Poland’s wine communicators

The world’s exporters are increasingly interested in the growing Polish wine market. Wojciech Bońkowski introduces the communicators connecting the public to wine.

Ferment, launched in 2017; Marek Bieńczyk, award-winning novelist, essayist and wine writer; Ewa Wieleżyńska,  Ferment magazine; Wojciech Bońkowski,  founder of Winicjatywa.pl  and Ferment
Ferment, launched in 2017; Marek Bieńczyk, award-winning novelist, essayist and wine writer; Ewa Wieleżyńska, Ferment magazine; Wojciech Bońkowski, founder of Winicjatywa.pl and Ferment

Wine writing arrived in Poland in 1999 when Gazeta Wyborcza, the leading broadsheet daily, began publishing a column by Marek Bieńczyk, an award-winning novelist and essayist with a passion for French wine. His columns became so popular they were eventually published as a collection in two bestselling books. In 2002, Bieńczyk also became part of the team that launched Magazyn Wino, the country’s wine bimonthly. Others included editor-in-chief Wojciech Gogoliński, deputy-editor Tomasz Prange-Barczyński, and myself. Bieńczyk and I also went on to publish three editions of the best-selling encyclopaedic wine guide Wina Europy, which rated 15,000 wines from 33 countries and exposed thousands to the riches and complexities of the wine world.  
 

Magazyn Wino grew in market relevance as it rated over 1,000 wines annually and awarded yearly Grand Prix medals. Boasting a highly respected editorial staff and essentially without competition, Magazyn Wino’s market influence was nonetheless limited even in its heyday. A distributor who won a gold medal for a sub-€25.00 ($29.00) Portuguese red – the Polish market’s sweet spot category – reported sales of less than 300 bottles following the award.

Wine magazines

In 2011, I left Magazyn Wino to launch Winicjatywa.pl, an online wine magazine whose audience has grown to 750,000 unique users per year in 2017. Factors for the website’s success have included a roll of both experienced and younger authors, a more approachable style of writing about wine, and a strong focus on supermarket wines: recommended bottles are known to have flown off Lidl’s or Auchan’s shelves within hours. In 2017, that success prompted the launch of Ferment, a glossy 164-page printed quarterly, with a team that includes Bieńczyk, Ewa Wieleżyńska (former deputy-editor of Magazyn Wino) and Ewa Rybak. 

In 2016, Magazyn Wino was purchased by alternative investment specialist Krzysztof Maruszewski, who also publishes a whisky magazine in Poland and London. This resulted in an implosion, with all contributors gradually leaving the company. Former editor-in-chief Prange-Barczyński has now also joined Ferment. After a six-month hiatus, bimonthly Magazyn Wino published a new issue in July 2018; it remains to be seen how the publication fares but with no respected authors in the new team, it is unlikely to have much influence on what people buy and drink.

Magazyn Wino’s first editor, Gogoliński, left the company in 2006 and became senior editor at Czas Wina, a magazine published by Cracow wine importer Dom Wina, with Michał Bardel as editor-in-chief. Czas Wina features good reportage and educational writing but does no wine criticism or ratings—it only mentions wines imported by Dom Wina. Consequently it has no influence on the market. The same can be said about the marginal Degustator Magazyn from Gdynia.

General press

There is now nearly no wine criticism in Poland’s general media. Leading dailies Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita have discontinued their wine columns, partly because of legal concerns; wine recommendations could be considered illegal advertisement of alcohol according to some interpretations. The closest Poland has had to a traditional wine magazine column in recent years was that of Robert Mazurek, a popular political commentator, in right-wing weekly wSieci, but this has now been dropped and it is unclear whether Mazurek will move to another publication. “Mazurek’s reviews of more expensive wines could sometimes show in sales,” says an Italian specialist. Robert Szulc works at Poland’s leading daily tabloid Fakt and occasionally recommends supermarket wines there, effectively reaching the widest audience of any wine writer in Poland; he also has a personal blog, Winiacz.

Blogs

Because the market is still small, and perhaps because of the strength of the printed media, the wine blogosphere in Poland is still undeveloped and has little influence on consumers’ decisions. Most promising bloggers such as Rybak and Sławomir Sochaj have eventually joined the print media (both now work at Ferment) or have stopped writing because of career changes (Maciej Klimowicz). Although Winicjatywa’s aggregator lists 69 wine blogs, very few have managed to build any readership. The original sin of many bloggers has been to focus on supermarket wine samples, which made most of the writing copycat and thus failed to engage consumers.

 
The only relevant blogs appear to be Zdegustowany, Winiacz, and Nasz Świat Win, but they have no impact on sales. Maciej Sokołowski, a freelance sommelier and popular educator in the city of Poznań, is mentioned by one retailer as able to move bottles (if not cases). Dotrzechdych.pl was an early attempt at a no-frills, entry-level-oriented blog written by the “man next door”. After some early success with the public it was taken over by Magazyn Wino and has lost its vibe and influence. An honorary mention goes to Mariusz Kapczyński, a writer from Cracow who has run the Vinisfera.pl website for a decade and is highly respected by the trade, though he has few readers.

Peer reviews

Finally, the oft-predicted era of sales driven by peer reviews has not yet arrived in Poland. There are no domestic wine apps – an early attempt by Dotrzechdych.pl never really took off – and the Polish community of Vivino, for example, is small, with top-ranking users followed by just 300–500 and the conversation often dominated by poorly disguised importers’ pitches. Leading online retailers such as Winezja, Kondrat and Wina.pl have introduced customer reviews for all the wines they sell, and these appear to have increasing traction.

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