Steve Heimoff and the Active Mind

Isn’t it true that many bloggers embrace the idea that what they are doing is somewhat rebellious? Subversive? We very much like the idea that bloggers are the "alternative" to the "mainstream press" or "mainstream gatekeepers"; that, in the case of wine blogging, for instance, they are democratizing access to the way wine is presented in the culture.

There is a good deal of truth to these assumptions. I don’t spend any time questioning the notion that the explosion in the number of those utilizing the blog publishing format has changed the wine writing genre. If nothing else, this development has created a power shift. The power that once sat in the hands of a very tiny number of publishers and writers to set the intellectual and popular agenda as to what is important about wine and in the wine world has been dispersed as a result of the emergence of the wine blogging community. These publishers still wield tremendous power to set this kind of an agenda, but that power is severely diminished.

However, I think that rebellious quality that is happily embraced by the wine blogger, and bloggers in every other field, has seen its hay day.

The emergence of Steve Heimoff into the world of wine blogging makes me think this.

Today we have a number of Wine Spectator writers blogging. Two Wine & Spirit Magazine writers are blogging. A New York Times wine writer is blogging. A Food & Wine editor is blogging. And with the Wine Enthusiast’s West Coast Editor Heimoff now launching a wine blog and with another blog administered by Wine Enthusiast, it’s all but confirmed that the mainstream wine media has seen the power of the blogging format and decided it is good and they too will embrace it.

What once was legitimately considered a fringe endeavor should really be understood as mainstream today. And just as with the paper and ink publishing format, the big question in the blog publishing format is who has the gravitas and who has the eyeballs. Answers to these two questions will determine what and who is important in the world of wine blogging.

If Steve Heimoff’s blog were to end up attracting a lot of eyeballs then it would be fair to say that HE is important in the world of wine blogging because he comes to it with built in gravitas that very few others scratching out words on a keyboard can match.

I’ve been reading Steve Heimoff in the pages of the Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast for upwards of 20 years now. Steve’s writing voice and his approach to covering the world of wine strikes me as perfectly suited to the still somewhat rebellious and "alternative" nature of the wine blog world. Steve has never, as far as I can tell, flinched form saying what is on his mind or from criticizing where criticism is due. He has never been a rah rah, slavishly publishing the make-happy words and assertions of the industry’s marketers and public relations folk who really hoped he would.

The point, of course, is that the most talented and most read writers in the traditional wine publishing world are in part migrating over to the blogging world. The reason is simple: traditional publishing is not well suited to active minds that like to communicate.

Think of it this way. Paper-based publications are quickly filling the role of being the accessory that reminds us of what interests us—like the Mickey Mouse watch worn by those who delight in ironic pop culture symbolism. The blog publishing format is becoming the source of the substance of our interests.

I’ve subscribed to Steve’s blog feed and look forward to having a new, regularly updated source of substance.

4 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - June 4, 2008

    Doesn’t the trend also say something about the staid, often stale, nature of the magazines?

  2. Steve Heimoff - June 5, 2008

    Tom, thanks for the kind words. You expressed very succinctly what was in my mind when I started my blog — in fact, you expressed it better than I could have [or did]. My crystal ball clouds up when I try to peer too far into the future [tomorrow morning is about as far as I can anticipate] but I do think that wine blogging will follow the usual trendline in media: In the beginning it’s small and radical [think Gutenberg or, much later, the Internet]. Then it becomes mainstream. Then it becomes Darwinian: survival of the fittest.

  3. Tish - June 6, 2008

    With your blessings, Tom, I trust Steve will get plenty of “eyeballs” now, and I expect that he will carry the blogging torch well. He is a straight shooter and a true expert on California wine in almost every way. Not sure your notion of magazine-writers blogging has much oomph, though.
    Do you really consider the Spectator editors’ online pieces “blogs”? Sure, they may call them that, but Suckling and crew’s actual entries clearly lack the sense of independence — and interdependence — that burns so brightly elsewhere. One of the things I enjoy about reading bloggers is the degree to which they constantly reference other bloggers and all sorts of wine media. This is indeed a huge factor in how wine blogging has taken off. By contrast, Spectator bloggers preach to their choir and virtually never raise the possibility that other blogs (or other critics matter).
    Ironically, your reference to the blog “administered” by Wine Enthusiast comes during the week Jim Gordon has left the building. Of course, Jim was never there; he was a hired gun — which obviously tied his hands. And the fact that WE’s site is still billing “Unreserved” as “a blog with Jim Gordon” (even as his last post is sitting there generating about as much buzz as a cowpie in Carneros) suggests that his departure was unexpected and that something there was pretty disfunctional.
    [For the sake of disclosure, it is fairly well known that I have been a vocal critic of both of those mags. Indeed, WE has threated to sue me for exposing the company’s link to their 100-point-fueled retail site (wine express); and the friendly folks at Wine Spec banned me from their blog-response boards for challenging Jim Laube’s canard-like treatment of Randy Dunn’s high-alcohol spanking.]
    This is not meant to be a putdown of WS and WE, but rather a reminder that a blog is not a blog is not a blog. Any blog that comes directly from an established business (whether it’s a magazine, a winery or a retailer or importer) is by nature different. Fortuntately, I sense that the active blog reader has grown to be quite sensitive to whiffs of self-service and propoganda. Some (like Eric Asimov’s) pass the sniff test easily; others do not.
    By the way, Jim was recently named the new director of the Napa Wine Writers Symposium. I would expect him to reach out to the blogging community in a big way as that symposium evolves. And it will be interesting to see Steve’s posts lean more toward information or opinion.

  4. Tish - June 17, 2008

    Lo and behold, Steve Heimoff is apparently set to be anointed the new Jim Gordon. Good luck, Steve! Hope you keep shooting straight.

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