Wine EX: A Ground Breaker Goes

It would be easy to easily suggest that "magazines come and go in the wine industry" in a cavalier fashion. But the fact is, magazines rarely come to the wine industry. When they do, it’s a big deal. It was a big deal when Wine X came to the industry.

Wine X promised to deliver Generation X to wine marketers. With it’s somewhat irreverent attitude yet deathly serious proposition that wine needs to be fun, it delivered that audience.

Now Wine X Magazine is officially done…gone.

In my nearly 17 years in this business I’ve never come across a media project as controversial as Wine X Magazine. Much of that controversy resulted from the attitude, broadcast always across the cover as "Wine, Food and a Slice Vice."

When Wine X Magazine first started publishing, its creator Darryl Roberts was inundated with folks who seemed to want to see him die. No one had treated wine the way he and his magazine did. The attacksRoberts
were motivated by the idea that wine is serious business, that it should be treated as such and anyone who dared strip away the veil of conceit was probably a miscreant who needed some manhandling. In fact the attacks on the magazine were very similar to this position, taken from a Letter to the Editor writer at Decanter Magazine positioned below their story on the demise of Wine X:

"Wine is, and should remain, something to which young adults can be
encouraged to aspire – as a right of passage into the next phase of
their adult development. Even if successful, attempting to make wine
‘cool’ to the so-called X-ers will result in wine becoming distinctly
‘un-cool’ to them as they mature and the risk is that they will be lost
for ever."

This is exactly the kind of elitism that Darryl saw throughout the industry and attempted to combat and prove wrong with Wine X.

Roberts took it all in stride and found various opportunities to shoot back at his critics.

When some thing goes away that has been around for a while we are prone to attempt to assess its final value. What did it contribute. There is no question that Wine X forced the industry to at least consider there was a different way to market to young adults. That question is no longer even asked. It’s assumed to be an important question and the focus is on how to do it well.

I also believe that Darryl Roberts unique method of reviewing wine had a profound influence on wine reviewers. Darryl. regularly compared wine to Rock Stars gone bad, scantily clad women with berries in their bosom and other cheeky but always entertaining ideas. Today, the review of wines with pop culture allusions is commonplace.

Wine X Magazine always used the XXX Scale to rate wines. He didn’t think the 100 point scale made any sense at all. If you want to understand Daryl Robert’s ironic side, all you need to do is take a look at the page on his website where reviews once sat and see where he is pointing folks for reviews now.

Along the way, Wine X produced some magnificent reading that often led to scandalous and fascinating ideas. You can find many of the articles here.

If you know Wine X magazine you may or may not have enjoyed it. But don’t ever think it didn’t make a difference.


13 Responses

  1. Jack - February 20, 2007

    Ah, but I never met anyone who read this magazine. I’ve never heard anyone praise it. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. (There’s a pattern here.)
    I did go to one of their events in Tampa about 9-10 years ago. Never needed to do that again.
    Perhaps marketing industrial wine to an advant-garde crowd didn’t succeed because the people weren’t fooled?
    Sorry for sounding harsh or mean, but I’m surprised it lasted as long as it did.

  2. Bnapa - February 20, 2007

    Unfortunate…however their effort will not die in vain. The “establishment” of wine will eventually become deadly serious about one thing…There is a tsunami coming to wash away the facade that they have so carefully crafted…and they can’t do a god damn thing about it. Stay Tuned…

  3. Morgan - February 20, 2007

    There is still a huge place in the market for a magazine about wine with a casual fun approach! Its a shame Wine X went down the path they did, but check out a NEW publication looking to take their place and do the job EVEN BETTER!
    The Second Glass – wine within reach
    We are a new publication and would LOVE to hear your advice on how we can take everything Wine X did well and do it better and anything you think they lacked and try and do that too!

  4. mommysalame - February 20, 2007

    OH! I AM SO SAD! I loved WineX Magazine. It took the snobbery out of wine reviews and actually spoke in a language I could relate to. Sometimes I tend to feel left out of wine reviews because the commonplace words they use to describe things, I do not instantly “get”. WineX made wine cool to drink and not just for the elite. It also encouraged me to spend a little more for better stuff because it was WORTH it, not because it would make me look more sophisticated and wine-educated.

  5. Tyler - February 20, 2007

    I think everyone can agree that Wine X was a great idea. Removing the pretentiousness and snobbery from wine is not just a good idea, but its essential for the industry to grow.
    Having lived in France, I saw how wine wasn’t just for the elite or for people who consider it a hobby. Wine is integrated into all people’s lives. Even people I knew who didn’t drink, could still name regions and varietals better than the average American.
    The expensive, rare wine is made for snobby and pretentious people, and I’m fine to concede this class of wine.
    Wine is meant for the people and no better market than the young generation. Get these people starting to drink and enjoy wine now and they will be life time drinkers.
    With that said, Wine X had a great idea and they came up with it a decade before the market started shifting towards young people.
    However, their execution left much to be desired. While attending the Boston Wine Expo, I explained to wine makers, importers and distributors the concept behind my magazine, The Second Glass. Nearly every one of them brought up Wine X Magazine and no one had good words for it.
    They didn’t complain about the idea, on the contrary, they loved the idea of a wine magazine for young people.
    They complained that the wine reviews made no sense. “Marilyn Manson kissing a cloud,” is how one wine maker’s beverage was described. “Ring around Parker Poise,” is how another wine maker quoted me.
    In addition, Wine X tried to be a lifestyle magazine, with TV stars and Pop stars on the cover. Although this might sell a few more issues, I feel it confuses and drives readers away.
    Lastly, their distribution was only via subscription. I have spent the last few months attempting to obtain a copy of the periodical and with no avail.
    The reason I started The Second Glass is the same reason people started Wine X (actually, I only learned of Wine X while writing my business plan and doing market research). Young people are drinking more wine than ever before and there is little or no information available for them. Learning about $75 bottles from wine spectator might improve your cellar, but most people under 30 don’t have a cellar. Or if they do, it’s 10 bottles under their sink.
    The Second Glass is the wine magazine for the new wine drinking generation. We want to make wine more accessible to all people and explain things in a down-to-earth manner. We have no intention of glamorizing wine, but simply explaining it and having fun with it.
    We’re sorry to see Wine X go, but the idea will stay.
    Tyler Balliet
    President, Executive Editor
    The Second Glass

  6. Tim - February 20, 2007

    I think Wine X died because they didn’t track with Gen-X but stayed with 20-somethings who are the Millennials. They just don’t read print as Wine X learned the hard way.
    Note to Mr. Balliet: Continue to build your online presence and phase out providing content on crushed trees.
    Tom: I’m half surprised you didn’t claim wine blogs killed Wine X…

  7. tom - February 20, 2007

    Wine X had a pretty cool on-line presence! However, I do know one thing, If Darryl Roberts wanted to start a wine blog, it would be a KILLER wine blog that many current wine bloggers would find themselves reading every day and trying to keep pace with.

  8. Ruarri - February 21, 2007

    In my opinion this is more of a medium vs. message paradigm. The message was right, but he couldn’t have been more off with the primary medium he chose to communicate it. Personally I haven’t subscribed to a magazine other than Decanter and Wine Spectator in 5 years. To try add another magazine to that heavyweight category was either brave or plain stupid. I think in these days of global warming and mass deforestation, the last thing the world needs is another physical magazine. With banks and corporations going paperless and switching to electronic-statements and PDF, its not a long before the Green crowd broadens their criticism of SUV’s and gas-guzzling and focuses their critical lens on the mass-wastage caused by daily-newspapers and magazines. We live in a world that is becoming waste-conscious, and once media tools like the iPHONE, Treo and Blackberry replace the ordinary cell-phone there will soon be no excuse to not switch to digital for news and culture consumption. The only time I ever read a physical newspaper is on the subway, because I don’t have a palmtop (something I hope to change.)
    As Generation X grows older, the Millenials and echo-boomers are storm. We’re linked in with friends from afar and close through digital communities and our tastes for media consumption change everyday with Digg, there’s nothing we can’t find the answer to with Wikipedia and there’s virtually nothing we can’t have access to (except wine online.) Wine X failed because it’s a magazine, and their target market is already decreasing their consumption of magazines. Mr. Roberts’ assertion that the wine industry is stuck in the eighties is rather amusing, considering he himself seems to be deeply entrenched in the nineties. Y2K never happened and whilst we spent our last days in the nineties scared of what would happen when the bios clocks hit 2000, we could never have known how drastically the world would change.
    I speak for myself, but I feel that this is true amongst many other millenials: I want to be hooked in, I want to learn something new everyday, I want to exchange ideas and I want to interact with the media I use. Having grown up around the wine industry in South Africa and now being in New York as a part of this exciting industry in this rapid and exhilarating time I can’t help but feel that Mr. Roberts was wrong. There is a great opportunity out there, someone just has to have the balls and the vision to grab it and make it happen. You can’t immediately interact with a magazine. You can’t connect with other readers of similar interest with a magazine. You can’t order wine directly from a magazine. You can’t watch videos and have unlimited access to all the audio-visual you could possibly wish for with a magazine. Magazines are a static medium, and we’re an electric generation. Thus I’d have to concur with you’s post from today – Wine X’s failure was due to the fact that it didn’t live up to its promises, and the Wine Industry evolved before it had the chance to…

  9. Erwin Dink - February 21, 2007

    I may have more years in the bag than the target market but as a tattooed, earing wearing, goateed, gadfly yoga instructor I was thrilled when I stumbled on Wine X. I live for true alternatives to anything. Unfortunately, it only took a couple issues for me to be turned off by this poseur magazine. Yeah, some of their wine writing was good but they blew it by focusing too much on celebrities and non-wine topics like cigars and music. There was nothing authentic about their editorial voice or stance. I so much wanted them to be what they were decried for but in the end they were just another glossy ad vehicle pretending to be hip. I thank the goddesses that there are so many truly alternative voices in the wine blogosphere.

  10. tom merle - February 21, 2007

    Facing both indifference and hostility, Darryl himself seemed to grow more hostile with each passing year, with a kind of oak chip on his shoulder. He had nothing but disdain, to cite one example, for the Wine Market Council.
    Yet he was a pioneer, who stayed true to his vision that emerged about the time that Wine Brats did–though I think there was some antagonism there as well. He long outlasted Wine Brats (where is Jon S. today…)and made a difference in advancing the place of vino in our society. [the most effective wine evangelist of the past 40 years, Parker and WS notwithstanding: the great Curmy–Jerry Mead]
    Yes, the Internet, as well as the unreceptive MSW world finally did in Mr. Roberts. But all of the XY Gen critics of his medium, putting aside the way he delivered the message, have to answer the question: how do you make any real money staying only online? What’s the business model, just Google ads? With the rise of digital vanity publishing, i.e., blogging, anyone can now be a WineX.

  11. tom merle - February 21, 2007

    Further to my post, Tim is right: no amount of fine tuning an ~offline~ mag will prove profitable. WS, WE, Decanter, W&S, WN, WQ, W&F and all the lifestyle publications that cover wine like Sunset, plus regionals like Wine Country here in CA, have sewn up the market. Moreover, irreverance, with the possible exception of the Onion, just won’t generate enough interest to lure in the advertisers regardless of the topic.
    I come back to my question, if you are left with a docking station in cyberspace, how will you produce any revenue? Sell the product out the side door? Ad revenues just don’t seem adequate.

  12. tom - February 21, 2007

    Ad revenues can most definitely make an online business, such as a wine blog. All you need are eyeballs. I guarantee that if you attracted 100,000 unique visitors monthly to your blog you could make at least $4000 per month. That’s about $50K per year.
    It’s possible. Lot’s of things are possible with strong content and a lot of eyeballs.

  13. Joel - February 22, 2007

    Here’s a thought…
    As exemplified by what Ruari gave as examples, maybe what he thought was “cool” actually wasn’t cool.
    Seeing as how “cool” is a relative term. many people think Steve Jobs is “cool”…most of those people are in tech. I think he’s a smart, forward thinking nerd with a company that makes slick products that are easy to use. I’m willing to bet most of my friends outside of tech don’t think Jobs is “cool”. And to me, WineX was not “cool” but actually poorly executed and all it succeeded in doing was lumping anything that smells like the same concept into a pretty crappy stereotype.
    “De-snobbifying” wine doesn’t mean condescending and it doesn’t mean un-interpretable BS (which is another form of being condescending).
    So execution fell down on two points – not taking advantage of all forms of content distribution that made sense for the target demographic and not messaging correctly.

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