22 January 2016

the seven sins of wine and social media

It's that time of year again. The Loire salons are approaching, and with them, the annual tempest of facile social media emissions recording an infinity of superficial encounters between historical wine cultures and contemporary social media. We're all guilty: journalists, sommeliers, retailers, importers, distributors, even a few winemakers.

Every gesture on social media is necessarily an advertisement for oneself. But there's good advertising and bad advertising. Bad self-promotion is wearisome and slowly turns us against the perpetrator. When we engage in it ourselves, it can turn us against the wine industry as a whole, which in dark moments can resemble a festering cesspit of forced enthusiasm and transactional endorsements.

In the interest of elevating the general discourse, I've assembled here a list of seven things to bear in mind before hitting "Share." You could call them the Seven Sins, but the list is assuredly incomplete. (Before anyone points it out, I'm no saint myself.)

1. Unimpressive or Inventorial Bottle Shots

Bottle-shots, like terroirs, are not created equal. If you encounter pre-WWII Burgundy, like Paul Wasserman, well, damn, that is cool, fire away. But a bottle of current-vintage Pfifferling or Ganevat that is only rare in your home state? Such images only highlight the elastic nature of luxury.

If you are using bottle-shots to create a visual timeline of literally every bottle you open, you are probably succumbing to tedious navel-gazing completist tendencies that will soon leave you friendless and alone, scrolling through your own bottle-shot timeline at 4am.  At any rate, crowd-sourced wine apps like Delectable and Vivino have largely superseded the bottle-shot timeline. (I rarely use either app, except as a spiteful exercise to stump their recognition software.)

Most importantly, we should consider the meaning of the bottle-shot when unaccompanied by text. Are we speechless? What, then, differentiates us from our clients, if we, the somms, the retailers, the wine writers, the bottle-shot transmitters, continually appear to be rendered speechless by the bottles we encounter?

A caveat: I appreciate that for business owners, bottle-shots are often helpful to alert clientele that a given wine is in stock. But save it for the dedicated business account. Constant business promotion on ostensibly personal accounts removes the public/private ambiguity that defines social media and in doing so deadens the communication.

What can redeem a bottle-shot? Excellent composition. Or humans doing something lewd with the bottle, although that is not always appropriate for a dedicated business account.

Some guy called Chauvet, yammering on about Chateau Rayas.

2. Longwinded Tasting Notes

Good tasting notes should be inventive and concise. Even two sentences is pushing it. Haikus should dwarf tasting notes.

3. Indiscriminate Photobombing of Winemaker Visits

30-year-old vines ! Guyot training ! Vats! My advice to anyone visiting anywhere is to pick just a few salient, unusual features of the winery in question and speak about those in your social media posts. It is numbing to be shown every grain of dirt. Long, detail-oriented reportage should remain the province of blog posts or magazine pieces, not scattered, scatterbrained Facebook / Instagram / Twitter posts.

If by posting a skewed imagine of an anonymous fiberglass vat, you mean simply to alert followers that you were there, why not just do a sky-shot?

4. Sky-Shots, Unless the Sky is Falling, Or At Least Burning

I'm sometimes guilty of this. Essentially all sky-shots do is transmit to followers that one is somewhere. They're like a cross between checking-in and screen-savers, and about as interesting as those two things combined.

A sky-shot can be redeemed if you say something extra-perceptive about it, or if, amid the clouds in the sky-shot, a hapless figure can be discerned, falling to earth.

5. Hashtag Blizzards

Hashtags allow for easy searching and categorisation of our social media emissions. By their nature, they acknowledge an awareness that our utterances comprise publicity - that we seek the greatest audience possible.

If our ambition for an audience is visibly more important, as measured in length, than a given message itself, it drowns the message. The message becomes no more than an advertisement for ourselves as a billboard space.

5b. Meme Shills

Someone with as much academic somm-guild accreditation as, say, Pascaline Lepeltier is probably entitled to pass off all drinking as "#[insert grape variety]study." The rest of us look like ponces trying to intellectualise drinking, often without actually saying anything intelligent about what it is we're drinking. This particular hashtag, in its common usage, also often furthers a troublesome, New World ideology of approaching wine via grape variety, rather than via regional culture. (To her credit, Lepeltier as often as not mentions regions in her studious hashtags.)

The hashtag "#winelover" is utterly vacuous and has no place in any discourse outside the realm of a speed-dating profile. On second thought, it would be funny if the content of posts thus tagged were actually pornographic, involving rotund, hairy winemakers, and their bottles. But I expect we'd soon tire of those, too.

6. Tagging Humans in Images Depicting Food and Wine (Reverse Transubstantiation)

I appreciate the value of alerting our friends that we returned to a restaurant where we once ate together, or that we drank their wine with other mutual friends, or that we are disseminating an image of something we all consumed together.

But getting tagged as "appearing" in photos of food and wine is irritating, because such images soon fill one's profile, leaving the uncomfortable implication that one is, physically, a handsome cassoulet, or a half-bottle of riesling, or a piece of sashimi. (As much as one was, physically, present at one's college graduation, or in one's wedding photos.)

In Catholic practice, bread and wine become Jesus. On social media, we become bread and wine.

A viable workaround, if one truly must alert those absent of the circumstances at hand, is to tag them in comments, or in the status update / Instagram post text itself. For example, if I were to dine at Saturne on the recommendation of quasi-fascist Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán, I might subsequently post: "Amazing meal at Saturne - thanks Viktor Orban for the rec!" There is no need for me to tag Viktor Orbán in the accompanying image of veal tartare.

7. Self-Congratulations in the Guise of Thanks (Humblebraggadocio)

"Such an honor to have been invited to bathe with Jean-Pierre Robinot in the Chenin vat he's going to bottle tomorrow."

"So honored that Queen Elizabeth personally decanted the 1981 Overnoy at my gentle suggestion."

"Truly humbled to have the opportunity to help this noble, struggling peasant winemaker and his starving family by pouring his rare wine by the glass at my bar in Brooklyn this week only."

I don't know when it became socially acceptable to declare oneself "humbled." To me, getting "humbled" implies one was sort of being an ostentatious dick about something before becoming "humbled" by events. Icarus was humbled by the sun. Donald Trump will be humbled by demographic realities, though chances of his acknowledging it are slim. To import a famous winemaker's wine is not humbling, unless one hates the famous winemaker's wine, and was forced to import it only due to economic hardship or physical intimidation.

The word "honor" should probably be limited to major awards, like MacArthur Fellowships or Nobel Prizes, or to major crimes, like honor-killings. It almost never has anything to do with wine.


With that, let me just say I am honored that you, dear reader, have read this far. Here's to paralyzing self-awareness in the New Year.

Related Links:

My old money-making idea never took off.
Perhaps I should look into working with these guys.


  1. Really Christoffer? F**k me, your standards must be low - this has to be some of the most turgid writing this side of the Hosemastub*t*r.

  2. No need to make enemies with perfectly decent & respectable people. You need to tone it down; i.e. do not use physical Instagram examples.

    1. hi xander,

      i thought about not including real examples of the tendencies i mention in the post. but finally i decided to, out of a general feeling that anything we post on social media is fair game. to pretend otherwise is kind of naive.

      i agree that the authors of all the exampled cite in the post are perfectly decent & respectable people. i'm friends with most of them! why do you assume they have no sense of humour?

  3. Love it! :D
    Congrats, Beckustator