Monday, April 12, 2010

A Master Sommelier became a Web 2.0 Digital Sommelier- An interview with Germany's Hendrik Thoma (Part 1)

Picture: Hendrik Thoma

I interviewed Hendrik Thoma via Skype in early April 2010. This is the first of two parts. Here is the second part.

CS: You do not need an introduction for the German readers of this Blog, but half of the readers are from the US, Canada and Latin America, and one quarter from Asia, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. Tell them a bit about you.

HT: My name is Hendrik Thoma and I live in Hamburg, Germany. I am one of 175 Master Sommeliers in the world.

A couple of years ago, I was working as head sommelier at the top Restaurant Louis C. Jacob, a very traditional restaurant, when I decided to change course and step into the exciting world of the internet. I had always been doing some journalistic work on the side, so it was not a complete U-turn.

My main job now is being the moderator of a video wine blog, TVINO. This is done in cooperation with Germany’s largest wine retailer, Hawesko. On average, I moderate 2 wine tasting shows per week. I do other things as well, but TVINO is at the center of my activities.

In my shows I try to talk about my passion – wine - in as straightforward a manner as possible. Sometimes winemakers or other people from the wine industry are on my show as guests and sometimes I am just on my own.

I am the moderator, and link the producer with the customer. I was doing this in a restaurant as a sommelier for many years and now I am doing it in a kind of virtual restaurant.

In the US, you have Gary Vaynerchuk’s video wine shows. TVINO is different, although Gary Vaynerchuk was very inspiring to me. He’s a big guy in the scene. He paved the way and I am very grateful for that. After I visited him last year I received so many nice comments. Hey, I thought, this is the modern way to communicate with people.

It is very important for me to present myself the way I am, and I can do this with the internet. Since I started TVINO, I have heard so many people saying “That’s him? We thought he was a conservative, traditional guy”. I was never traditional, I was never a snob, and I was always trying to get people to enjoy a glass of wine. Now these people get the right picture of me and this is a great thing.

Picture: Hendrik Thoma

CS: Talking about social media, you are clearly one of the leaders of social media in the wine industry in Germany. You have your own internet show, TVINO. You are very active on Facebook. Where do you see all this is heading?

HT: Well, one thing is that Europeans are very concerned about the security and transparency of the internet. Germans in particular are big believers in security and there is some blockage from those Germans who are more wary of the internet. At the same time, a lot of people realize that this way of communication has enormous potential. But in general people are still afraid when they put information on the internet. There is a lot of hesitation and concern. The internet is used more by the younger people who are in a way natives of the internet. They know the rules and for them the internet is something very natural. You and I are immigrants.

Another factor is that Europe is just so different from the US. In Germany, people live comfortably in a social net of long term friends, acquaintances and family. In America everybody is constantly moving. It is all about networking, networking, networking. Here in Europe we have a lot of people who are happily living in the old structures and don’t really see the need to change. But they will be forced to. We, the active internet people are still a small segment, but a growing one. The elder generation has to realize this. I say: Step into the web, get active and participate.

CS: You mentioned ProWein, the German wine fair in Duesseldorf which just finished. What did you take home from there?

HT: I would like to mention a couple of important trends. There is the trend to move to fun wines, away from expensive big show-off wines. Parker has pushed the market into wines which are big-image, fruity, heavy wines, with high scores. But people really don’t want that anymore. Gone are the days when everything was great, the economy was booming and people were eager to bring 96 or 97 Parker point wines on the table.

Drinking rose wines is another trend. Imagine ten years ago: In Germany people said they would rather stay out of rose and now roses, good roses are, hot.

Another thing is sweet versus dry: I was talking to the Mosel winemaker, Markus Molitor, who produces great wines with residual sugar. People are now more comfortable with that. Wines don’t have to be as dry and acidic as German Rieslings sometimes can be. Winemakers are playing again with sweetness, with the Mosel and the Rheingau area at the fore.

All in all, I see a move to wines with more elegance and more finesse. People prefer to drink local rather than international wines. People don’t want to pray when they sit in front of a glass. They want to drink, they want to enjoy. You can pray on Sunday in church.

Social media, coming back to this, plays a big role in this because now it is no longer top to bottom information. People pretty much obeyed wine gods like Robert Parker and would check at the winery if the wines had an 88 or 89 score. Now people have direct contact with me and many other people in the web, such as you, Christian, with your Wine Blog. I think that this will create a more democratic way of drinking wine. Less academic and more passionate. That is what I want.

(The second part of the interview will be published on April 19, 2010)

Hendrik Thoma, Hamburg, Germany

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  1. Here is Hendrik Thoma's recent video with Ernst Loosen and Katharina Pruem on the issue of a planned High Mosel Bridge. Loosen, Pruem, Thoma and others have initiated a campaign to stop the bridge.

  2. I like the interview, the people in it, the relation to wine, the passion for wine. Great! And it will be interesting to follow where social media is taking us. So far, we are at least already having fun!