Bloggerview #4: Alder Yarrow

Name: Alder Yarrow
Blog: Vinography

When I began FERMENTATION back in 2004 I looked around the Internet, looking to find
those bloggers that were taking the medium seriously. Alder Yarrow was among the very
few I found. What was most interesting about Alder’s blog was that with the exception
of the unique medium, he appeared very similar to most of the other very serious wine writers I’d known for years. Yet I’d never heard of him. Today Alder still ranks as among those who take the idea of blogging very seriously. That is to say, his concern seems to be both his audience and giving it something serious to chew on. I’m pretty sure that Vinography has the largest readership among all the wine blogs on the planet. Alder has won an American Wine Blogger Award, been a featured speaker at the Annual Wine Writers Symposium in Napa Valley, and is fast becoming one of the better known members of San Francisco’s wine and food community.

1. When did you begin blogging and why?

I started blogging in January of 2004. January 15th to be exact.
Essentially, I started Vinography to get my friends off my back. I had been
drinking wine pretty seriously (ok, maybe compulsively is the better word)
for about 10 years, keeping notes on what I liked and didn’t like, and had
become the go-to guy for all my friends. "Which new restaurants are good in
San Francisco?" they’d ask me. "Will you order the wine for dinner?" "What’s
your favorite Chardonnay?" I found myself dispensing the same advice over
and over again, and thought to myself, "there’s got to be a better way." I
knew a thing or two about the Web and wanted to learn more about the
phenomenon known as blogging so I went to Google and typed "wine blog" into
the search field and hit "Go." Two results came up, and both were blogs that
had been abandoned five or six months before. So I thought, "well, there’s
room for me here." I thought for a couple of hours about the name, typed
"Vinography" into Google, came up with zero results, and that was, as they
say, the first day of the rest of my life.

2 In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.

Vinography focuses broadly on the love of wine, with some lesser emphasis on
dining. I review wines and restaurants, write editorials (OK, rants) about
the wine world, and offer up the bits of news and miscellany from the world
of wine that I think my readers will find interesting.

3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?

Well, three things, really. The first, and the one that I’m certain of, is
that I’ve been doing this wine blogging thing longer and more frequently
than anyone else in the world. The second one, and this is just my opinion
of course, is the quality of the writing and ideas. I like to think that I’m
a decent writer and that I choose interesting things (wines, events, news,
etc.) to write about. Finally, I hope that I have a palate and a point of
view wine that all sorts of people can relate to and find useful in their
own explorations of the wine world.

4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
Well, it was logarithmic for the first two years, and now it’s leveled off
to a steady climb, with little upticks as I get mentioned more in the
mainstream press.

5. Do you accept sample for review?

Yes. When I first started the wine blog, I will admit that I had a bit of a
fantasy that someday, just maybe, someone might send me <gasp> free wine to
review. I have to laugh at myself. These days I’m quite over the idea. The
amount of wine that arrives on my doorstep is quite overwhelming at times.
It’s hard sometimes for me to keep up with it all, but I manage to do it.
It’s important to me to keep my promise to taste everything that anyone
sends my way.

6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?

I employ what I like to call an "approximate 10 point scale" with half
points. I say approximate because often I’ll give a wine a score like 8.5/9
which means it’s somewhere between an 8.5 and 9 out of ten. Even when I give
a wine a score like 9.5, it really means, oh, somewhere around 9.5 out of
10. I’m deliberately vague in a way, because, well, I couldn’t possibly tell
you the difference between a 92 point wine and a 93 point wine, for
instance. Originally I was going to give my wines letter grades, but I
realized that eventually there might be people from outside the US reading
my blog, and they wouldn’t know an A -minus from a hole in the ground. So
(in my mind) I crossed the letter grading system with the old 10 point
Olympics scoring system, and voila, the Vinography rating system.

7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
I have no idea. I cram it in wherever and whenever I can, much to the
detriment of most of my other hobbies, and occasionally to the detriment of
my sleep. Here I am talking to you at 9:30 PM on a Saturday night, for
instance. When people ask me how I’ve managed to keep up blogging daily for
nearly four years I tell them that I don’t watch TV and I don’t have kids
and I have a lot of self-discipline. All of which are true.

8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?

No. Got any tips for me? I’ve honestly done near zero marketing of
Vinography. I’ve issued one or two press releases, like when I started
featuring Michael Regnier’s vineyard photography on the site, and just to
learn about how it works, I placed a couple of Google text ads about a year
ago. But other than that, the attention that the site has gotten has been
entirely happenstance.

9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?

Like I would know? I’ve never written about wine for print in any
professional or serious way. Obviously blogging is more immediate, and it is
also mutable — if I get a fact wrong I can go change it — and for me it’s
completely free from any editorial oversight. Whether that freedom is a good
thing or not, my readers will have to judge, but I certainly have the
opportunity to write about whatever I want whenever I want. Oh, and I can

10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?

I read over 175 different wine blogs regularly just to see what people are
up to.

11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?

Oh, certainly. Just look at industry statistics for the Millenials, which
shows that blogs and the Internet are rapidly overtaking traditional paper
media as sources for wine information. But on a more specific, personal
level, I know that when I like a wine and write good things about it, it
sells. I certainly can’t claim to have the power to ruin or make people’s
fortunes, like some of the major critics (and hope I never do), but the
number of bottles that show up at my door every month and the number of
industry people who read my blog (and others) means that Wine Blogs are
definitely having an impact. I mean, really, the frikkin Wine Spectator has
blogs now. They’re changing the way that wine journalism gets done, and
therefore they’re going to change the wine industry and wine culture.

12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
Paris. I’m SO not a lie on the beach person (though I do like to Scuba

13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
Neither. Between my wife and I we don’t even have time to keep plants alive.
They’d put us in jail for neglect.

14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?

New Yorker, or even better Harper’s Monthly.

15. Car: Prius or BMW?
BMW. I’m all for green, but dammit, when I want to pass someone, I want to
pass someone.

16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
99% of the time, Chablis. There are a few stellar California Chardonnays out
there, but if I had to choose blind, I’m going French every time.

17. What would you have for your Last Meal?
A 480 course tasting menu at Manresa in Los Gatos that lasts 10 years.

18. What is Heaven Like?
I don’t know, but I hope they have wine.

19. If you could invite 4 people dead or alive to your fantasy dinner party, who would they be and who would you have bring the wine?

I’d have Ben Franklin bring the wine — early vintages of Bordeaux. And then
how about Salman Rushdie, Stephen Pinker, and George Washington, off the top
of my head.

20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
1. Only do it if you are compelled by your own passion to find an outlet to
write. 2. There are way too many wine blogs out there right now for you to
ever get noticed unless you have a niche or a gimmick. Don’t just start a
wine blog, start a specific kind of wine blog. 3. Write well and write
often, and for Pete’s sake, use a spellchecker. 4. Did I mention write well
and write often?

Posted In: Bloggerviews


8 Responses

  1. Marie Johnston - September 24, 2007

    Hey Tom! what happened? Looks like lots o words got chopped off on the right hand side of the column – Bummer!

  2. ryan - September 24, 2007

    weird, can’t read it!

  3. Tom Wark - September 24, 2007

    All better….

  4. wineguy - September 24, 2007

    I like how he says he doesn’t do any marketing. Alder makes these wonderful “Aroma Cards” with his URL printed on them, and passes them out at wine events. It’s some of the best marketing I have ever seen for a blog.

  5. andrea gori - September 24, 2007

    you’re right, in Italy too we are starting to use Alder’s aroma card!!!

  6. Fredric Koeppel - September 25, 2007

    Great interview and thanks to Alder for blazing the trail where so many of us are following.

  7. Alder - September 25, 2007

    Wineguy, I TOTALLY didn’t think of the aroma cards. It’s hard to deny that those are, indeed marketing when the Rhone Rangers decide to put one next to every person’s glass at their sit down tasting. But they weren’t conceived of as marketing. I created them first and foremost because _I_ wanted a little tasting tool that fit in my wallet. I put my logo on it becuase I did want people to remember where they got it, but I had no intention of making it into a major marketing vehicle.
    Now, though, I guess it is. I stand corrected.

  8. Doug S - September 26, 2007

    Great interview! I like Alder’s sense of humor.

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