christie’s with their great wine auctions. London really told the world how to think about wine.

But the one group that stayed locked off was those, that previously have been part of the USSR, it was stayed behind by what we called the ´language paywall´ (note: a paywall is a method of restricting access to content), people really can’t get passed through the paywall of language to be part of this bigger wine communication community. And even though in East Europe, there are wonderful terroirs and offer, we have already discovered some great terroirs in Hungary, Bulgaria, but people do not know anything about the Odessa wine region, or don’t know much of Ukrainian wines. They do not know anything about the Crimea wine region, as well as the very historic wines that have been done there, or in the South of Russia, because it has been all locked up behind this wall. And I think for the first time, we started seeing these walls to come down. And this is due to a digital impact, we have begun to come together digitally, and the rest of the World started to discover all these treasures that we might find in the Eastern Europe.

And regarding individuals, if you are a blogger, an influencer from Ukraine, from Russia, maybe you did not have an opportunity to receive a wine education abroad, discover all these wine regions and expensive wines by yourself to form your own opinion, but are ambitious enough to be in a global wine business, could it happen? Will these big parts of the wine world be united one day, with free information flows running between them? A part of one context, one informational bubble?

Of course, yes, I believe in it! And one of the biggest tools that we have got and that is continuously developing is Google Translate, so, everyone could now push their communication in other languages, and I believe this is the only way to make this world united.

And you know I personally noticed some fantastic bloggers, influencers from East Europe, now they are developing their blogs, there YouTube channels. And what I find very interesting some of the people whom I found in ´Eastern block´ actually are very good in telling the truth. They are not full of B.S. as some people are in the West. It is a different tradition about the way you speak about wine, and we find it very fascinating. You know when I speak with Ukrainian, Russian sommeliers they are highly knowledgeable, they really know what they are talking about.

Felicity, and now a personal question: why did you decide to join the Wine Travel Awards, what is your motivation?

It is very simple. I have had some contacts during the wine competition Mundus Vini with some members of the team of Drinks+ and I was just always really impressed by the magazine, organization, its journalists. And I believe they do things with quality and have really great goals on uniting the community, create inclusive opportunities for wine tourism businesses and individuals, such as bloggers, and of course I want to be a part of this ambitious project, I believe in it!

I truly hope that projects like the Wine Travel Awards, whose main objective is stimulating wine tourism development, will receive support on all levels in the future.

And I also want to know more about this part of the world. As I know you do have these very famous brands, terroirs, winemakers, that the rest of us don’t know about and I believe that you are creating opportunities for people to discover this rich offer, to find out about that. I believe for 100% that people will come and explore if you give them this opportunity if you guide them on that journey.