Bloggerview #24: Steve Heimoff

Bloggerview #24

Who: Steve Heimoff

SteveWinejpg This bloggerview of Steve Heimoff comes at a particularly appropriate time. Steve began his blog, entitled "" almost exactly a year ago. Though I don't know the extent of his readership, I suspect it is in the top 20 of all wine blogs on the internet. And that shouldn't come as a surprise, largely because of his background in wine writing. My affinity for Steve results from a number of factors. One of those factors is that Steve began his wine writing career at about the same time I got in the wine business. That commonality of perspective gives us both a common context. However, there are some very big differences between Steve and I also. For example, HE can write! What's really fascinating about Steve is that if you read him in the pages of the Wine Enthusiast and read him at his blog, you'll have a window on what makes these mediums quite different.

1. When did you begin blogging and why?
May 2008, just 1 year ago. Started because it seemed like a natural progression, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Also, because I had the time.

2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
First, report on news, when there's news to report. Second, provide analysis and opinion.

3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
That's for others to determine. I just do my thing. Often my personality shows through in a way it doesn't in straight journalism.

4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
Explosive. I don't check the numbers all the time, but it really blew my mind.

5. Do you accept sample for review?

6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I don't review California wines on my blog because that would conflict with my job at Wine Enthusiast. (I do very rarely review non-California or older vintage California wines on my blog.) At Wine Enthusiast, we use a 100-point system. Why? Because that is what the owners want, and I'm very comfortable with it. We do not publish scores lower than 80 points, out of common decency.

7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
I don't. WordPress requires almost no maintenance. As for time spent researching and writing, that can take an hour a day, sometimes longer, but as I said, I do have the time and I enjoy the physical labor of researching and writing.

8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?

9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
As I said in #3, I can let my personality show through more than in traditional print. I had a background in newspapers and magazines before I started at Wine Spectator and then Wine Enthusiast. In trad journalism, the "I" word is forbidden. You're supposed to be a third party, impartial observer recording what you see and hear. I like the freedom that blogging gives me to be more personal and occasionally rant as well as praise and get emotional.

10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
Yours. Asimov's. Jo Diaz. 1 Wine Dude. A couple others. I get Google alerts and if the headline interests me, I click it.

11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
As Chou EnLai, the former Chinese foreign minister, remarked when asked about the effects of the French Revolution: "It's too soon to tell." I know for a fact that winery P.R. and marketing people believe wine blogs have made, and are making, an impact, and they are telling this to their bosses, the winery owners.

12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
Caribbean. Sun…warmth…beach…mixed drinks with little umbrellas in them…palm trees…mmm

13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
A dog, if I lived in the country, but as a city dweller, a cat. My longtime feline friend, Mr. P., died in my arms a few years ago at the age of 20 : <

14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
New Yorker!!

15. Car: Prius or BMW?
Do I have to choose?

16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Umm…both. As long as they're good.

17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
Champagne and sushi.

18. What is Heaven Like?
Where you get to see the people you loved, and the people you didn't like are a lot nicer than you remembered.

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?
Oi, I knew this was coming. King David (of the Bible). Alexander the Great. Eleanor Roosevelt. Robin Williams. I'd bring the wine, as long as I could break into a great cellar.

20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Write every day (I learned that from you, Tom). Don't make dumb spelling and punctuation errors. If you're just blogging for the hell of it, what you write about doesn't matter. If you want to make an impression, do your research. Know your subject matter. Provide plenty of links where appropriate. Be intellectually honest. Develop a strong voice (which requires knowing who you are.) Learn how to write a great headline. And have a thick skin. You will be bashed.

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10 Responses

  1. Dylan - May 11, 2009

    I love what Steve said in Number 18 and very much enjoy his blog. He’s great at responding to comments and I appreciate him valuing what I have to say although I am wine novice compared to other readers of his.

  2. 1WineDude - May 11, 2009

    Champagne & sushi – man, that is THE killer combo. Knew I liked this guy for some reason…
    And the Chou EnLai reference is classic Steve H., hopefully no one needs more explanation on why they should be checking out his blog beyond that!

  3. fredfric koeppel - May 11, 2009

    “We do not publish scores lower than 80 points, out of common decency.” I found this comment from a reviewer and critic, speaking of the Wine Enthusiast, to be downright curious. Since when does “common decency” prevent us from exposing mediocrity? Don’t consumers deserve to know what wines to avoid as well as what ones to buy? Imagine if book and movie reviewers or the publications they write for didn’t publish negative reviews because of “common decency”! “Common decency” isn’t the standard; honesty, accuracy and integrity are.

  4. Director of Wine Science - May 11, 2009

    Interesting interview.
    Though I agree with Fred’s point. For me, this is why CellarTracker has outpaced Spectator in terms of utility/value.
    But perhaps there’s an opportunity here. Someone should start a blog called “Swill” or “Not Good Wine Under $20” or “Don’t Drink This.”

  5. Tobias - May 12, 2009

    Koeppel might take into account the decency that goes into not applying the inherently fallible numeric scoring system to dispatch damaging reviews. As if designating the number 92 to describe how great a wine is isn’t sufficiently ridiculous, it is actually taking it another notch lower by stating a wine is 63 ‘bad’.

  6. fredfric koeppel - May 12, 2009

    I agree with you Tobias, which is why I have never used a numerical score in rating wines.

  7. Director of Lab Rhetoric - May 12, 2009

    You can certainly argue that numeric scores are reductionist, bad metaphor or even dishonest (a way of making something that is purely subjective feel objecctive/scientific), but, and I say this respectfully, I don’t think you can argue that a low score is worse than a high score. They’re both just scores.
    Spectator uses a scoring system, and should not then decide not to publish low scores out of some misconstrued (I would argue) sense of politeness. If I understand Koeppel’s point correctly, I think one has to wonder who the magazine is protecting with Steve Heimoff’s suggested policy of civility.

  8. Steve Heimoff - May 12, 2009

    I’ll respond to Fred’s comment. He does have a point, in that it’s useful for the public to have information about a bad wine. But outweighing this IMHO are (1) these wines are likely to be reviewed by other critics, so the public will have access to their reviews, and (2) when you are actually reviewing wines, you understand that these scores have impacts on real people’s lives. A bad score from me can be quite financially harmful to family-run wineries (and keep in mind, most bad wines are made by little family wineries, not big corporate wineries). I don’t wish to be in the position of making it hard for somebody to pay a mortgage or meet a payroll or fund a kid’s college education. I will admit, though, that this is a close call, and Fred was right to make the point.

  9. tom merle - May 12, 2009

    Frederick et al — CellarTracker has outpaced WS, and all other media for that matter, because of the phenomenon labeled “wisdom of crowds” ( ) Which kind of evaluation would you find more useful: the personal opinion of The Wine Enthusiast reviewer Steve Heimoff,whatever the state of his palate, or the views of many wine enthusiasts.. . ?

  10. Tish - May 12, 2009

    Frederic’s point is well-taken. It also raises one’s curiosity of whether any wines at all are getting below 80 points these days, from Steve and anyone else.
    I totally admire the way Steve has made his blog a font of ideas and discussions alike. The fact that his personal blog draws more comments on an average day than WE mag’s “team” of bloggers draws in a fortnight is proof that blogging really does need to be pointed and opnioinated for people to care.

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