Vine goes up
The booze business is not "obsessed" with NFTs
Last month, my VinePair colleagues and I spoke on a panel at a wine industry conference in Verona, Italy, about the intersection of beverage-alcohol brands and NFTs. Our panel was titled “Should We Care About Wine NFTs?” In keeping with Betteridge’s law, our answer was, basically, “no.” After our panel, a few different people approached us on the dais with stories of NFT projects their wine brands (or those they repped) had launched during 2021’s frenzy that had since—wait for it—withered on the vine. This was a bummer to hear, but not surprising, because the novelty of NFTs has long since worn off, and their primary short-term value to brands, easy press attention, has too. The downsides, however—the endemic scamminess, the delusion of set-it-and-forget-it digital "community," the potential reputational damage leeching from broader web3 catastrophes, etc.—remain.
Whether drinks brands like Budweiser and Robert Mondavi realize any longterm value from the NFT projects they launched last year with VaynerNFT (the Web3 arm of rise-and-grind Svengali and former Wine Librarian Gary Vaynerchuk that may actually have changed its name to Vayner3 at some point, I don’t know) remains to be seen. If/when they fail, those brands, backed by massive multinational firms Anheuser-Busch InBev and Constellation respectively, will be fine.1 That’s not the case for the vast majority of winemakers2, which is why we told the Italian ones we spoke with that they should be very skeptical of any PR firm/digital agency/etc. urging them to release a token project at this point.
Even at the end of 2022, there are plenty of charlatans and dimwits still trying to do that, either for personal gain or misguided ideological fealty to web3’s potential. (Or both.) I’m never surprised to see an outlet like Forbes—formerly a real magazine, but these days mostly just a zombied shit-sluice that rents out its faded imprimatur to all manner of business-brained boners, rightwing toadies, and passive-income gurus who pay to post their bad ideas beneath its once-proud banner—publish misleading boosterism to that effect, like this fluff last week urging readers to ignore “the salient collapse of FTX and other major web3 token projects” and embrace “exciting and novel use-cases behind NFTs brewing in the spirits industry.” (What, man?) But I was a little shocked when Friend of Fingers Bryan R. forwarded me a recent newsletter from Morning Brew, a popular and mostly solid publication for millennial strivers, that proclaimed the wine industry is “obsessed” with NFTs.
I don’t really think that’s true! The story cites no winemakers; its closest source to the actual wine business is an analyst at market-research firm IWSR. The rest are people pushing their own wine-related NFT projects, and the president of VaynerNFT.3 These folks are obsessed with the getting the wine industry obsessed with NFTs, that much is obvious. But having reported on the intersection of web3 and beverage a bunch over the past year, and spoken with some actual winemakers—and many other alcohol producers, too—in the process, I’ve seen very little evidence that they’re succeeding broadly on that front. Which, again, given the technical and cultural downsides, and winemakers’ very-real challenges ahead, is probably for the best.
I’m not trying to dunk on Morning Brew’s writer here, nor hold my own coverage up as infallible. In hindsight, I feel like I was too credulous a year ago, when I first started reporting on NFTs and beverage-alcohol for VinePair. But that was a whole year ago, and I wasn’t exactly bullish on it, even back then. The intervening 12 months have given the lie to so much of the web3 “ecosystem”/worldview that it should be easier than ever for journalists—not con artists with Forbes logins or listicle jockeys reheating press releases at this or that #content farm, but proper “call you on the phone and write down what you say” reporters—to aggressively scrutinize the “opportunities” that NFT projects and their proponents claim to offer booze brands (or anyone else, for that matter.) Anything else at this point is just, well, token coverage.