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The Vinfluencers we deserve

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I’ve been around long enough to remember the fiery and vitriolic Vinfluencer affair of late 2020, including the notorious ‘Wine Bit*h’ lampoons published pseudonymously by a popular British wine personality. For many months, cantankerous commentators took to Twitter to bemoan the content, substance and ethics of a new breed of online wine communicator residing primarily on Instagram. The affair was denounced by liberal spokespeople as reactionary and misogynistic, a desperate effort by anachronistic gatekeepers to drown out ‘fresh, accessible voices’ who might finally unlock the lucrative millennial audience the wine industry had supposedly failed to attract. Whilst some of this resistance surely had ill intentions, at its core the underlying objection was perfectly sensible— behind the auspices of accessibility, vast swathes of the content churned out by ‘online communicators’ was woefully dull. Nevertheless, brandishing objectors as untouchables forced capitulation, and criticism all but ceased for fear of being banished from civil society. Four years later, Instagram is awash with enthusiastic vinfluencers desperate to demystify wine, make wine ‘accessible’, and educate the great unwashed. These pay-for-passion advertisers promote whoever bids the highest, offers the most gifted bottles, or hosts the most extravagant complimentary dinner. Unsurprisingly, despite many years of vinfluencing, Gen Z and Millennials are still not drinking wine—at least not as much as their parents and grandparents did. 

It won’t surprise any thoughtful observers that these vinfluencers have failed to engage the very audience they claimed had historically been excluded by the unfashionable red trouser brigade. Sanctimonious rehashed Reels instructing how to decipher a wine label, open a champagne bottle, or select the perfect poolside rosé; revelatory bargain industrial plonk from discount supermarkets; synchronised advertising campaigns for regional consortiums or multinational conglomerates; and docustyle footage of arduous days tasting countless wines they’ll almost certainly never buy. The whole thing reeks of inauthenticity, and the numbers speak volumes; one popular British vinfluencer regularly fails to top fifty likes per post. Even ‘popular’ posters struggle to muster more than a couple hundred likes, often preferring to hide their like counts than reveal struggling numbers to prospective clients.

The truth is, the entire argument was demonstrably claptrap. Millennials aren’t shunning wine for lack of influencers revealing its many wonders in a unique digestible format. Just as tea, coffee, and beer distracted seventeenth-century drinkers, broader changing trends have the same influence on contemporary consumption, not least the recent phenomenon of shunning alcohol altogether. Millennials simply have more choice and varied preferences, and whilst the wine industry may have failed to effectively diversify its marketing outlets, it is entrepreneurs, sommeliers, importers, and savvy producers making the most headway in correcting that, not vinfluencers.

Jonathan Alphandery (Planque), Alex Pitt (Lower), and Honey Spencer (Sune) have all created new spaces for people to discover wine. Keeling AndrewPenzerThatcher’s Wines, and GB Shippers place established and emerging producers in fledgling restaurants and popular wine stores. Holly Wilcocks (Mountain), Rory Eaton (Ynyshir), Hannah Giles (Kol), and Jan Van Heesvelde (The Ledbury) seek out exciting new wines to present to guests in the country’s best restaurants. Tom Myers (Cantina D’Arcy), Lara Rocchietti and Luisa Sala (Lalu), Philine Dienger, and Chiara Condello produce outstanding wines, connect with new drinkers, and all now allocate their entire production without having given away a single bottle to online influencers, instead opting to select collaborators carefully, produce their own authentic social media content, and build relationships with passionate wine enthusiasts and hobbyists, who ironically, produce the most-viewed and liked content on Instagram. 

All these years later, having recovered from the reactionary upheaval of early 2020, it’s time for brands, marketers and commentators to quit entertaining the promise of connecting with lost millennials by sponsoring humdrum vinfluencing, and instead partner with hard-working, authentic, and passionate enthusiasts with whom they can build meaningful relationships at the coal face of selling wine—including influential online voices like Amanda McCrossinCharlie Fu, and John M. Jackson. Perhaps then, we might propagate more effective vinfluencing truly suited to helping wine buck troubling generational trends. Until then, we’re stuck with the vinfluencers we deserve.

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