The limitations of Instawines

Picture the scene. You put your key in the keyhole, shove the door with your shoulder, drop your bags and look down. There, beaming up at you, is some relative or friend’s smug postcard with sandy beaches, Piña Coladas and palm trees (or, these days, an in nity pool and a detox smoothie) with a literal or metaphorical “wish you were here” written large.

Maybe no one sends postcards these days, except ironically, and we don’t need them: we have Instagram. While Facebook expands ever outwards and Twitter continues to produce astonishing amounts of content, Instagram has put the image centre stage, appealing to the amateur photographer in us all.

A quick scan through my admittedly trade-focused account shows me images of friends and colleagues hanging out with people more famous than them, checking into luxury hotels, alongside some very good-looking vineyards, and hundreds upon hundreds of wine bottles. For the wine lover, Instagram is a smorgasbord of bottles, labels and tasting sheets.

Almost all the images are either quick snaps of bottles at tastings or carefully curated shots of so-called “unicorn” wines. Rare vintages and top names abound. But one of the paradoxes of wine on social media is that it fares no better than
it does on traditional media. A glossy magazine ad or a personal Instagram shot both come up against the same limitation – you can’t taste a photo.

For many merchants snaps of interesting wines can be an e ective lure. The reminder to customers that delicious wine is out there is a good way to remind them to come into the store. These Instawines provoke desire, and maybe even a sale. Yet that’s largely where Instagram’s usefulness ends. For all the talk of generating income and sales through social media, what it really generates is leads through brand building. I suspect few of us bricks-and-mortar independents have ever had a customer come in asking for a bottle of wine we posted a picture of on Instagram. But use it to build your identity, encourage and promote tastings, events and experiences and it comes into its own.

Whether it’s showing customers a visiting winemaker or a tasting event, or simply a few bottles open for the weekend, this can encourage real engagement and sales by getting people into the store to actually taste. Here, social media is a window to the personality of the business and a reminder that sharing the experience of wine with your customers is still the most e ective way to sell.

It comes full circle with apps such as Vinterest and Delectable. Although they suffer from the Trip Advisor syndrome of people with very different expectations leaving reviews, these have become useful aides-mémoire for customers to log what they’ve been buying and drinking, and whether they liked it. They may even find a few good recommendations from like-minded drinkers, and before they know it they’re writing the sort of sententious tasting notes for which more experienced wine lovers are pilloried.

But, whether in store or at home, with customers, friends or colleagues, there’s still only one way to share wines. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but not a tasting sample and a shared experience. It’s not enough just to photograph bottles, nor indeed to simply stack them on our shelves. Despite the attractions of social media, the real work of wine merchants is still in pulling corks, not taking photographs, something for which I suspect we are secretly grateful. 

Related articles: