A Goode Day: Will social networking save the wine biz?

adam.jpgIn a competition with more twists and turns than a midnight ride over the Oakville grade, the final ten candidates for Murphy Goode Winery’s coveted “Lifestyle Correspondent” gig are pulling out all the stops during an intense three-day race to the finish line in Healdsburg. And boy are their fingers tired.

In a swirl of iPhones, video and digital cameras, laptop computers, Tweets and harried blogs, each of the remaining hopefuls are trying to prove their mettle in the brave new world of social networking. The idea is that by using the native medium of the 35-and-under set — meaning blogs, Facebook pages, Tweets and other digital calling cards — new wine drinkers will flock to Wine Country. The winner will receive a $10,000 per month salary for six months in addition to housing and intensive on-the-job wine training.

Each of the ten have their own strategy to prove to winery reps that they’ll be the one to get folks talking and drinking.  The big question yet to be answered: Will anyone listen? And if they do, will it translate into actual sales?

rocky.jpgAdam Beaugh of Austin, is one of the most tech-savvy among the final ten. He sets up a live video feed of himself chatting up wines on Sunday afternoon, Tweets obsessively and has a web page dedicated to his quest. But that’s only half the story. Social Networking, for him, is also about old fashioned grip and grinning. He pounded the pavement for nearly an hour around the Healdsburg square, talking to strangers about his quest for the $10,000-a-month position and passing out free tasting room passes. “Social media is just a digital word-of-mouth. You have to listen as much as you talk. You have to relate to people on a conversational level,” he said, working the nearby Oakville Grocery like a seasoned politician.

Rachel Reenstra, who is a seasoned television personality and stand-up comic, uses a more conventional approach, winning people over with humor and her own brand of blonde, pig-tailed charm. Her modus apparandi: Her video camera, which swoops and closeups around the tasting room with her. Fellow Los Angelan Todd Havens mugs and laughs as she films. The marketing pro says he’s just an everyday guy who likes wine and will, under no circumstances, ever become a Snooty-Snooterton about wine.

But it’s Atlanta’s Hardy Wallace who’s clearly the candidate to beat. Wallace, who is the author of the wineblog, Dirtysouthwine.com, wins the morning wine blending contest with the kudos of Murphy Goode winemaker Dave Ready, Jr. and received thousands of votes for his entry video on averygoodjob.com. Many in the blogging community were rankled when the winery announced that public votes would not factor into the winery’s pick. But Wallace was unfazed. “I just changed my strategy.”

One of several candidates who’ve recently lost day jobs or are freelancing, Wallace admits that dwindling severance checks have helped stoked a passion to get himself noticed. But he counters: “I’m the guy who truly believes that this is my dream job. I’ve wanted this job since long before it ever came up. It’s just a sincere passion and joy”

But can a guy who’s willing to wear a viking helmet and fake teeth to get noticed in his video application and climbed Mt. Kilamanjaro in a bumblebee suit really be a beacon to the next generation of wine drinkers?

hardy.jpg“Sure, there’s still a lot of ‘What’s behind the curtain?’ with social networking. But the thing that you can’t deny is that it gives you the ability to create relationships quickly. There are people I’ve talked to for a year on Twitter, Facebook or blogs, and it if wasn’t for this we would have never met. Wine is about drinking with friends, and social media at this moment in time is the ultimate communication tool.”

He also admits that if he wins, he faces an uphill battle within the industry of people who aren’t yet on the Twitter bandwagon. “The first thing I’m gonna do is try to win over people.”

Which, to some extent he already has. Wallce, along with Havens and Seattle wine blogger Eric Hwang (also in the final 10), received well-publicized endorsements from VinTank, a local digital consulting firm who inserted themselves into the publicity surrounding the Murphy Goode contest by donating $100,000 in digital media consultation if one of their endorsed candidates ultimately won the contest. The company has since changed the offer to extend those consulting services to whomever ultimately wins.

Like American Idol contestants, many are just happy for the exposure that the contest has afforded them and the possible jobs that may await them in this tough economy. Murphy Goode officials have dangled the carrot that they’re looking at all of the top 50 candidates as potential hires.

Regardless of who is ultimately crowned on Tuesday, the contest has raised a swirl of interest in the economically-hit wine biz. Initially 2,000 candidates submitted 60-second video resumes – – many of them cringe-inducing, some truly thoughtful. After the pool was narrowed to 50, a top-contender, Rick Bakas was snapped up by St. Supery in Napa as Director of Social Media and Marketing. VinTank’s Paul Mabray said that there are two job offers for similar positions that will be announced after the Murphy Goode position is filled, turning the race for “A Really Goode Job” into a “Really Goode Movement.”

To see all of the final candiates’ videos, check out areallygoodejob.com.