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Wine Blogging Comes of Age


Rebel Rose
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Today's big announcement on the wine news aggregation sites is that USA Today is starting a daily wine blog.

I know for myself I have to check Fermentation every day, and I have a list of about 12 blogs that I check once a week, including Eric Asimov's The Pour.

Does anyone else here refer to blogs for wine news and reviews?

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Mary Baker

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I am well aware that I'll take some flack for this one but so be it. The simple truth is that I am well fed up and tired and bored to tears by wine/food blogs and that regardless of whether they are posted by professional or amateur wine/food lovers. Several reasons for this:

First of all, what I consider the outrageous replication of material, that made easy by the freedom of cyberspace, in which literally thousands of people (as I say, both professionals and others) have been convinced that even more hundreds of thousands will be interested to read what they have to say. Something like saying that everyone should write his/her autobiography. Autobiographies should be written only by people whose lives have had interest and who know how to write. Same with blogs and perhaps there are better outlets than blogs for intelligent writing?

Second, much of blogging has the same impact on me as the waiter or waitress who greets me by saying, for example, "Hi, my name is Josephine and I'm going to be your waitress for the evenng". Now I'm as democratic as the next person and respect wait persons enormously but if the simple truth be told I don't give a damn what their names are, the health status of their mother, etc, etc. Same with blogs......I have seen blogs by people who adore Jello. For heaven's sake, there must be a limit, and I honestly don't care by what method someone slid their peanut butter flavored bananas into their raspberry flavored Jello.

Third, with professionals, one cannot escape the feeling that they are writing blogs only because their editors have told them that in these days of sinking readership they must find a way to reach out to an increased readership. And that a wine professional in Bordeaux found his bed lumpy is of no interest whatsoever to me!

I cannot wonder why forums, internet sites and even (forgive me for being old-fashioned) the printed media is not enough for us.

I now stand back, bullet-proof vest well in place, my epee in readiness.

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I am well aware that I'll take some flack for this one but so be it.  The simple truth is that I am well fed up and tired and bored to tears by wine/food blogs and that regardless of whether they are posted by professional or amateur wine/food lovers.

I'm right there with you -- and one of the multitude of reasons I gave up blogging involves many of your valid arguments.

Besides, writing for an income is much more fulfilling than writing and disseminating information for free...

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I wouldn't be so quick to generalize about blogs. Not all blogs are created equal. Sure, as with most any other form of literature, almost all of what's out there is garbage. But, at the same time, some of what's out there is brilliant. I see no harm in having everybody who wants to blog blog, and letting the various filtering mechanisms of the online world push the best stuff to the top.

After all, while the technology for blogs as such is relatively new (at least in its mass market form), the idea of writing a personal journal for publication -- such as a travelogue -- has been around for ages. And for ages the same thing has been true: most suck, and some are great.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Daniel, since I don't know what an 'epee' is, I have a somewhat alarming mental picture of that. I will have to look it up.

I just found this post on Mark Fisher's blog Wine Sediments, written by fellow blogger Jens Rosencrantz, who writes the Cincinnati Wine Warehouse blog.

I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I don’t subscribe to any major wine publications (Spectator, Advocate, Decanter); I get all my information from blogs, Wine Business Online and the Internet.

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Mary Baker

Solid Communications

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Daniel, since I don't know what an 'epee' is,

Think fencing.

The most offensive thing about a blog is its name. Aside from that, let those who can, write and those who can't, become playwrights.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I just found this post on Mark Fisher's blog Wine Sediments, written by fellow blogger Jens Rosencrantz, who writes the Cincinnati Wine Warehouse blog.
I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I don’t subscribe to any major wine publications (Spectator, Advocate, Decanter); I get all my information from blogs, Wine Business Online and the Internet.

As might justifiably be said: Chaqun a son gout (Each to his or her taste)

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Epee, courtesy of Wikipedia

I generally prefer the sabre.

Here's my problem with most wine writing and blogging: there is a painfully high educational, chronological, and capital investment to keep up with either the blogs, or the actual consumption in the blogs.

Take me, I like wine. I can marginally describe a particular wine. But, if I come across a reasonable wine description (take FloridaJim's on eG for example) I zone out. I can't finish it because it is mentally exhausting to actually recreate his tasting experience, or I don't have the knowledge to recreate his tasting experience, or the wine is totally out of my budget.

I have rarely found much wine literature for me. Good wine salespeople can work with me well, and I well with them. But Wine Spectator, or wine blogs are completely inscrutible.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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While I knew the usage of the word Épée, I heretofore thought it similar to "Hoist by your own petard" (not a suit for dogs to exercise in!) ... but it is as always, perfectly used by Rogov on this occasion.

Back to the wine blogs: I strongly agree with jsolomon's sentiments here when he says I don't have the knowledge to recreate his tasting experience .. I always assume that the blog writer is far ahead of me in all aspects of his critiques and I tend, therefore, to take the writer's word as "gospel", which it is not ...

Melissa Goodman aka "Gifted Gourmet"

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Indeed, not all who write blogs have the knowledge or erudtion of which they are convinced they possess. I'm the first to agree that this is also true of professionals, but at least with pros there are some safeguards - editors and publishers being among them and even more important - feedback from readers. Professional food/wine writers or critics (those subjects are, after all is what this forum is about) can survive only so long as they have a readership and therefore whether their editors will give them the required space in which to write their columns. Your audience may love or hate you but to editors, what is important is that they read you. The same is simply not true of the blogger. As has been discussed by philosophers and kings, perhaps the freedom of cyberspace is simultaneously its best and worst point.

None of which is to imply that the non-professional does not have what to say. Nor is this to say that such people need restrict themselves from saying this, but the moment we present ourselves as "experts" in any way there must be some control, some ongoing input as to the quality and validity of what we say.

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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Interesting answers, but now instead of one question, I have two.

Don't you think that the fact major newspapers like The NY Times and USA Today have begun wine blogs this year indicates that they now recognize the power of blogging to attract people to their sites and subscription services?

Surely someone here has encountered wine blogs that are more interesting than the random reports of digestive rumblings by self-absorbed, untalented wine geeks?

There are winery blogs that follow the action during harvest and crush, there are some good retail store blogs, and there are opinion blogs that cover a wide range of issues in the wine industry instead of wine reviews.

Some blogs I would recommend are Fermentation, Cima Collina, Anne Amie, Wine Camp, The Pour, Cincinnati Wine House, Vin Vini Vino, and La Gramiere.

The reason I'm not providing links is because I'm issuing a challenge to everyone to find one blog that you might enjoy following say, once a week, and review it for us. If you need more help getting started, here is a list of recently updated wine blogs.

I'll give Daniel a free pass because anyone who researches and writes about wine at his level is too busy to read blogs anyway! And no reviewing mine, either, sorry! :smile:

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Mary Baker

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Wine Blogging is not one thing. Most of the blogs out there are written by people doing it just out of a love a wine with no intention to become famous or to make money from it. I think blogging represents wine better than publications like The Wine Spectator because they truly bring out the diversity with which wines are perceived by the drinker. As wine is about personal taste, there will (and should be) just as many opinions out there as there are tasters. Blogs take control of information away from “experts” and puts it into the hands of the consumer. The established wine press doesn’t like this as it eats away at their power and income.

There are more excellent wines to drink in the world than ever before. In fact, there are far too many for traditional wine publications to cover and the explosion of blogs means that many excellent wines that would be ignored might just show up in someone’s Google or Yahoo search and end up on their dinner table. Blogs also let small wineries reach beyond the constipated 100 point scale information logjam and tell consumers that may be looking for their style of wines their story. Take for example our host Mary Baker’s excellent blog on their winemaking voyage at Dover Canyon. She brings alive the mission and passion of a small producer that many would never have heard of if they relied on The Wine Spectator or similar publication.

Like anything you read, the reader needs to be critical and evaluate that information and decide if it is worthwhile to them and based on sufficient experience to be useful. This applies to any article whether is writing by Robert Parker, James Suckling, Daniel Rogov or some blogger.

One of the major assets of blogs is their conversational nature. The reader can challenge or agree with the writer right on the spot and even call them to account for incorrect information. Imagine if James Suckling had to put his opinion of the 2000 vintage in Piemonte up for a challenge. It would have saved people a lot of money. I think it is great to see someone like Eric Asimov actually engaging his readers. Wine writers who author blogs are more accountable to their readers than those who don’t

Blogs are opening a wine world that was becoming closed with just a few publications controlling all information and ultimately deciding what would get sold. Already blogging is breaking up their control by forcing top critics to defend their positions publicly against educated drinkers who disagree with their opinions.

Blogs encourage diversity in wine.

Edited by Craig Camp (log)
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Epee, courtesy of Wikipedia

I generally prefer the sabre.

Here's my problem with most wine writing and blogging: there is a painfully high educational, chronological, and capital investment to keep up with either the blogs, or the actual consumption in the blogs.

Take me, I like wine.  I can marginally describe a particular wine.  But, if I come across a reasonable wine description (take FloridaJim's on eG for example) I zone out.  I can't finish it because it is mentally exhausting to actually recreate his tasting experience, or I don't have the knowledge to recreate his tasting experience, or the wine is totally out of my budget.

I have rarely found much wine literature for me.  Good wine salespeople can work with me well, and I well with them.  But Wine Spectator, or wine blogs are completely inscrutible.

Actually it is very easy and free to find and keep up with your favorite blogs due to services like Bloglines, Rojo and others.

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Blogs take control of information away from “experts” and puts it into the hands of the consumer. The established wine press doesn’t like this as it eats away at their power and income.

Blogs also let small wineries reach beyond the constipated 100 point scale information logjam and tell consumers that may be looking for their style of wines their story.

Excellent points, Craig. (And thank you for the compliment.)

To elaborate on these statements a little more so that our members really understand what you mean by this "logjam," the major consumer wine publications have lead times of four to six months. This means it takes that long for a review to appear. Nearly all the wines that are reviewed are larger productions, or 'limited mailing list' productions that are newsworthy.

The Wine Spectator still reviews some tiny productions, but basically it's .01% of the small productions out there. (Their samples submission form clearly states at the top that they do not guarantee a printed review, and it also states that there is little chance of a review unless they have "requested" the samples.)

There's a whole world of excellent, affordable wines right now that are either panned or disparaged by the major 'lifestyle' wine publications. This is the area where bloggers who write well--I think Jens at Cincinnati Wine Warehouse does an excellent job of this--provide an interesting and beneficial source of information.

It's sort of like the difference between a high society wine shop where you can buy Bordeaux futures and find Abreu, Screaming Eagle and Harlan, vs. those cool little warehouse places where everything is stacked haphazardly and you find great, affordable and interesting wines that your friends have never heard of.

Each has its purpose.

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Mary Baker

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Blogs take control of information away from “experts” and puts it into the hands of the consumer. The established wine press doesn’t like this as it eats away at their power and income.

Blogs are opening a wine world that was becoming closed with just a few publications controlling all information and ultimately deciding what would get sold. Already blogging is breaking up their control by forcing top critics to defend their positions publicly against educated drinkers who disagree with their opinions.

Blogs encourage diversity in wine.

Craig, Hi.....

In the friendliest of manners (believe me), let me disagree with the three statements you made above (and I apologize for citing them at least partly out of contet)

1. You say that the established wine press does not like blogging because it takes control from them and transfers it to the consumer. This in turn, you say, eats away at our power and income. Diametrically disagreed and in several ways. The very fact that so many wine blogs have appeared in recent years has actually inspired an increasing number of newspapers and magazines to add wine columns to their regular press and on-line editions, in fact this making for more work and greater income for the pros. Perhaps more important, in recent years those who read wine columns in both magazines and newspapers have increased by nearly 40%.

2. As to transfering "power to the consumer", any critic who does not believe and/or know that that power has always belonged to the consumer is an abject idiot. Keep in mind that those consumers are both the clients and judges of the critics. They read us, decide whether we're worth reading and then either continue or discontinue reading us. As often I have said, the true "bosses" of any critic are neither his editors nor his publishers but his readers. That does not mean we have to pander to readers. It does mean that we have to be faithful to and respectable of them.

3. As to publications deciding what is to be sold, you may be over-crediting the power of the press. I do not have publication numbers (and any publisher who gives you numbers is telling lies!) but I can assure you that fewer than 1% of wine buyers read Parker, the Wine Spectator, Decanter or even the most major newspapers in the USA.

As I said earlier, blogs have something remarkably akin to autobiographies. How many people who write autobiographies are going to say "I led a rotten and boring life and was basically a rotten human being?" For that matter, how many winemakers are going to be self-critical enough to write, "this was a truly terrible harvest and we had an abundance of problems at the winery, so you can pretty well believe that our wines are going to be pretty mediocre this year".

We may also forget that the role of the critic is to attempt to define standards while that of the consumer is often the reportage of popularity. Indeed the wine experience is a subjective one but there are, as is true for any field of human endeavor, standards and standards and popularity do not always walk hand in hand. If we assumed that were true we might conclude that Coca Cola is the "best" beverage in the world.

Again, my objection is not at all to people writing about wine (or food or any other aesthetic endeavor) and presenting their writings in public. My objection is to the abysmal proliferation of not-nearly-knowledgeable enough people who do this on every possible subject.

As you, I and others have said, it falls on the consumer (the reader of either the critic or the blogger in this case) to read with a critical eye and determine what is worth reading. Part of the problem I am having is that as blogs proliferate few of us have the time required to sift through all of the true junk and to find the few gems that exist. Me....I would rather see those gems on independent web sites or as part of sites such this one and not as bloggers.

As to the comment about sifting through warehouses (or, in Europe, more likely in supermarkets) and finding the little gems.......let's be honest....a huge percentage of the wines in those warehouses and supermarkets are truly mediocre or even bad wines. Best (at least in Europe) to make a weekly or bi-weekly round of the better wine bars and find out what knowledgeable owners have brought back for our tasting. At least we know that they try to bring back wines that they will be proud to serve. The owner of the wine bar, like the critic, does not state absolutes. He/she tries to give direction. Let us also keep in mind that no matter how "nice", "charming" or "open" they may be, bloggers from distributors, wineries, etc never lose track of the fact that they are selling wine. It falls on both the consumer and the critic to decide what to buy.

But I ramble (as often I do). Considering that it is now 10:37 in the evening where I am, I shall now at least for a while turn to my cigar and a fine glass of Armagnac (in the case of this evenng a Cuban Monte Cristo Panatella and a snifter of the 1972 Reserve of Chateau Labaude).

Edited by Daniel Rogov (log)
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Does anyone else here refer to blogs for wine news and reviews?

sorry to do this to you, Rose, but shall we turn this question around and posit: Does anyone here (here being a blog-friendly habitat as is) not turn to blogs for wine blather?

Disclaimer #1: With full credit and respect to Mr. Rogov, who makes an excellent point about signal-noise ratios on most blogs, wine or otherwise.

Disclaimer #2: Question posed as someone who recently addressed a room full of food types and exhorted them all not to start blogging, for the exact signal-noise problems mentioned above.

Disclaimer #3: Despite my tending to agree on the signal-noise issue, I am a perpetrator myself.

[edited to add a needed space]

Edited by jbonne (log)
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Actually it is very easy and free to find and keep up with your favorite blogs due to services like Bloglines, Rojo and others.

Bloglines, Rojo, and others don't increase my reading speed. Nor do they increase my thinking speed, tolerance for abstruse prose, or limitations of liking run-on sentences and poor spelling.

Also, I tend to find myself more likely to believe the wine taste of someone that I have experienced wine with. That just doesn't happen much because the wine bloggers' and wine writers' reviewed wines don't often make it here into the central hinterlands ("flyover" states for the painfully hip).

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Does anyone else here refer to blogs for wine news and reviews?

sorry to do this to you, Rose, but shall we turn this question around and posit: Does anyone here (here being a blog-friendly habitat as is) not turn to blogs for wine blather?

Disclaimer #1: With full credit and respect to Mr. Rogov, who makes an excellent point about signal-noise ratios on most blogs, wine or otherwise.

Disclaimer #2: Question posed as someone who recently addressed a room full of food types and exhorted them all not to start blogging, for the exact signal-noise problems mentioned above.

Disclaimer #3: Despite my tending to agree on the signal-noise issue, I am a perpetrator myself.

[edited to add a needed space]

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Take me, I like wine.  I can marginally describe a particular wine.  But, if I come across a reasonable wine description (take FloridaJim's on eG for example) I zone out.  I can't finish it because it is mentally exhausting to actually recreate his tasting experience, or I don't have the knowledge to recreate his tasting experience, or the wine is totally out of my budget.

Actually, that is sort of the antithesis of Jim. His main point, always, is that points don't matter, that there are many great wines that are affordable, and that beauty is all in the eye of the beholder and a meal with friends and good wine. I actually find Jim's writing to be the opposite of most wine writing. But, to each their own. Certainly I will agree with you whole heartedly on one thing--Jim's knowledge and experience are formidable. That said, you would be hard pressed to find anyone LESS pretentious.

Anyway, to the topic at hand. Personally I just don't have time to keep up with blogs, but that is more of a technical aspect of how I like to experience cyberspace. That said, I am a big, BIG fan of the trend of rank amateurs (me included) sharing their opinions about a wine in whatever language they can muster. I think the challenge is a technical one: how to structure all of these thoughts and make them actionable, easily mined, and able to be used as a tool to help guide purchasing and drinking decisions. Amateurs will never replace the palate of a calibrated, consistent professional. However, all of these people writing in cyberspace does present a unique opportunity and resource, namely much broader coverage of the nearly infinite world of wines. One problem with the pros is that they just do not cover enough wine and, more importantly, rarely circle back 5-10 years later to let me know when I should actually drink those wines. And for someone who collects and drinks wines that are mostly at their best after 10-15 years (e.g. Bordeaux, Northern Rhone, German Riesling), the cost of killing a bottle too early (Ever open a totally closed bottle of Bordeaux? What a waste!), even just a few recent notes from amateurs on a wine can tell me all that I need to know about whether opening it is a good or bad idea.

Anyway, just my penny or two. It's a rich topic and apparently one with some controversy.

Edited by cellartracker (log)
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As someone proud to call himself a food and wine blogger in addition to a professional food and wine writer, I find this discussion interesting (though also well-worn--this conversation is only just now making its way to the wine writing world but has been persistent in other arenas of news coverage for years now).

I love the complaints about the "autobiographical" nature of wine blogging. Two of the most popular wine writers in the U.S. are John and Dottie at the Wall Street Journal. They are successful in large part because they talk about themselves and their lives in the column. Sure they also provide real information--so do a lot of wine bloggers.

So why are they accepted--lauded even--while wine bloggers are not? Ignoring the fact that many bloggers aren't very good writers: After all some bloggers are far better writers than the bulk of "regular contributors" who deaden the mainstream media.

The distinction between professional and nonprofessional is somewhat arbitrary. Do you consider Alder at Vinography.com a professional or a nonprofessional? He doesn't work in the wine industry in a professional sense, but he pulls in some money from ad revenue on his site, just like "professional" publications.

Derrick Schneider

My blog: http://www.obsessionwithfood.com

You have to eat. You might as well enjoy it!

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Take me, I like wine.  I can marginally describe a particular wine.  But, if I come across a reasonable wine description (take FloridaJim's on eG for example) I zone out.  I can't finish it because it is mentally exhausting to actually recreate his tasting experience, or I don't have the knowledge to recreate his tasting experience, or the wine is totally out of my budget.

Actually, that is sort of the antithesis of Jim. His main point, always, is that points don't matter, that there are many great wines that are affordable, and that beauty is all in the eye of the beholder and a meal with friends and good wine. I actually find Jim's writing to be the opposite of most wine writing. But, to each their own. Certainly I will agree with you whole heartedly on one thing--Jim's knowledge and experience are formidable.

I think you read my comment wrong. I was using FloridaJim's wine writing as an example of reasonable wine writing/blogging. It just is a painful academic exercise for me to read about wine. Jim's writing style is perfectly acceptable. I just can't get into the subject matter.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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Take me, I like wine.  I can marginally describe a particular wine.  But, if I come across a reasonable wine description (take FloridaJim's on eG for example) I zone out.  I can't finish it because it is mentally exhausting to actually recreate his tasting experience, or I don't have the knowledge to recreate his tasting experience, or the wine is totally out of my budget.

Actually, that is sort of the antithesis of Jim. His main point, always, is that points don't matter, that there are many great wines that are affordable, and that beauty is all in the eye of the beholder and a meal with friends and good wine. I actually find Jim's writing to be the opposite of most wine writing. But, to each their own. Certainly I will agree with you whole heartedly on one thing--Jim's knowledge and experience are formidable.

I think you read my comment wrong. I was using FloridaJim's wine writing as an example of reasonable wine writing/blogging. It just is a painful academic exercise for me to read about wine. Jim's writing style is perfectly acceptable. I just can't get into the subject matter.

Gotcha.

All I know is that when I read what Jim writes, I want to be there at the meal! :biggrin:

Edited by cellartracker (log)
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