Bloggerview #9: Gabriella & Ryan Opaz

Bloggerview #9
Name: Ryan & Gabriella Opaz
Blog: Catavino

Like Lenn with NY and Josh with developing wineries, Gabriella and Ryan have sent a standard in wine blogdom: it is for coverage and commentary on the wines of Spain at Catavino. They are somewhat unique among wine bloggers as they are a team. But what’s interesting about this duo at the moment is the way they’ve recently used a number of social networking services to become much more prominent members of this wine blogging community. But even so, that’s not as impressive as their leading blog on Spain and its wines.

1. When did you begin blogging and why?

When we first moved to Spain in 2005, our resources were limited at best. We had a few thousand dollars in our bank account, four duffel bags full of clothing and some pictures of friends of family. To make matters more interesting, we came without a job, contacts or the ability to speak Spanish. A brilliant idea? Probably not, but when we realized that our dream to live in Europe was being usurped by excuses and justifications, we decided that we’d rather follow our dreams and fail than not to follow them at all. While Gabriella taught English to bank executives, Ryan looked for work in the wine world through the Internet. What’s interesting about this is that Spain was, and still is, far behind the technology curve in effectively utilizing the Internet to communicate information. So Ryan did what any good entrepreneur does, he filled a need and started a blog. The blog was a way for him to stay fresh and up-to-date on the world of wine. With time, however, he noticed that people were genuinely interested in what he had to say, motivating us to take the idea a step further.

2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
A comprehensive website on Spanish and Portuguese wine with the occasional commentary wine blogging in general. This can and often does include news, and history about Iberia’s foods, culture and ex-pat life!

3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
We are unique because we are a husband and wife team living in Spain, tag teaming the blogosphere. On a good day, we hope to provide a unique conversation on wine from both the wine geek (Ryan) and non-wine geek (Gabriella) perspective. Additionally, we feel that by focusing on a specific regions, or set of regions, that we can give you a more personalized and profound insight into Iberian wine rather than trying to take on the whole world of wine!

One last note, and a very exciting thing for us. We are now Certified Sherry Educators! This past week we’ve been the guests of DO Jerez, learning all there is too know about sherry(a personal favorite underdog of a wine), so that we can educate others. I believe that makes us the first Wine Bloggers with Sherry Certification, anyone need any classes? 😉

4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
Up and down and all around. Currently we’re gaining readers are a larger rate. For the first 2 years it was slow but this year with our starting of and beginning to talk more about what exactly wine blogging means to us, we have found that we are creating more of a community. We do know that we have a high percentage of our readers interacting with us, and this is what we really appreciate. Big numbers don’t mean much if most of the people just read us and move on. What is exciting is when our readers send us emails, meet with us during their travels, and comment on our site! Currently the best stat in our inbox is the "time spent on site" which right now is around 2:30 minutes, which means that people are actually reading out content and hopefully listening to what we are saying!

5. Do you accept sample for review?
Yes! We feel that samples allow us to try wines that we might not otherwise come across on our own accord, and since most of our readers are in the USA (85% or so), we often need samples of the wines being exported to the USA that are not available here in Spain. We won’t review a wine we don’t find worth our time, or yours, for this reason most of our reviews seem positive. We really are just trying to find things worth the time to taste!

6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
We have used a 5 grape system for about 2 years now, but we are about to fully convert to a "recommended" scale. We’ll explain this all in more detail soon but for us, detailed and expressive notes on wines we recommend are key, aiding our readers to focus on wine we suggest based on our experience. Our new focus will be the exact same model as Ryan implemented in his wine shop based in Minnesota. Trust was the main ingredient to build relationships with his customers through solid recommendations. They felt safe in his opinions and trusted what he recommended. It was personal, individualized and based the overall context of the situation and not his "rating" of the wine. This also held true for Gabriella when she worked in high end restaurants, influencing us both to consider a new approach with Catavino. If our readers trust us and like what we write, then why not recommend wines we feel are worth seeking out? Ratings can’t tell you much information about a wine, and Ryan never remembers selling a wine by simply giving a score, instead each wine was sold after a conversation. Wine blogging allows us to have this conversation, and we think that by writing about wines that we like, and telling you why we like them, you’ll learn more than by seeing a point value.

Also we adhere in our daily lives to a model of "Drink what we find interesting". When we go to wine shops we look for new wines, styles, grapes and regions, knowing that we won’t always love the wine we buy, but we will enjoy the exploration! Our new scale will be based on wines we recommend, and maybe a special category for wines to fall in love with, or something like that!

7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
Easy, we’ve split our resources to cover more ground. It was just this year that we began helping wineries, who approached us, in their efforts to use the internet better in their marketing. Because of this Gabriella was able quit teaching English to commit her full attention to both the site and to our growing start up business. So basically, blogging is the center of all we do, in one way or another. In fact, we’ve found that although we don’t make any significant money from blogging, it has given us the credibility that our clients look for.

8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
A bit of Adsense here and a bit of viral marketing there. In reality though it’s by being part of the community that has helped us to grow. Being a part of the wine blogger world and participating in online events and discussions that has really helped the most!

One other thing: FACEBOOK. Out of all the sites/promotion techniques we’ve used, this is becoming the most important business tool and conversation starter I’ve seen in awhile. It has really helped us to get more exposure and find new readers.

9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
We think it’s more personal. When something happens in the wine world, we can not only talk about it immediately, but then start an intriguing conversation, that allows others to join in. This is the most important part of blogging, conversation. If you are a wine lover/geek, then blogs are the only place to go to get up to date and personal content. A good example is the number of requests we get for stories. Although we are not always successful in obtaining the story, unlike wine rags, we can actually a shot at it. Try sending WS a letter requesting a particular story based on your personal interests. Also as a result of the large amount of wine blogs out there, you can really find most wine niches covered in detail. By the way, anyone have any questions they need answered about Iberian wine? As Frasier Crane is wont to say, "We’re listening".

10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
Lenndevours, Fermentation, Tempranillo, Blame it on Rioja, Vinography, Bigger than Your Head, Spittoon, Dr. Vino, REThink, DeLong Wine Moment, Tinto y Blanco, A Passionate Foodie, plus quite a few others that we scan from time to time. Ryan thinks he has 50 or so in his reader currently.

11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
We’ve been asking this question a lot as of recent. I suppose we feel that our influence is starting to be taken a bit more seriously, but the road is long and bumpy. We feel confident that eventually wine blogs WILL have a significant influence, regardless of the wineries who continue to place them in the "eccentric" corner, but we’re unclear as to when this shift will take place. When we started a few months ago, we had a few wine blogs sign up. Now, we’re having trouble keeping the list up to date. We hoping that as this number grows and wineries see events like WBW grow; they will find that they NEED to acknowledge the impact of wine blogs. For example, Robert Parker started as merely a "print based blogging amateur" at one time, a wine lover who wanted to write about wine. Hard to argue that he hasn’t made a change. The wine industry needs to wake up and see that there are many soon to be Robert Parkers out there, but this time they will be giving away content and changing opinions.  If it hasn’t changed the wine world yet, it will soon, and in a big way!

12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
Every 4 months Gabriella would love to enjoy the warm clear water of the Caribbean as long as we could spend the rest of the time feasting on fabulous Parisian food and wine, hiking through beautiful scenery, and above all, butchering their language. While, Ryan would take Paris all year round just so that he could find a way to try all the amazing wines and foods.

13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
Cat. When we first met, we combined forces and gathered a small herd of 5 cats. Consequently, a home had always consisted of small furry friends. In fact it wasn’t until we got our current cat Txarli (Charlie) that we really felt at home here in Spain. On the other hand, we’ve realized that Spaniards seem to connect through their dogs using parks as their social meeting ground. And as much as we’d love to have a dog, the reality of traveling to vineyards with one sounds a bit treacherous.

14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
New Yorker! If "People" covered individuals who were actually interesting, we might reconsider our choice, but we can’t subject ourselves to yet another article on Brittney’s sobriety.

15. Car: Prius or BMW?
Ideally, neither. We love public transportation after living the past 3 years without a car, and are simply walking or biking. However, if we had to choose, we’d choose a Prius. So far we have lived very comfortably without a car for 3 years and never realized how little we would miss it!

16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Chablis or rather Chablis style Chardonnay, this way we can fit in some of the fabulous Spanish Chardonnays we’ve tried in the past year.

17. What Would Your Last Meal on Earth Consist of?
This is where we part. While Gabriella would be happy eating mounds of fresh sushi with a seaweed salad and a bottle of Cava, followed by Pedro Ximenez Viejo 20 year VORS with Cabrales cheese.

On the other hand Ryan would start with a sushi appetizer paired with Manzanilla Sherry, followed by a 20 course tasting menu prepared by Jacque Pepin. Of course all courses would be paired with wines from around the world, ending in a flight of sweet wines from France, Hungary, Spain, Portugal and Germany all paired with cheese. Oh yeah, and a cup of Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee with an Armagnac and the inevitable cigar to top it off! Ok so this meal might need a few short intervals for napping and such!

18. What is Heaven Like?
Boring. Reality is always more interesting than fiction! Why wait for heaven when you can create it on Earth with good friends drinking great wine while laughing and chatting around a grill full of food. This is our version of heaven!

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?
Allow us to preface this by saying that we combined our given numbers to make one big gala event. Our rational was that we not only wanted people who could mix and mingle among others, but who also had the wit and sarcasm to enjoy great conversation and food. Hence, we’ve chosen Julia Childs, M.F.K Fischer, Terry Thiese and Jacque Pepin for their passion for food and wine along with their humbleness; and Alan Alda, Robin Williams, Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Black for their unbelievable intelligence to take reality and twist it into humor. As for wine, Terry Thiese and Jacque Pepin, probably could find some nice things to pair with the meal!

20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Just do it! But remember it’s not worth doing if you aren’t willing to commit to 2-3 posts per week. Also remember to ALWAYS respond to comments and to join the community that already exists and DON’T make the mistake of not linking to others, acknowledging the bloggers who came before or after you. Blogging is about community!

Posted In: Bloggerviews


5 Responses

  1. ryan - October 30, 2007

    Thanks for interviewing us, but we need to point out we write about Iberian wine! Portugal is the smaller brother, but we do try to write about their wines too!

  2. RichardA - October 31, 2007

    My wife and I had the pleasure to meet Ryan and Gabriella on my recent visit to Spain and we had lots of fun. They were both very nice and interesting people, and obviously very passionate about Iberian wine. I wish we could have spent more time with them.

  3. Il Conferences | Event Planner Illinois | Party Planners Illinois - March 31, 2008

    I’m staying at a cheap hotel near Heathrow and they actually have wifi in this tiny little room! Sweet! I’m going to book some flights & trains online, do some travel research, and blog away! Havin’ a fantastic first day in Europe!

  4. Jason Kallsen - April 6, 2008

    Ryan and I used to hang out in Minnetonka, Minnesota drinking wine on a regular basis and the day he said “I’m moving to Spain man! And I don’t even speak the language!” I just about fell over. Great to see the success Ryan and Gabriella have had and I wish them the best. Thanks for interviewing them!

  5. wine gift bags - January 11, 2011

    Well said brother, i totally agree about it.

Leave a Reply