Bloggerview #21: Arthur Przebinda
Arthur Przebinda is a serious guy. At least he takes both his wine sites seriously. He's probably best known as the proprietor of redwinebuzz.com, a site dedicated primarily to investigating and reporting on the wines and wine culture of the California Central Coast. And while redwinebuzz.com is surely the best source on the net for news and information about the Central Coast, I prefer reading his blog, Wine Sooth, where Arthur's serious and sometimes gregarious approach to opining on things wine has something of an urgency to it. I think this is because he's a thoughtful person who puts good thinking behind his writing. You'll see that aspect of Arthur by reading his responses to the Bloggerview questions.
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
I started winesooth.com at the beginning of June, 2008 – two and a half years after starting redwinebuzz.com, which is my main site focused on California’s Central Coast. Not everything I have to say about wine fits the format of redwinebuzz.com, so, winesooth.com is a place for me to engage some broader academic or philosophical topics. The two platforms now complement each other and allow me to reach different audiences.
2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
I tend to write about the broader culture of wine, taking a “sober thinking” approach to the more incendiary issues related to wine writing, research, production and appreciation. If wine blogging is supposed to stir the pot, then winesooth.com takes the opportunity to stir the pot stirrers’ pots – as intelligently as I can.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
My philosophy is that popularly held notions about wine are not always correct. I try to offer even-keeled commentary and voice an alternate point of view, which I may see being marginalized or when I think that others are gravitating towards groupthink. That might make me seem the contrarian on some topics, but I think of long-term implications of current trends. I’m interested in the legacy and culture of wine in this country as well as its reputation abroad. I also tend to tackle more academic issues. Who knew tannin assays would generate such heated debate on a blog?
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
It definitely demonstrates the existence of the “Wark Bump”! At first, traffic consisted of other U.S. bloggers, but I now see a lot of wineries reading as well as academic visitors (possibly V&E departments, judging by the institutions and topics they’re viewing). I’ve also seen a big rise in international visitors.
5. Do you accept samples for review?
Yes. I try to keep a focus on Central Coast wines – the reviews of which I publish on redwinebuzz.com. That is not to the exclusion of wines from any other regions, but I do want to keep the format focused on the Central Coast. I have reviewed a few Sonoma, Napa and Long Island wines. It was nice to be asked to review these wines and it benefited my readers and me because it puts my way of reviewing wine into a broader context. I am always open to giving my thoughts on a Bulgarian rose or Chinese cabernet, though. Gadgets or paraphernalia have to appeal to me. They must seem like something I might regularly use and can’t involve magic, crystals, magnets, chanting, charkas, harmonic convergences and spiritual currents. I rarely review books or magazines. Usually, I’ll refer the person to a blogger who is better suited to review the book or magazine.
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
When I re-launch redwinebuzz.com, I will be using a five-star system to rate components of the wine’s character as well as its overall quality and typicity. I hold each wine I review up to a standard of varietal and regional typicity. The 100-point scale (and all its implications and trappings), then, proved philosophically incongruous with what I am trying to achieve: to spotlight the wines of the Central Coast and convey their charm and quality while taking my preferences out of the equation. Ultimately, I remind myself that what I write in wine reviews is not supposed to be about me, but about the wine and those who might enjoy it so I want to be conduit of information between the two.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
Writing is part of my daily schedule because I have to generate content for both my site and my blog. I cannot do all the webmaster work myself so I’m very lucky to have had a talented guy set up my blog. Corey Thomas [http://www.coreythomaslive.com/design/] is also rebuilding redwinebuzz.com. He’s scripted a custom site with the look and functionality I wanted.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
I feed my RSS to my Twitter account. I did the same with the “notes” feature on Face Book. I also let aggregator sites like winebusiness.com know about my blog. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that my involvement with the OWC gave me a lot of exposure.
I guess if I were to give some tips on this, I would say: Integrate your blog feed into whatever social service you use. Put your blog’s URL in your email signature as well as in your bulletin board/forum signature. Comment intelligently and politely on other blogs and bulletin boards.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
I think they are different. But blogging is really a big grab bag of different on-line publications. At the very basic level, I subscribe to Jo Diaz’s differentiation of “journaling” versus “journalism” but you can make these distinctions within blogging itself.
A great difference lies in the flexibility and affordability of on-line publishing technology. It’s undeniable and, given the current crisis in print publishing, this may be a very potent competitive advantage in the right hands. That said, specialty publications like the Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast or Wine Advocate are not going anywhere. They have solid followings and are, at different speeds, adopting Web 2.0 concepts.
Then, there are also those blogs published by stores or PR firms and such that serve to attract potential clients by demonstrating the author’s credibility or expertise by virtue of the writing. This category is hard to put in the journalism or journaling basket but it is often in the realm of punditry. It is still valuable – to readers and authors alike.
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
I make a point to check in on a bunch daily: I read Tom Wark's blog, Alder Yarrow
’s Vinography, Steve Heimoff, Eric Asimov’s The Pour, Jeff LeFevre’s Good Grape, Joe Roberts’ 1WineDude, Tyler Coleman’s Dr. Vino, Ken Payton’s Reign of Terroir, Alice Feiring and Juicy Tales by Jo Diaz. Some lesser known places I visit are: DaddyWineBucks and Clark Smith’s GrapeCrafter. I wish Jerry Murray would post more often on his Vintner’s Voice and that Morton Leslie would finally start a blog. Ron Washam’s Hose Master of Wine is addictive.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
The most realistic answer is: “First and foremost: probably with wine lovers who own a computer. Secondly, they also may be impacting the Internet-savvy wine-curious crowd “
My speculative answer is based on my web statistics and traffic patterns. New visitors come to my site seeking either general wine information or information about a specific wine or producer. These are not just passive-but-receptive potential clients. But that’s Web 2.0. It’s a two-way street and requires engagement on both sides of the computer screen.
As for wine culture: On-line publications provide information to those seeking it, so there may be a wine subculture whose common denominator is extensive internet use. This is the subset on which blogs may have the greatest impact. On the flipside, blogs also inform, frame and format their audience’s thinking – for better of worse (and whether their publishers like it or not). So they can shape the knowledge base and attitudes of this sub-culture.
Ultimately, your question does not yet have a clear answer. There is no tangible, reliable, metric for this right now – particularly one showing how blogging has affected the industry and consumer behavior and sales. I’m looking to Paul Mabray and VinTank for that. I spoke to him some time ago about ways to actively track some data and it seems like he was looking at similar concepts, so we’ll have to see what he rolls out.
12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
Wherever it’s less humid at the given moment.
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
I am way too busy to properly care for a dog. Besides, we have a very sociable and vocal black Persian who keeps us sufficiently amused.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
New Yorker, but I’ll peruse anything not gossip or sports-oriented.
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
I’m waiting for a hybrid Murano…
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
This is where I may be expected to stab the “Central Coast Wine Advocate” flagpole into the ground, denouncing all others as unworthy, but I can’t. I am a firm believer in the quality of Central Coast wines and I think they are often underappreciated, but I like wine form all parts of the world. This probably helps me keep a perspective on the wines I review. That notwithstanding, there is a sea of over-the-top wine from all over the world (and at all price points) that is just a chore to drink.
17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
I suppose it would be something decadent, indulgent and definitely unhealthy. But it’s my last meal, right? I suppose that if I had the conscious choice, I would pick out whatever was on hand – food and wine and make the most of it.
18. What is Heaven Like?
I don’t believe in an afterlife.
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 would want to meet people who made contributions to the world of wine but may be remembered for a relatively singular thing, which may not accurately represent the depth and scope of their thinking. I would want each guest to bring two to three bottles of their favorite wines.
I’d like to meet Harry Waugh, because he’d also bring the jokes – and I’d like to ask him about that “not since lunchtime” quip.
I would want Robert Mondavi there because I’d like to hear his take on current California wine. He was an ardent promoter of wine as an everyday fixture of American life, but he once told Rémi Krug: “I believe we can say that, in only a few years, we have been able to make great quality wines, but they still lack subtlety, and this will take generations to achieve” (thanks to Eric Asimov’s blog for that quote).
I’d like Émile Peynaud to join us. He is known for pushing for higher ripeness of wine grapes – among other things. I suspect that this was more relevant in France than anywhere else in the world and I am curious whether he would see the current style of wine – all over the world – as the fulfillment of his dreams, a runaway train or something else.
Finally, for his wit and to round out the “examination of legacy” theme, I would want André Tchelistcheff there.
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Define a philosophical platform, a point of view. Identify about 10 categories of subjects or issues you will be able to comment on intelligently. Stake out your claim in the bloggosphere – be that a regional, varietal, stylistic or philosophical focus. Think: niche.
Be honest with yourself about what you want to write about and why. This will help guide what you do and how you go about doing it.
Be prepared for work and a long haul. There is no immediate payoff to any venture and very few are able to successfully transform their “new-kid-on-the-block” fame into a lasting presence.
Work on your tasting chops, wine knowledge and develop those as the basis of your expertise, trustworthiness and credibility.
Remember that all revolutionaries become the establishment when their cause prevails.