He says even Romanée-Conti needs social media. He says it’s important to be funny. He says mainstream wine magazines are boring. Meet Drew Lambert, one of the founders of Winewankers.com, one of the world’s leading social media channels about wine.
He introduces himself with, “Hi, I’m a wine wanker.” That name – which in the slang of his native Australia means someone who is pretentious about wine – is, according to Lambert, one of the reasons for the success of site, founded in 2013. It’s now backed by an army of more than 500,000 subscribers, who also flock to its Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other feeds. What started as a project by young wine amateurs grew fast. While the amateurs have grown up and lost one of their founding members, their following today outnumbers that of some far more serious wine magazines.
Lambert’s career began in a Sydney restaurant, where he collected the glasses. From there he moved on to higher things – serving wine. “We didn’t, in fact, have sommeliers back then; we were calling ourselves wine waiters,” he says. But it was enough to inspire him to go further. “I studied wine marketing at Adelaide University. Back in 1995, it was one of the few offering such a program.”
While studying he started writing a wine column, and one thing led to another. As he said in a WSET interview: “Being such a fish out of water surrounded by such luminaries of the wine industry helped me position myself as the no-nonsense wine writer, ” adding that he wrote for people who would never normally read wine columns.
Meanwhile, Conrad Grah’s brother-in-law had decided Grah should write a blog, and even went so far as to set up a site for him. Grah started writing. He had various partners who helped grow the blog – and then came Lambert. While the WSET global website features a sober picture of Lambert with wine legend Jancis Robinson, the Wine Wanker channel is anything but the Oxford Wine Companion.
Browsing the duo’s media feeds throws some light on their massive success: besides funny pictures and wine memes it offers plenty of reporting on the wineries and wine regions, discussed in an irreverent, down-to-earth way. “People love to see the real slice of life behind the scenes. See how wine is made, have a laugh and, once again, see beautiful vineyards and photography,” says Lambert. The audience feedback is constant. Lambert admits engagement has been the strongest point of the channel since the beginning. “At that time, wine writers took themselves so seriously,” he says. “We were exactly the opposite – fun, engaging, replying to every comment.”
Feeding Twitter’s most popular wine account (445,000) followers takes plenty of effort. “Twitter is always ticking,” says Lambert. “It shows everything you post to all your followers. Instagram and Facebook will probably show your content to around 10 per cent of your followers.” In effect, it’s hard to cut through Twitter’s ‘noise’, meaning @winewankers has to post about 10 times a day to maintain visibility. “Twitter is like a proper democracy,” he says.
The lesson for others
While social media has been a part of the daily routine for some years, Lambert says wineries are still reluctant to use it. He says even the world’s top wineries need to learn more about digital communication. “Even if you’re selling out every year people would still love to see what’s going on behind the scenes,” he says. Lambert, on his way to Puglia to give a social media masterclass to wineries, says it’s not hard to put social media to work. All it takes is “having that one young person within the team with an Instagram account already in place”.
Having hundreds of thousands of followers is impressive, but does it make money? “Well, it doesn’t,” says Lambert, laughing. “My main job brings me enough money to have Wine Wankers as a way of enjoying wine!” Although the channel gets five to 10 offers of paid posts a day, the founders refuse to turn it into commercial “garbage”.
Lambert, whose main job is running his own PR business, DL Comms, says he still spends 20 to 30 hours a week running Winewankers.com. When asked about the future, he simply says: “I’ve always wanted to make a Wine Wankers wine. Not cheap, but a good value wine I could put on the table.”