Bloggerview # 19: Peter Liem
Peter Liem is the second Wine & Spirits Magazine writer to take up blogging, beating his colleague Wolfgang Weber to the punch by a couple months. Peter’s personal blog, Besotted Ramblings and Other Drivel, has a certain derogatory ring to it, but please don’t let this fool you. Peter is W&S’s Senior Correspondent based in Champagne, giving him a unique and insider perspective particularly on the European wine scene. I learned about Peter’s Blog from Brooklyn Wine Guy who highly recommended it and I was not disappointed. Peter’s Besotted Ramblings are likely the best source of information on the Champagne wine region and Champagne the product on the net. It’s an education in the waiting. Peter was kind enough to agree to be Bloggerviewed.
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
I started my blog in November of 2007, mostly because I was living halfway around the world from the majority of my friends, and it was an easy way to stay connected. It’s since grown into something beyond what I anticipated, and I find that I enjoy writing it.
2 In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
I’m fortunate in that I’m based in one of the most dynamic and intriguing wine regions in the world, constantly surrounded by wine, vineyards and winemakers, and my blog allows me to develop ideas about issues and random bits of information that I encounter from day to day. My goal is to keep it mostly about champagne, but as I travel fairly regularly, I also end up writing about other things that I happen to be drinking or eating at the time.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
You mean other than its babbling incoherence and child-like grasp of HTML? Seriously, I suppose that one unique element of my blog is that among people blogging in English about champagne, I’m one of the very few who actually live in the region, and among those I’m the only journalist, as far as I know (the rest are winemakers or connected with wineries). Both of these things shape my perspective in particular ways.
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
It’s been shocking, really. Each week surpasses the previous one. I don’t look at my stats a lot, mostly because I use Blogger, which doesn’t have an internal stat counter. But whenever I do, I think, “Damn, where did all these people come from? And don’t they have anything else better to do?”
5. Do you accept sample for review?
Well, most of my tasting is done at wineries, so I suppose that tasting wine "sur place" constitutes accepting samples in some way. I don’t feel any sort of conflict of interest, since I’m not actually reviewing wine, nor do I feel compelled to write about something just because someone opened a fantastically expensive or rare bottle for me. The whole point of having a personal blog is so that I can write about whatever I want to write about.
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I don’t. At my day job I’m required to use the 100-point scale, which I like to think that I can wield competently as a professional. Personally, however, I don’t believe in numeric scoring, although I recognize the need for a system to communicate a concept of quality, if you’re going to be in the business of reviewing wine. Fortunately, my blog isn’t about reviewing wine, and it certainly isn’t about rating wine. It’s more about establishing a context in which to place the wines that I write about, creating a backdrop so that the reader is better empowered to assess these wines for himself or herself.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
It’s a sort of mental exercise, usually in the morning. I don’t like spending much more than fifteen minutes on a post — I’ll pick a sufficiently narrow topic and try to make myself write whatever I have to say within the allotted time. As I often spend much of my day writing other things, it’s a nice change of pace to write a short, focused post on something that I’m interested in.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
I’ve done absolutely nothing to market my blog. In fact, I think the only thing I’ve ever done that could remotely be considered marketing is registering on Technorati. I must be the worst self-promoter in the entire world.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
As others have said, a blog connects you with your readers in a much more immediate way than print journalism. For one thing, you can write much more frequently, and your writing is delivered instantaneously to your audience, which offers huge advantages. When I write for print, sometimes it won’t be read until several months later, which has an impact on both how you write and what you can write about. Also, one of the most valuable things about blogging is a direct interaction with your audience, via comments, e-mails and the like, and it’s very rewarding to exchange ideas in this manner.
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
I browse whenever I can, generally around the blogs that I’ve linked to on my site. I like Brooklynguy’s well-written and down-to-earth Wine & Food Blog. Dr. Vino is always a fantastic source of information, and generally a hoot to read. Wolfgang Weber’s Spume is intelligent and entertaining, not always about wine but that’s a good thing. I also like Ray Isle’s blog at Food & Wine — he’s the best writer I’ve ever worked with, as well as an all-around great guy.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
I can’t say that I see a big impact on the industry. On wine culture, I suppose that it gets more people engaged in a dialogue about wine, whether they’re reading or writing. I think that blogs still occupy a fringe element rather than the mainstream, but their presence and influence is only going to grow.
12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
I would say Paris, except that I live close by and am there quite regularly, so it doesn’t feel like much of a vacation to me! I do love the city, though. For a proper vacation, I try to remove myself completely from Europe and North America, with Asia being a preferred continent to wander in.
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
Cats, unquestionably. They are by far the more civilized of the two. I’ve been in too many places in the world where I’ve had to carry a pocketful of rocks to fend off canine marauders. In Vietnam, however, I exacted my revenge upon the canine race when I ate dog prepared three different ways, including a boiled paw floating in soup, nails and all. It was a very Lance Henriksen in "Dead Man"sort of moment.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
The New Yorker. In fact, it’s become something of a ritual for me — when I fly I almost always have both the New Yorker and Wired in my bag. One of the things I love most about flying is that it frees me of all duties and obligations, and I have absolutely nothing to do but sit there and read a magazine.
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
A Prius would be a blessing, with gas prices the way they are here in Europe. Although as my current vehicle is a Peugeot 206, I would be thrilled to drive either a Prius or a BMW. The French make many wonderful things, but automobiles are not exactly their strong suit.
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Chablis, without a doubt. I’m an old-world, old-school, cool-climate, rocks-and-minerals sort of guy. I guess I sort of have to be — I live two hours <I>north</I> of Chablis.
17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
I would have Kouei Furukawa, the kaiseki-trained chef of Shokkan in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, make me a multi-course extravaganza from whatever he found at the market that morning. I’d bring a ton of champagne, of course, as well as an ample supply of sake, and try out all sorts of combinations with Furukawa-san’s exquisitely elegant and refined cuisine.
18. What is Heaven Like?
Of course the champagne flows freely, and by some miracle it’s all organically grown. The views are spectacular, rather like sitting out on the patio at the Ventana Inn in Big Sur. The chefs are Japanese, and the sommeliers probably are, too. And on the television, Arsenal is perpetually thrashing Manchester United, over and over again for the rest of eternity.
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?
There are many famous people living and deceased whom I might choose, but I’d have to say that my group of friends in Portland, Oregon, who all have fabulous cellars and are all complete wine dorks, will always be my favorite dining companions. Unfortunately we hardly ever get to see each other these days. There are more than four of them, but so be it.
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Don’t use Blogger! Just kidding. I think it’s important to remember that while writing on the web allows you to be more casual and relaxed than writing in print, the rules of good writing still apply. Write with a purpose and keep your audience in mind. It doesn’t have to be Pulitzer Prize-worthy, but it ought to have a point — writing “I drank this last night and it was yummy” is not very useful to anybody, plus it’s boring.