I recently had the opportunity to put a few questions to Julien Miquel, of Social Vignerons, which I regard as revenge for Julien having put me through a similar thing not that long ago. Here are the questions I put to Julien, and his answers (obviously – it wouldn’t be very interesting if I just listed the questions now, would it?).
Can you summarize who you are in the world of wine and what your wine blog Social Vignerons does?
I’m a qualified winemaker turned wine writer and blogger from the South of France. I studied winemaking in Bordeaux among some of the top estates there, for example Château Margaux, but I wanted to learn how to make fine wine outside of the French borders. So, I travelled and lived making wines in some fascinating areas such as Toro in Spain, the Tuscan coast, Kangaroo Island in South Australia, Sonoma and a few more. That was before I worked at Wine-Searcher.com’s headquarters in New Zealand for six years, and decided there I wanted to share my passion for wine with the world, via the digital space. Social Vignerons aims at being a platform not only for sharing my passion for wine, but also for wine industry players and aficionados to contribute to the common knowledge.
When did you start blogging and why?
I launched Social Vignerons in December 2014. Three years ago, already, it feels like yesterday! I needed an outlet to share my personal views and thoughts about the world of wine. I felt too often when I experienced something, wine-related, a special bottle, a place or something else, memories of that experience were only alive in my mind. Blogging was a way to share the knowledge: was this wine any good, or this winery worth visiting? What I’ve always loved about wine has been the sharing. When I was a winemaker, what I loved was sharing my skills for transforming grapes into a fine wine with the people that tasted my production. Unfortunately, in the digital space, I couldn’t find a job that would let me utilize the full potential of my passion and knowledge of the product, even working for the biggest wine website on Earth. So, I had to create my own outlet.
Why the name ‘Social Vignerons’?
Vignerons, in French, are wine growers that not only crop their own grapes, but turn them into wine under their own label. The term is generally associated with passion, and with brave and hard-working individuals who at some point in time chose to leave the cooperative wineries or the big négociant houses like in Champagne, and come out to the market with their own production. I once wrote an article about the underlying meanings behind it: what’s a vigneron – wine term definition. But I found too many growers were too busy in their vineyards and at their winery to share their stories online. One of Social Vignerons’ goals is to help them share more through the website and my own channels, and to be more ‘social’ in that sense. And I do consult for wineries on how to communicate better via new media.
What topics does your blog cover and what’s the angle to your writing?
Wine is fun, and is for most people a small fraction of their lives. Moments of relaxation, of tasty experiences and sharing. There is so much other serious stuff to worry about, that I find wine should always be kept and presented simply, preferably in an entertaining manner, even when communicating complex knowledge. So, I try to infuse authoritative, verified, and often scientific knowledge (I am a biology scientist by training) into readable and approachable articles that hopefully anyone can learn from without getting a headache. As a couple of examples, I wrote about sulfites in wine or the aromas in Pinot Noir in a way I think anyone can understand, both the scientific truth but also the subjective perceptions behind those topics. Social Vignerons has educative articles about wine, but also interviews of wine personalities, winery profiles, wine reviews and scores, and a few other things. It’s pretty broad, perhaps too much so!?!
You live in France, but are you interested in wines from other countries too?
Yes, after Bordeaux I travelled to several countries around the world and made wine there. I wanted to understand, live and feel the passion of wine people in different regions, and in different languages. I worked as a winemaker in Spain, Tuscany, California, Australia and New Zealand. So, I find I can emphasize with the wine culture on different continents. I like to share these views and write about many different wines. The French often tend to forget there are great wines made everywhere. I like to highlight the passion and quality that exists in many areas.
How did you build such a large following on social media?
Mainly through Twitter, and to a lesser extent Instagram. I spent an enormous amount of time on these platforms, sharing and engaging. Initially, I curated and shared popular content that I’d find on the web, often creating or reviving virality from content that had been forgotten or missed. This brought me a lot of attention especially as I was one of the very first to do this at scale on those platforms around the topic of wine. Then as I developed Social Vignerons, I progressively switched to creating and broadcasting my own content. It’s fine to share other people’s creativity, but one also must bring tangible value to the community.
How do you see the future of wine on the internet?
Wine is a market of niches. So social media and the digital space are particularly suited to the industry. The new media allow producers to find and communicate easily with the people their story. It’s no news that social media and new technologies are changing the world. Many wine people don’t see this happening yet in wine. I actually think that the world of wine will benefit from new ways of communicating even more than other more-concentrated industries. Direct-to-consumer, both in terms of communication and in terms of sales, will eventually dramatically change the way we consume wine and content about it. People want to know what’s behind what they swallow. Wine is an easily traceable food product, so the industry will take advantage of the powerful story-telling tools that now offer digital media.