Bloggerview #8: Lenn Thompson (Lenndevours)
Name: Lenn Thompson
Lenndevours was one of the first blogs I looked at, leaned back and said, "Wow"….I want to do it that well. I still don’t think I do but Lenn Thompson’s blog provides wine bloggers with an great model. Lenn has also been an important player in the Wine Blogging community. His founding of "Wine Blogging Wednesday" worked to tie the wine blogging community around an ongoing event. There hadn’t been such a thing prior to Lenn starting it all. And for those of you who wonder what kind of seam exists between online wine writing and the traditional publishing world and if one can move between the two, Lenn is a good example of how it can happen. But it takes a certain talent and a desire to do so. Lenn has both.
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
I first got into blogging over four years ago. At first, I just had a ‘general’ blog called Slingin’ Ink that I started as a creative outlet because my day job wasn’t all that interesting or creative at the time. My creativity was stagnating, so I tried blogging.
Little by little, I realized that I was writing more and more about food and wine, so I decided to do a spin-off blog devoted to those topics. I guess you could say that LENNDEVOURS devoured Slingin’ Ink, and that’s the blog people know me for today.
2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
How about in one: LENNDEVOURS focuses on everything about New York wine country–the wines, the people, the restaurants, the life.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
Well, for one, my blog occupies a very small niche in the wine blogosphere–New York wines. I’m one of only a handful of NY wine blogs and I’m the only one that regularly covers Long Island wine and tries to cover the whole state. I also think that I’m one of the more prolific bloggers (in terms of post frequency) consider I cover a relatively small region.
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
It’s funny, at first I really didn’t care, and it probably showed. My family read it of course, but it didn’t do them much good. They live in Pennsylvania, one of the most backwards states in terms of alcohol and shipping laws. They can’t even get the wines I write about! But as time wore on, I tried to make LENNDEVOURS the kind of blog that I would want to READ as someone interested in New York wines.
And it’s really exploded since then. I’m always amazed by my little community of diehard readers. And of late, I’ve realized that a lot of people in the local wine industry read it too. One such person told me this week that she and her staff read LENNDEVOURS because "it’s the one place we can read the truth" about the region. That’s cool to me. And it’s exactly what I try to do.
Traffic seems to increase every single week and I’m thankful for every reader I gain.
5. Do you accept sample for review?
I do. I taste just about every Long Island wine that is made every year and I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford to do that without the samples. I also write for several local papers and publications, and cover Long Island and the Hudson Valley for Appellation America, and I taste wine quite differently when it’s a sample a winery sends me. I take tasting those wines very seriously. Wine that I buy myself, I may write about, but most of the time I’m drinking it for my own enjoyment.
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
As you know, this is always an interesting topic among wine bloggers. When I first started LENNDEVOURS, I used the same A through F system that many of us are used to from school. Then for a long time I didn’t use one at all, because people do get too caught up in ratings. But just recently, I’ve adopted a 5-star rating system proposed by Tim Elliot as a blogger standard. I know that wine blogs will never all use the same system, but I like it. It gives people who REALLY want ratings something to look at, but I also bury it at the end of my reviews, which tend to be several paragraphs long.
In short, I guess I see the value of ratings to some people, but I don’t want my readers to focus on the little stars and ignore the story I’m telling them about the wine.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
Daily schedule you say? I have a 9-month old son. My schedule is his schedule. Seriously though, I just blog when I can. In the morning before leaving for work. Late at night when Jackson and Nena are asleep. On my lunch break at work. I also sometimes write several posts when I have time and set them to publish over the following few days when I know I won’t have much time.
And, I’ve also added several like-minded contributors to my blog, which has been a great experience. I really think it improves the blog to have voices other than my own chime in on occasion. I guess it takes away from the "Lenn-ness" of the blog a little, but I think they are great people and I wouldn’t let them post on my blog if I didn’t like what they were doing.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
I haven’t done any intentional, hard-core marketing per se. Founding Wine Blogging Wednesday has certainly helped by getting my name and blog in front of people who probably couldn’t care less about New York wines. It’s even led to my blog being mentioned in Food and Wine Magazine, which was great. The blog URL also ends up at the end of many of my print stories, so I’m sure I’ve garnered some readership that way. Beyond that, I think it’s just longevity. It’s funny to evoke longevity about a blog that is less than four years old, but in the blog world, I think I’m one of the granddaddies…or at least an eldest uncle.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
This is something I actually think about quite a bit. If a story idea pops into my brain, I have several places it can end up–my print columns, AppellationAmerica or my blog. First, I think about the audiences, because they are quite different and diverse. I think that my blog readers, the regular ones anyway, tend to be really into wine and actively seeking out the information and ideas I have to share. My print column readers probably happen upon my column, but I doubt many specifically seek it out. Second, I think about whether or not what I want to say is going to get me in trouble if it’s printed in a newspaper or magazine. I have a lot of strong opinions about a lot of things and I can express them much more freely on LENNDEVOURS than anywhere else. There aren’t any editors to deal with or advertisers that I need to worry about offending. I think in that way, LENNDEVOURS is the more honest medium. Those are my thoughts as a blog WRITER.
As a blog READER, I find blogs so much more personal. So much more real and almost tangible that if I read about Wine ABC on a blog that I’ve been reading for a while, I’m much more apt to seek it out than if I read about it in Wine Spectator or another glossy. I count most of the bloggers I read as friends and there isn’t any better way to learn about new wines than from friends, right?
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
There are way too many to list really. There’s the old standbys like Vinography, Catavino, Dr. Vino, Winecast, Spittoon, Obsession With Food (not technically a wine blog I guess, but still a daily read) and the Pour. But then I also like to seek out smaller, lesser known blogs, some of which cover NY and other small regions. I’m talking about blogs like Virginia Vine Spot, Finger Lakes Weekend Wino, NiagaraEscarpment.net.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that they haven’t. Long Island (and New York State really) is only a small piece of the world wine scene, but I don’t think anyone would doubt that blogging has had an impact here. I think blog and Internet-savvy wineries are going keep growing in number and in success. We’ve seen it already with Stormhoek and I’m sure others will follow suite. When I first started blogging, you’d never see a blogger’s wine review in the "press" section of winery websites. Now I see it all the time. When a winery cares, I think that means that the consumers will too.
12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
That’s a tough one, but I’ll say Paris only because I’ve never been there. And I want Clotilde ( http://chocolateandzucchini.com/) to cook me dinner and tell me where to eat.
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
Dog all the way. Our beagle, Ben Roethlisbeagle is the best.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
New Yorker. Not even a question.
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
Prius. I’m not a big "car guy" so why not reduce my carbon footprint if I can?
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Do you really have to ask an East Coast wine lover this question? Chablis.
17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
This would have to be a big meal. I’d want my wife’s apple pie for sure, and her turkey pot pie. I’d want duck and lamb and steak. I’d want pork dim sum and Thai basil chicken. Oh and crispy pork belly. And lots of cured meats and fine cheeses. Fresh heirloom tomatoes and good, fruity olive oil. And local wines to go with all of them. And bourbon.
18. What is Heaven Like?
I don’t know, but I bet I find myself living on a vineyard with lots of wine and food around.
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?
If I have to answer that right now, I’d want to have dinner with Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, two former Steelers coaches, Mike Tomlin (the current coach) and my little son, Jackson.
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Only do it if you’re dedicated, passionate and can cope with addiction, because it’s become one for me. Of course, it’s a labor of love too. Also, pick a narrow band of the wine world to focus on. I think that most of the best blogs have a focus, a precision, that is really endearing. That’s another advantage that blogs have over traditional print media.