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Vega Sicilia and Ribera del Duero, NYC, 2/25/13

Good gatekeeping, or bad PR? You be the judge.  I think my assessment will eventually be obvious, but here is the story.  From my previous posts, you can see that I like Iberian wines, and try as many as I can to keep up with what is both new as well as classic.  Two years ago, I attended the annual NY Ribera del Duero walk around tasting in NY and saw that there was a Vega Sicilia seminar, but since I hadn’t seen any prior notice about it, I walked on by.  It is a wine that is famous for putting the region on the world’s radar, but I have never sampled it.

When I saw the event being promoted last year, I tried to register for the seminar, but was told that it was “sold out” by the time I attempted to do so.  That’s the way it goes, but I was determined not to let that happen again this year, so I actively sought out the PR agency that was running the DrinkRiberaDrinkSpain  campaign, signed up for the walk around as soon as I could do so online, and asked the contact person by email to be registered for the seminar “A Vertical Tasting of Vega Sicilia” as well, because there was no option to register for the seminar online.  That was on January 14, 2013.

A prompt return email said that the two sessions, noon and 3pm, were filled.  I could be put on a waitlist, if I liked, and they would try to fit me in.  From prior experience, I know there are almost always no-shows to seminars, so I asked to be waitlisted for both sessions, and I would show up early for the noon session and happily attend whichever session I could get into.

I showed up at the check in table at 11:25, stated that I was waitlisted for the seminar and registered for the walkaround.  My badge for the general tasting was found, and I was told to stay near the check-in area.  Others were being escorted one by one, it seemed to wherever the seminar was, and it appeared very secretive.  As it got close to 12:00, since there were several of us waiting for possible seats, I asked one of the desk people to verify that I was on the waitlist, and was told not to worry, they know I’m there.  By 12:10 late arrivals were still being escorted to the seminar, obvious by the red lanyard from which their badges were hanging, and by 12:15 I was told “sorry,” and to try again at 3:00.

So I went to the open tasting, had some lovely tapas type food, sampled a lot of lovely wine, spoke to folks I knew, and made some new friends. As I said, I like these wines; the quality was uniformly high.  At about 2:30, I saw two attendees wearing the red lanyards who were chatting.  I asked them 3 questions: Did you attend the seminar? Yes. How were the wines?  Good.  Were there any empty seats?  Yes.  This troubled me, since I had cooled my heels patiently for over 45 minutes, only to be told that there were no seats.

But hope springs eternal, they say.  A friend and colleague was scheduled for the 3:00 seminar, and he said he would call me from the room if there were seats open.  Good to have a man on the inside, I thought!  At 3:12, the call came.  In a whisper, “seminar is starting - there are empty seats, come to the room,” which I did, where I was headed off by two of the PR people, who told me it was full, standing room only.  I told them I just got a call from someone inside that there were seats.

I must be slow, but I finally got it. There was no way I was going to taste those wines.  As I walked away, clearly annoyed, one of them asked me what I did, so they might know for “next time.” I said “wine educator, consultant, wine writer, and blogger.”  If I wasn’t important enough or well known enough to pass their (or Vega Sicilia’s) vetting  scrutiny, I should have been told at the get go, or at least been given the opportunity to present my credentials.  Someone could have taken the time to do that in the four weeks prior to the event.  Clearly, there was room for not only me, but others as well, but was denied access to what should have been a great PR opportunity.  The seminar wine was poured, and as I found out later, the seat next to my friend was empty, as was one in the row behind him.  There may have been more.

The question remains, was this good gatekeeping for the not so VIPs, using whatever parameters given to keep the riff raff from sampling a famous wine, or bad public relations treatment to wine folks who were  good enough to attend a general tasting?  I’ll let you decide that for yourselves.

So instead of writing about Vega Sicilia, or other specific producers from Ribera del Duero,  I’ve chosen  a different approach.


As a follow up, it is now January, 2014.  I saw a colleague at a Brunello di Montalcino tasting yesterday who I haven't seen in a while. She is a native Spaniard and being aware of what had happened to me last year, took some initiative to contact Vega Sicilia directly and on her own, to share my report and sent them a link.  She was told that the selection process for the seminar was solely and completely the responsibility of the PR agency.  They gave no direction to selecting or denying admission. She also said that she thinks the agency lost the account. No complaints from me, especially since there have been over 1500 reads of this piece in the last year, and nobody from the agency ever wrote, called or contacted me. If you are promoting a brand, you should have your fingers on the pulse of what's online, and be a bit responsive.  But again, just my own opinion.  Cheers.



Bernard Kenner

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