The buying and selling of Bordeaux wine each year is a fascinating example of how history and tradition carry on into modern times. It's based upon a centuries-old business practice of wine producers and merchants who had created a system delineating how the wine was to be sold. With each new vintage, the approximately 400 negociants operating in Bordeaux are allocated a certain percentage of the top wines. Prices are based on many factors and are decided upon during the early tastings of the newly harvested wine straight from the barrel during the first week of April. The negociants then sell the wine to importers, wholesalers and merchants worldwide.
Patrick Bernard in the Millesima cellars, left.
One revolutionary Bordeaux negociant is doing business a bit differently. Millésima, S.A. was started in 1983 by Patrick Bernard who began the company by following the usual way of selling wine. But he had always dreamed of running a company that he would’ve liked to have been a customer of and so, after four years, he decided to shake things up and began selling to private clients. Using direct marketing techniques, 80% of the wine they now purchase — from all over the world, not just Bordeaux — is sold online through their website. They also have a big presence on social media, with hundreds of thousands of fans on Facebook alone. Patrick, and now his son Fabrice who runs the company, realized early on that digital technology was the wave of the future and use it to market their large inventory of some of the greatest wines in the world.
In 2013 Fabrice and his team started the annual Millésima Blog Awards as a way to promote wine blogging and to show that Bordeaux is, more and more, open to new experiences and looking to the future. I was one of six 2017 contest winners awarded a week-long trip to Bordeaux during the early tastings of the latest vintage, the 'en primeur'. It was an exciting and educational experience to explore both the city and the wine region of Bordeaux with the Millésima team and to have been hosted by several Chateaux for lunches, dinners, seminars and tastings. We also tasted hundreds of young 2016s and our teeth were stained red the entire week!
(The winners of the Millesima Blog Awards 2017 in front of Chateau Pichon Baron, right)
Grape Collective caught up with Fabrice Bernard to talk about the Millésima Blog Awards, now accepting applications for the 2018 edition.
Lisa Denning: Millésima is a wine merchant known for using digital technology as a marketing tool. How do the Blog Awards fit into this company philosophy and when and why did you decide to engage with and promote wine bloggers?
Fabrice Bernard: Millésima created its Blog Awards in 2013 to honor the American wine blogging community and to share outstanding wine writing with its clients around the world. We also created the Blog Awards in order to make Bordeaux more accessible. The chateaux and grands crus of the region suffer from a reputation of being closed off to the public and inaccessible, and we wanted to prove that this is far from the case.
In 2016, we decided to add new dimensions to the contest by including Europe. It was the first year where the six grand prize winners received a trip to Bordeaux during the exciting “en primeur” campaign. The aim of the contest was to fully immerse the winners in Bordeaux wine and culture in order for them to become ambassadors of the region. With this trip, we welcomed the winners in our cellars — the last ones remaining on the Bordeaux docks — allowing them to discover the Bordeaux wine trade and the tasting art behind closed doors. This unique experience showed them the Bordeaux specificities, the terroir, the grape varieties, the blending, the appellation per classification, the en-primeur system, the economical stakes and the trader profession. It included visits to top-quality wine cellars with exceptional tasting sessions in order to discover the richness, the variety and the complexity of our wines. Lisa, as a Millésima Blog Awards 2017 winner, you experienced it yourself and I’m sure that now you can easily talk about Bordeaux to your readers and followers.
How many people applied for last year’s Blog Awards contest? Tell us how the 18 finalists were chosen.
There were 302 applications, a 155% increase from 2016, divided between 48% USA and 52% Europe. The 18 finalists were selected during the first round by a jury of three international wine professionals: Aurélien Valance, General Manager of Château Margaux, Panos Kakaviatos, journalist specializing in wine (Decanter, Meininger, Wine Spectator, The Washington Post, etc) and Mike Turner, blogger, winner of the 2015 Millésima Blog Awards. This year the jury is composed of Marie-Louise Schÿler, at the helm of communications of Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Julien Miquel, journalist and blogger at Social Vignerons and Jeff Burrows, one of the winners of the 2017 Millésima Blog Awards.
From the 18 finalists there were six winners, those who got the most votes on Facebook. This could be viewed as a ‘popularity contest’ awarding those with a lot of friends instead of those with the best blogs. What is your response to that?
The jury chose the best 18 articles, so the finalists are selected by professionals. The second round is put on a public vote.The public choses one winner in each of the three categories in each country (zone). But in recognition of the high quality of wine writing, all 18 finalists will receive runner-up prizes.To be selected as a finalist, our judges will consider the following criteria:
Is the article relevant to the submitted category?
Is the blogger passionate and knowledgeable about his or her subject?
Does the post present a unique and/or interesting point of view?
Do the design and visuals enhance or hinder the reading experience?
Is the writing style engaging, clear, and without major spelling and grammar mistakes?
Is the layout of the blog attractive and does it support the reading experience?
Is the blog easy to navigate?
We’ve asked the Millesima Blog Awards Jury what they know about and expect from the best blog posts and wine videos out there. They have shared with us how they will shortlist the finalists.
What does Millésima hope to gain from hosting the Blog Awards competition and so far, has it met your expectations?
Fabrice Bernard, left.
We are thrilled to work with bloggers, and believe that having active profiles on social media are extremely important. The more influencers on social networks, the more these networks will be taken seriously not just by the public, but also by the chateaux. If we were all each alone, working in our own corners, this shift in attitude would be much slower. Coming together, bloggers and chateaux included, we will change much faster.
This is why the Blog Awards are held on Facebook, our largest social network on which we have hundreds of thousands of fans. This is also why the contest is held in two phases, the first a selection by a jury and the second held with a public vote, as we want all wine lovers to feel engaged in the outcome. Photo of Fabrice Bernard, right.
Each year there is a different partner sponsor for the awards, last year it was the AXA Insurance Company who own wine estates in Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Tokaj region of Hungary. How do you decide which sponsors to approach?
We select partners who can offer a wide-ranging view of the various properties, wines and appellations across Bordeaux. This year we are partnering with Chateau Clerc Milon. Though it is a single property based in Pauillac, a change from our previous partnerships, this renowned estate shares our same vision of Bordeaux as a dynamic and forward-looking region.
Looking ahead, what do you envision for the Millésima Blog Awards? Do you think it could include other forms of social media influencers like instagrammers for example?
Yes. Everyone is welcome : wine blogger or videographer, wine vlogger. If you love to write down or record on film and pictures stories about the fascinating world of wine, and share them with the world, the Millésima Blog Awards is made for you!
Is there anything else you would like to tell us about the Millésima Blog Awards?
The Millésima Blog awards is an intense and unique experience. Our goal now is to build a strong community with the winners in order to create a close-knit group of people, joined by this shared experience, who are recognized in their fields and continue to be a part of the Millesima network. We are open to many forms of collaboration, and would be extremely grateful to anyone who would participates.
Learn more and apply for the 2018 Millesima Blog awards at Millesima.com.
Read more from Lisa Denning on Grape Collective.