Tom Wark has been in the public relations wine business since 1990 and has become a force to be reckoned with. In addition to his promotion of the industry as a whole, his blog, Fermentations, has become for many, a daily reading ritual where he covers the wine business, wine communications and public relations. He is the founder of the American Wine Blog Awards as well as one of the founders of the Wine Bloggers Conference. In addition, Wark regularly appears at industry conferences as a panelist and moderator covering subjects as diverse as small winery marketing, blogging, social media and the politics of wine.
Had you not become involved in the wine industry as PR professional and blogger, where do you think you’d be right now?
Well, first I got involved in the wine industry as publicist, the blogging came later. That said, I’d likely be involved in politics. I investigated politics fairly thoroughly coming out of college. I was deterred from the profession, believe it or not, by politicians and consultants I met with who suggested that life as a political activist or consultant is not the best life…by a long shot. Still, I think I would have found myself in that realm despite the advice. I was saved by wine.
What wine varieties would you like to see the public embrace more fully, and why those specific varieties?
The varieties that my clients produce…for the obvious reasons.
Much has been written and debated concerning the 100 point rating scale. Some say it has empowered consumers, others claim it has distorted wine prices, while still others say it has actually changed the quality of wines being produced. What do you see as being the long term impact of the 100 point rating system?
No system of rating wines that I know of is more consumer friendly. That is, no system is as easily understood by the average wine consumer than the 100 point system. Its ubiquity has meant that more consumers have had the means of examining their wine choices within a context they can wrap their head around. Ratings of wines, including the 100 Point Scale will stay with us for the foreseeable future as the primary means of comparing the astounding number of wines we have to choose from.
Rising wine alcohol levels in U.S. and foreign wines are a hot topic these days in wine circles. What are your thoughts on the subject?
Honestly, my opinion is that I prefer lower alcohol wine for the simple reason I can drink more of it without getting too drunk.
Uniformly, where are the best wines coming from, regionally, within the U.S.? And outside of the U.S.?
I’d say two regions are producing the best wines today: The Old World and the New World. Sorry for the sarcasm. What does “best” mean? When it comes to wine there are objective criteria that speak to what basic characteristics a serviceable wine ought to posses. For example, generally it ought not be oxidized. But this is a low bar, isn’t it. I’ve tasted wines that I simply did not enjoy, did not like, would not buy and didn’t want more of. Yet, they were wines that were hailed as great. Quality is subjective idea. With that said, seems to me you have to work pretty hard these days to find bad wine.
Do wine writers, wine magazines and wine blogs commit a disservice to consumers by over-rhapsodizing about intricacies in wine most consumers don’t care about? (yeast strains, volatile acidity, clone selection, etc.) Or is the minutia about wine nonetheless important to their wine understanding and enjoyment?
Very few people read about wine. Those that do are either trying to learn or are indulging in their passion. The intricacies and minutia is what is really interesting about wine. Writers that explore the minutia of wine and winemaking and drinking produce the most interesting and useful results. While there is room for beginners’ articles and books, they are rarely interesting to anyone that knows much about wine for the obvious reasons.
As a public relations professional in the wine industry, what is the greatest mistake you see that wineries make in trying to promote themselves?
The biggest mistake I’ve seen wineries in particular make is believing that what they are doing is more important or more significant that what other wineries are doing. The release of a new wine is rarely news. The real key to promoting one’s wines and brand is finding some real point of differentiation that the media and consumers will find worthy of note. That’s not an easy thing to do. It takes creative thinking. The other mistake is not understanding that to drive your brand message home it must be delivered over and over and over and over again.
With wine being such a common beverage, why have we still not overcome the punitive legislation which limits wine from being shipped anywhere across the U.S.?
Because the state-mandated three tier system that still exists in most states amounts to government welfare for wholesalers who then use their guaranteed profits to buy legislative favor that results in a number of anti-consumer laws. The idea of state-mandated use of wholesalers is one that communist and Marxist economists would embrace fully.
It seems as if the wine industry is going the way of the economy in that wine prices increasingly show a financial disparity; the wealthy can afford a $100 Cab, while most consumers are dolling out $10 for another Cab. With so many wines on the market from every corner of the globe, can the wine industry as a whole sustain itself in the long run?
Yes it can. And yes it will. The future of the American wine marketplace is extraordinarily bright. The Baby Boomers continue to buy super premium wines. At the same time, the younger generations have and will continue to embrace wine. Combine this with the diversification of the American palate and you see that this will sustain the diversity of wine styles that exist in the marketplace. The wine industry will flourish over the next 25 years with consumption increasing all the way through that timeline.