Alpine, Texas – Home Away from Home

Our YouTube Channel has nearly 40 new videos that were filmed in and around town. We’ll be chronicling the exploits of Hugh as he canvasses the Texas Desert Building our brand and hopefully making Stormhoek the biggest selling South African wine in all of West Texas.

We’ve already got half a dozen placements around town, and Hugh is now working on Marfa and Terlingua. With some luck and a good breeze, we should pick up a few more. Here is Hugh doing some more missionary work. Don’t know if the guys at Mondavi should be worried yet.

Welcome to the Middle of Nowhere – Want a Glass For That Beer?

Center of the Universe?

Center of the Universe?

We’ve been thinking about small. The sorts of places that don’t really matter much to most people. The kind of place that folks have maybe heard of, but will never find the time to visit. The fact that they are ‘out of the way’ doesn’t make those places less special, or interesting, but it in the eyes of some, it does tend to marginalize their importance.

For most folks in London, Shanghai or New York, South Africa is one of these places. While that doesn’t sit well with us, it is a fact of life. But, we come to realize that once you accept the fact, then the world looks like a much different place. We see the potential of small. The beauty of simple and the promise of an elegant idea that could make a difference.

What’s this got to do with wine, you ask?

Well, we are doing a launch for our new label in the US. But, we’re thinking: Why do the usual? Why beg the people who view us as being from a place that doesn’t matter to pay attention to our wine- let’s talk to people who actually view the world more the way we do. People who have rich lives in small towns, who make a difference every day and yes, who still “Dream Big” from little places.

So, we’re off to Alpine, Texas, not far from Marfa and just up the road from Valentine. We’re looking for Dreamers and people who stand out from the crowd. We have great hope that these folk by Dreaming Big, can Change the World.

Stay Tuned.

Gapingvoid art makes a hit in Cape Town

long street

My name is Chris and although I’m originally from the UK,for the last year and a half my job has basically been to help get new clients and then make sure they are well looked after over here in South Africa. Yes I love my job and all my friends are jealous (doing lots of wine tasting’s can be hard don’t you know) and although I do get called a soutie every now and then, generally life is fun in the sun.

This week during one of my rounds to make sure that all the Stormhoek clients in the Cape are pampered and happy, I saw the above sketch in a popular bar called Long Street Cafe, which is surprisingly located in Long street (the main party street) in the city center.

I had sent the owner of the bar some of Hugh Macleod’s  great cartoons in an email a month or so ago as he wanted to use one as a screen saver. After a little catch up chat with him I found out he liked the above cartoon so much he had paid a local artist to copy it onto a 9ft wide and 6 ft high chalk board and hang it above his bar !

If anyone is taking a holiday in Cape Town and wants to go have a look the details are here, not sure how long it will be there for, but if anyone else knows of another ridiculously large version of one of Hugh’s cartoons please let us know.

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Stormhoek sponsoring the British Comedy Awards

[One of the thirty cartoons chosen to go on the bottles etc.]

Though Stormhoek generally doesn’t like to sponsor large events, an interesting opportunity came up.

On December 5th we’ll be serving Magnums of Stormhoek on the tables of the British Comedy Awards, which in British Media terms, is a pretty big deal. Lots of celebrities, TV cameras and paparazzi etc.

But rather than just plonk the bottles down on the tables and let the celebs get on with it [i.e. Drink our wine, yet ignore the brand completely- which is what normally happens with these kind of events], we decided to behave a little differently than your average gala sponsor.

We created a range of large bottles [Magnums], each with a different cartoon on it. Thirty cartoons in all.

Because of the event, we decided we didn’t have to worry about playing it safe [unlike say, with your average supermarket client]. So out of my collection of 6,000-odd cartoons, we picked 30 cartoon that were relatively edgy. The one above is a good example. Also, some of the cartoons from this page and this page made it into the mix. Generally, we picked cartoons we thought anybody who had spent a lot of time in the Soho/London/media/entertainment/cokewhore/glamorpussy world would click with. You get the idea.

As everybody will have a different cartoon on each table, we’re hoping people will check out the different bottles on the other tables. Yeah, you got it. Conversation starters. Exactly. “Social Objects”, Baby.

I hope the photographers get some decent pictures…

( Originally posted by Hugh at )

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“The one with the back label on the front”

[The new Stormhoek front labels. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

[The new Stormhoek back label. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

After many months in development, Stormhoek has finally got its new label designs.

The front label is a fairly classic look [our customers like that a lot]. We had a ball, however, with the back label. Notice how we put both the Blue Monster logo on the back [without any explanation], and also, the Unofficial International “Hacker” symbol. Oh, yeah, we also borrowed the “Change the World or Go Home” tagline from the Blue Monster [Disclosure: gapingvoid is more evil than Microsoft. Just so you know.].

The vast majority who see our wine on the shelf have never heard of us before, have never read gapingvoid, and don’t know us from Adam [The same is true for the vast majority of other wine brands]. So most of the marketing is done on the supermarket shelf. It’s actually pretty intense, thinking about it all.

The funny thing is, people in the trade like the back label SO MUCH there’s already talk happening about Stormhoek being the first wine to have itself stacked on the shelf with the back label facing frontward.

So the Stormhoek hook becomes: “The one with the back label on the front”.

I love that idea… We’ll see what happens.

[UPDATE: Stormhoek Twitter UK Promo:] I’ve been allowed to send sample bottles to anybody who wants one. The deal is, you have to be UK-based, of legal drinking age, and on Twitter. Send me an email if you’re interested, Thanks. Rock on.

(The above was originally posted by Hugh at )

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the “smarter wine” idea


[Official “Smarter Wine” logo etc.]

At Stormhoek, the wine company I work for, our basic schtick is this philosophy we call “Smarter Wine”. This is what Mark Earls would call the “Purpose-Idea” of the company; i.e. the reason we get out of bed in the morning and go to work every day. Here are some thoughts on what Smarter Wine means, in no particular order:

1. Smarter Wine does not imply that we’re “smarter” than anywhere else. It’s an ideal that we aspire to, not that we embody. The idea is not something Stormhoek will ever “own”, like a tagline in an ad campaign. It’s an idea I think EVERYBODY in the trade should get their head around, be they makers, sellers or buyers, large or small. But hey, I would say that.

2. Everyone’s definition of “smarter” will be different. I’m OK with that. To me, it means continually engaging the customer at a higher level, continually raising the bar.


3. The brilliant thinker, Russell Davies identified four keywords that will govern the future of the advertising business. About as succinct a list as I’ve ever seen:

Blurry. Useful. Interesting. Always In Beta.

“Always In Beta” is a popular term in Silicon Valley. In an ideal world, it would be equally popular in the wine trade as well. It’s unfortunate that this is not the case.4. A word people like using in the wine trade is “innovation”. Some companies pay it only lip service, some companies actually try to embrace it full-on. But it’s harder than it looks. Wine is one of the oldest products in the world; change happens slowly and with great reluctance. Sure, putting wine in funky-dunky plastic or aluminum bottles might be technically “innovative”, but does the average wine customer actually want that? A more interesting question for me is how the wine connects with people on an emotional and intellectual level. That to me is where the real action is.

5. Big ideas start out as little ideas, and lots of them. What do companies like Apple, Nike, Innocent Drinks and Starbucks have in common? Superficially, very little. But one thing you’ll notice about them is that they’re constantly coming up with new stuff. Constantly trying out new ideas, seeing what happens, and if it doesn’t work out, they move on quickly. Their schtick is all about taking frequent small steps in the right direction, as opposed to betting the farm on the annual Superbowl ad. Creating a constant stream of “Social Objects”. We take a similar approach at Stormhoek [We’re a small wine company, frankly, so we have no other choice]. Different branding ideas, different cartoon label ideas, different sponsorship and PR ideas. On one level it’s a highly unpredictable way to go about it. On another level, it’s amazing how certain we are that SOMETHING good comes out of it eventually.

6. Eighty per cent of vineyards in the world do not make a profit. Eighty. Per. Cent. Other fun stats: There are 50 countries in the world that have wine industries. Italy alone has 500,000 vineyards. Sicily has ten times the vineyards as Napa Valley. Conclusion: The competition is off the scale. Besides making good wine [obviously], the only way forward is to somehow figure out, by any means necessary, how to rise above the clutter. The only way to do this is to speak to people in a way our industry has never spoken to them before.

7. I am not a wine expert. I am not a wine snob. I am not a wine bore. I am not even a wine geek. When I think of the business I’m in, I do not think of the vineyards, the lifestyle porn that’s famously attached to the industry, the “hummingbirds gathering nectar in the morning dew” palaver. My thoughts are more prosaic. I think about a person pushing a shopping cart through a supermarket, a teacher or a nurse, perhaps, who’s there buying food because she’s cooking spaghetti for her boyfriend that evening, who just wants a good bottle of wine for under ten dollars to go with it. Her needs, as simple and basic as they are, interest me FAR MORE than satisfying the vast sea of social pretentions that lives inside the wine trade.

8. Not everybody inside the trade will “get” the Smarter Wine idea. In marketing terms, it not that big a deal. As Oscar Wilde once quipped, “A man cannot be too careful in the choice of his enemies.”

[This was originally posted on my personal blog, gapingvoid.]

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Stormhoek Blue Monster Reserve

[Yon standard pack shot. Indeed.]

I mentioned previously that I would be announcing my “Next Big Project” sometime today, the 17th of September.The Financial Times beat me to it.. “Social Object”, Baby:

Microsoft launches a tipple for techiesTonight, a select group will gather in a bar in London’s Soho to quaff a crisp, South African white wine bottled in their honour.

The hand-picked guests toasting the new vintage are not, however, wine connoisseurs but techies. The gathering marks the launch of the Blue Monster Reserve label, created by winery Stormhoek for Microsoft and its employees.

Own-label wine and personalised bottles have become increasingly popular in the corporate world, particularly among investment banks, as gifts to clients and offered to guests of corporate events. The companies hope the corporate vintages will add an air of class and sophistication to their image.

But unlike customised wine bottles given by banks and law firms to clients, this label did not originate in Microsoft’s corporate communications headquarters.

Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist, blogger and marketing strategist for Stormhoek, created the Blue Monster image after getting to know Microsoft employees.

Mr MacLeod met these “Microsofties” through his day job. “We sponsored a series of ‘geek dinners’ for bloggers and techies in the US and the UK,” he said. “I met a lot of people from Microsoft through these dinners, and they all said the same thing: we want to change the world.”

That notion of a kinder, gentler Microsoft is at odds with its cut-throat corporate image. Critics have accused the software giant of abusing its dominant position and of stifling innovation in the industry. In 2003, the European Commission found Microsoft guilty of uncompetitive practices and levied a record €497m ($689m, £342m) fine. The result of its appeal against that decision is due on Monday.


The cartoon of a sharp-toothed blue creature and its tagline, “Microsoft – change the world or go home”, has now been adopted by some Microsoft employees and fans as a symbol of the company’s innovation.“People see Microsoft as a big, bad corporate monster,” Mr MacLeod said. “Yet all the Microsofties I’ve spoken to say they just want to make great products and do good works. It was obvious that Microsoft had to get better at telling their story.”

“Wine is a social object, and so is the Blue Monster: they both inspire conversation,” he said. “And we thought the cartoon would look really cool on a bottle.”

Steve Clayton, chief technology officer at one of Microsoft’s UK affiliates and a nine-year veteran of the company, said Blue Monster reminded people that Microsoft “has a sense of fun and humour”.

Mr Clayton has been at the forefront of the Blue Monster movement: he uses the image on his business card and is the administrator of a “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group.

“[Microsoft’s HQ] has been very supportive of us using the Microsoft name alongside the Blue Monster image,” Mr MacLeod said. It makes sense; they’ve been around for about 30 years and are trying to reinvent themselves to embrace a new generation.”

Blue Monster-branded bottles will be available only to Microsoft and its affiliates. “We have no intention of selling the product outside Microsoft,” said Jason Korman, Stormhoek’s chief executive. “The wine itself only went live last week, and already we’ve had massive interest from different parts of the company.”

[A bottle of Blue Monster Reserve sitting on my desk. Click on image to enlarge etc.]

Mr Clayton readily admits the Blue Monster movement, despite his involvement, is outside any influence from Microsoft: “[The cartoon] has encouraged a whole new series of conversations by people who are passionate about Microsoft, both internally and externally. Blue Monster is a community which has developed its own distinct identity.”For Mr MacLeod, the Blue Monster represents a revolution of sorts. “We started an underground movement within Microsoft, and we knew one day the guys in suits would finally take notice. That moment has finally arrived.”

If so, it will be marked in true internet-era style: not with an act of anarchy but a clink of glasses.

[Blue Monster backstory here.] [Blue Monster blog archive here.]The wine is not a commercially available product, just a wee “social object” for geek dinners and people inside the Microsoft ecosystem. Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and I are still working on the final details of how we’re going to get the wine to people who want it, but for now, we’re just limiting its availability to [1] people who belong to the “Friends of Blue Monster” Facebook group, and [2] geek dinners we’re attending and/or sponsoring.

Personally, I like this idea because it directly connects to a lot of different things I’m interested in. “Social Objects”, Microsoft, cartoons, Stormhoek, Marketing 2.0, corporate-reinvention, geek dinners etc etc.

Hopefully, other people will like it, too. Watch this space etc.

A special thanks to all the groovy cats inside Microsoft who lent their support to this project. Rock on.

[Originally posted on my personal blog, GapingVoid]

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London Wine Fair Action

Next week is the annual London Wine Trade Fair at Excel in the Docklands. Thousands of people from around the world attend, and it is an opportunity to chat with customers, and meet folks who have never even heard of us.


As one might expect, we have a slightly different view of what a Fair should be. And this is the third year of us trying to break through the clutter, confusion and hubbub.

As little guys, we always think about how it is possible to have an impact with a tiny budget, in an industry populated by enormous mega-drinks companies. On the one hand, we don’t want to upset the Big Guys, lest we wind up like the little yellow guy below. But at the same time, we do have a job to do.


Typically, wine fairs consist of many shiny, expensive stands, populated with bottle, and largely middle-aged guys talking about wine, gossiping and nursing their very nasty hangovers (Yes, the wine guys do tend to drink too much) .

While the show starts on Tuesday, we got into gear two months ago (about two months late), but there was no point in rushing, as our London Wine Fair Maestro, Andrew, pictured below, he has an uncanny ability to pull entire families of rabbits out of a single hat- He does his best work under pressure.


Here’s what is going on this year:

New and improved, which will be displayed on a (according to Andrew) “fucking huge” LED screen [think Wembley] in the central boulevard of Excel.

Wine Fair Live this year is being authored in part by “Deep Throat”, a faceless, nameless member of the trade, s/he could be your boss, colleague, client or drinking partner, so beware what you say as deep throat tells all, and s/he can be emailed at, if there are any morsels that you’d like revealed anonymously.

Wine Fair Live this year will have roaming cameramen, the world famous Hugh MacLeod cartooning, Sandra D and Lil’ Jo of Shipwrecked
will be helping out.

When one enters the Hall this year, about 100 metres past the video wall, you’ll see a quite substantial structure which has, in its center, a screening room. We will be showing “Smarter Wine: The Movie”. It stars such luminaries as Dan Jago of Tesco, and Justin King. Justin is a bit of a legend around our office, as he went from being Nick and Al’s boss of the BWS department at Asda, to MD of J. Sainsbury quicker than you can say trockenbeerenauslese [Come on Justin, what’s the recipe for the secret sauce?].

You’ll have to see the movie for yourself, but it is an instructional guide of what you need for success today in the UK market.

Tuesday afternoon, we are sponsoring a seminar entitled: “Terroir is Dead, Long Live Terroir!” Nick will be moderating, and the panel will include number of industry folks. We’re going to see if there is a way to foment a spirited debate on the usually excruciatingly boring subject of terroir. Prediction: tears and rants.

On Wednesday night our sister wine, Camden Park, will be sponsoring the Camden Park Steak-Out in aid of the Benevolent. And we will have a mechanical bull at the Fair, for those brave enough to give it a try.

We will also be showing a “Big Love” flick at our stand from Hugh’s tour around Tesco earlier this year.

There is too much to write about in this one post, so I will update as the week progresses.

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We’re Guest Speakers today, at Marketsmart 2007 (AMA)


Jason and Hugh are in Seattle today at the Bell Harbor International Conference Centre. They’ve been asked to speak at MarketSmart 2007 – a yearly event held by the American Marketing Association. Our topic is “Using Web 2.0 as a Tool for Decommodification” – How does “…a tiny South African winery that nobody had ever heard of” turn into the most talked-about wine brand on the web?

Other guest speakers include YouTube, Redfin & Zillow, Jones Soda & DECA Students, Digital Kitchen, and “Why Wal-Mart Works”.

As soon as i get some footage, I’ll post it! Can’t wait to see it as i’ve watched these two practise and prepare and it’s been amusing!

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the microsoft question


I was hanging out with Microsoft’s Steve Clayton and two of his colleagues yesterday [Hi James and Ben, great meeting you both etc], and the question came up:

“So, Hugh, why are you so interested in Microsoft?”

Fair question. Here are some thoughts:

1. Rebirth. A big, long-term interest for me is how both individuals and organizations, once they’ve been around the block a few times, get their Mojo back. As I wrote in September:

“Rebirth” is a wonderful metaphor, meaning everything from “re-invention” to “regeneration” to “renaissance” to… just about anything.

I find that a large part of the human experience is [a] getting oneself into a rut and then [b] figuring out how to get oneself out of it.

What is true for individuals is also true for large groups of people… businesses, organizations, nations etc etc. How do we re-invent our modus operandi? Serious question.

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but it’s a subject that interests me professionally more and more.

And I think it’s a subject that also interests Microsoft more and more. How do they grow? How do they avoid extinction? How do they keep innovating, instead of being calcified to death by their own corporate inertia, something that all big companies suffer from [and often succumb to]?

i.e. It’s a subject that genuinely interests us both. And where there’s genuine mutual interest, there is connection.

2. Robert Scoble. I once went on record saying that Robert Scoble, blogging as a Microsoft employee [N.B. he quit Microsoft earlier this year], was the biggest thing to happen to advertising since Apple’s “1984” commercial.

I took me a while to figure it out, but one day I suddenly realized, the big story about Robert blogging from inside Microsoft wasn’t the effect he was having on outsiders like myself [“Oh, what a lovely blog, I think I’ll go out and buy me a new PC”], but on the effect he was having on his fellow Microsoft employees. His blog was starting conversations that simply could not have happened before the invention of the blog. Why? The Porous Membrane, of course.

This one little insight completely changed and informed my views about the future of marketing. So I have Microsoft to thank for that one.

3. Microsoft is an interesting company. If they weren’t, I doubt they’d get so many millions of words in the mainstream media written about them, every year, like they do. All I’m doing is the same as countless thousands of other journalists and bloggers are doing.

4. Being nice pays off. Thanks to becoming friends with Scoble and the London Girl Geeks in the last year or two, I’ve since met quite a few MS people, and to be quite honest, for the most part they’ve all been well-mannered, interesting, engaging, passionate, very smart people, and I’ve enjoyed their company. Unlike some of the arrogant jerks I’ve met from other companies in my time.

5. They’re in the software business, I’m in the software business. They have a commercial interest in Microsoft product. I have an [albeit much smaller] commercial interest in Thingamy product. So we’ve got that in common.

6. They’re in the de-commodification business, I’m in the de-commodification business. So you think $300 desktop software is ubiquitous? You should see the $10 wine business. Where 80% of the wine sold in the UK is bought by a half-dozen or so top supermarket and retail chains, and the number of commercial, large-scale wineries in the world number in the tens of thousands. You try rising above that clutter, Boyo. Yeah, not easy. Again, where there is common interest, there is connection.


7. Microsoft wants to change the world, Stormhoek wants to change the world. Again, common interest. How well we succeed is always debatable, but hey, you only live once.

[This was originally posted on my personal blog,]



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