The Responsibility of the Wine Blogger

I thought that since my original site, "Fermentations" with an S is now officially closed down today, I’d say a few things about the process and experience that led to its demise. There were lessons learned and observations to be logged.

As for the basics of the situation, it’s pretty straightforward. "Fermentations: The Daily Wine Blog" was begun November 30, 2004. It was a project I’d undertaken simply to find a venue for writing on topics that interested me and which I thought would have value to others interested in the wine industry as well as in wine in general. It satisfied both expectations. By the end of October 2005 readership has increased significantly, I’d made a number of new friends…many of which were fellow "wine bloggers", I’d had the chance to view from the center the development of a new and expanding trend in wine communications ands I was having fun.

At about the same time the owner of a gourmet food and wine store called "Fermentations" contacted me through her lawyers and insisted that I stop using the name "Fermentations". The owner is also a lawyer. Specifically, I was asked to "Cease and desist from any use of the Fermentations (TM) mark in the manufacturing, marketing, sales or any other use of the Fermentations mark with the products and services of the undersigned."

A fairly reasonable request given they owned the "Fermentations" trademark. Of course, my concern was that a change of URL’s would significantly decrease my readership. I suggested an ongoing ad for the Fermentations store on the wine blog. Perhaps we could get even more traffic their way, I’d keep the readership and all would benefit. There would be none of that, said the lawyers. There is thing about trademarks. Even if you own one, if you don’t defend it its validity is in jeopardy.

So, I suggested, OK…I’ll change the URL and name of the site. But I asked for a few months to effect the changeover. I figured, after it being out there for nearly a year, a couple months wouldn’t hurt them. That too was dismissed out of hand. They gave me less than two weeks to comply.

So, I resigned myself to compliance with their request. Still, upon making that decision I kept thinking, wow…what a niggardly attitude they bring to the table. But then I started thinking. Yes, it will take me a bit of time to regain the kind of readership that results from having built up significant status within the search engines based on content that had been cataloged over a year’s time. Yes, it will be hard to get all my RSS subscribers to transfer to the new domain. However, doesn’t all this mean something? Doesn’t it mean that the wine blog community is and can make a change to the way wine education is obtained and the way the wine lover gets their news and information?

I started to think about many of the other wine bloggers out there. That group inside a group that is really dedicating themselves to delivering interesting, useful, timely information and the impact they are making. If an owner of a small shop in Central California can feel threatened by a blog that is simply offering up commentary, I’d be willing to bet that those dedicated wine bloggers out there are making an even bigger impact on a far larger number of people than they suspect. And it struck me….this is how it happens.

Over time, something that once seemed small and fringe actually becomes something big and mainstream, something of significance. The pleasure we wine bloggers take in writing about, thinking about, then in delivering the ideas on wine and the wine industry is wonderful for us. But, we should not dismiss or fail to think about the impact we do have now or the impact that is likely to result in the future. That means taking very seriously what we do. It means responsibility should be at the top of our agenda. It means that if our goal is to publish good information that will have an impact, and it will, then you must always think like a publisher, as well as an individual wine blogger. Don’t take what you do lightly.

Those of us who really love doing this, those of us who post frequently and with care, those of us plan to keep this up will find that in the near future our efforts will be watched very closely by a lot of people…a lot of very powerful, important and influential people. Let’s not disappoint them by not taking ourselves seriously. Let’s take seriously the development of this new wine publishing format. Because those serious wine bloggers, and you know who you are, are defining this new medium and what it is capable of doing for the wine industry and the wine lovers and wine drinkers.

Posted In: Wine Blogs


21 Responses

  1. caveman - November 18, 2005

    Funny that you should write this post today as I had a similar discussion with my wife over coffee this morning. Back in the day, writers had to walk from door to door and, more often than not, were refused access to any and all publishing mediums. The medium is now open to all and the new challenge is to not only publish but to question, to inform, and most importantly, to share views and perspectives. Our new publishing medium is a 2 way street, let us keep driving on the right side of the road.
    CaVeMan BiLl

  2. Tom Wark - November 18, 2005

    Exactly. The blog format has changed the opportunities for publishing for one simple reason: simplicity based on technology. Being responsible about what we post and for the future of this wine information format is critical.

  3. Catherine Granger - November 18, 2005

    Tough story. I hope you have not lost too many readers.

  4. Lenn - November 18, 2005

    Tom, I don’t think you’ll have much trouble getting traffic right back to where it was. Your site is one my personal favorites and a must-read for anyone who loves the wine blogosphere.
    And you’re right…it amazes me the “impact” that we can have. I’m always pleasantly amazed when someone emails me out of the blue asking my advice on something or telling me that they enjoyed a post and went to a winery because they read about it on LENNDEVOURS. It’s a cool thing…that’s for damn sure.

  5. Tom Wark - November 18, 2005

    Yes, the readership will return. What I really started to think about however was the potential impact of Lenndevours, Vinography and the rest of the really hard working blogs. The future of this format will be interesting.

  6. Terry Hughes - November 18, 2005

    Tom, thanks for a really inspiring piece.

  7. maggie - November 18, 2005

    Tom, yeah that story pretty much sucks. But even the concept of infringing means that you were making some sort of an impact. She was probably pissed that people kept asking her if this was her husband’s blog.
    As far as taking ourselves seriously….I think mainstream wine media has two problems. One, it takes itself way too seriously. Two, it’s mostly bullshit, marketing in editorial clothing. Wine blogs are great for their differences; so I don’t think they should try to be like anything other than what they are. I think anyone who can write in their blog just about every day is serious. That’s more than most columnists. But “serious” isn’t a quality; it’s a judgement. Who judges? I think I take anyone seriously who is true to themselves.

  8. Tom Wark - November 18, 2005

    I’m not so much speaking to the idea of “taking ourselves serious” in the sense that we are serious people imparting serious information. Rather, I’m suggesting that wine bloggers not underestimate the impact they can have, individually and as a whole.
    As far as the “mainstream wine media” is concerned I see a slew of wine writers and publications that do far more than marketing. Some offer more critical views than others, while some give their readers exactly what they want: some clue as to what to buy among the 1000’s of wines to choose from. What they have, which most of us do not, are editors. We are our own editors. That is often a dangerous thing. I know Fermentation suffers for not having an editor, someone to look at potential posts with an eye toward relevance, significance, grammar and storytelling acumen. But we all become better at that as we write more and observe the feedback we get.
    Thanks for commenting!

  9. Mary Baker - November 19, 2005

    A quick online search produces results for firms called “Fermentations” that include a bistro in Minnesota, a custom crush facility in Toronto, and several beer-making clubs and stores. It’s too bad that you were singled out by this owner, and for what? When searching for your old site, “Fermentations,” we could see the website for the store, and might be inclined to check it out. Now people searching for “Fermentation” do not see the store’s site. The store, which I imagine is the little shop in Cambria, would have benefited from the cross-promotion. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. You rock on, Tom.

  10. Tom Wark - November 19, 2005

    I had suggested a cross promotion of a more extensive sort, but they declined, claiming they’d already lost business as a result of my blog.
    Be that as it may, my lawyers explained a bit about trademark law. In order for the trademark to remain in effect it is important that it be defended. I suspect this is what was at the heart of the mattr. The owner of the little Cambria shop is, or was, a lawyer. I suspect they were simply following the path any trained lawyer would take. I never discovered HOW they’d lost business. They didn’t want to say. Given the circumstances and content of the old Fermentations Wine Blog that is understandable too.

  11. Beau - November 21, 2005

    Tom – this is quite an interesting discussion. My $0.02 is this: I find the argument that we bloggers need editors weak (aside from the grammar/spelling aspects). Our readers are our editors. Think about this – when a traditional writer submits an article, it likely goes to 1-2 editors. However, when I push “post” I’ve got thousands of eyes looking at what I’ve written immediately. On top of that, my readers can comment – no need to write a letter to the editor that may or may not be published. So, for example, if I write something that is false or misleading, other bloggers like Lenn or Maggie will call me out (in the nicest possible way of course). Additionally, a casual reader could ask, “Is X indeed true?”
    This is where the responsibility part comes into play. If I’m responsible, I’ll check what I’ve written and make a correction if needed. This correction can be done in minutes, hours, or a couple days, maximum. Old school wine media wouldn’t correct the item until the next issue – thus allowing for the possibility of incorrect/misleading information to dangle in the wine world for days, weeks, or months.
    So, I suppose it’s easy for print media types to point out the lack of editors on blogs. But hey; I’ve got a whole helluva lot of people who will call me on something if I get it wrong.
    The beauty of blogs is that they are live conversations. If traditional writers, publications, vineyards, and distributors want to see where all this is headed, they simply have to join the conversation.
    Ok, maybe that was closer to $0.05 than $0.02

  12. Tom Wark - November 21, 2005

    Your $0.02 always seems closer to $0.05 in value. So no worries.
    Although the editor is there to catch mistakes, ths is not their main duty. A good editor helps the writer shape their story into something more relevant, something more readable, something more engaging. To have a good one is a huge advantage to a writer.
    As to the issue of the “conversation”, yes, this is clearly an advantage this format has over the standard publishing format that “letters to the editor” will never be able to match for the immediacy that blogs allow.
    But see, here in this post is where an editor could have come in very handy since they would have seen long before I did that I wans’t being completely clear in what I meant by the the need for wine bloggers to take up the responsibility of being serious. What I wanted to communicate was: wine bloggers have the opportunity to change the dynamics of “wine publishing” because the potential of our audience and influence is vast. But before that can happen a large number of wine bloggers must see themselves and their work as having this potential. Once that attitude is adopted all sorts of great things can happen.

  13. Beau - November 21, 2005

    I see your point.
    And raise you this:
    Another feather in bloggers’ caps is the fact that we can publish more rapidly than ever before. Of course, this has both positives and negatives. In my mind the perfect blogger would be someone who could type 100 MPH, make the content relavent, and convey seriously good style.
    Back to your point about how we see ourselves..I wholeheartedly agree. I don’t want to visit a blog that isn’t updated regularly and then offers jewels like: “I’ve been sick so I haven’t written, I’m just sooo busy I haven’t been able to post, yadda yadda.”
    Of course, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a blog like this. But then the author shouldn’t expect to be overwhelmed by visitors – nor should s/he expect to be taken seriously as a wine writer.

  14. Tom Wark - November 21, 2005

    Great point about rapid publishing, which is exactly why I think someone could make a good living publishing a six-times per year print magazine/journal that offers really well written, indepth, beautifully designed articles. The journal I’d like to personally see published is one that comes out six time per year. Each issue focuses on 6 wines. Everything about the wine is covered in immense detail and with style from history to viticulture to winemaking to clones to terroir to personalities to marketing to obtaining the wine to the beautiful photos that accompany it. I’m thinking about something that would be saved…kept for a long time.

  15. Beau - November 21, 2005

    Now that is an idea I could get behind. Where do I sign up?

  16. Beau - November 21, 2005

    Now that is an idea I could get behind. Where do I sign up?

  17. caveman - November 21, 2005

    Kind of like the Art OF Eating which is a Vermont based Food and wine mag .. quarterly published, no ads, just fantastic articles and info. Less is sometimes more and that goes with blogdom as well… often i get the sense that some people just want to see their blog at the top of wine blog watch and will write any shit that comes to mind…

  18. Tom Wark - November 21, 2005

    Exactly…something very much like “Art of Eating”.

  19. Andrew - November 21, 2005

    20 pages on one wine? ummm, who would buy such a magazine? who would advertise? it sounds good but i think it would be restricted to the top wines in the world, thus ruling out the general readership because who can actually afford the top wines? I may sound negative but I cant see it working.
    Who wants to read or who would be able to write 20 pages on Jacobs Creek say…?

  20. Tyler - November 21, 2005

    Hi Tom,
    Great issues…I’m catching up.
    1. Your readership will return. Google will reindex your site in 3 mos or less. And since many of your links have been updated, you’ll regain your previous ranking.
    2. Bloggers have a tremendous advantage in terms of speed. The “news” section in many print publications seems out of date when it arrives–a real challenge for them that some have overcome with an active web presence.
    3. Blogs are essentially free to publish.
    4. Starting a new print publication runs against points 3 + 4. But hey, at least you can read it on the subway.
    In the end, sorry you had legal troubles but I’m glad your excellent content is unaffected. Cheers,

  21. Tom Wark - November 21, 2005

    How are you?
    I’m imagining a different kind of article on wine. It would be far more prose based. It would encompass all the issues that swirl around and often go unsaid in your typical article. Take Jacobs Creek. If I were the editor on that particular article, I’d be working with and encouraging my author to not only look into the making of the wine, but the wine’s significance to the ownership, to Australia, to the wine’s influence in the market. I’d want them to offer a good profile of the kind of winemaker that draws satisfaction (or perhaps not) from it’s making. I’d ask him to discover just how many family’s are supported by the production of this one wine. We’d blind taste it against the best, better and most average of it’s type.
    This kind of article would require a very good writer. Someone with a unique voice. Someone who can be a journalist and a commentator. Surrounding every wine there lie some very interesting stories including and beyond its taste, origin and production specifics.
    As to the cost of print publishing….yes. It is far more expensive. So, what we need is a sugardaddy (wine daddy?) Know anyone?

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