I try hard not to rubbish the competition. It’s counterproductive, bad form and generally rude. So I try not to do it. I really do.
But sometimes that means biting my tongue.
Like the time that one of our retail competitors “discovered” Quevedo Ports and started importing them to the UK boasting about how their business model allows them to “fund” winemakers. An obviously bogus marketing gimmick – what do they do with the money I and other importers send them other than use it to fund themselves?
The reason for my frustration was that we had been shipping these wines for years; I had no idea Oscar and Claudia were still waiting to be discovered.
Wish they’d said.
I stayed schtum.
And this particular merchant irritates me every time they publish figures. They consistently are loss making. They spend fortunes on acquiring customers through ultra aggressive marketing simply to build turnover. And for some bizarre reason in our crazy society turnover is a GOOD THING. It somehow creates shareholder value.
Mr. Ponzi did a similar thing.
And this business recently sold itself to Majestic for £70,000,000. I say sold itself because the fella who created it is now in charge of Majestic.
I stay quiet. I assume I’m the only one thinking these things; it’s a popular company after all. Customers rave about it.
But then this week I read an article by a proper wine writer, David Williams who writes for the Observer.
I am not alone after all so here is his full article….
I’m always hesitant to write about Naked Wines. The company – bought, lest we forget, for £70million just three years ago – presents itself as a kind of outlaw, or at least outlier, in the trade, a plucky underdog breaker of norms and taboos, and the single-handed protector of the struggling small vigneron.
All of which is obviously nonsense for anyone with any knowledge of the workings of the wine trade – or who has made even a cursory inspection of the Naked list.
But, like a wine-retailing answer to Katie Hopkins, you get the impression that Naked is very much of the “all publicity is good publicity school”; that it doesn’t matter what you say about it, so long as you’re saying something; that they’ll say anything, no matter how sketchily related to the facts it may be, to provoke a response.
So, for that reason alone, I’d generally rather say nothing. As, indeed, have most of my wine-writing colleagues for most of Naked’s existence. We don’t tend to write about their wines because, as one very high profile wine writer said to me at a recent Majestic/Naked tasting, “their whole thing is really annoying”.
“Why would I bother with tasting them”, he went on, “their pricing is so bloody complicated, and unless you’re a member or angel or whatever they’re called, the prices are ridiculous.”
Amen to that. But it’s not just wine writers who don’t get on with Naked. One might even ask if anyone – with the exception of those working for the company (and even then you wonder) and those poor consumers still taken in by its coupons and convoluted membership schemes – has a good word to say about them.
There will be even fewer positive words now, in the wake of what I suppose we have to call, in the modern style, Nakedgate. For those of you not active on the hellsite known as Twitter, Naked managed to finish the job of alienating the wine-writing community with a deliberately provocative piece of marketing copy that told consumers not to “trust wine critic recommendations … they need to seem useful, or they’ll be out of a job! So they invent trends and get paid to push you toward certain wines.”
The push back was swift, with the Telegraph’s Victoria Moore making the point that “paid wine critics is a small enough group for the statement to be libellous”, and critics from Jamie Goode to Tim Atkin and Matthew Jukes pushing for an apology that Naked boss Rowan Gormley eventually issuing an apology and charitable donation.
If you’re feeling cynical, like Jukes, you might say that the £1,000 Naked paid to the Benevolent was a small price to pay for getting wine writers who have studiously, actively ignored the brand to give it the oxygen of publicity, even if it that publicity is, ostensibly, negative.
You might even feel that Gormley has played the wine-writing community like Putin or Trump: that this provocation got them talking about his brand in a way that Naked’s wines never had.
All of which is perfectly plausible. The trouble for wine writers, however, is that – again like a piece of Putin or Trump propaganda – in these situations some mud always sticks. And the very intensity of the response – the “how dare they?” of so many wine writers – has some people asking if there isn’t an element of truth in what Naked says.
So is there? Well, yes and no would be my answer. I’m not being evasive. The truth is that the wine writing field is full of grey areas. I can’t speak for my colleagues, although I suspect, like me, they’ve never been paid to write about a specific wine. But we all accept samples, we’ve all been on paid-for trips, and we’ve all had lunches and dinners with winemakers.
How much that influences the wines we come to write about is very much up for debate. Speaking personally, I hope that it doesn’t. Certainly, the vast majority of wines I write about come from tastings hosted by retailers, importers and generics where each wine has an equal chance to shine. I call in samples rarely, and always with a purpose – if I want to write about a specific region or grape variety for example – and always from a variety of suppliers. In the end, however, it all comes down to trust. But then isn’t that the same for any journalist on any subject?
In any case, for me the real irony of Nakedgate is that it comes at a time when wine writers’ importance is at its lowest ebb since the UK wine boom began in the 1970s. As Moore said, there are fewer and fewer paid wine writers, and their influence, drowned out by the ever-growing cacophony of online voices, is dwindling by the day. Viewed at in this context, the wine writing community’s reaction to Naked’s casual slur may be only partly down to being offended at the suggestion that they might be in the pay of Big Wine. Could it, rather, be an expression of regret that the days when they might actually be worth paying are now firmly in the past?
Oh and by the way, our “retail” price for Quevedo Ruby Port is £12.20. Just saying….