The medical profession normally does not want anything to do with wine, but not trained gynaecologist Sorcha Holloway. She has turned her back on stethoscopes to forge a new career as a growing voice for the average wine drinker, who unusually has been able to connect with both the traditional wine trade and wine drinking community on social media with her breakthrough #ukwinehour Twitter chat hashtag that has grown to such an extent that it now has a reach of potentially 350,000 people around the world. Here’s her story…
Sorcha Holloway, and her #ukwinehour Twitter forum, is further evidence that there are new wine influencers appearing that have no formal ties to the traditional wine trade, but, instead, simply have a passion for wine and want to share that with fellow wine drinkers online and, in particular, social media.
One of the most exciting and dynamic changes that social media has brought to what is such a largely traditional industry as wine, is the number of fresh, new voices that have come out of platforms like Twitter or Instagram, from completely separate fields and backgrounds.
In fact if you did a quick look through who you follow and interact with most on social media, then chances are many will be names and people you did not know existed two to three years ago.
For what were the previous big voices in wine, social media is the equivalent of an away cup tie to a tricky lower league opponent with a tight pitch, cold changing rooms and the smell of pies and chips wafting across the ground. It’s been a complete leveller. Giving the space, the platform, and the ability for those with personality, and something new to say, to really gain their share of the Twitter-limelight.
Sorcha Holloway ticks all those boxes and more. She has quietly, but surely built a following on social media, mainly through Twitter, for her forums, discussions and debates about all things wine that crucially appear to be as popular with general wine drinkers as they are with the wine trade and wine nerds.
If you have not come across the #ukwinehour on Twitter then check it out – you’re missing out. Particularly when it comes to watching, and listening to how the everyday wine drinker wants to talk about and engage in wine. And oh, how it’s working. The weekly conversations via the #ukwinehour hashtag are now getting up to two million impressions a week and has a potential reach of some 350,000 Twitter accounts around the world for every live chat thanks to the cumulative impact of the hashtag, says Holloway.
A quite staggering figure when you consider two years ago Holloway was working as a photographer, after an initial career in the health service as a gynaecologist, and simply liked a glass or two of wine in an evening as an amateur wine lover.
Welcome to wine…
As she explains: “I am originally a trained gynaecologist and spent 12 years in the NHS, working in Northern Ireland, Sheffield, Truro and Plymouth. I have always liked drinking wine, but only got interested when I visited Tuscany for the first time 10 years ago. I gradually build up an interest and learnt a lot just from reading about wine on the internet.”
But it was thanks to social media that her ‘interest’ slowly started to take over her life. It also shows that if you know how to use social media, how quickly you can move your way up the so-called influencer ladder, simply by following those that seem to have a lot to say about themselves and join in. Which is pretty much the approach that Holloway took.
“I was an early adopter on social media so followed a lot of wine accounts,” she says.
Holloway, however, has not just relied on her power of voice on social media, she was also very much aware that to have any credible opinion about wine then you need to know what you are talking about. “It was when Yannick Loué opened up Le Vignoble in Plymouth about five years ago where I had somewhere locally where I could go and taste fine wines. I was like a kid in a sweet shop. He taught me WSET levels 1 and 2 and I caught the bug,” explains Holloway who has now gone on to get a distinction at Level 3 and is almost half-way through her Diploma.
It was, though, initially only about educating herself and enjoying this whole new world of wine that was opening up in front of her.
It was then a natural step for her to start going out to visit that world and go and see producers and more wine regions for herself. As she made more contacts and travelled further afield she saw the potential of starting her own wine travel business with her husband, Tim, that has evolved in to Away With Wine that now offers wine tours and visits to a growing number of regions across Europe. Including specialised tours to English vineyards across Cornwall and Sussex.
“I have always loved travelling and set up Away With Wine where we can organise tours and private parties to visit wine regions. I either run and take the trips myself or am setting up partnerships with people in different regions who have the local knowledge and are living and breathing the wines and the local culture.”
It is the business that provided her with her initial foothold in the sector, and, arguably the confidence to build on that by creating more of an online community through social media.
A move that ended up with the #ukwinehour, a dedicated hour every Thursday night between 7pm to 8pm that looks at different topics, countries and styles of wine every week. And a whole lot more.
“I was aware of all these Twitter chats that take place in the US, but there was nothing like that this side of the Atlantic. So I came up with the idea, found that no-one was using #ukwinehour and just jumped in. I also thought it would help raise my online profile and thereby indirectly promote my wine tour business, Away With Wine.”
Holloway makes it sound a lot easier than it turned out to be and she admits it took a good few weeks, and a few months, before she felt like she was not talking to herself in a virtual phone box.
“It was hard work in the beginning to stay committed to a weekly event when the attendance wasn’t so strong, but it has gone from strength to strength.”
But slowly and surely her numbers and followers started to grow, so much so that she is now in the 0.1% of influencers on Klout for wine and tastings. “It has taken on a life of its own and now with regular giveaways during the Twitter chat, plus our live events. It’s still hard work, of course, but I love it and love that it has brought so many people together.”
How it works…
She explains how the average #ukwinehour works? “We try and mix it up a little. It might be around a specific wine region or wine style, but we have found some of our most successful #ukwinehours ones are around a theme. We did one on women in wine last January and that’s when it really took off. I was really blown away by the high level of interaction. In November we did one to tie in with Sherry Week which was also very successful. I will pose some questions like “What does Sherry mean to you?” or have a special guest that people can send in questions for.”
It is that interaction that make #ukwinehour feel like a radio show online with Holloway acting as the DJ, shepherding her guests and followers through the programme. Somehow she finds a way to bring across her natural, Irish bubbly personality through her tweets and comments online.
And it’s live
And it’s live…
It was, therefore, a natural progression for #ukwinehour to have a live version where its followers and users could come along and take part, meet each other and have a good time talking and drinking wine. It is clearly where there is also a good commercial opportunity for Holloway to capitalise on the scale and success of #ukwinehour.
“We held our first #ukwinehourlive in July 2016 and had about 15 people along. But on November 24 we had around 100 consumers and wine press along to The University’s Women Club in Mayfair for our most ambitious event yet.”
One that also brought in some partners to help put on the event, including Majestic Wine, Cordoniu, Avina, Kaelo. Holloway was also able to put on four masterclasses for her guests.
“It went very well. I was very stressed beforehand but received a lot of good feedback and #ukwinehour love! What was particularly exciting was that #ukwinehourlive was trending in London on Friday night and Saturday morning, so much so that people were asking what it was. The reach overall was over 600,000 unique accounts. That’s the beauty of a Twitter chat and a hashtag. It’s a cumulative effect when you get people interacting.”
Clearly she has a successful framework in place to hold similar live events throughout 2018. That’s assuming she can find enough time in the day to keep on top of all these initiatives.
“I try to acknowledge every single tweet that anyone else makes using the hashtag, either by response, retweet, quote tweet or ‘favourite’” at the very least. It makes the contributor feel valued. And I welcome every participant too.”
Which sounds an exhausting schedule. “It’s been a big learning curve to know what I can take on myself and what I can delegate,” she admits. “It’s hard work and a big commitment to do the #ukwinehour every week and I do have guest hosts who can step in when I am away, including John Mobbs of Greatbritishwine. Francesca Gaffey has also been a great help behind the scenes in organising some of the live events and with some PR, whom I’m really grateful for. Otherwise I find myself tweeting away in the corner of a posh wine dinner or wine tasting.”
But what started as a hobby has now evolved in to a potentially serious commercial enterprise.
“I did not start #ukwinehour with that intention, but we are now working with producers and generics. We ran a live tasting with Sud de France which was a big success and hope to do more of those. I’ve put a huge amount of time in building both the chat and the live events and fingers crossed it’s starting to give me some return on that investment.”
- If you are interested in working with Sorcha Holloway you can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or, of course, join in during this Thursday’s #ukwinehour.