For the past two years my Twitter feed has lit up on certain Thursday nights with chatter about wine with the hashtag #WFMwine. Yes, WFM stands for Whole Foods Market, and the upscale grocer has been sponsoring Twitter chats on wine once a quarter for the past two years. Whole Foods invites me to participate, and I’ve put out 119 tweets over 6 sessions.
To me it’s a fun way to connect, try some new wines and find out what others think in real time from around the country. The Twitter events are hosted virtually by the Whole Foods Wine Guys, Doug Bell, based in Atlanta, and Master Sommelier Devon Broglie, based in Austin. Full disclosure, Whole Foods provides me the wines as samples for the tastings. Ok so I get something out of this (more than just the wine of course), but I was wondering, what does Whole Foods get?
“It provides a certain amount of validation,” Devon says. “For example, when we did the Protea Chenin Blanc as part of the South African tasting, we knew the wine was delicious, the bottle was absolutely gorgeous. We felt confident our customers were gonna buy it. They came out and bought it in droves but it was great to see on social media the very real reaction from our followers in the tasting.” There were comments about the attractive bottle and equally good wine inside. Some tweeters noted they didn’t realize South Africa made Chenin Blanc.
The bottle is indeed super cool, created by noted South African designer Mark Eisen. And the wine is delicious.
“It’s an opportunity to have a direct connection and a public conversation and I find it fascinating,” Devon says. Doug adds that their hope is to introduce customers to something new in a non-intimidating way. “It gives them a chance to ask any question without being called out,” he says. “It’s a very comfortable medium. I know we enjoy it and I think our customers enjoy it.”
#WFMwine tastings are both virtual and hosted at many Whole Foods locations. Many customers will make a party of the tasting, inviting friends over and cooking special dishes to pair with the wines. Part of the fun is seeing what people are eating and how they’re sharing the wine experience both on and off line.
Twitter tastings have themes, say South African wines, wine from Argentina, wines for the holidays or Top Ten wines. “We’re always looking for great value, representation of authenticity and a sense of place for every wine we’re selecting,” Devon says. It’s not always based on the least expensive bottles, although for the Top 10 Wines, a value oriented selection, “we find the wines we feel really over deliver for the price,” Devon adds.
The Wine Guys do a very good job of curating wines for the tastings. Doug cites a recent wine from the holiday line up called Verse & Chorus, a red wine blend from musician Mat Kearney. “Where can you get Napa Valley Merlot and Cabernet grown at Peju Province right in the middle of Napa in conjunction with John Anthony Cellars for Under 30 dollars?” he asks. “That’s a unique product made with somebody with soul.”
I mention the 2008 H&G Priorat from Spain from one tasting I loved so much that I bought more to take to my family’s Thanksgiving. The wine cost $13.99 Certain members of my family are super into wine, especially expensive Napa Valley Cabs and Burgundies. They loved this Priorat (made from Garnacha grapes, aka Grenache) and couldn’t believe that it not only cost about 13 bucks but came from Whole Foods. “Nice, we to hear that,” says Devon.
Tastings are open to anyone, and you can find out the tasting schedules and what wines to buy ahead of time by logging onto http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/wine. “What’s so phenomenally awesome about Twitter,” Devon says, “is that it’s completely open. We set up the tastings and we start tweeting and whoever joins us joins in.”
Both Doug and Devon note that the Twitter tastings seem to be attracting more people each time. The hour flies by. “It’s getting harder and harder for us to answer the questions ,” Doug says. “For every 20 or 30 direct tweets we can answer maybe two or three. It’s hard to keep up, the traffic is faster.”
The conversation often continues once the Wine Guys sign off. Devon says that customers will also connect with him via Twitter days or weeks later to ask if they can still get those wines or other questions about the wines. “I find that kind of thing awesome.”
The next Whole Foods #WFMwine Twitter tasting is this Thursday, March 13 at 7-8 pm CT (that’s 8 pm for east coasters and 5 pm for us west coasters). In the line up, wines from Italy, all under $16. We’ll be tasting a Banfi Gavi di Gavi, Ruffino Orvieto Classico, Gran Passione Rosso, and the one I’m most excited about, Donnafugata’s Sedara. Pull a cork, pour a glass and jump into the conversation anytime.