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Driving the blue bus of industry exposure
Professional experience: Andre Eikmeier and Justin Dry from Quoff TV have a passion for tasting wine.
by Malcolm Sutton
If you are a winemaker in the Hunter Valley, you may have seen them: two blokes travelling about in a conspicuous blue Kombi van on a quest to find Australia's best wines.
If you were close enough, you may also have noticed a television camera and the suspicious makings of a television program.
This is Qwoff TV, Australia's newest celebration of fine wine produced by two self-professed 'scruffy winelovers' based in Adelaide.
It is the latest addition to their popular wine community website, qwoff.com, and with online and industry interest growing rapidly, chances are you will see them pass through a wine region near you soon.
Qwoff TV presenter and website part-founder Andre Eikmeier says Qwoff's story began in early 2006.
'I was thinking how great it would be if there was a site you could go to read about wines, but reviews not by critics or journos, but by regular wine drinkers, like me,' he said.
'As it turns out, Justin Dry, my brother-in-law, came back from a six-month sabbatical in South America with an idea for a wine website that was a community.
'This was in the very early days of Facebook, which he'd been using to keep in touch with his mates back home.
'We launched in July 2007 and since then the site's grown, and we've got about 18,000 wine-loving members, mostly in Australia.'
Eikmeier describes the Qwoff online community as being similar to Facebook, but rather than a site dedicated to social networking, its members are dedicated to discovering, sharing and buying wines.
'Someone can come to Qwoff to look up consumer reviews on wines - they can 'friend-up' with other winelovers and share their own reviews and recommendations, keep track of their wine cellars, tasting notes, etc.
'The wine industry, in particular wineries, can reach nearly 20,000 winelovers through the site by approaching our members as people, not corporations.'
Because Qwoff is free to join, Eikmeier says it took a while for the website to generate an income.
'At the end of 2008, we got our liquor license and launched Qwoff Cellars, our online winestore, and started selling wine, and that's grown quite quickly,' he said.
Eikmeier says the winestore is Qwoff's main source of income, with the website's membership loyal enough to buy wine through Qwoff Cellars regularly.
'Also, we have a good idea what our members like to drink through their reviews and recommendations, so we're a bit more in touch with what they're after,' he said.
In May this year, an investor was brought onboard that enabled Eikmeier and Dry, who have had some help from web developers along the way, to commit full-time to the venture.
In September, the Qwoff boys launched their Australian-first internet wine show. It had such an impact that it sparked the attention of some major industry players.
'Qwoff TV has been something we've been dying to do for a while now,' Eikmeier said.
'In January, we bought a beat-up old Kombi sitting in an orchard in the Barossa, but it wasn't until June that we finally started shooting our 'Road to Vino' series, with our first episode in the Hunter.
'We intended to use Qwoff TV as the spearhead of our marketing for the site, to drive web traffic to Qwoff to watch the episode, and maybe buy the wines to taste for themselves, review them and get involved in the community.
'We've had over 20,000 page views and 2500 plays on the first two episodes, but we've not really even begun to market the show yet, so we're really pleased with the results.'
And they should be.
The day after the first episode of Qwoff TV was launched, Wine Australia, the marketing arm of the Australian Wine and Brandy Corporation (AWBC), contacted the boys with a view to discussing the show.
A meeting between the two parties followed where it was discovered there was common ground between Wine Australia's marketing intentions for Australian wine and what Qwoff was doing.
'We worked out a partnership, and they've gotten behind the show, as have the regions themselves,' Eikmeier said.
'(But) we're very conscious of not being a 'you pay, we shoot' model, so we choose the wines and people we want to involve in the show.'
AWBC International Marketing and Communications manager Lucy Anderson says supporting Qwoff TV is a great opportunity to market Australian wines.
'We've always thought that the best way to get people interested and behind Australian wines is to bring visitors out here and we've been doing that for long time,' she said.
'But it's also a pretty expensive exercise, so the next best thing is video, and these guys travelling around Australia, capturing the stories, personalities and footage of the regions is a cost effective and beneficial way to get that message out there, to show people around the world, as well as in Australia, just what our winemakers are doing and the history and heritage behind the regions.
'It is a chance to bring Australian lifestyle into people's living rooms, and help overcome misconceptions about what Australia is as a country and the styles of wine it is producing.'
The first four episodes of Qwoff TV portray the two winelovers visiting the Hunter Valley region, tasting Hunter Semillon with Chris Tyrell of Tyrell's Wine, Hunter Shiraz with Andrew Thomas of Thomas Wines and, 'The search for a Lakes Folly Cabernet'.
The next stop for the Kombi is the Barossa Valley, followed by McLaren Vale and Mornington Peninsula, and another eight regions during the next 12 months, with four episodes planned for each region.
'It's only just begun ... it's a lot of work,' Eikmeier said.
'We're trying to make a good show on a shoestring budget, while running a very rapidly growing wine website, but it's more fun than accounts, isn't it? And we're genuinely learning and discovering the best of Australia and its wines.'
The future holds a realm of possibilities for Qwoff TV, with the boys planning to launch in both the United States and United Kingdom in the near future.
But according to Eikmeier, it is the chance to be a voice for the industry and champion the region's and producers 'that are the very reason Qwoff exists' that gets them excited.
'We want to be a real portal for the industry and wine consumers to interact, communicate and build relationships,' he said.
'We're currently working on a big winery partnership program, developing the site so that wineries and consumers can build much stronger relationships.
'Wineries will be able to contribute much more content, and build a following.
'It's exciting, right at the forefront of social media, and will be up and running hopefully by December.'
Visit the Qwoff website at
www.qwoff.com.au and check out Qwoff TV at www.qwoff.com.au/go/qwofftv
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