Wine expert and PR agency owner Laura Donadoni about misleading concepts, honesty and organic production.

Have you ever bought a product, that you were thinking was special? But can we always trust what is written on the label?

Laura Donadoni is an international certified sommelier, wine judge, journalist and PR agency owner answered on 5 questions about possible marketing traps which you guys sent me on Instagram.

1. Which are the signs in order to understand that wine is bs in the USA?

In general the more information there are on the label, the better.

The EU regulation is stricter in what should be stated on the label, but for both, for foreign and domestic wines I look for at least these information:

  • a) grape varieties (what),
  • b) appellation or AVAs for USA (where),
  • c) if it is estate bottled (it means that the grapes are actually processed by the winery, not by a third party).

Usually, wines with bright, fancy labels with little or no information on it (maybe just “red wine”) are what I consider “bs” wines: you don’t know what is in there, who actually produced the wine and where, does it sound right? We care so much about where our apples or tomatoes come from at the grocery, but we don’t care about how and where is our wine produced? Even which grapes are in there?

In the same category, the BS wines, I include the ones marketed with misleading words or concepts: on the market there are hundreds of shady products, like “clean wines”, “fit wines” (aimed to be less caloric than regular wine), even “alcohol free wine” (the latter should not be considered wine at all!).

The “clean wine” is marketed as no added chemicals, no added sugar, sustainable farming (or organic and biodynamic), all good things, but what may be the consumer doesn’t know is that these are the standards of 90 percent of the wineries in Europe, for example. They are selling you just well crafted old-fashioned wine as “clean” and you pay extra for that “clean” meaningless title when you could easily pick up a bottle by yourself at the wine shop meeting the exact same criteria.

The key is knowledge: learning how wine is made and checking whether or not a winery fulfill the minimal standards for quality is free and cheaper than “clean” or “fit” wines.

2. How to promote wine without using marketing tricks?

We know that honesty and marketing not always are good friends, but I think that if a winery focuses on wine education and on providing valuable information about its philosophy and winemaking techniques it will pay off in the long run. I see that transparency is the best choice if you look for consumers who trust you and come back to your products over and over. This is basically what we call brand reputation.

3. How to understand if wine influencer really likes wine or just promote it for money?

The wine influencers, like all the other influencers, are required by law to indicate when a post is sponsored with the hashtag #adv or #paidpost or in any other visible way. But, let’s be realists and honest, the majority doesn’t do it.

I can tell by the tone of the post: sometimes it literally sounds like a commercial to convince you and it is not linked to a true real experience in life. I don’t do paid posts, I think it would compromise my credibility as a journalist.

In general, I can suggest looking for the credential of the influencer:

  • who is this person?
  • Does he/she know about wines?
  • Does he/she have a degree, write about wines, teach classes, work in the business? Or he/she talks about wine like it could be lipsticks or any other product?
  • Are his/her posts informative? Or just: “babe, drink this, it’s delicious”?
  • Do you learn something by following him/her?
  • Do they tickle your curiosity about wines?

I am more keen to follow the wine advice of a knowledgeable person I can learn something from, than the ones of someone with a beautiful Instagram feed, but meaningless content.

4. Is it true that you can buy high points from critics? If so, whom to trust?

I don’t know whether this is true. What I know for a fact is that critics of accredited and prestigious magazines can’t accept gifts or paid trips from wineries, but it is a practice confined to everyone’s conscience. The matter with the scores or points is that the renowned magazines accept a limited selection of wineries to sample and it happens that are always the same big guys in the mainstream. If you look at the last 5 years best wines of Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, you will read the same names, with a few exceptions. There is a whole world of wines that are not scored by critics but are much more worthy to be discovered. So, instead of asking myself if I can trust the critics’ scores, I trust my own curiosity and look for something different. Today, with the internet, we, consumers, have this freedom.

5. Is organic wine is worth to buy?

If it is a good wine yes! What is misleading is the assumption that organic is better. There is no guarantee or proof that an organic wine tastes better or worst than a non-organic one. It’s also a tricky definition because it changes depending on where the wine is crafted: in Europe the regulation to be certified organic is different from the US. Sometimes EU organic wineries can’t display the organic seal on the label because they haven’t gone through the certification process in the U.S. (an expensive process, provided by private agencies).

So, again, how can you tell if the extra dollars you are paying for “organic” are well-spent or not if the term organic itself has different definitions worldwide? Generally speaking, they all agree on fewer pesticides and chemicals in the vineyard, but if the neighbors’ farmers are spraying all sort of poisons? In the EU you can’t be certified organic if this happens, in the US yes. I can tell you the majority of the wine produced in Italy, for example, is technically organic, because of the strict regulations about the denominations (DOC, DOCG) and the EU requirements. That being said it is a personal choice, but, again, no evidence that organic means higher quality wine.

Certificated sommelier from Italy | Journalism&communication | Rome-New York