Bloggerview #16: Jeff Lefevere

Who: Jeff Lefevere
Blog: The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto

Jeff Lefevere’s Blog, The Good Grape: A Wine Manifesto, is one of the GO TO sources of wine insight on the Internet. This is a man capable of taking complex technological, cultural and commercial ideas and interests and synthesizing them into something coherent and new and useful. That’s hard work. The blog itself is beautiful to look at, which explains why he was awarded "Best Wine Blog Graphics" in the 2007 American Wine Blog Awards. What makes all this even more remarkable is that he is able to maintain a steady pace of blog entries. On top of this you’ll see him delivering blog content to the Inertia’s REthink Wine Blog, doing occasional podcasts over at WineCast as well as holding down a steady and important job at Inertia Beverage Group where he’s striving to change the way wine is sold. How then to conclude an introduction to Jeff Lefevere? He’s a man you should strive to know.

1. When did you begin blogging and why?

I started in January of 2006–a voice in the wilderness; writing as a creative outlet.  Wine was and is my main hobby and I wasn’t feeling creatively satisfied with my job at the time and blogging was a natural way for me to utilize my seldom used Journalism degree.  I had also pulled the plug on the possibility of opening a wine shop in Indianapolis and the agreement that I made with my wife was a free pass for time spent on the blog along with spending some completely discretionary money on a professional design for the site. 

2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
Pragmatically idealistic, Good Grape is a wine blog and web site for wine enthusiasts, poets, artists, romantics, lovers, liberals and rock stars. Connoisseurs, collectors and the wine elite might be more comfortable elsewhere.

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

I take an op-ed or columnist style approach with much longer pieces then you generally see in a blog post—usually 600 – 1000 words.  I don’t necessarily take shots, but I definitely try to have an opinion in everything I write.  In terms of point of differentiation from others, I think my style of writing whereby I try to be accessible, but educational and in a thoughtful and creative manner separates Good Grape from the pack.  I also tend to focus on more marketing aspects of wine.  I’m not going to kill anybody with my in-depth knowledge of Bordeaux terroir, but I do think I have some insight on the industry from a consumer-facing perspective that is applicable to a wide audience.

As an example of how I think about my blog in terms of content, I recently read a USA Today article about the Scion car.  In this national newspaper was an article about how the Scion wasn’t going to market via traditional advertising, but they were going to do creative promotions to 17 – 34 year olds in urban environments.  This struck me because it was an inside out view of their marketing, in a general interest newspaper, on how they were going to approach hipsters in the city using non-traditional media.  That’s how I like to think of my blog and the way I write on things.  It’s the wine industry made transparent through my filter for a general audience with a natural curiosity.

4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
Slow, but steady.  I grew in the beginning thanks to you pointing my site out on Fermentation and I received another big bump after the American Wine Blog awards.  I took another huge bump after highlighted the site.  It’s been very organic because my site isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, or glass of wine, so to speak.  I’ve been pretty steady at between 800 – 1400 people daily (I look at unique visitors, not hits) and I’d like to grow that to, perhaps, 3000 people a day this year.  In my mind, I want readers that subscribe to my feed.  I don’t care about showing up in a Google search from a random person.  Shameless plug:  If you read blogs in a feedreader and you don’t actively read Good Grape, please start today.  Now.  Thank you.

5. Do you accept sample for review?
I do.  And wine does occasionally show up on the doorstep.  I often wonder about the old newspaper guy that is tired of wine samples, but for me it is completely welcome—that does not, however, mean I review everything.  I’ve gotten some wacky schwag non-wine items sent to me unsolicited, as well.

6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I use an adapted Napa Valley College 25 point system that I then apply to the Wine blogosphere five star system.  I’ve found that this works the best for me because it allows me to empirically quantify my tasting notes (albeit on a subjective subject) which is good for the evolution of my palate and also lets any readers who are interested see what and how I tasted.  Plus, it offsets some of the deficiencies in the UC Davis 20 point scale.  If anybody is interested, they should check out the below link to a Wine Business Monthly article on the NVC format:

Or, if anybody wants to email me, I can send them the source format for the tasting notes that I use and they can customize to their hearts content.

7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
Not very well.  I spend a lot of time blogging.  I tapered off in Nov. and Dec. and really realized how much enjoyable time and effort I spend on it.  I do it almost exclusively at night, instead of watching TV, but then, because I work out of a home office, I end up spending 14 hour days on the computer.

8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
Not really.  I wish I had more time to work on this—it’s the classic dilemma of being too busy “working in my blog” and not being able to “work on my blog.”  Taking some shots across the bow with a controversial post helps occasionally, though.

9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different from traditional wine writing for print?
Well, obviously the immediacy in the biggest thing.  I often times read the consumer magazines and see items that I wrote about, saw somebody else blog about or I read the press release when it first came out and by the time I see it in the magazine it’s old, old news.  In fact, in a lot of these news stories, the wine blogosphere has already thoroughly vetted the issue in the court of wine blogosphere public opinion and by the time you read it a second time in the magazine, the outcome to the news item is a self-evident truth.
The other thing is the legitimacy that wine blogger wine reviews are receiving as a proletariat counterpoint to the wine mags.  It is an interesting phenomenon that is only going to grow.  I came to that conclusion slowly, but I’ve definitely come around to a mental reconciliation of what I believe is the future of wine reviews and the number of people (bloggers) that will be influencers in this model.  The key is harnessing the bloggers together in some form that creates a collective legitimacy and transcends just Google searches–that is the hard part, though.

10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?

I keep track of 80 or 90 wine blogs, so I hit all of the good ones.  The two that have emerged over the course of the last year that I think are some of the best of the best are Rockss & Fruit by Lyle Fass and Dr. Debs at Good Wine Under $20.  They’ve already been featured on Bloggerviews, and both of them are clearly doing some darn fine blogging work to equal our industry titans—Fermentation, Vinography and Dr. Vino. Terry from Mondosopore also enchants me.  He doesn’t write about wine that much, at least not for being a wine blog, but the guy’s personality sparkles in his writing. 
In terms of an under the radar blog, I would recommend–I have to give a shout out to another Indianapolis wine blogger! Generally speaking, I think the wine blogosphere has gotten a lot more interesting in the last year.  Eric Asimov has a cabal of bloggers and a sphere of influence and I think Dr. Debs is doing the same thing with her Wine Book Club.  This is a good thing.

11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
Absolutely!  Four things have really happened because of my blog that I think are incredible.  Mind you, two years ago, I was a technology sales and marketing guy in Indianapolis, IN that happened to like wine.  In that time, I have taken a job with a technology company in the wine industry based in Napa, CA.  I was nominated in the American Wine Blog awards for Best Overall Blog competing with Eric Asimov from the New York Times.  I received comments from Thomas Matthews, the Executive Editor from Wine Spectator on my blog and there is an icon and a blurb from my blog that has been in the front matter of Wine Business Monthly for the last two months.  To me, that’s incredible.  Let me remind you, I’m a wine enthusiast from Indianapolis, IN.   The power of blogging is amazing and is having a profound impact on both the industry and the culture of wine.

12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
It’s a vacation, right?  You’re supposed to relax and unwind?  For me that’s a beach, a book and a boat drink.

13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
Definitely a dog.  My wife and I are nutty dog people.  You know the wackos that leave their TV set on tuned to Animal Planet?  That’s us.

14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
New Yorker.  I can’t stand the tabloids.  People please leave Britney alone.

15. Car: Prius or BMW?
Can I split the difference and say that I’d like to “Pimp my Ride” with a 1980’s Volvo 240 and put a bio-fuel engine in it?  It would belch vegetable oil on the highway and be decked out with XM satellite, DVD and GPS with some fine Corinthian leather.  Call it old school bohemian luxury, the perfect cross between a Prius and a BMW.

16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Chablis.  I used to say I didn’t mind a buttery chard, like them in fact, but that was before I drank a lot of un-oaked Chard.  Now, it is like licking a stick of butter to me. 

17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
I’m from the Midwest and a pretty simple guy so it would have to be a Summer Harvest meal:
Caprese salad with fresh tomatoes from the garden or Farmer’s Market
T-bone steak on the grill cooked medium-rare
Corn on the cob (I’m from Indiana, people)
My Mom’s French fries
Coleslaw (I love coleslaw!)
Fresh steamed green beans studded with bacon
Macerated fresh peaches over vanilla ice cream
The wine would be Nebbiolo based Italian–either a Barbaresco or a Barolo with an Inniskillin Ice Wine for dessert

18. What is Heaven Like?
I think Henry Miller, Orson Welles and some of those other mid-20th century luminaries had it right by hanging out and living in Big Sur.  I’ve come closer to sensing God’s presence in Big Sur than in any church—and I went to Catholic school for 12 years.

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?
First, I would have to invite five people:  My Grandpa Lee, Lou Holtz, Michael Jordan, Frank Sinatra and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  My Grandpa because I would want him to see what kind of man I grew up to be and I would want to spend just one more bit of time with him. Lou Holtz because he’s a personal hero (and former national championship winning coach at Notre Dame!). Michael Jordan to talk about how greatness doesn’t necessarily have to do with pure God-given ability and to talk about the shot he hit over Craig Ehlo to beat the Cav’s in an elimination game in the playoffs in 1989.  Frank Sinatra would pepper the conversation with stories of carousing with the Rat Pack. I’d want FDR to talk about the New Deal and how it changed the face of the country, with an impact that we still feel today.  Plus, Roosevelt and my Grandpa, a member of the Greatest Generation, could talk about old times.

20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Either read an absolute ton of everything or read absolutely nothing–be media obsessive or media abstinent.  I think blogs are best when they are a jambalaya of ideas formed in new ways from disparate parts, or completely original without outside influence.  I happen to fall into the media obsessive category, by the way.

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7 Responses

  1. Paul Mabray - January 18, 2008

    Jeff is a rockstar and thanks to his great blogging it inspired us to bring him into the Inertia family. He is a great contributor to our strategy and helps us knock down the “Berlin Wall” of trade barriers preventing wineries from selling direct to the trade.
    Paul Mabray – CEO
    Inertia – Powering the Wine Revolution

  2. Dr. Debs - January 18, 2008

    Thanks for the great interview. I’ve loved Good Grape, with its arresting images and pithy writing, from the beginning. Nice to get to know Jeff more.

  3. Terry Hughes - January 18, 2008

    Damn, I am pleased to have Jeff for the props. Grazie!
    Note to self: Stop bloviating about this and that and stick to vino.

  4. Terry Hughes - January 18, 2008

    Can you tell I had too much vino at dinner? Sorry…but, Jeff, I did add you to the blogroll.

  5. David J - January 19, 2008

    Double kudos to Jeff on his geeky & über-cool vehicle of choice & Big Sur as celestial gate & metaphor!
    Haven’t been keeping up with my obligatory blogs in my two months in Argentina (but for Terry’s rants!) & it sounds like I better make a point of getting my dose of Good Grape every morning!

  6. Lyle Fass - January 19, 2008

    Thanks for the props. Keep up the great blogging.

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