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Jefford on Monday: Wasted opportunities

It's taken some time to sink in, but I think almost every wine enterprise around the world now realises that its website is the principal way it talks to the world.

That doesn’t mean that every great wine creator has one. I’m sure the Zind-Humbrecht website will be magnificently comprehensive when it eventually appears, and I realise (with affectionate respect) that there may never be a Wendouree website. These, though, are distinguished exceptions; the rule is be there or be nowhere.

Who are wine websites for? Those who want to know more, obviously – and often those who want to know a lot more. Quickly. Given that, and given that the terroir principle means that no serious wine producer anywhere need harbour any secrets, why are so many websites so abysmally uninformative? And why are the websites of the best resourced companies often the very worst of all?

In his squirm-worthy opening ramble to the 2010 New Zealand Pinot Noir Conference, Kevin Roberts of Saatchi and Saatchi told the wine creators present to make their websites ‘as much like a movie as possible’. It was terrible advice, and I implore anyone about to spend money on a website to ignore it.

I’ve been researching Champagne recently, including Salon and Krug. Both companies make superb if dizzyingly expensive Champagne; both have fascinating stories to tell; both are staffed by exceptionally competent and articulate wine-creating teams whose work should be detailed with loving and passionate intricacy on their websites. Instead, the websites in question tell you almost nothing, and do so with tedious pretension.

If you’ve just spent £200 on a bottle of Salon, you are probably intelligent as well as affluent, and you don’t want to sit in front of your computer looking at a succession of pretty pictures and listening to a cuckoo. You will (in the short amount of time you have available) want to know more about its singular history, understand why it tastes like it does, and learn about who is involved in making it and how it is crafted.

If you’ve just spent 700 on a bottle of Clos du Mesnil and have made the effort to look at the website, you may want to know the history and geology of the vineyard, you will probably want to understand why fermentation in wood makes this wine different from its peers, and you may be intrigued to hear why a company which always claimed that ‘blending was all’ now produces not one but two single-vineyard Champagnes. Instead you get guff about ‘Krug trunks’ and Japanese firework artists. And don’t start me on the tasting notes …

The beauty of the website ideal is that it allows free access to huge amounts of data. No one need by overwhelmed by this if the site is well-designed, since the user will always have the option of clicking further and entering graded chambers of knowledge to find out more. If the money squandered on the absurd press trip gushingly detailed by Krug as a ‘Krug Odyssey’ had been spent on the layered and intricate website that its layered and intricate Champagnes deserve, it would be a global model.

Lifestyle cruisers won’t waste time gazing at computers; they’ll be out lifestyle cruising. Websites are for those who want to know more. Why frustrate them?

Written by Andrew Jefford

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