The Wine Lover’s Media Feast

It should be clear to anyone who has paid close attention to the wine media over the past decade that the amount of good, entertaining and useful information available to consumers and the trade has exploded in quantity. Interestingly, it is on the Internet, not the print media, where the vast majority of that exploding information is coming from.

This makes the evolution of the wine media different in no way from the rest of the media. There is a slow but gradual transformation from pulp to electrons when it comes to the publishing and entertainment world. While the innovative ways by which we can find, view, publish and share information has multiplied exponentially on the Internet, I can think of not a single innovation that has come to the print publishing world over the past decade. Why there is a stagnation of the print world is a question answered by the explosion of innovation in the Internet world: simply, no money is being invested to make magazines and books and newspapers better information delivery vehicles.

What’s interesting about the wine media is two fold: who is delivering the information now on the Internet and the lack of an Internet-based wine media hero.

The vast amount of new wine voices on the Internet belong to “citizen wine writers and critics”, people largely unschooled in writing or journalism and many of which are only hobbyists. Yet, in so many cases, many of them found on blogs and in wine forums, these voices are extraordinarily articulate and insightful.

We tend to think of the “wine expert” as someone who has written a book or who writes in a magazine or newsletter or perhaps someone who is a sommelier or a high profile retail personality. We’ve been culturally schooled to do this because the number of venues where we were able to witness wine expertise were limited. Hence, the number of experts was necessarily limited.   You have to wonder just how many potentially blockbuster voices and thinkers on wine never saw the light of day because they simply didn’t want to pursue wine beyond their own obsessive imbibing or because there was no place for them to show off their talent to a large number of people.

Well, this last factor has changed, hasn’t it? Today, it’s easy as pie to create your own venue (read: blog) on the Internet. And with a little bit of work, you can grow the size of your audience. This is exactly what has happened on the Internet.

In wine forums and on numerous wine blog, as well as at ambitious wine informational websites, there people who have a very unique take on wine and a talent for communicating that are telling their story. And people are listening.  The number of wine blogs on the net approach 300. They have been growing at very fast clip. However, more important is that the number of people investing their time in a read of the Internet wine media is expanding at a pace far outpacing that set by the ever increasing number of wine blogs. There’s an audience out there that wants something more.

The second interesting thing about the Internet wine media is that there is no dominating web site, a site that is a “must read”.  We’ve yet to see a “Daily Kos”, a “Defamer”, a “Slate” a “” or even a simple Yahoo-like wine media aggregation site emerge from the pack. Now, perhaps this is a function of the fact that wine, unlike politics and gossip, doesn’t attract a very large pool of interest among Americans. But even among the wine obsessed, there is no single site that dominates the wine-online-world. This strikes me as a “ground floor”-type opportunity rather than an indication of little potential.

For example, if I want to find the most compelling wine info on the net, I have to do a number of Google searches, read a series of RSS feeds over at Bloglines as well as just get lucky. It’s not easy to do. Why isn’t there a site that does this for me and the rest of the wine-obsessed?

Why has no enterprising palate-master not started an on-line reviewing project this is heavily promoted and marketed to draw an audience.  Clearly reliable wine critics are in demand. Hell, a huge portion of the marketing of wines depends upon them. Am I to believed that there is no room for a new critic to step up and gain fame and following? The Internet would be the perfect place for this?

Why has nothing like the old “”, the only truly journalistically serious wine website ever, emerged? Why is there no Internet-only, Wine Spectator/WineNews/Wine&Spirits-like publication around? The New York Times eventually closed down But not because the newsgathering format and original reviews and high caliber talent approach didn’t succeed qualitatively. It did. I’m sure it shut down due to the expense and the fact that it probably never made much money. Still, am I too believe that such a venture could not be realized for a profit on the Internet?

The question is why hasn’t a site that does all these things appeared? I can tell you this: it’s not a question of the talent pool. Rather, it’s one of those things you’ll look at one day and say, “Damn, I thought of that…why didn’t I do it back then.”

I’m not suggesting we count out pulp any time soon. After all, the wine magazines and newspapers still retain the best wine journalists and writers in the world. Why would you give up this? You wouldn’t.

Yet, as it becomes more and more apparent that getting our media fix is easiest by using the Internet, more and more of the existing pulp-based talent will move to the Internet to join the new, citizen wine writers that will by then have morphed into professional wine communicators.  Maybe the switch to the Internet will be a reaction to successful publishing ventures in this medium. Or perhaps the success of blogs will convince a serious publisher/wine writer that their money is best invested building a website than buying paper and ink. CA Wine and WineReviewOnline are just two reflections of this thinking.

It is a veritable feast for the wine-loving media consumer right now. As someone who works with, watches and consumes the wine media, this transformation has been fascinating and continues to hold my interest.  Much of the blogging here on FERMENTATION reflects that interest and will continue to. The rise of the Citizen Wine Critic and the potential for a new kind of successful wine media is now an important part of the history of wine in America. We’ve always told that story partially in the context of how Americans have taken (or not taken) to wine drinking. How we learn about wine has always been part of that chapter of the story. The new chapter currently unfolding is inescapably connected to the story of the rise of the Internet media.

8 Responses

  1. Terry Hughes - April 29, 2006

    Another wonderfully far-seeing piece, Tom.
    Am I alone in hoping that, in fact, no single blockbuster wine site emerges any time soon? Unlike the mainstream media (print, broadcast), the blogosphere is still alot like the Net was itself a decade ago–alive, diverse and pleasantly chaotic–before corporate behemoths started squeezing the life out of it.
    As to profit, I struggle with that. I’d shure love to hook up with some commercial entity and make a few bucks off my blog, even if to cover the cost of Sitemeter and Typepad. (Not to mention getting free samples instead of having to shell all the ebans out myself.) But–there goes independence and, as Fred Koeppel says about you, “fearlessness.”
    What do the rest think?

  2. Terry Hughes - April 29, 2006

    You talk about needing an editor…I need a typist!
    Really, I do know how to spell. I just haven’t got the hand-eye coordination to even tie my shoes.

  3. tom - April 29, 2006

    I think the rise of an Internet-based wine media powerhouse would be a good thing. Success and quality nearly always breeds more of the same. In fact, I’m positive it will emerge. It will take a certain amount of investment to pay talent, coders and marketers. But because the opportunity is yet to be exploited it will be easier to undertake.
    Successful publishing is always built on the same thing: Far sighted publishers, talented and creative editors, good writers and successful marketing.

  4. Terry Hughes - April 29, 2006

    You’re right about that. “Far sighted” being the so-far missing ingredient. To be sure, the cost of entry is still quite low.

  5. Erwin Dink - April 30, 2006

    I’d rather see something along the lines of Wikipedia — user driven and not for profit rather than another coporate portal. The need to generate powerhouse profits will always end up in homogenized and watered down content.

  6. tom - April 30, 2006

    I”m not sure what “homoginized” or “Watered down” content means. However, I do know that a business, particularly a media business, that is turning a profit is able to do more than a non profit or unprofitable operatiion. And “doing more” means “offering more”.

  7. Catie - April 30, 2006

    Really a great post Tom. Lots of food(wine) for thought. And no Terry, you are not alone about your feelings of a single blockbuster wine site emerging (unless I am the owner). Yes, it is going to happen but my concern: will it take a position as the only authority and leaving Citizen Wine Writers in the dust?

  8. Terry Hughes - May 1, 2006

    Catie, my thought/fear exactly.
    The real nightmare scenario: some “innocuous” citizen blogger hooks up with a media conglomerate and, with connivance, sets himself up as the new Parker or WS or something like that.
    To quote Mr. Bill: “Oh Nooooooooooo!”

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