The Great and Influential Wine Blogger Confesses

influenceYesterday I spent a little time looking over the recently issued “Top 100 Most Influential People in the  U.S. Wine Industry” after a couple of friends alerted me to the 2nd annual listing by IntoWine.com. The way I know they were friends is that they didn’t smirk, laugh or guffaw when they said I made the list.

I take list making seriously primarily because I know other people do too. Also, the act of ranking things can entail some pretty sophisticated thinking. So, the idea of a Top 100 Most influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry holds interest for me because not only is wine my industry, but it also begs the important questions: What is Influence and How do you measure it.

The person behind the Top 100 Most Influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry is Michael Cervin, a very accomplished writer whose byline has appeared in numerous publications of note. Michael doesn’t really explain how the list was developed or how the ranking was done other than to write: we sought help to assemble this list from a diverse group of people and we are grateful for their input.”

The really big question about this ranking is how do you define “influence” in the U.S. Wine Industry. Michael gets us part way to that answer when he writes that influence is defined as “people who move markets, impact consumers, inspire winemakers, form policy, and create debate.”

I think this description of what amounts to “influence” is incomplete or slightly off base, but it’s a very good start. And with that brief description of how influence in gauged, it’s interesting to look at the top 10 of the 100 people listed:

1. Robert Parker (Wine Critic/Publisher)
2. Annette Alvares-Peters (Costco Buyer)
3. Marvin Shanken (Wine Spectator Publisher)
4. Wayne Champlin (President of Southern Wine & Spirits)
5. Rob Sands (CEO of Constellation Brands)
6. Gina Gallo (Winemaker, Gallo)
7. Jim Laube (Critic, Wine Spectator)
8. Adam Strum (Publisher, Wine Enthusiast)
9. Doug Frost (Master of Wine, Master Sommelier)
10. Matt Kramer (Columnist, Wine Spectator)

It’s a pretty interesting list of U.S. wine industry influencers, I think you will agree, and in large part a good case can be made for its correctness. But, it is beneficial to try to get at what “influence” really should mean.

“Influence” is coveted. It’s earned. It is often wielded in pursuit or in defense of something or someone. Real influence can be so valuable that there are well-defined marketplace where one can purchase influence (or rent it). But primarily, influence amounts to the possession of tangible things such as money, audience, loyalty, access, and intelligence. The real important thing to understand about influence is that to be influential one must have much of one or more of these things than most others and one must be willing to use it.

The idea of listing in order, then, the Top 100 Most Influential People in the U.S Wine Industry must really be evaluating who possess the greatest and largest pile of these tools and who wields them most effectively. When you look the top 10 listed above with this in mind, you start to understand why some should belong in the top 10 and why some may not.

But to sum up, I know this list is bogus and incorrectly devised. I know this not merely because of my own ranking at #50, but more importantly because of who is listed behind me. Today, a couple thousand people will read this blog post. However Jay Sung, CEO of Lot 18 (#100), will put a great wine offer in front of hundreds of thousands of people. John Hinman, Partner at Hinman & Carmichael (#98), will make a legal defense for very powerful companies that will impact the future of their businesses and thousands of their employees. Trey Beffa, owner of three K&L Wine Merchants stores (#93) will introduce wine to thousands of wine lovers online and in his stores and will help the futures of numerous wine brands. Bill Foley, Founder of Foley Family Wines (#92) will oversee a  winemaking empire that spans continents and is responsible for the production of nearly 1,00,000 cases of wine.

But I do want to thank the couple thousand people who will read this blog post.

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47 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - February 7, 2013

    Yes, it does become important to know how exactly a list such as this is devised. Still, considering that the top ten includes large-scale buyers/distributors and celebrity names, they likely rest exactly where they should in the pantheon.

  2. fredric koeppel - February 7, 2013

    Only 10 bloggers on this list and for four of those (Heimoff, Gregutt, Asimov and Tanzer) blogging is an outgrowth of their extensive magazine or newspaper work. You and the others certainly merit a place on this list, but i wonder if there’s an indication here that the large majority of wine bloggers — granted a deeply fragmented phenomenon — are considered insignificant, either individually or as a conglomerate function in the industry.

  3. Tom Wark - February 7, 2013

    Frederic, that would be one legitimate way to interpret the number of wine bloggers on the list. And it is an interpretation that is backed up by the folks on the list that rank behind me, yet most certainly should not.

  4. Michael cervin - February 7, 2013

    As the writer and compiler of the Top 100 list it’s my obligation to respond to your post. I agree, and heartily disagree with you on several points. Your assertion that you take these kinds of lists seriously I agree with. Having written about the wine industry for 15 years (some of the top wine mags in the world, my book California Wine Country, a wine judge on two continents, blah, blah, blah) I sought out the advice and input from wine industry people across the globe, some of whom I know personally, some of whom I do not. I compiled an extensive list and began to weed through it based on a uniformity of opinion from these people, up to and including you, Tom. And I take my work seriously. Ultimately the responsibility of ranking people is mine, and it is a difficult and frustrating experience. Unlike some writers who dash off their text as fast as possible – I think deeply about it, occasionally waking up in the middle of the night wondering if I am off base.

    Is the list ideal? Hardly. Any list of any kind will of necessity be imperfect. After all, one person’s opinion, or an entire group opinion, is never law. Is it “bogus? Absolutely not. Bogus would imply that this list was compiled for pure marketing reasons without regard to, or any consideration of, who is actually on the list and their ranking on it, quite possibly by someone who doesn’t know the industry they are writing about. But I do know the wine industry.

    I fully expect people to disagree with some of the rankings, and trust me, as a fulltime writer I receive my share of hate mail, nasty emails and more. But bogus? Careful consideration went into my list and the placement of people on it. I am fortunate that IntoWine, for whom I have written for a number of years and who commission this list, was hands off. They have no agenda, and frankly, neither do I. Case in point. Many people get pissed off that the large multi-nationals are on the list, and yes, you may hate the distribution system (please read my commentary on each of the people listed – that will explain much), but you cannot deny they move a lot of wine. Many people abhor Parker, but he, and not they, move markets. You Tom, and folks like Joe Roberts and Doug Frost also move markets, but in a different, more subtle way.

    I have taken great pride in including a wide diversity of people, many of whom rarely receive recognition, but who steadfastly work outside of the wine spotlight to make wine more available to the masses and who truly have an impact on the industry.
    Your assertion that my list is “incorrectly devised” might very well be true, for I am a writer with opinions and to rank 100 people will be fraught with difficulty: how does one separate #50 from, say, #49? But your assertion that it’s incorrectly devised because of your own ranking causes me to wonder about your own ego. Lot 18 might very well put a wine list before their subscribers, but that does not mean they will take Lot 18’s advice (and for the record, with Jay only recently assuming the CEO position and the issue that they laid off nearly have their work force and are undergoing tremendous changes, they certainly should be further down the list until they prove themselves). I was traveling in Crete with Joe Roberts last year covering the wines of Crete (my first list was already out, Joe was already on it and I only just met Joe in the airport in Crete) and he too was surprised that he was so far up the rankings. His ego told him he should have been further down. But he didn’t belittle the list – frankly he and others take it for what it is, but nonetheless use it to promote their own work. For if the wine industry supports itself, then it’s a better world for everyone.

    Agree with me, disagree, read the list in its entirety, and comment as you will, but unless you know me personally or have any factual understanding of what I go through to make this list, calling the list bogus is not only ignorant, but also makes me wonder exactly how you desire to influence people.

    • Paul Mabray - February 7, 2013

      Michael, +1 to your comments. Building lists is series of hard work and no matter the criteria, they always receive comments and criticism. Don’t remind me about when I ranked the most influential wine bloggers or wine iphone apps. It is hard work and while many may disagree with the criteria or where people rank, there is no question that the 100 people on that list greatly influence the wine industry. Keep up the great work.

  5. 1WineDude - February 7, 2013

    For me, the list has omissions that I find glaring, but as both Tom and Michael have pointed out, the key is essentially how influence is defined. Weight some of the factors in different ways, and likely a different list is born, and positions are shifted, etc.

    Having met Michael as he noted in his comment, I’ve no doubt that a lot of hard work went into forming and reforming the influencer list. Can use it to make my next $1M? Doubtful. Can and should it be a point of discussion as a quick-stop, point-in-time snapshot of the current U.S. wine biz? Absolutely.

  6. harvey posert - February 7, 2013

    michael, tom and fredric:
    c’mon, it’s fun! there could be a hundred different lists and there’d all be controversial. it’s part of an industry which is large enough so many can get an international reputation but small enough to know most players at least by name. but the importance of bloggers is still not clear and including none has relevance.
    harvey

  7. Thomas Pellechia - February 7, 2013

    So Harvey, and Michael, too, what is the reason for compiling a list?

    Who benefits from knowing where someone sits in a list of influentials?

    Who is the list aimed at?

    Explain why a consumer should care about a list?

    Without reasons, why a list?

    • harvey posert - February 7, 2013

      well, thomas, i said it was fun….and names and grapes are what we have. as a person who deals with names as a business it has been important and insightful for me to have seen bob mondavi then and fred franzia now move their ways up the lists because recognition made their ways to success easier.
      harvey

  8. Tom Wark - February 7, 2013

    Michael,

    Thanks so much for weighing in.

    First let me say this, the only evidence I have that the list is bogus is the discovery that my name is on it and that’s why I put this statement in the same paragraph where I address my own inclusion. Perhaps that phrase is a bit inelegant. Yes, It probably is.

    That said, I really do love the list and can’t really imagine the effort it took to undertake the its compilation. You are to be thanked and marveled at simply for producing it and giving us all something relevant to think about.

    When I read it, after shaking my head that I was on it, the first thing that came to my mind was the process and with that, the meaning of influence. It’s a fascinating subject to me.

    I didn’t mean to imply that the list was meaningless. Nor did I mean to imply anything really negative about the list—other than the inclusion of my name on it.

    I started to think about how I might go about re-arranging the list to suit my own view of the industry. Then I thought, how do I measure influence? I couldn’t figure that out, despite thinking that I know what amounts to influence. So, any criticism of your ranking probably needs to come with an alternative to your own method of ranking (surveying different folks and your own intuition). I can’t think of one.

    So, my apology for implying anything other the bogus inclusion of my own name on the list and that it is a fascinating and provocative project.

  9. John Cloutman - February 7, 2013

    I learned 35 years ago, as a sound engineer and producer for a wide range of musicians and venues, that when it comes to the audience, it’s impossible to please virtually everyone. I think the same goes for lists – the maker of the list opens him or herself to criticism both constructive and otherwise, and I think just in doing so there is a level of respect that is warranted . The folks on the list have also done the same, and as such I think both Tom and Michael deserve a thumbs-up for their work, and the discussion which ensues could be a measure of the impact of both the list and its honorees.Rather than drill down into the minutia of how the list was made or who merits which position on it, in the grander scheme of things, I applaud you both for your respective parts in it. The resulting dialogue is fascinating and that in and of itself makes both your efforts worthwhile. Good work!

  10. Thomas Pellechia - February 7, 2013

    Thanks, Harvey.

    Fun is one reason for a list.

    Is that the reason for this list, Michael?

    I ask the question because, while I know that a list of influential people can have an effect on PR and marketing, and while I recognize the human proclivity for ranking, I don’t know how this list benefits the consumer.

  11. Mike - February 7, 2013

    i agree with Tom P. Why not just produce a list without rankings? Who needs numbers? Numbers create controversy. It’s obvious that everyone on this list has influence within the wine industry and can/should be recognized without a number attached.

  12. Marcia Macomber - February 7, 2013

    Gentlemen – As no one’s yet asked, I’ll jump in: Why so few women? I’m not getting picky or expecting a 50/50 split, but I only counted about a dozen of 100. Really? Even I can think of a few more influential women I didn’t see on the list.

    –Is it because women’s buying habits aren’t a measurable result of someone else’s influence? (But they are upwards of 75% of consumer wine buyers.)

    –Is it because there are so few women in the C-suite?

    I could be wrong (as I’m not taking the time to check), but I thought there were many more women on this list last year than this year… (Sigh.)

  13. doug wilder - February 7, 2013

    I agree with Tom P and Mike wondering how this list benefits the consumer. Obviously everyone included here is accomplised and contributes to certain sectors across the whole industry and I applaud that. However even with my long background in wine, I could only recognize 73 of the 100 names. I imagine most consumers would be familiar with 5, or 10 if they follow wine at all and seeing these names would likely not add much more credibility than what already existed, it didn’t for me. No list is complete or without controversy, but like you Tom, I would dutifully question the authenticity of a best of list that included me :)

  14. Clinton Stark - February 7, 2013

    I like the list. I also like Tom’s write-up. Why does it need to “benefit the consumer”? Oh vey, they get to drink wine. Isn’t that good enough already. It generates interesting conversation as evidenced by these comments. As for rankings with numbers, yes! It makes life more interesting! Leave the socialism to things like healthcare, domestic content requirements (hi, CBC), and love-ins.

  15. Doug Frost - February 8, 2013

    Since I’m on the list, I probably have no standing in this discussion, but like Tom I shake my head in wonder that I am on the list (actually, unlike Tom, since folks read him frequently and I wonder that I am read at all). But Michael is offering his view of a sort of longitudinal slice of the industry and if you’ve seen his list before, it’s always interesting and conversation provoking, which is, I suspect, half the intent. As he has suggested, the rankings are not necessarily the point. I don’t know his methodology, but it is a sad fact that women have not yet been given a fair shake in the industry, particularly if you look at the testosterone poisoned distributor channel.

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  17. Tom Wark - February 8, 2013

    Michael doesn’t need to create a list that appeals to consumers for it to be interesting. God knows, if that was the criteria for interesting, or even useful, I’d have to call into question 75% of everything I’ve ever published on this blog.

    • Fredric Koeppel - February 8, 2013

      It never occurred to me that this list was intended for consumers. Surely the goal is to reach the wine industry in many aspects — producing wine, distributing wine, selling wine, writing about wine — and inform it, though research and judgment, about its own character. When you look at the list from No. 1 down through No. 100, the basis seems to be this: Who sells the most wine or has the most influence on the drinking and buying habits of consumers.

  18. Marissa - February 8, 2013

    As someone in the wine industry I find it interesting to compare the people on the list to the people in my head who are influential. It also allows me to read about people I may not be familiar with and what they are doing.
    What is constant about it is that at the top, the people really haven’t changed in a while.

  19. Thomas Pellechia - February 8, 2013

    Tom,

    Perhaps, Tom, but I;m not suggesting the list needs to be for anyone in particular. I’m trying to find out for whom the list is intended. It seems to me to benefit the PR/ marketing world, which is not a complaint, just an observation. But if blogs are trying to appeal to consumers rather than just industry people, well…

  20. Tom Wark - February 8, 2013

    Tom P..

    I hear what you are saying. And not ALL blogs or blog posts are trying to appeal to consumers. And I don’t necessarily see Michael’s list as appealing primarily to the “PR/Marketing” world, though it could be used in the service of PR and Marketing. And this could be said about nearly all posts on blogs or consumer articles. The other day I saw a wine column that recommended a wine from a client represented by Wark Communictions. Let me promise you that the review will be re-purposed for PR and Marketing.

    Again, despite the mistake of including me on the list, the list itself represents a survey of sorts of the state of the U.S. wine industry. Nothing wrong with that.

  21. Michael Cervin - February 8, 2013

    So, everyone asks…why the list? You’d need to ask Brad Prescott, of IntowWine. He asked me to write and compile it. As for my intent, yes it is to provide a foundation to discuss a snapshot in time, yes it is to get feedback from consumers and industry alike. Who is the demographic? Frankly, whomever wants to read it. And my hope is that people actually READ it, not gloss over names and scan until they find a name they recognize, but to find out what exactly is going on in this industry. Are there omissions? Certainly, but that is not by design. Are there people who I wish were not on the list – yes! But these 100, and clearly many more to help define our wine culture. And let’s be honest: lists are part of our cultural fabric – most everyone likes a top 10, “Best Of,” and whatnot. If you read last year’s list you know this is not writ in stone, nor was I handed divine information from on high. But I was handed, by some of the most widely respected bloggers, PR folks, restaurant owners, Somms, winemakers, and winery owners a list of names. And to Tom’s earlier point, no the list is not part intuition. We can factually determine who is influential – and yes – if someone else wrote this list it would be very different indeed. But for now it falls on my shoulders – and if you hate this list, just wait till March when my Top 100 Winemakers list comes out! Ultimately I’m thrilled with the comments, all manner of them, because it gets people motivated to write their thoughts. And I’m thrilled to be in the wine industry, an industry I love and when I see the breadth of people involved in turning grape juice into potent grape juice, well, it’s pretty damn cool.

  22. Tom Wark - February 8, 2013

    Michael:

    You wrote:

    “And to Tom’s earlier point, no the list is not part intuition. We can factually determine who is influential”

    As I wrote elsewhere, it’s this issue of measuring influence that really interests me. I think I know what defines influence, but I get stopped in my tracks when I imagine how I might develop a formula for measuring it—which would be necessary to creating a ranking.

    If I understand correctly, you reached out to a significant number of folks in the industry and ask them who they believed wielded influence. Was there more to it than this?

    The thing about influence is that it can be directed and wielded very quickly if you have the tools to do it. for example, were I to dedicate $5 million dollars to changing alcohol laws in 5 important states, I likely would be pretty successful. And based on the importance of different types of alcohol laws to create the contours of the marketplace, the effort would undoubtedly make me among the most influential in the industry. More importantly, I could probably do this without any fanfare at all.

    • Michael Cervin - February 8, 2013

      After weeding through massive amounts of names, they all need to then be vetted by additional research, which I conducted by looking at sales numbers, subscription factors, positions of authority and trying (my best) to determine if their influence can be measured tangibly. Someone might be a well known name, but that does not mean they actually influence anyone. By way of example I chose John Hinman because, though few people know him, his influence can be measured by his success within the legal field to open wine markets and change legislation. Greg Jones is certainly unknown by most everyone, but his influence can be measured by his standing in the industry as he demonstrates that climate change is and will have an impact on the wine industry. His climate mapping across the globe is impacting how and where people are choosing to plant grapes.
      And on another note, there are 13 women listed here, in case that matters to anyone – it doesn’t to me.
      And for now, I’m heading to San Francisco to hopefully “influence” others at a wine judging, open to the public, and one where the public votes too. And that I think is the current way of things, everyone has a voice and all input is considered.

      • Marcia Macomber - February 8, 2013

        But I’m curious why only 13 women of 100 influencers rose to the ranks in the list. Is it simply that there are so few women in the industry. I’m not criticizing; I’m hunting for best guesstimates on why this figure is so small.

        • 1WineDude - February 8, 2013

          Marcia – I suspect it’s a reflection of just how far behind the times much of the wine biz is right now. :-(

  23. William Allen - February 8, 2013

    I already did a rant about this on my FB page…I have less of an issue that only 4 bloggers made it, as opposed to seeing Joe Roberts (whom I have no beef with at all) within 1-3 ranks of Jon Bonne’ and even worse, Eric Asimov.

    Influence to me = reach. This list is ridiculous….but I felt less bad when I read a previous article and also saw their top ten CA wine bucket list…

    never heard of this site or read before, never will again.

    the most sad thing is how many hits the site has gotten from people saying how ridiculous the article was.
    Sigh.

  24. Tom Wark - February 8, 2013

    William, William, William….

    We make lists. We always have and about everything. We do this, and read them, I think because humans appear to be a categorizing species.

    There’s nothing really wrong about Michael’s list, other than the primary problem I’ve already pointed out.

    Reach=influence. Yes and maybe. I think you mean that influence can be measured by how many people one’s message reaches. This then comes down to what a “message” amounts to. Take Micheal’s example of John Hinman. John’s message doesn’t reach too far beyond regulatory hearings, court rooms and offices. But the impact of his and other prominent alcohol attorneys can be pretty significant.

  25. Rob McMillan - February 8, 2013

    Tom –
    Congratulations on your ascension. I am proud to make any list. It proves if you talk enough without drooling, someone might listen. But I’m reminded of Carl Marx great nephew Groucho Marks who said: “I would never belong to a club that would have me as a member.”

  26. Thomas Pellechia - February 8, 2013

    “We make lists. We always have and about everything. We do this, and read them, I think because humans appear to be a categorizing species.”

    Gee, Tom. You just called me inhuman ;)

    Lists are as useful in my life as the 100-point rating system. The last time I followed baseball stats…nah, I’d better not age myself.

    If, however, I am in the business of hiring an industry mouthpiece; then, I’d want to know who has influence. I’d want to know exactly what kind and how extensive the influence, which this particular list, by the nature of its lack of specific direction doesn’t approach.

  27. Greg - February 9, 2013

    Congratulations Tom! Its always nice to be in the conversation among peers, bottom line…

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