Bloggerview #14: Mary Baker

Bloggerview #14
Who: Mary Baker
Blog: Dover Canyon Winery Blog

Mary Baker is one of the finest bloggers I know. She is also a regional correspondent for Appellation America. And, she’s a partner at Dover Canyon Winery in Paso Robles, California. Her Dover Canyon Wine Blog is far and away one of the best examples of winery blogging and how to make it work not just for the winery but also, I suspect, for how to make it work for you personally. Mary is remarkably genuine and it comes through not just on her blog but also in the comments I see her leave across the blogosphere. I’ve been wanting to bloggerview Mary for a while because I think she brings a unique perspective. You should also note that Mary as been at this blogging thing since 2005, a very long time in this strange cyberworld. So, she has a good idea of what it’s all about.

1. When did you begin blogging and why?

In May, 2005.  I was curious:  would a blog would be useful as a marketing tool?  Blogs seemed to be a cross between an email and a newsletter, and I have indeed found a blog to be less intrusive than emails, and much more current and interactive than newsletters.  Plus, a blog is just plain fun to write.  I was quickly hooked, and we were one of the first nine wineries listed as having a blog at the Winery Web Site Report. 

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

I can do it in one—the focus is on our winery, our wines, our vineyard, and our lifestyle.

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

My “pack” would be other commercial winery blogs, right?  I don’t know that I’m much different than the other fine winery blogs out there.  But this is what I try to do to express the essence of Dover Canyon:

•    Be aware of what readers enjoy reading
•    Be upbeat and brief
•    Be generous with knowledge and industry tips
•    Mix up the topics, keep everyone a little off balance
•    Show no fear—don’t be afraid to be human
•    Write to the best of my ability

4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?

Slow and steady as far as readership numbers.  But what is most amazing to me has been the growth in nationally diverse readers and international readership.  If people around the world enjoy reading our blog, that reassures me that our customers and fans are also enjoying it, even if they don’t post frequently. 

5. Do you accept samples for review?
No, but I get them anyway!  Somehow I got listed as a wine writer in the Wine Institute press list.  I forward any samples I receive to Laura Ness, who reviews wines for Appellation America. 

6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
Although I don’t review wines per se, I do occasionally write an analysis of an older wine from our library.  I try to be very honest in my assessment, because there are people out there who still have these wines.  We give conservative cellaring estimates, especially on the zins, as we feel higher alcohol caramelizes the flavors of zin and suppresses the pepper.  If the wine is toast, I’ll say so, and why, but I also get really excited when an older wine shows well.  Some of Dan’s wines have surprising longevity, and I always burst with pride when someone raves about an older vintage. 

7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?

It’s almost impossible during harvest.  And I’m not even the wine talent in the family, just the cellar rat. But the rest of the year, I like to write in the evening while dinner is roasting and the kid is doing his homework.  Or on the occasional sunny weekend afternoon when I am not needed in the tasting room.  On winter days, I sometimes sit in my saltbox greenhouse with its west-facing sun panes and write at the gardening table, watching the winter rains approach from the ocean, with coddled plants and kittens around me.

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

I only utilize marketing practices to remind our customer base to check in with the blog.  I put color photo postcards inside retail purchases and online orders, and I link to the blog from our winery emails.  But I have discovered that posting good content and offering commentary on other blogs builds a network of referrals that can become an amazing force in itself.

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

I don’t think there’s a sharp division.  Wine blogs are generally much more personal and introspective but I think that is how the medium is often utilized—not a definition of the medium itself.  With the long lead times of the traditional print media, magazines seem more suited to indepth articles on trends, or lifestyle productions featuring dreamy photography of untraveled wine routes.  But even so, there is no reason why a wine blogger with a thirst for knowledge, some reportorial expertise, and some daring could not write a serious expose or industry piece that would blow the print media out of the water.  Basically, I think the print media has only two advantages over wine bloggers—the voices and ratings of their well known critics, and the fact that they are easier to read in the bathroom.

10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
No lie, Fermentation is the only blog I look at every day.  But I have a long blogroll that I like to stay current on, so about once a week I check in on other winery blogs like Cima Collina, Tablas Creek, La Gramiere, Pinotblogger, and others.  I also check in regularly at the Winery Web Site Report. Mike Duffy offers up amazing information and encouragement for wineries.  Vinography and Wine Camp are favorites, too. 

11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
Not yet. Ironically, I think podcasts are having more influence right now because they fit into the lifestyle of Disposable (Wine-dedicated) Income Persons (DWIPs).   Podcasts are downloadable, can be listened to while commuting, and generally address the hot topics and producers of the moment.  Wine blogs still seem to be a mainly industry readership with a large but inert layman audience.  However,  I think wine blogs are poised to have a major impact.  With the popularity of wine podcasts growing among the commuting crowd, I think there will soon be growing recognition for the leading wine bloggers as well.  I recommend a stronger cross-platform presence (bloggers appearing on podcasts or featuring podcasts) and more bloggers scooping the print media on wine news and commentary.  There are already several accomplished and respected wine reviewers out there, but the wine blogging community as a whole needs to build referential weight.  When retailers start putting out shelf talkers with Alder’s reviews, then we’ll know we’re almost there.

12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
I have been to Paris, but not the Caribbean.  My vote, however, would be for the Carib and feeling ‘irie’. 
We vacation on Moloka’i, where we spend a full month every 18-24 months.  If you are good at entertaining yourself, don’t need fancy restaurants, pools and hotels, and don’t mind mixing your own drinks, Molokai is a slice of heaven—even quieter than our little hilltop.

13. Pet: Dog or Cat? 
What’s one without the other?  Our dog is very protective of her kitties, and in turn they like to groom her—which she finds really annoying. 

14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
People.  My guilty secret.  I mostly read books, so I only get to read People at the dentist’s office and airport bars. To me,  the New Yorker has such a proscribed, monotonous attitude that I can’t stomach it.  I can imagine them sending Mark Twain a rejection slip. I’d rather read about miracle cancer cures and the latest celeb in tank.

15. Car: Prius or BMW?
I really prefer a Ford pickup, because it’s useful and my dog likes to accompany me everywhere.  But if I have to choose, it would be a BMW.   I’ve seen them score more parking spots than any other brand.  I think it conveys a sense of entitlement and daring to the driver, which is very useful in crowded parking lots.

16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Chablis.  I’m sorry!  That’s so . . . unpatriotic. 

17. What Would Your Last Meal on Earth Consist of?
That depends on why it’s my last meal on earth.  If I were ill, a chunky chicken soup with leek, jalapeno, ginger, and shitake mushrooms, finished with a twist of lime.  If I were wicked, a Tom Jones feast of fowl and game, with chins dripping with grease and bones flying everywhere.  If I were old, a heavy goblet of my favorite red wine, with crusty, fresh baked bread spiked with coriander seed.

18. What is Heaven Like?
It’s a place where one can deeply, truly be of service to others and bring them comfort and hope.  It also has a gigantic library with so many levels that you have to be able to fly just to get 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?
My fantasy evening would be . . . Ignace Jan Paderewski, who planted one of the first zinfandel vineyards in Paso Robles, T.H. White, George Leonard and Dr. Kary Mullis.  All four gentlemen would be entrusted to bring wine. 

20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Focus.  Whether it’s writing about affordable wines, writing about a particular region, writing about your own winery, or discovering the soil types of vineyards . . . choose a place, style, or other focus and then  research, research, research. 

Posted In: Bloggerviews


5 Responses

  1. Judith Klinger - December 4, 2007

    Mary, I’ve missed you and I’ve always enjoyed you. One day we will get a chance to meet in real time, right?
    Wonderful interview, it was fun to sort of visit with you.
    Judith (hathor)

  2. Mary B. - December 4, 2007

    Thank you, Tom! It’s an honor to be included on your blogroll. In a weird kind of way, the blogosphere has also become our tasting room. As I’ve said before, the blog has become our front porch, to everyone from Norway to Chile. It’s so weird, because they’ll never drink our wine . . . but we all lift a glass at sunset. And isn’t that what it’s really all about?

  3. Mary B. - December 4, 2007

    Judith! It’s great to hear from you! Any wild turkeys wandering through NY recently?

  4. Gordon - December 5, 2007

    Always an entertaining and informative read. I agree with you 100% regarding Podcasts. Keep up the good work Mary!

  5. Dr. Debs - December 6, 2007

    Great interview, Mary and Tom! I am a podcast addict, but a blog addict too. For me, the two go together.

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