The New Wine Writers

Some people don’t like awards. I don’t mind them. I’m a fan of discernment and lists. Call it an affinity for critical categorization. And so I again thought it wonderful to see the presentation of the 2012 Wine Blog Awards not too long ago in Portland, Oregon during the Wine Bloggers Conference.

This was the sixth year awards were given to wine bloggers to reward excellence. I began the awards back in 2007 right here on this blog. The idea was to champion the best of the new breed of writers who chose the blog format to express their insights on wine. The idea was to inspire more bloggers to state their mind well. The idea was to introduce more readers to more writers. So far, so good I think.

Yet as I sat at a banquet table in the ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in Portland and watched Alan Kropf of Mutineer Magazine host the ceremony of presenting the 2012 Wine Blog Awards, I could not stop wondering if the winner of the award for Best Overall Wine Blog, Jamie Goode, is right: “Wine Blogging is dead”.

Goode’s point is well stated:

“Blogging had this golden age where people were happy to be defined as bloggers, and there was a sense that the blog was supplanting other forms of online communication. Blogging was cool, it was sexy, and it seemed to be the future. But the golden age of blogging has passed. We’re left with the sense that blogs have never really fulfilled their promise. Within a short time, I don’t think we’ll be describing people as bloggers any more, the way we have been doing for the last few years. Blogs will still be with us, and some will be very important, but they’ll not be centre stage.”

Jamie Goode is only one person with one opinion, but it’s an opinion to take seriously as he is a serious writer. He’s right. Not too many years ago blogging, including wine blogging, did seem a little sexy and it most certainly was something new, if not the “future”. I further think he’s correct that the shine is dulling a tad.

A dulling shine is not such a bad thing.

My evaluation of the world of wine blogging centers around its utility, not it’s shine. For this writer and wine marketer, more and more I see the gulf between “wine writer” and “wine blogger” narrowing. In other words, the task of communicating the meaning of wine and explaining the significance of the wine industry is now being accomplished by a growing cohort of writers. Some are professional and get paid to act as a professional. Others are amateurs. Some are better writers than others. Some are more informed than others. Some have large audiences. Others small followings. But just like in the arenas of technology, politics, news, fiction, archeology and any other domain of things and information, the consumers (readers) are lumping together blogs, websites, newspapers and books into one thing: sources of information.

The degree to which a blog, newspaper, magazine, professional writer or amateur writer can successfully convey useful, educational or entertaining information determines their utility to the reader. This brings us back to the Wine Blog Awards.

What we have in wine blogs is a large contingent of mostly amateur writers, with a dash of industrious monetizers, using primarily a blogging platform to deliver information to a reading public. The Wine Blog Awards recognize some of the better examples of this category.

Wine blogging and the blog itself is not dead. It’s just that the more mediocre examples of this kind of information vehicle don’t get a pass for being shinny and new.

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9 Responses

  1. Charlie Olken - September 4, 2012

    It has always seemed to me that blogging, and more specifically, wine blogging, was journalism. The act of putting facts or opinions or just plain verbiage into print, is the essence of journalism.

    The “coming together” that you describe, Tom, is only, in my view, a recognition of this fact. Good writing, of the type that folks like you and Alder and Jamie have been producing has been part of the wine information scene from its very outset.

    When blogs first began to exist, I wondered if my form of journalism, the kind people pay for, was dead. Turns out that it is not. In part, that is because of inertia–I had paid readers before blogging–and, in part because I have a product that many people find fungible.

    Most of those who get paid for winewriting exist in two camps. Those write for existing, printed on paper publications. A few of use have transitioned to the Internet, but mainly because we do not rely on advertising but on subscribers for our revenue streams.

    The folks who make no money, either directly or indirectly, run the gamut from professional to rank amateur. A few newcomers have found a way to make money on the Internet, but blogging has not been and is not going to be the pathway to fame and fortune, or even to free wine, for most bloggers.

    Blogging is journalism. It provides information of all kinds, and it has enabled a few amateurs to become solid professionals. In that, blogging has succeeded.

    But, blogging is not dead because it did not succeed financially the way many hoped it would. The only problem with blogging is that it can be terminally boring at times. There are only so many good topics, and we all tend to repeat them. And there iare only so many words one can read before going off to do other things. I feel the same way these days about the Sunday NYT. I can;t read the damn thing anymore.

    So, here’s to blogging. Enough people are now accepting that it is journalism. That does not save boring from being boring, but it does at least admit that there are journalistic standards to be applied at some level. That is also a measure of success.

  2. Tom Wark - September 4, 2012

    Charlie:

    Is it true that there are only so many good topics when it comes to wine blogging? Among the real satisfying moments I’ve experienced blogging over the past 8 years is when I find a seemingly new perspective on wine and culture and life. It happens more often than I you would think.

    It may be that writers take the path of least resistance and write about the same old thing. It may be that readers WANT to read about the same old thing. Let’s face it, most wine magazines and most wine columns do tread the same ground on an annual basis.

    My hope is that those who can walk outside the norm get rewarded in some way. At the very least, I want to read them.

  3. Cindy Molchany - September 4, 2012

    Hi Tom,

    It was nice to be at your table during the Wine Blog Awards Ceremony & King Estate Dinner.

    Aside from the fact that it would have been better if more of the award winners were in attendance, I think having the awards is important in terms of showcasing our niche’s best examples, and I thought all recipients were very deserving.

    I agree with you – wine blogging is NOT dead! I am actually thankfully employed because wine bloggers exist! In the last few weeks since WBC, I have started working for Zephyr Adventures (conference organizer) and am “Community Manager” for the wine blogging community. I’m here to listen, share, and aide wine bloggers all year round, and to do whatever I can on behalf of Zephyr Adventures to help them realize their utility.

    The nature of blogging ensures that extremes will exist between great and terrible, and I do not subscribe to the notion that “you are only as good as your weakest link” as it relates to wine blogs. As a community and group of people that do what we do (either for pay, passion, or both) we are still maturing and evolving, and I am pretty darn confident that the wine blogger’s day in the sun to shine is just on the horizon.

  4. Charlie Olken - September 4, 2012

    Tom–

    The number of topics is not as limited as the bulk of bloggers make it seem to be. The few really good and perceptive observer/writers do find ways to explore a broad and interesting array of topics. In my experience, most blogs do not, and that include some of the best written and most popular blogs–like some that have just won Awards.

    I find it harder and harder to read broadly in the wine blogosphere these days, and I have cut back my own writing in order to focus on topics that seem to me to deserve some sort of critical examination.

    There are many that meet that test but few that meet it regularly. And some of the best, like Jeff Lefevere’s blog, are now gone.

    Blogging is not dead. It now, however, is being held up to the light of journalistic standards, and those are higher bars. No one should ever stop blogging if they are enjoying it. Their interest, enthusiasm, energy are all that is requred to keep blogging. It takes more than that, however, to inform, provoke, move a broad swath of readership on a regular basis–and that is why it is so tough to not be boring from time to time.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - September 4, 2012

    Charlie,

    Opinions matter when this condition is met: the opinions are informed and their expression is informative.

    That a blog is boring all-too-often has to do with the gap between having an opinion and having the skill to write compellingly.

  6. W. Blake Gray - September 4, 2012

    Whaddya mean the party’s over? I just got here, dammit.

  7. Charlie Olken - September 5, 2012

    Blake, the party is far from over. It has just become more sophisiticated in some ways as the art form of blogging becomes accepted as journalism.

    I personally think it was ever thus, and I am glad to see blogging being discussed in those kinds of terms because that brings a suggestions of standards. One of those standards, in my opinion, is to avoid tredding the same ground over and over again. There are many very good blogs that avoid the reptition trap. When I realized that the Connoisseurs’ Wine Blog was not meeting that standard, Steve and I cut it back. Hopefully, it is now smarter and fresher if not as frequent in its appearance.

  8. Tom - September 5, 2012

    “What we have in wine blogs is a large contingent of mostly amateur writers, with a dash of industrious monetizers, using primarily a blogging platform to deliver information to a reading public. The Wine Blog Awards recognize some of the better examples of this category.”

    Looking at the list of award winners, it strikes me there may be only one or two amateur writers among them. The rest are trained journalists, work in PR, or have some other connection to professional writing. It may be that these people write better blogs as the awards would indicate they do, but for sure they’re not amateur writers.

  9. Wine Blog, comunicazione, - January 21, 2013

    [...] Esistono molti blog che parlano di vino, certi hanno un grande seguito, altri hanno pochi lettori, qualcuno scrive bene altri no, citando Tom Wark su Fermentation.  [...]


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