Q. What do the chateau owners of Bordeaux have in common with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister of Turkey?
A. Like him, they – or at least a fair number of them – fear and hate… Twitter.
Until quite recently, the Bordelais made use of fairly straightforward lines of communication when they wanted to tell the world about their latest wines. They simply showed them to a select group of merchants and critics who generally spread the word in a more or less predictable – and controllable – fashion. The merchants were a polite bunch who may have grumbled privately about prices but knew that, if they wanted to be sure of getting the next – possibly great – vintage they had to buy this – rather less attractive – one. And being overly critical of something they would have to sell made little commercial sense.
The press were rather less easy to manage, but a mixture of charm and hospitality – including the opening of a few choice older bottles – generally kept them on side too. They may have questioned whether the miraculous September really had rectified the damage caused by a cold rainy summer, but they rarely rocked the boat too vigourously.
Crucially, with the exception of less than a handful of globally-visible critics, few enjoyed an audience that extended beyond a small group of wine buffs and professionals in their own countries. Information also moved far more slowly. British Bordeaux buffs, for example, had to wait for weeks until Decanter had converted its tasting notes and marks into a glossy magazine.
Blogs and newsletters brought more immediacy, but it was Twitter that really changed the game. Almost overnight, news and views could be spread instantly and virally. Tasting notes appear on line almost as soon as the spit hits the spittoon – and the most interesting, and controversial, tweets are spread across the planet in a way that is as unpredictable and uncontrollable as the weather.
When producers were quoted in the French press as describing Chinese buyers as “stupid enough to pay the high prices” of the 2010s, the comment was picked up within hours by British bloggers whose tweets were translated into Mandarin and read by Chinese buyers who were not entirely pleased to be treated as fools. Punishment for the Bordelais came in the form of canceled purchases for those 2010s.
This year, comments by chateau owners about “a conspiracy by UK press to destroy the vintage” are coupled with teeth-clenched anger about Twitter. The favourable online chatter that appeared on the platform in 2009 and 2010 were acceptable; the negative response given to the 2013s and their pricing is evidently not. I can – almost – sympathise with the victims of all this criticism; nobody likes to hear uncomplimentary things being said about them and what they have done. But I’d sincerely recommend that they keep their anti social media feelings to themselves if they don’t want them to be spread – like this post – online, through the very same means of communication they so fear.