Q&A with a wine influencer: Randall Grahm talks about social media
In the first of a Q&A series with social media actors of our Top 20 wine influencers, I have asked Randall Grahm to tell us about his success on Twitter and other platforms.
Randall Grahm is an enormous personality in the world of wine and one of the greatest figures of American winemaking History. His story did not start with the Internet, let alone social media.
In the early 1980s, while the ‘Sideways’ (2004) movie writers were probably enthusiastically trying their first Merlot wine after reaching legal age, the man started producing wine at Bonny Doon Vineyards with the conviction he was going to make “The Great American Pinot Noir” in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.
History and climate proved him wrong, but passion and dedication would have been big enough to allow him to bounce back and pioneer the “Rhone Rangers” movement on the same estate. In 1984, he released his first wine based on Rhone grape varieties: “Le Cigare Volant”. Both author and wine have since become iconic in the California wine-growing landscape.
Add to his life-long inspired winemaking career a great amount of effort, marketing intuition, a few mistakes, and a dose of franc-parlé (French expression to say one says what he/she thinks) and you have (summarized-only) the recipe to Randall’s fame.
But a few have made great wines. Not many have also made it to become one of the world’s top wine influencers on social media as listed in February 2015.
To learn more about how this happened for Randall, I have asked him about how he sees and manages his presence on social media. Social media changes the way we all communicate with the word. But have our influencers changed the way they communicate with us?
Q: You are ranked within the Top 10 worldwide wine influencer on Social Media, does that mean anything to you?
A: Only in the most abstract sense. It is perhaps of some modest ego-gratification to believe that 300K folks have some interest in what I’m doing. But, being famous is not a particularly high priority for me at this stage in my life. Doing some good work, being happy, taking care of my family, and making enough income to continue doing what I’m doing is much higher priority. B/t/w, I still have absolutely no idea how to potentially monetize my status as an influencer, but I’m soon launching a crowd-funding initiative, so perhaps this status might actually be helpful.
A: I try not to bother so much to do that – takes rather too much time. Others have sometimes defined me in some way – usually as some kind of innovator or pioneer (though I fear I may still best be known for my work w/ screwcaps(!) My hypersensitivity is that I fear that I may still be thought of as someone of great historical interest to the wine biz, but my current work oddly seems to have less relevance. (It’s a pretty noisy world out there these days.)
Q: You have helped the wine community learn and evolve enormously in your career, outside of social media and way before it even existed. Do you now find Twitter is a good way for you to continue serving the wine community the way you meant to?
A: Could be, though I’m not sure. I fear that I may be more appreciated for my sardonic tweets – usually kvetches about insomnia, poor coffee in whatever burg I happen to be schlepping wine, the silliness of some of the questions I entertain at large public wine tastings – than for the sometime thoughtful (and long) essays on beendoonsolong.com.
Q: Has social media influenced your work: the way you make wine and the way you talk about it? Has it encouraged you to communicate a certain way because you knew your audience on these specific channels would like it and share it?
A: It certainly hasn’t changed the way I make wine. (If that were the case, all would be lost.) Though maybe I speak too soon. One of the things that I anguish about is that “real” wine, that is to say, a wine of place, is something that does not particularly conduce to being expressed or shared in the short form. It is not necessarily a wine that works for people with an extremely limited attention span. A wine with a showy/goofy/playful label seems to be a more appropriate product to promote through the relatively superficial medium of social media. But here I will contradict myself: We are currently producing a wine called “A Proper Claret,” which does have a slightly subversive/comical label. This is probably a great wine to promote to a younger audience through social media. But I am still utterly ignorant about how to really use social media in a systematic way. I am also not a particularly organized, systematic or disciplined person. I really could use a lot of direction in how to implement social media in a more performative manner.
Q: Social media is very time-consuming. How do you deal with it on a daily basis?
A: I’ve never done a cost/benefit analysis of the ROI of all the time I spend on social media, and I’m sure if I did I would be horrified. For the record, I don’t personally do Facebook or Instagram, but exclusively Twitter. I tend to regard Facebook as more or less evil, and Instagram maybe more than a bit superficial, though people tell me that it’s very useful. But Twitter does seem to be quite cordial to my own power alley – the ability to occasionally generate short, witty aperçus that have a slight glittery sheen to them. I like Twitter for who knows what deep psychological need. I certainly can’t justify the time that I spend on it, unless I think of it as at least some measure of stress reduction, analogous to the time one might spend at the gym or in psychotherapy.
Q: Do you learn from the feedback given on social media? If yes, what? How is it different from what you would learn meeting people in person?
A: I’m not sure that I’ve been particularly adept at garnering feedback from social media. But this is not to say that I have been utterly unsuccessful in using social media to progress to deeper levels of communication with people, not just customers. I’ve acquired some very meaningful “real” friendships through interactions on social media, as well as occasionally created some business opportunities as well. Ironically, (as you may have guessed), sometimes it’s a lot easier to connect w/ people via the Bat Signal of Twitter than through other more conventional means like the telephone or e-mail. To this end, I’ve made some great corporate wine placements as well as located wine distributors in other countries.
Q: And lastly, do you think we will continue seeing you influencing the wine community on social media in the same way you have so far within the next 10 years?
A: Most likely you will, though who knows? BDV as a company (as will all wineries who hope to stay in business) will need to acquire some younger customers as our older ones die out, and it is certain that social media are a key to driving some of this business. We are hoping to really get a lot more serious about our DTC business, and most specifically, to bring new (and old) customers out to our farm in San Juan and provide them a “real” rather than “virtual” experience. But I think that social media might well be an interesting way to communicate the most interesting details of some of the distinctive things that we are doing, and encourage customers to take a closer look.
Further information about Randall Grahm is available on Wikipedia.
Some of his wines are available online on Wine-Searcher including:
Find below Randall Grahm’s book: Been Doon So Long (2009) where he answers questions like: “Where in wine does “greatness” truly repose? How might true originality in New World wines be found? Do New World winemakers have the integrity and courage to unreservedly embrace terroir?”