Bloggerview #5: Benjamin Saltzman
Name: Benjamin Saltzman
Blog: Chateau Petrogasm
For someone who’s blog consists primarily of images, Benjamin Saltzman has a lot to say based only on his responses to this Bloggerview. But in fact, that’s exactly what took me when I first ran across Chateau Petrogasm. Benjamin was reviewing wines only with a single image. That’s it. One single image to represent his impression of the wine. This struck me at first as being terribly ambitious if not flamboyant. Then it struck me that this was not just something very new, but the images-as-reviews offered the reader perhaps much more than your standard written review. They make you think. Saltzman’s Chateau Petrogasm is, in my mind, among the top 2 or 3 new blogs I’ve come across this year. It is a must read for me. I often chuckle at his "reviews". Sometimes I simply and stopped in my tracks. Sometimes I feel like I’m being taken on a short walk down a winding path that ends up at a metaphor I didn’t at first see or expect.
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
I am quite new to the world of wine blogging, which I entered somewhat indirectly. My blogging adventure began with Wine Reviews at Chateau Petrogasm, a project that I developed with my colleague and friend, Andrew Stuart. Joking, we wondered what would happen if we were to use metaphors and similes to describe wines. “This wine tastes like a lion, roaring at your gate,” for example. This begat quite a few laughs, but it also eventually caused us to think more seriously about alternative means of conveying the impression of particular wines on one’s mind. One of the methods born from this laughter was the idea of using an image to describe a wine.
We have had the privilege of tasting a lot of incredible wine and we wanted to be able to share our “tasting notes” rather than keep them to ourselves. So we created a blog! We decided that the blog format would be the best way for us to present our wine drinking experiences not only to each other, but to the world. Well, while we hoped it would reach the world, we didn’t really expect it to. That is, until we started getting hits from Brazil, Sweden, London, Italy, etc. We then realized that what we were doing was far more serious than we had originally intended. We had created a non-numerical, yet international language for reviewing and communicating about wine.
2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
Wine Reviews at Chateau Petrogasm is the first and only website dedicated to image-based wine reviews. It is also a place where discussions about a wide variety of wines can flourish.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
Of course, no other wine blog uses images to describe wines. More importantly, our blog is becoming increasingly interactive. Unlike any other blog, Chateau Petrogasm is a place where its residents drink wine and come up with images; it is a place where its visitors are welcome to stay a while. For example, when we review a wine that one of our visitors has tasted, some pretty interesting discussions usually ensue. We are also in the process of developing some new features. Our newest feature is called: “Petrus Communis.” Once a month we are going to suggest an inexpensive, easily accessible, and interesting wine for all of our visitors to taste and then send us their reviews. We are still trying to decide on the first wine to use, so if anyone has any ideas we would love to hear them!
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
Chateau Petrogasm has taken off with tremendous haste since its inception on 26 June 2007. Initially, we were getting about 30-60 hits a day. Once we created the new website, our hits went up to about 100 a day and also became more steady. Then, word started to spread. Dr. Debs wrote and Tom wrote. Following this, our readership easily quadrupled, especially since several other prominent wine bloggers followed suite and wrote their own articles about the Chateau. Since then, the number of visitors has continued to grow.
Everyone knows someone who likes wine, but even non-wine-drinkers can enjoy having a Petrogasm every once and a while. We have found that the Chateau is the type of website that friends like to share with one another. I think that is the future of Chateau Petrogasm: Friends getting together, drinking wine, and drawing pictures.
5. Do you accept sample for review?
Yes, we certainly accept samples. But, we do have specific procedures, so please contact us if you are interested.
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
A strange sequence of events recently has caused me to think in greater depth about our method of review and its usefulness.
About a month ago, I was hired to act as a sommelier at a Hollywood birthday party. The host wanted me to pour wine that they had collected over the years and she also wanted me to be the center of entertainment for the evening. In other words, she wanted me to come up with some “wine games.” So, naturally, I took everyone to the Chateau! I divided the guests into two groups, concealed all of the wines, and poured one for each group. I had them draw a picture to represent their collective impression of the wine and then display it for the opposing group to take a guess. Keep in mind, no one had any idea what anyone was drinking. They had a blast drawing the pictures and what’s more, group A correctly guessed that the picture drawn by group B represented a Syrah and then promptly specified the Guigal Cotes de Rhone! Following this, group A displayed their picture and a member of group B immediately shouted out: “That’s the 2001 Querciabella Chianti Classico!” He got it right!
At Chateau Petrogasm, we were thrilled by this empirical proof and immediately posted the Guigal picture on the website. A few days later, I got an e-mail from Sebastiano Cossia Castiglione, the owner of Agricola Querciabella. He was inquiring about the drawing representing his ‘01 Chianti Classico, which I had not posted on-line. To my delight, he also wrote the following: “I saw your review of the 2004, and I loved it. It says so much more than many words I’ve read about this wine.”
There is kernel in the sub conscience that wine is able to trigger. We have found that, time and time again, an image can tap into and reveal some of those kernels buried deep in our minds, or as Jean-François Lyotard would have it, our “sensus communis.” As you all might imagine, I am really looking forward to the results of our new monthly feature, “Petrus Communis”.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
For me, maintaining Chateau Petrogasm is so much damn fun that the question should really be: How do I fit the maintenance of my life into my daily wine blogging. Ultimately, however, it is a hobby, which I enjoy doing and which I try to fit into my schedule any time its open for even a minute. Next August, I will be moving up to Berkeley to go to graduate school. When that happens, my life will become considerably more complicated, my nights will become considerably longer, and my wine budget will become considerably smaller. Needless to say, I am enjoying the pleasures of running the Chateau, and since it is so enjoyable it will forever remain an effective way (with a glass of wine, of course) to cool off my brain.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
I just joined Facebook after avoiding it through all of college. So, far it has proven very successful. I have created a Chateau Petrogasm group, which you can join. Other than that, we have just tried to tell as many people as possible the old fashioned way.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
For us, blogging allows for a new dimension of interaction with our readers. Though it would be interesting to have a column in, say, The Wine Spectator or Decanter. For the wine-drinking public, wine blogs are in many ways more accessible than printed wine writing. But, that said, blogs are at a stage where their authority is still in the process of development. People are more willing to trust a magazine or newspaper than they are an individual’s blog. Of course, this also depends on the author’s qualifications. But, again, the largest difference has to do with the potential interaction between reader and author.
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
Besides Fermentation (of course!), I definitely check in on The Pour, Dr. Debs’ Good Wines Under $20, Unreserved, Pinot Blogger, The Burgundy Report, and many others. I especially enjoy browsing around and discovering blogs. It’s interesting to see lots of different approaches.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
Absolutely. I have the unique advantage of working full-time in retail, where I get customers asking about wines that they read about or saw on any number of wine websites (both blogs and more traditional sites). That is, of course, one way that blogs affect the wine world, but the constantly expanding number of blogs also attests to their growing importance.
12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
Paris . . . wonderful friends and delightful memories.
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
I had an Australian Shepherd named Shep and he was the best. I’m allergic to cats, but my girlfriend has the coolest one (and his name is Fully). The allergy wins out, and I have to say that I’m a dog person.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
I would definitely choose the New Yorker, though the last time I was on a plane I found myself reading Bede’s Ecclessiastical History of the English People.
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
As much as I look forward to tasting an English wine other than mead, I do drive a Prius and it’s a great car!
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
I was tempted to answer this question with the Chateau Petrogasm slogan: “I only drink Petrus!” But, Andrew urged me to reconsider. My real answer would have to be Chablis, though there are a few California Chards that I really happen to love.
17. What would Your Last Meal Consist of?
Tomatoes straight off the vine.
18. What is Heaven Like?
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?
Ashleigh Langs, my late grandfather, the residents of Chateau Petrogasm (who are somehow united into one for the sake of answering this question), and Jacques Derrida. I would always trust the residents to bring both good and interesting wine (and so should you)!
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
At this point, there are a lot of great traditional wine blogs (which are inherently somewhat untraditional) that the idea of starting a “wine blog” isn’t enough any more. However, the beauty of the medium is precisely in its versatility and openness. Start the blog when you have a concept and then use the blog to push the concept further, as opposed to saying: “I want to start a blog, what should I write about?” It is a fine distinction. But, since there are only so many “wine blogs” that the average person has time to read, I think that having a specific and unique concept is what will separate the good from the great as the number of blogs continues to increase. But, again, the most important thing is to have fun!