Bloggerview #13: Dr. Debs

Bloggerview #13
Who: Dr. Debs
Blog: Good Wine Under $20

Dr. Debs’ "Good Wine Under $20" seemed to come out of nowhere. One day I was seeing it linked to by many folks I respect. I investigated. And then I understood. Debs is a wonderful writer, that’s clear, but it was also obvious immediately that the topics she wrote about and the reviews of wines she wrote were given very serious attention. That might seem like faint praise. But actually I find it a rare thing in the blogging world. I was immediately taken by her blog. But what’s better is that Deb is a person that went all the way with something that I was incapable of doing and for that I respect and envy her further. She studied hard and became a professor of History in Southern California. In an email conversation she and I were discussing what seems to be the fact that folk interested in History often show up in the wine world. She’s right. They do. This expertise informs her blogging, but more important I think the particular techniques associated with the historian’s craft help set Good Wine Under $20 apart. New wine bloggers can get some good tips by reading this interview. Wine lovers can get some very good information by reading Good Wines Under $20.

1. When did you begin blogging and why?
I began blogging by accident in early October 2006 because I needed to set up a blog for a project. Reading the instructions didn’t help–I just had to dive in there and do it. I went wine shopping that day, and wrote about my purchases for a sample entry. I gave the blog a name, wrote up a profile, and enabled comments to see how those features worked. Unbelievably, people like Neil Dorosin at the Brooklynguy Loves Wine and Food Blog found the post and commented on it. By the second week it was clear that I was not going to stop blogging. I was having too much fun and I was learning too much from fellow bloggers and my readers.

2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
I focus on "everyday wine culture," which means that I write about wines that are not terribly expensive, pair well with food, and are relatively easy to find or obtain (at least in California). A common misconception holds that if you don’t spend much on wine you aren’t that interested in it–but I like to prove that this isn’t so by also providing information about wine culture, wine making, wine news, and wine travel.

3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
In my efforts to provide the kind of information to everyday wine drinkers that I would have found useful when I started learning about wine, I combine wine reviews with features on food pairing, profiles of California family wineries who also promote everyday wine culture, my reactions to big tasting events that my readers might be interested in, book reviews, and opinion pieces on everything from biodynamics to wine writing and objectivity. I try to make my posts as varied as possible while staying true to the "everyday wine" mission by sticking to wines that are under $20, with occasional forays into the over $20 bottlings.

4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
My readership has grown significantly in the past year. Seasonal readership spikes around Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, and Graduation brought new readers to the blog. Early mentions by you on Fermentation, and being included in Tyler Colman’s list of the "5 Best Wine Blogs You’re Probably Not Reading" in Wine & Spirits Magazine certainly increased the readership, too. I would describe most of the growth, however, as "slow and steady." I get more readers every day, and more subscribers every week. It’s a good way to build a following, and I’m particularly pleased at the rising number of daily subscribers that I have. They’re the heart and soul of a blog–your regular readers. I feel like my regular readers are friends, and their comments improve the quality of the blog for every other reader.

5. Do you accept sample for review?
Yes, I do. I grappled with this at first, because I was afraid it would remove me too much from the average wine consumer I was trying to reach, but the clear thinking of Fred Koeppel on this issue persuaded me that accepting a wine for review was no different from attending a wine tasting open only to the trade, or reviewing a book for work. It was just a way for me to bring greater coverage to my readers. I try to balance out reviews of samples with reviews of wines that I purchase myself, and I think it is working. I haven’t had any complaints! If you want to send me a sample, follow the instructions in my blog profile and I’ll be happy to consider it.

6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I rate wines by their quality-to-price (QPR) ratio. I don’t like the false sense of precision that you can get from the 100 point scores, and think that the pursuit of 90+ point wines is keeping a lot of good wine out of the hands of US consumers. After years of agonizing over student grades ("is this an 88 or an 89?") I just want to admit that all grades and evaluations are subjective to some degree. I judge a wine based on a combination of its varietal characteristics, its food friendliness, and its price on a scale that ranges from excellent, to very good, to good, to poor. I do a lot of research, and read a lot of reviews on blogs and in print, so I am happy to report that I don’t drink many poor QPR wines–but it does happen occasionally.

7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
Writing is part of my professional life, and I realized early into my blogging that writing nearly every day and pushing the little "PUBLISH" button was a great way to get over good old writer’s block. Writing the blog also helps me to make writing my first priority of the day, rather than my last. Typically, I write rough drafts of the week’s five blog posts over the weekend. Then, each morning, I revise the relevant post and publish it to the blog. From that point, it’s easy to turn to my other writing and get an hour or so done before I start answering email, teaching, going to meetings, and doing all of my other work. So, oddly enough, writing the blog has helped my daily schedule in ways I didn’t anticipate but they are very productive nonetheless.

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

I read a lot of blogs and I comment on my fellow bloggers’ posts. I find this makes your blog more visible than more complicated and expensive strategies. Be a good citizen, and people will find you.

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

It’s faster and more responsive. That’s the crucial difference, I think. I was just listening to a recent episode of Tim Elliot’s Winecast that involved Tim, Jeff Lefevre of Good Grape, Mary Baker of Dover Canyon, and Alyssa Rapp from Bottlenotes. They were discussing the important contribution that bloggers make simply by being more timely in their reviews and notices. Magazines and books have long lead-times, but  my lead time can be as short as the 25 seconds it takes me to put down my wine, go to the computer, and start writing. And there have been times I’ve been so thrilled or mad enough to do just that! As bloggers get greater access to press releases, trade tastings, and establish their own relationships with wine makers and others in the industry, I think that a blogger’s ability to post something quickly and effectively is only going to become more important in the upcoming years. Magazines and print won’t disappear, but they will be only one segment of wine writing–not the majority of it.

10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
I read 58 wine blogs every day, and even more on an irregular basis. Some I read for news and excellent coverage of a particular region or issue (like Fermentation, Dr. Vino, Good Grape, The Pour, Jancis Robinson, Catavino, Through the Walla Walla Grapevine), some I read because of their excellent reviews (like Benito’s Wine Reviews, Jamie Goode, Spittoon), some I read to get a glimpse into winemaking (like Tablas Creek, El Bloggo Torcido, Dover Canyon, and La Gramiere) and some I read because I love the writer’s "voice" as well as their approach to wine (like Bigger Than Your Head, Brim to the Dregs, Wine Scamp, Domaine547’s Freshly Pressed, Behind the Vines, Winehiker, Wannabe Wino, and Basic Juice). Then there are the blogs I love to look at, chief among them Chateau Petrogasm. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. Scary.

11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
I believe that we are starting to make a mark. There are far fewer raised eyebrows now when I say who I am and what I write for than there were even six months ago. I think the wine industry is lagging somewhat behind consumers, because I think 99% of all consumers get most of their information about wine from the web. This is based on the sheer number of hits I get every day from people looking for quick information on a particular wine. But the industry is beginning to pay attention to the way that consumers are learning about wine from the ‘net–and with that comes more opportunities for bloggers, and more responsibility, as well. 

12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?

13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
The picture says it all. Dogs. Multiple dogs.

14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
Usually I’m reading student papers or articles on history, but a mindless People magazine would be a nice change!

15. Car: Prius or BMW?
I think I’ll wait until they put a hybrid engine in a Lexus IS.

16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Chablis. But I’d really rather have riesling if that’s ok.

17. What Would Your Last Meal on Earth Consist of?
Anything Italian and a bottle of smooth red wine, or two (or three).

18. What is Heaven Like?
I’m with Eric Asimov on this one: the Sonoma Coast, and more specifically the Sonoma Coast between Stewart’s Point and Gualala.

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 would invite the three 19th century "Champagne Widows" (Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, Louise Pommery, and Mathilde Emile Laurent-Perrier) to join Jancis Robinson and me for dinner. The widows would bring the wine, no question. Ms. Robinson, I am confident, has better French than I do, so she could shepherd the conversation. I would cook dinner. We would have a very interesting discussion, drink too much excellent champagne (if there is such a thing) and hopefully people wouldn’t pay too much attention to the food.

20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?

Start keeping detailed tasting notes on the wines you drink and see if you can regularly read and comment on some blogs. If you can’t manage these two activities, you probably can’t manage blogging. If you decide to blog, give your blog a good name and not one that’s impossible to pronounce or figure out. Post regularly. If you post once a week, you will develop a readership. If you post 26 times one week and then not again for 9 months, you will not develop a readership. Don’t take on too much too soon, and give yourself some time and room to develop as a writer–and as a wine lover. And remember what I tell all my students: don’t be afraid to say you don’t know about something. In 12 hours you will have answers from your readers, because what you don’t know someone else surely does.

Posted In: Bloggerviews


16 Responses

  1. Fredric Koeppel - November 29, 2007

    Great interview, Doc, and thanks for the props.

  2. winehiker - November 29, 2007

    Dr. Debs, thanks for the mention! Regarding accepting samples, you gave a more thoughtful response than I did in Bloggerview #10, but I suppose we otherwise might not have heard from Mr. Koeppel on the issue. Glad we did.
    Tom, thanks again for a fine series that does well to bring this wine-loving community closer together. Blog on!

  3. Jill - November 29, 2007

    I discovered Dr. Debs early on in my blogging, and reading her daily entries has been an inspiration. Aw, shucks, now I sound sappy.
    Now I’m inspired by her method of writing five rough draft entries over the weekend and polishing each before publishing. I know many people do this, but I just can’t get my act together. I’m a more fly by the seat of my pants kind of blogger. But I see a New Year’s blogging resolution coming out of this bloggerview!
    And thanks for the mention, Debs!

  4. Dr. Debs - November 29, 2007

    You’re welcome, Fred and Russ, and thanks, Tom, for including me in this series of posts. 13 has always been my lucky number!

  5. Jill - November 29, 2007

    Oh, and Dachshunds rule.

  6. Farley - November 29, 2007

    I was wondering when you’d get to Dr. Debs, Tom. Especially since almost every other blogger mentioned Good Wine Under $20 as one they read.
    You’re correct in that she knows her stuff and knows how to write about it. Plus, she’s one of the nicest wine bloggers I ‘know.’

  7. Wine Scamp - November 29, 2007

    Thanks for the mention, Dr. Debs! I’ve learned a lot from reading your work and observing your “best practices,” including your regular commenting on other blogs and your reliable, readable posts.
    I second Winehiker’s nomination of Dr. D as Most Inspiring Wine Blogger!

  8. Wine Scamp - November 29, 2007

    Sorry, it was Jill whose nomination I am seconding — oops!

  9. winehiker - November 29, 2007

    I’ll “third” that, Wine Scamp!

  10. Wine Scamp - November 29, 2007

    Yes, Maam

    When the Doctor tells me to eat takeout, I dont ask questions.  I just scamper my way on down to Paos Mandarin House and pick me up some Three Cup Chicken, because that is the SHIT, my friends. Can I get a witness? Testify!
    The other nig…

  11. Dave Chouiniere - November 29, 2007

    “Good Wines Under $20” is one of the first blogs I read each day. Thanks for interviewing Dr. Debs and getting her to talk about herself. It’s cool to get to know the person behind the blog!

  12. Benjamin Saltzman - November 29, 2007

    Go Dr. Debs! (Also, thanks for the mention and long-time support of Chateau Petrogasm.) We really appreciate it.
    Wine Reviews at Chateau Petrogasm

  13. Pamela - November 29, 2007

    What a wonderful interview! I especially enjoy reading other peoples stories about how they got into blogging about wine – loved the interview, Tom, and congrats Dr. Debs 🙂

  14. Sonadora - November 30, 2007

    Great interview Dr. Debs, I always love learning more about my favorite bloggers. Your dogs are adorable! Thanks for the mention. 🙂

  15. Mesha - November 30, 2007

    Great to see you featured.
    Daisy Mae was glad to see your dogs getting the attention they so deserve. But she mentioned to me, “The more blogging you do the less petting they get.”
    Keep up the good work on both.

  16. Joel - November 30, 2007

    Great interview Tom. And I would say that Dr Debs has had a relatively meteoric rise in the wine blog world. I think its because people read blogs for good writing but also when it has a “genuine-ness”. I think thats what Dr Debs benefits from – in her writing you can see the genuine appreciation and love for the wine and “everyday wine life”. interestingly enough, its pretty analogous to a wine maker at a boutique winery!

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