Wine Bloggers and Their Readers: The Connective Tissue
The 2009 North American Wine Bloggers Conference will be upon me and my blogging colleagues in couple days, a circumstance that has continued to inspire me to think about the wine blogging genre and my own interest in it. More specifically, I've been thinking about the impact that blogging has had on me personally.
Last night I sat with a magnificent friend in a restaurant in Napa. We shared a lovely meal, the two of us. My Sazerac, Manhattan, savory food and the company put me in a mood part melancholy, part elated. Perfect! But somewhere along the way exterior reality intruded. Past, present and future issues of mine and theirs were placed on the table alongside the cassoulet and crusty bread.
After coming home I had time to think about this intrusion while I sat in my office for a while. I began to think how absurd it is to expect any circumstance, personal or professional, to exist and settle in around me without influence from moments and experiences exterior to the current frame of mind. We are simply not emotional islands.
Not an astounding revelation this. But as I sat in my office contemplating this little nugget, thinking about the evening and also staring at this blog on my computer screen and thinking, for whatever reason, about the past five or so years of my blogging history and what it would take to keep it all going, I did have a little revelation that amounts to more than a nugget:
If bloggers, including wine bloggers, don't allow their personal and intimate reflections to make their way into their blogging, they will never last at this blogging business.
Here's why: While we wine bloggers are writing for an audience, it is an inescapable fact that we are writing and blogging just as much for ourselves; for our own peace of mind. We are not compensated, for the most part, for wine blogging. So it is not a profession or a means to a financial end. We are not forced to blog. So it is not an obligation that must be done. And, most importantly, when we do write on our blogs it is done in our own voice and representing us and no other organization.
All this adds up to one thing: The time we spend writing our wine blogs is in great part time spent inside OURSELVES and letting our SELVES be revealed to us and others, a process critical to the health of the self.
But here is the real and luxurious nugget packed inside this little revelation: If readers of your blog don't experience the same kind of intimate connection and exchange with themselves and with the blogger when they consume the words on the screen as the blogger experiences by virtue of writing the words… then the reader won't come back to your blog again.
For readers of blogs rather than writers, think about this: Are you really looking for cold, hard facts? Really? I don't think so. If this is what you really wanted from a wine blog and wine blogger you know you'd be better off spending time with a wine encyclopedia. I think readers are looking to be entertained, informed and…touched.
For Bloggers, rather than readers of blogs, think about this: Do you really blog for the sake of imparting the facts of the matter? If this is what you are shooting for, why publish them in public. I think you are looking to connect not just with wine lovers, but with like-minded people who might share or sympathize with your personal view of the world. You are writing in search of the sympathetic connection with another person.
And so as I think what it will take for me to continue to publish FERMENTATION for another five years or maybe another 20 years, I realize it can't be done unless I continue to use this blog not only as a forum for my views on things I think matter and entertain in the world of wine, but also as a venue for the exploration of my self, for revelation of my self and for imparting secrets about myself that have no business remaining fully secret. For this blog, or any wine blog, to be successful and enduring, it has to serve as a place where a writer and reader can cultivate connective tissues of the mind and self.
This means that just like last night when a little bit of culinary and personal bliss I was experiencing was interrupted by the reality of everyday affairs, this wine blog, and any good blog that properly serves its author and readers, will be interrupted regularly by everyday affairs of the heart and mind.
I will print out this blog post, frame it, and hang it right above my PC. One of the best pieces on wine blogging I have read in a long time. Honestly appreciated!
I think what you have to say, Tom, is exactly true for you. But what I do is completely different. I seriously hope that no one who reads HoseMaster of Wine actually thinks that’s me behind the words. It’s not. It’s a voice I use, and have used for thirty years of writing satire. Only my post about my wife’s horse having to be put down was me, and I only published that because my wife read it and insisted I publish it.
When I skip about the blogosphere and randomly read posts I find it discouraging. And I don’t think reflecting on your own life and every day affairs of the heart helps a wine blog. Sure, it may help the wine blogger in search of therapy, just like it helps a lonely poodle to bark, but it’s rarely compelling, and it rarely comes across as heartfelt. Most of it is full of code language, camouflage for the true emotions of the blogger, camouflage they hope the person their blog is aimed at can see past. It’s hooey.
The joy of wine blogging is found in the creative process, not the personal journey. You take that journey in the real world, not in this desolate place known as cyberspace. The bloggers I’ve found that are compelling–you (I’m such a kiss-ass), Samantha Dugan at Samantha Sans Dosage, Steve Heimoff (a thoroughly professional writer whose personal life I don’t need to know)–are the ones who seem to find joy in the simple process of writing about what they love–wine. Wine naturally brings up anecdotes and stories, it always relates to ones personal life, but it’s the creative process that’s interesting, and the joy of watching someone discover their talent for self-expression.
Man, I wish someone were crazy enough to let me address the Wine Bloggers’ Conference… But no one’s that nuts.
I absolutely agree with you. Unlike Ron, the voice on my blog is mine, a very personal one, (sometimes too) I used to freak that I would never be taken seriously but it turns out, people do want to know you, follow along and add their little bits of commentary along the way. It does create a connection, builds trust….and friendship, I love it and find it amazingly heart warming.
Great post as usual Tom. I very much try to put a little of myself into each post I do, whether that is imparting some little bit of wisdom I’ve collected or putting forth and opinion about a particular subject. If a reader expects just the facts, maybe they should read the New York Times (although even their facts are iffy at times). Reader should visit my blog if they wish to learn about wine PR & marketing for a wine PR & marketing professional.
Well, I write anything that I write in my voice–I wouldn’t know who else to use for a voice.
As my blog states, my intention is to spend time swiping at wine myths and those who would create mythology. Sometimes, I go overboard, but that’s because they do, too.
We all write because we think we have something to say, in whatever voice we use. My only wish is that some of us would take the time to learn how to write so that we could say it succinctly, effectively, and without sounding like we are talking to a mirror. Having something to say is one thing–learning how best to say it is quite another.
Tom Wark – I’m going to take you BOLD button away. You are over using it!
Jack, it’s easier than subheads.
Thoughtful post, Tom.
Over the course of the 7-9 months, you’ve taken a turn for the philosophical, perhaps it’s your creeping age to mid-40’s, perhaps it’s other things, but you’re no doubt right — were it not for that “connective tissue” the fact that I have actually spent a personal moment, separate from reading your blog, to wonder how you’re doing in your personal life given other hints you’ve dropped in your writing, is what binds me to you. Not that situation specifically, but you get the point.
Really good, thoughtful post.
Get a grip. You’ve gone off the deep end on this one. Remember, it’s always good form to sleep off good eats / good wine before sitting down at the keyboard and waxing poetic.
Don’t get me wrong. You’ve got a good gig here, but please… stick to observations about wine and PR. If I want heartfelt baloney, I’ll watch a soap, read a Harlequin novel or talk to an Irishman.
PS: Agree with Jack — lose the bold key!
In an earlier life, when I was working on inner city economic development (among other economic things), I realized that each situation was unique, not so much for the facts of the case but for the people and forces involved. The result of those disparate experiences is that I have learned to “let a thousand flowers bloom”, and not to prescribe solutions for people.
That philosophy has served me well as a wine lover and wine critic. I love red Burgs but I do not expect CA Pinot Noir to emulate them or be branded as latter day Syrah. I like rich Chardonnays, and I cannot figure out why otherwise intelligent tasters would claim that they never go with food. They may not go with oysters, but they do go with lobster in rich sauces.
I have the same attitude towards wine blogs. Steve Heimoff is never going to write the kind of heartfelt commentary that you offer on occasion. Sam Dugan is never going to offer investigative journalism of the type that Tyler Coleman does.
And, while I nearly wept (no bullshit) when reading your Mother’s Day entry while being incredibly thankful that my mother is still alive and relatively healthy at 95, I will not ever write that kind of piece in whatever blog I eventually develop.
There is all kinds of journalism, and we can’t all be Herb Caen or Thomas Friedman, to choose two very different journalists who both carry the stamp of greatness.
“Heartfelt baloney” is fine but it is not wine journalism. It may be good journalism, but if the wine blogosphere is to ever have staying power, it is going to have to offer a better alternative to traditional journalism.
You do write about wine most of the time, and so does Ron Washam. Neither of those blogs reviews wine or really teaches the broad audience about wine. Even Steve Heimoff’s blog, as excellent as it is, is less about wine quality or wine background than it is about insider detail.
I love the fact that so many of us are commenting and reading together. There is an interesting sense of community to what is happening here. But, it is a very limited community, and it is not the kind of community that is ever going to replace traditional journalism not matter how smart it is or how much we enjoy it.
In that regard, I think that you are a lot closer to the truth when you say that the blogosphere is today still relatively short on high caliber writing. For that, one has to turn to professional journalists who blog like Heimoff and Asimov.
Those two “babies” aside, most of today’s journalists are in their sixties. It remains to be seen who emerges over the next decade or so. I am betting that some of them will be folks who get their start in blogging. But, if they truly succeed, it is my guess, admittedly as an old-fashioned print guy, that they are going to have to talk about wine a lot more than most blogs do today.
“The joy of wine blogging is found in the creative process, not the personal journey.” For some, their personal journey is the creative process. Of course, creative can be taken loosely. I manage the blog for our vineyard and wine label–it’s a means to share what I find so illuminating about the journey, for the team and myself, as it unfolds in making wine. The creative process is a personal process, they are both the same journey in my eyes.