Bloggerview #17: Thomas Pellechia

Who: Thomas Pellechia
Blog: Vino Fictions

This man produces some of the most lucid, well-written and well-informed wine content on the web. The bonus is that he’s terribly opinionated. Thomas Pellechia has a background born for blogging. Winemaker, writer, wine salesperson. It’s all there. His blog, VINOFICTION, is somewhat subversive to the cult of wine due mainly to Thomas’ somewhat skeptical and cynical nature. Yet what you can count on is a very unique perspective on the issues that swirl about the wine industry. VINO FICTIONS is one of the few wine blogs That I actually place in browser’s tool bar, making it always accessible immediately. That’s precious real estate. But VINO FICTIONS deserves it.

1. When did you begin blogging and why?

I started the blog at the beginning of 2007. I got sick of the stuff I was reading on the wine forum sites. Too many people think opinions are facts and way too many people don’t know the difference between the objective and the subjective. Plus,  the same subjects keep going around those sites, and the same misinformation, too, or maybe it’s disinformation!

When it occurred to me that some forum moderators are gaming the participants, I decided to create my own outlet.

2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
My aim is to impart information about wine and the wine industry. I know, that’s only one sentence, but that’s what happens to a columnist–be concise.

3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
I don’t know. I only hope that I am meeting my goal to impart information. I do think that I offer a unique background among the bloggers; it includes commercial winemaking, owning and operating a winery, working as a distributor sales rep, owning and operating a wine retail shop, and a wine and food writing career.

The fact that I haven’t the time to blog daily, gives me more time to think about what it is I want to say. I craft my entries as if they were going to be paid for, by a real editor. I try hard to make the entries readable, and maybe even lucidly thought out.

4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
I started with zero readers and I ended the first year averaging 6,000 hits a month. I have no idea if that means success, mediocrity or failure, but I characterize it as growth, especially since the numbers increased each month in 2007.

5. Do you accept sample for review?
We had this discussion on your blog a few weeks back. Right now, the wines that I talk about on my blog I buy at retail. Not that I don’t accept samples–just that I’d rather be up front over who’s paying for the wines that I talk about. Having said that, I must have pissed people off, because samples have diminished over the past year but, sadly, inane press releases have increased!

6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
The only time I rate wine is when I serve as a judge at a competition. Then, the rating is technical and usually under the Amerine/UC Davis 20-point scale. Of course, to evaluate technically, one should have had at least some technical training.

Rating wine in a subjective realm makes no sense to me–anyone, trained or not, can do it. Over my lifetime, I’ve tasted many highly critically acclaimed and rated wines that  either failed or squeaked through a technical evaluation.

To me, the worse part about ratings is that the general consumer seems to think the numbers indicate a technical measure of quality, when of course that’s not true. And I don’t buy the disingenuous statements of critics who say that their descriptions are more important than the numbers they assign. If so, then why assign numbers at all?  The answer is that in the numbers game, there’s an implication that a wine critic is the arbiter of subjective perfection, and whether they are gaming the geek or really believe they are the arbiters of perfection, I find each concept distasteful.

I’ve never understood the notion of "calibrating" my palate to someone else’s and then tying a number to it. To me, the exploration is the fun part–my exploration, not someone else’s. In truth,  I’m uncomfortable telling people what I subjectively like or dislike about a wine. I don’t know why anyone should care what I like or don’t like.

7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
I’m a writer, so I sit at the computer all day. When I take a break from whatever it is I am working on, I check my email, my blog, and other blogs, etc.

8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
Nothing specific. My name stays out there thanks to the three newspaper columns that I write, my magazine articles, my two books (I’m writing a third), and posting on blogs and other wine sites. It helps that I usually speak my mind. Anyone dumb enough to do that will definitely get free publicity, whether it’s good or bad.

9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
Well, a blogger works on his or her own schedule. Although I am my toughest editor, there’s no editor to answer to as a blogger, no deadline, no subject forced on the blogger, as well as no length and pace requirement–of course, there’s no pay either…The other thing great about blogs is that people have a voice and we don’t have to listen to only the self-ordained arbiters of taste.

10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
Well, let’s see, there’s that one called Fermentation and then Rockss and Fruit, Bigger Than Your Head, Good Grape, Diary of a Picky Eater, Wineanorak, The Wine Guy, Vinography, Asimov’s blog, and some I can’t think of right now. I don’t post on all of them because I just don’t have that much time.

11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
Truth is, I’ve never thought about it. I hope that we have. I hope we are better than the wine forum sites simply because we are each speaking from an individual perspective instead of hosting what often turns out to be a free-for-all pissing contest. I also hope we are making a positive impact on the wonderful world of communication.

12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
My blood and my sentiments are definitely geared toward the Mediterranean.  Both my parents were Italian, and I grew up in an insular Italian community in Brooklyn.
Having said that, I do love Paris and Trieste.

13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
My wife and I play host to a handsome black, large standard poodle named Henry, who thinks he’s smarter than I just because he can type better. Our cat recently died and hasn’t been replaced.

14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
The New Yorker, it’s just about the only magazine that I read these days, although their fiction editor needs to know that the short stories are beginning to sound the same to me and the poems generally suck!

15. Car: Prius or BMW?
We own a Honda Civic Hybrid and a Subaru Outback. The Honda is for the frequent drives to New York City (300 miles one way) and the Subaru is to navigate our home turf–the Finger Lakes region.

16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Chablis, so long as it is in the steely, minerally style.

17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
This is the toughest question of all. I’m a food as well as wine loony, and my taste in each is spectacularly (for me) eclectic. I know that after choosing anything, I will wonder why I hadn’t chosen something else. But if I really had to choose I might go for the following:

Start with cannelini bean (is that spelled right?) and escarole in broth with carrots, shallots, garlic and a touch of grated Grana Padano cheese.
The wine: a Friulian Pinot Bianco.

Soft shell crabs, lightly sauteed in butter, garlic and lemon, with a touch of cayenne, served with Portuguese style thin sliced fried potatoes.
The wine: a clean Chablis or maybe a Sancerre, but if the cayenne is too much, maybe a pink wine.

Arugula and Swiss chard with slices of sweet red pepper and oil cured Moroccan black olives, sprinkled with balsamic fig vinegar.
The wine: a Finger Lakes semi-dry or a German Auslese Riesling.

Espresso cheese cake.
The wine: Madeira Bual.

18. What is Heaven Like?
No deadlines, no responsibilities, no bureaucrats, no snow, and no insecure, wealthy wine geeks!

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’ve had this idea for years that I have yet to act on. I want to invite a group of people to dinner who have little or nothing in common; then, start the conversation and see what happens. With that in mind, my guests would be: William James, Dorothy Parker, Oprah Winfrey, and Bill Clinton. I’ll cook and I’ll bring the wine, thank you very much!

20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Get out of town. There isn’t room for you and us. Seriously, a blogger, any writer, should find his or her voice and go with it, and always tell the truth as you know it. Also, it boosts credibility if you can spell.

Posted In: Bloggerviews


7 Responses

  1. Alfonso Cevola - January 24, 2008

    Thomas P’s latest book, “WINE-The 8,000 Year-Old Story of the Wine Trade”, is a great read! Beg, steal or borrow this book, read it and remember, it’s been going on for thousands of years…and it will continue, hopefully for thousands more.
    Pellechia’s chapter on Egyptian winemaking and the “wine trade” reminded me of William Younger’s “Gods, Men and Wine”, another seminal piece about this ancient trap we’ve all gotten ourselves, happily, into.

  2. Marco - January 24, 2008

    Thomas has a recipe for his mother’s meatballs in “Garlic, Wine and Olive Oil” that is worth the price of admission. My other used to add Romano, but I am prejudiced. I read all of his posts carefully.

  3. fredric koeppel - January 24, 2008

    hey, Tom, thanks for the mention of BTYH!

  4. Thomas Pellechia - January 25, 2008

    Geez, I hate seeing my picture!!! Thanks, guys.
    I should have mentioned another reason I like blogs: the people who post on them are a lot more reasonable than the ones who argue at the forum sites.

  5. Thomas Pellechia - January 25, 2008

    So, this morning, I’m trying to make a blog entry, and vinofictions won’t come up. Just had to call the techies…
    Another blog site for it:

  6. Terry Hughes - January 25, 2008

    Alfonso, can I borrow yours?

  7. Lyle Fass - January 29, 2008

    Great writeup Thoms and thanks for the shout out!

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