You walk into the wine shop to buy a bottle of Champagne for New Year's Eve 2011. Greeted by a wall of unfamiliar brands you whip out your iPhone 5Gs and start scanning bar codes on the bottles. Your browser pops open with pages of reviews and commentary about the producer and vintage. There are dozens of reviews on CellarTracker and just as many posts on wine blogs. Quickly you make a selection and head off to the party.
This is not a guess of what's going to happen in the future, it is what is going to happen and is in fact happening now. The technology exists and it's in use. What you won't see on your phone when looking for recommendation will be scores from publications like The Wine Spectator and The Wine Advocate. Their data resides in "walled gardens" and you have to pay to see what they think about that bottle of Champagne you wanted to buy. At some point they will be faced with offering their content for free or, as mentioned in my previous post, sliding into oblivion.
The biggest threat to the point porn of traditional print wine media has to be the model employed by that IT wizard of the wine industry Eric Levine and his CellarTracker website. There some 89,000 users have posted over 1 million wine reviews. Instead of ratings from a "wine expert" those who visit CellarTracker can often get dozens of reviews on a single wine from people who taste wine just like they do. Sure there are worthless notes from people that don't have a clue, but they are overwhelmed by those that take their comments on CellarTracker very seriously. This is a powerful resource that is comprehensive, free and available to anyone, anywhere with an Internet connection or a smart phone in their hand.
Wineries themselves are taking things into their own hands instead of just rolling the dice and hoping for big points in The Wine Spectator or The Wine Advocate. Notably Murphy-Goode with Hardy Wallace and St. Supery with Rick Bakas hired on as full-time new media hired guns have been aggressively following new marketing paradigms. Recent travels by Bakas showed the future of wine marketing as he did "Tweet-ups" around the country gathering small groups of wine lovers together to directly hear the story and taste the wines of St. Supery. Certainly such direct contact generates more consumer brand loyalty than just getting points and placing an ad in a wine magazine. When there's not a good reason for a winery to place an ad in a wine magazine that's big trouble for the wine publishing industry.
This confluence of technology, new marketing techniques and the growth of consumers that prefer to get advice from their "friends" rather than experts upon high spells trouble for the big wine media of today. They are just not needed in the same way anymore - by both the consumer and the producer. It's safe to say that in not so many years the big glossy wine magazines will go the way of Gourmet Magazine. This will happen not because of the quality of their content, but because the market has changed around them.
Oddly enough the 100 point scale, which built these established wine publications may be what they need to abandon to stay alive. Rankings, points and tasting notes will be easy to come by and free. What will be needed, and worth paying for, will be real wine journalism and wine writing. Great reporting and quality writing are things all to rare and people are willing to pay for things that are rare and precious.