Top 10 Things I learned at the Wine Bloggers Conference

WBC13 My sixth Wine Bloggers Conference was approached with trepidation. I’ve been questioning the utility of the semantics of “blogger” and “wine blogger” of late. Also, I knew nothing of Penticton, British Columbia. Finally, very few of my closer blogging-friends and colleagues would be in attendance.

The format was the same. Bring together “wine bloggers” in a wine region to discover that region, learn about wines from other parts of the world, explore their wine writing avocation amongst their peers and strengthen the camaraderie of the group. It turns out my trepidation was without merit. It was a very successful conference for me despite nearly coughing up my lungs with a nasty bout of the flu. I learned a lot this weekend.

1. Modern Greek Vin Santo is an amazing wine and should be discovered by all wine lovers.

2. Lungs can’t actually be “coughed up”, but you can exercise and tighten up your stomach muscles in the process of discovering it’s not possible.

3. Penticton, British Columbia really is a “must visit” for serious wine lovers, and its “Penticton Lakeside Resort” was the most beautiful venue yet for a Wine Bloggers Conference.

4. It would do all wine bloggers good to focus equally as much on the quality of their writing as on the extent of their wine knowledge.

5. You can gain great insight into the historical culture of Napa Valley by reading America’s great writers of the South.

6. The liquor law of British Columbia are insanely anti-consumer and terribly protectionist. The citizens of this province deserve much better and BC wine bloggers should lead the charge to change the laws.

7. The Canadians make world-class wines, but their greatest wine accomplishment remains their magnificent Ice Wines.

8. There are wines coming out of Argentina called “Hand of God” that are very important.

9. The term “blogger” will more and more come to take on a pejorative meaning in the next few years as it continues to be the term associated with an amateur who should be taken lightly.

10. Say what you will about wine flacks, but the veteran wine publicists are among the most well-rounded and grounded, most perceptive an smartest people in the wine industry.


29 Responses

  1. Allan Wright - June 9, 2013

    Tom,

    Glad you attended your sixth out of six Wine Bloggers Conference. I’ll bite on this statement:

    “The term “blogger” will more and more come to take on a pejorative meaning in the next few years as it continues to be the term associated with an amateur who should be taken lightly.”

    I would suggest this is not something you learned at the conference but, instead, is your notion you are trying to sell to your readers. My logic:

    1. When asked, 1/3 of attendees said they considered themselves writers, 1/3 both writers and bloggers, and 1/3 bloggers.

    2. There was so discussion in the sessions which I attended about blogger being pejorative or losing ground. Really, quite the opposite was the mood as you clearly saw from everyone seeming to have a great time.

    3. I had only one person all weekend suggest to me we should change the name of the conference. (Believe me, I hear lots of suggestions all weekend about everything. These are, after all, bloggers.)

    4. Our advisory board discussed the idea of changing the conference name to remove blogger and while there was no consensus, the clear answer was we should not at this point. We had a small-group discussion of veteran attendees about changing the name of the Wine Blog Awards and, while there was no consensus, there was strong opposition.

    5. In other niches, blogging is not at all considered pejorative or demeaning. Consider tech bloggers and mommy bloggers or, in the worlds in which I operate, food bloggers, beer bloggers, and fitness bloggers.

    Do you think you might be leading the charge based on what you think rather than reporting on what you learned at the conference? There is a big difference in how you present this idea.

    Allan
    WBC Organizer

  2. Joel Vincent - June 9, 2013

    I echo what Allan wrote and I’d add that every year when we conduct the Wine Blog Award judging discussions with the judges revolves around the increased respect and very positive impression they have of bloggers. They often tell me how high the quality of the blogs are and even request contact information on the bloggers.

    Respect is earned and efforts like the conference and the awards increase the awareness of what a blogger is and means to the wine community in general and where they fit in.

    I submit its quite the opposite my friend. It’s been a short 6 years in an industry that’s been evolving for millennia. I would preach patience and perseverance more that abandonment of the moniker. More importantly, I would say what was learned this year more than anything is “a focus on refining your blogging craft, whatever the form you communicate with, to improve the quality is a top priority”.

  3. Morris Holmes - June 9, 2013

    As long as the format is called a blog you will be called bloggers. Not very imaginative but there you have it. Good writers and bad; good books and poor ones, if the content is there the piece will be read and you can call yourselves what ever you want. I’ll still read it. And if you were successful in changing the term blogger into something else will that improve your writing? As a blogger there are more important things to focus on.

  4. Amy @ VineSleuth Uncorked - June 9, 2013

    It was great to see you again this year at the Wine Bloggers Conference, Tom.

    As we discussed in BC, I have to disagree with your opinion that the term ‘blogger’ will become ‘a term associated with an amateur who should be taken lightly.’ I think your observation is short-sighted and unfortunate.

    Yes, there will always be bloggers who act unprofessionally, as there will be those who do that in any industry. However, from what I see, bloggers for the most part are becoming even more professional rather than less, and growing in influence as they connect with their readers through comments, social media exchanges and better writing and use of an assortment of new media.

    As more writers turn to blogging as a way of expression and connection, and as more brands realize the value of turning to bloggers for advice and assistance in getting their message to consumers, bloggers’ influence and professionalism will continue to rise and not fall as you suggest. I have seen this happen in other areas of blogging as better bloggers become more proficient in writing, online publishing and social media, and mentor new bloggers.

    I guess we’ll all stay tuned and see what happens, as time will tell. In the meantime, can we expect a change in the header and tagline for this site? Or will you hold on to the term for the ride?

  5. George Rose - June 9, 2013

    Enjoyed your Top 10 list, particularly #10. Great to see you Tom.

  6. Bill Ward - June 9, 2013

    Which Southern writers in particular?

  7. Tom Wark - June 9, 2013

    I detect a disruption in the force (as well as a pretty stiff opposition to my comment about “blogger”——what? No comment on the impossibility of coughing up a lung?)

    First, let me just make a claim: I’ve been among the most ardent supporters of wine bloggers this industry has seen. I might be challenged on that claim, but I can’t see upon what grounds. I mention this to establish that I have no interest in disparaging wine bloggers.

    ALLAN: You may be living proof that there are more ardent supporter sof wine bloggers than myself. However, I would submit that wine bloggers attending the Wine Bloggers Conference are not the best people to poll as to the relative influence or stature of wine bloggers. Also, I’m familiar with the discussion of veterans about changing the Wine BLOG Awards to something more comprehensive and away from the “blog” awards. You are right that the consensus is to NOT do such a thing. And it turns out, I’ve been convinced of that. However, someone needs to explain to me why the merits of and substance of the work of all the Wine Blog Award winners this year ought not be judged against the work of the wine writers for the New York Times, the Wine Spectator, Wines & Spirits Magazine, The Wine Advocate and the other wine writers that are not identified as bloggers.

    JOEL: It’s hard to argue with your conclusion from the conference. I agree. Also, my experience is the same as yours with regard to the opinions of the judges of the wine blog awards after having read through so many examples of the writing that shows up on blogs. But it is something that leads me to ask if the reason for continuing to judge seperately the work of those that write on blogs from those that write for professional publications doesn’t simply reinforce the perception that those writing on blogs aren’t quite in the same league, when I know for a fact that many who write on their own wine blogs are not only in the same league as those who write for professional publications but often times better. Still, I’m convinced that the separation is the right thing to do because I fee the awards encourage writers who publish on blogs to step up their game.

    MORRIS: Yes, because the publishing format is a “blog”, those using it will be called bloggers. But there is more to it than that. The reason I know this is because those who once distributed their writing via fax were not called “Faxers” and those who distribute their writing today via newspapers are not called “Paperers”. “Blogger is a synonym for two things today: “Amateur” (which is largely true in the sense most aren’t paid) and “Unprofessional” (which is not only another synonym for “amateur” but also carries with it a negative meaning).

    AMY: It was particularly good to see and talk to you too. I would only suggest that bloggers DO in fact act less professionally than professionals do so more often. This is true because a far larger number of bloggers are less experienced tasters, less experienced writers and less experience reporters than professionals that are paid to produce a written work for publication. Additionally, every professional publication today uses social media to interact with their audience and readers, not just bloggers.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. All wine bloggers are writers, but not all writers are bloggers. The blog publishing format was revolution for wine writing. It allowed all voices to to have access to all readers, providing readers with important and provocative and new voices they may never had heard before. However, from the very beginning, these voices, despite many being very accomplished and important and insightful, were associated with pajama-wearing, basement dwelling tenants of their parents. Because there are so many very average voices among the important ones, this impression of bloggers remains for a very large segment of the population.

    So I guess the question is this: Does this general impression of bloggers really matter. I think it does matter. But I admit, I may be overemphasizing the degree to which it matters.

    • Austin Beeman - June 9, 2013

      Hi Tom,
      Enjoyed meeting you in Oregon at WBC12. Wish I could have been in Canada at WBC13.
      Love following your blog. It is one of the most insightful on the web.

      While I agree that ‘blogger’ is a word that has some sliding value – especially among writers that get paid – but I believe that stems from a misunderstanding of what blogging is.

      Bloggers write. And take photographs. And produce videos. And livestream. And engage Social Media. And self publish all that stuff. And do lots more….

      That makes them different from (mere?) writer, photographers, or video pros. A writer couldn’t submit his work as a photograph instead. A photographer wouldn’t be allowed to livestream her work instead. A video pro couldn’t choose to public an ebook instead.

      Bloggers don’t have to do all that stuff. But they can…..that’s blogging.
      And that’s why it’s the Wine Bloggers’ Conference….
      That’s why it’s a whole new artform.

      In my opinion.

      -Austin Beeman

  8. Tom Wark - June 9, 2013

    George,

    Great to see you too George. There is so much to recommend about the Wine Blogger Conferences. But beyond all the benefits and all the things I learn, what I most appreciate is the opportunity to see folks like yourself.

  9. Rich Reader - June 9, 2013

    Thanks, Tom. Though I may flip-flop between animism, agnosticism, and a boat load of other “isms”, the time has come to try out “The Hand of God”. A portfolio of vineyards that includes Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and old-vine Malbec is very appealing to those among us who are seeking better choices for our permanently underloaded cellars.

  10. Anna Bennett - June 9, 2013

    Look, as a decidedly amateur, lazy citizen wine blogger, I LOVE the Blog awards. (Personally, I call them the Wine Bloggies, because Movies have the Oscars, Music has the Grammys, Theater has the Tonys, and Television have the Emmys.

    Bloggers on the whole are not pretentious. They are people who are using a relatively new medium to express their views, maybe enhance or start a career or for some outliers, make a little money.

    Speaking of money, do you want to know what bloggers are? They are the voice of the wine consumer. Not the wine collector, but the voice of the people that really fund the industry. Only a few seriously aspire to be Robert Parker or Janis Robinson. For the rest of us 200 or so, I like to think that we are happy to be recognized, to be educated and to have the chance to have our voices heard. After all, we’re the ones representing those buying the Banfi, Barefoot and Mondavi, and all those other wines that make up the industry.

    I call WBC my Wine Summer Camp. It is a chance to see my friends, catch up on what they have been doing, drink some new wines, learn more about the industry, go on some amazing excursions and be re-energized to keep writing for the next year. Let’s try and have some perspective here. This is not a WSET conference, not a MW conference nor is it a Society of Wine Educators conference. This is a melting pot of wine professionals, semi professionals and citizen bloggers like myself. I like the melting pot aspect. It there were a literacy test required for entry, I’d be the first to fail. But I’d also be the first to try, and then I’d write a snarky blog post to laugh about it.

    If WBC attendees as a group start to take the whole concept too seriously, the joke would be on us, and it would simply be another clichéd small group of elitist wine snobs who happen to be good writers, snicking at the unwashed who dare to enjoy wine and attempt to write about it.

  11. Christian G.E. Schiller - June 9, 2013

    The suffix “American” should be added to whatever you call this American event.

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  13. Leslie Fellows/Artesana Winery - June 10, 2013

    Tom, great seeing you at the Conference. As a ‘first-timer’ I thought the WBC13 was excellent both professionally and personally. The Wines of Uruguay lunch we sponsored was absolutely worthwhile for us, and I loved sharing my Artesana Tannat wines. I met a ton of fabulous people that are serious about sharing their passion for wine. I did some great networking and made some great friends. The politics are probably way over my head, however, there is simply no question about the relevance of bloggers/wine bloggers to the industry, especially for those of us ‘emerging wine regions.’

  14. Dwight Furrow - June 10, 2013

    Unfortunately, I think Tom is right that “blogger” will continue to be a pejorative. In the U.S we admire money more than love. If you do something for money you’re taken seriously. Do it for love and your motives are suspect.

  15. Joel Peterson - June 10, 2013

    Tom – great to meet you in BC this past weekend. I thought it was spectacular. I appreciated your post and personally didn’t think you were taking a cheat shot at bloggers (considering you’re one of the more visible one’s). As a public relations professional attending my first blogger’s conference, I was taken with the passion, professionalism and camaraderie among the group. I’ve always had a healthy respect for the voice of wine bloggers (both well-known and not), but it’s now even higher. In somre form, they are influencers who love to tell their world about their experiences. Though I may (or may not) have brought up the subject of changing the name, I would still include the word blogger in the name. I look forward to next year’s conference and would love to have you stop in Paso on your way down. Maybe we could put in the golf excursion there! Cheers,

  16. Tom Wark - June 10, 2013

    Joel…A pleasure to meet you too!

    I hope no one thinks I was taking a shot at wine bloggers. I wasn’t I was taking a shot at the perception of blogging in general.

    As for next year, a golf outing associated with the conference? Gee….I don’t know! OK!!!!

    At the very least, maybe we get a crew of local vintners and industry folk and bloggers to have a little outing or tournament early on Thursday. I’d come down on Wednesday for that.

    Give it some thought. I’m in.

    Tom…

  17. Allan Wright - June 10, 2013

    I was not suggesting you were taking a pot shot at bloggers, Tom. What I was suggesting was this, from my comment above:

    “I would suggest this is not something you learned at the conference but, instead, is your notion you are trying to sell to your readers.”

    My issue is that your post title is “10 Things I Learned at the WBC” and yet I can’t see how you can make the statement about bloggers as something you learned at the conference. As I described in my comment and as the other comments mostly back up, the conference was very much pro-blogger (as one would expect).

    In fact, anyone in that room when Alan Kropf had everyone roaring in support of bloggers would have a hard time leaving thinking the term blogger will continue to become pejorative.

    You are a visionary but, in this instance, I think you are trying to promote your vision rather than detailing “what you learned at the blogger conference”.
    Allan

  18. Tom Wark - June 10, 2013

    Allan:

    Gotcha….and I stand corrected regarding the title.

    If it wasn’t clear, I thought the conference was inspiring, well run and in every way delightful and for all the reason you might think.

    It’s a special gathering of folks who truly revel in each others company. And that’s a good thing.

    As for Bloggers being perceived as less consequential, It’s not really my vision. I think it’s an absolute fact. The question this fact raises is this: What impact does this fact have on wine bloggers and is there something that can be done to mitigate any negative impact that it does have.

    • Allan Wright - June 10, 2013

      Tom, I think you are perpetuating your own complaints about bloggers not writing with high standards. You say “As for Bloggers being perceived as less consequential, It’s not really my vision. I think it’s an absolute fact.” But you provide no support for this statement.

      In opposition, I present:

      1. We had outstanding support and reception in Penticton.

      2. This local area support is not declining. We limited the WBC14 location search to Central California and had three strong bids from three separate areas.

      3. We have not seen any drop in sponsor interest in the WBC, except for the temporary problems at getting wine into Canada. And even there, as you saw, there was no shortage of sponsors.

      4. After removing out of date blogs, our Complete List of Wine Blogs stands at 680 Citizen Bloggers in North America, 382 Citizen Bloggers in other areas of the world, 408 industry bloggers, and 53 wine bloggers related to the print media.

      5. This list is not complete. We have had 13 bloggers request to be added in the last 20 days. These 13 will be added to the above numbers shortly.

      Granted, we had a drop in numbers at the WBC this year but we all knew that would be possible given the location. If we drop again next year, I will agree with you. Until and unless that happens, I am just not seeing any support for your “fact”.

      Not to harp on this but I do feel like I need to support the reputation of wine bloggers since we run the conference for them!

      Allan

  19. Erica - June 11, 2013

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  20. Are Bloggers Amateurs To Be Taken Lightly? | WineZag - June 11, 2013

    [...] in the “pejorative”.  Actually, Tom Wark of Fermentation Blog wrote one of the things he learned at the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference was that over the next few years the term “blogger” will be [...]

  21. El Jefe - June 11, 2013

    I don’t take the term “amateur” as a pejorative, and neither should any blogger. An “amateur” is defined as one who does something for the love of it, and you just can’t knock that.

    When I’m not immersed in the wine business, I am an amateur radio operator (call sign WK6I if you must know). Amateur radio has been responsible for more advances in the art of radio communications than all of the corporate labs combined, and it was done for the love of it.

    In fact, the term “ham radio” was once pejorative – “amateurs” were derided as ham-fisted operators – supposedly sending Morse code so badly they were pounding the key with a ham. Now we wear the term “ham” with pride.

    So bloggers, wear your “blogger” title with pride. You are advancing the art, for the love of it.

  22. Adam - June 12, 2013

    Tom, in regard to your comments at WineZag you will note that I have updated my post to reflect your position that the intended message in this post was unprofessionally misrepresented in WineZag that it was actually my honest interpretation claim is inconsistent with what you really meant to communicate. I decided to do that because it was apparent on the social web that some readers interpreted your post and comments here as you intended, and some agreed with my interpretation.

    As I read through these comments, i had two questions about your reply to Alan. You say it is an “absolute fact” that bloggers are being perceived as less consequential.

    1) Can you source the basis of that fact and whether you mean all wine bloggers, all bloggers in all industries in general, or just some bloggers in some industries.

    2) In what ways and areas are they less consequential? Selling products, no future for the community, little influence with their readers, dwindling readers, etc?

  23. Top 10 Things I learned at the Wine Bloggers Conference (by Tom Wark) | SMART about wine - June 18, 2013

    [...] Read on … [...]

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  26. Top 10 Things I learned at the Wine Bloggers Conference (by Tom Wark) | Smart About Wine - March 30, 2014

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  27. On the internet nobody knows you’re a dog | The Winesights Reader - June 23, 2014

    […] After last year’s Wine Bloggers Conference Tom Wark observed “The term blogger will more and more come to take on a pejorative meaning in the next few years as it continues to be the term associated with an amateur who should be taken lightly.” (http://fermentationwineblog.com/2013/06/top-10-things-i-learned-at-the-wine-bloggers-conference/). […]


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