Bloggerview #26: Michelle Lentz
Michelle Lentz and husband Kevin are the duo behind "My Wine Education", a wine blog I've watched, read and admired for some time now. One of the beauties of of this wine blog is that it is as advertised: while the two authors are indeed very knowledgeable about wine, reading them you realize you are participating with them in their own personal wine education. The writing is excellent, the content compelling. The style is conversational. In the end, if you are a wine drinker, you come away think you'd really like to have a drink with them and let that drink fade into a meal. I don't know how many folks read My Wine Education, but I do know it's a hell of a lot more than the vast majority of other wine blogs on the market. When you read the interview Michelle below and her blog you'll figure out pretty quickly why that would be. Plus, how can you resist someone who would have Neil Gaiman at their fantasy dinner party. That choice is nothing less than art.
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
I began blogging in 2003 with our wedding web site – it was how I communicated tons of destination wedding information to our wedding party. That led into a personal blog the next year. By 2004, I was blogging about wine on that blog and it sort of took over. I moved the wine posts over to a new blog and My Wine Education was born.
2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
It's the journey Kevin & I are taking through the oft-intimidating world of wine. We focus on regional events, restaurants, and happenings, but it always comes back to learning more about wine.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
– I don't review wines all the time. Instead, I talk about everything from wine glasses to cocktails, as well as wine reviews.
– I have a local focus. Once a week I post local Cincinnati wine events, I often highlight local wineries, and I support local restaurants and retailers. So while I still cover a lot of big, broad topics, I always have a few posts that bring things back home, as well as a calendar of local events and maps of local wine trails.
– My rating scale also sets me apart, but we'll get to that in another question.
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
My first year or so with the wine blog were pretty unremarkable. It was when I started posting the weekly Cincinnati wine events that things really took off. I realized we had a huge wine audience here in the Cincinnati/Indiana/Northern Kentucky area that wanted to know more about what was going on with local restaurants, wineries, and so on. The blog started growing at such a fast pace I was shocked. This past June, I inked a deal with the Cincinnati Enquirer/Gannett to be part of their Locals on Living section. My readership went through the roof!
5. Do you accept sample for review?
I do accept samples, and I have a sample policy posted on my blog (http://www.wine-girl.net/copyrights-disclaimers.html). I like them because it's often wine I can't purchase in local stores, so I'm being exposed to new things. However, I'm emphatic about letting people know if I'm reviewing something I got for free, whether a complimentary meal/wine dinner or bottles of wine. When I review technology for another blog, I always have to give the gadget back. I can't do that with wine, but I do my best to blog with integrity.
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I've personally always had an aversion to numbers, and I believe wine is an emotional experience. My happy face rating scale is all about how I react to wine on an emotional level, numbers be damned. My readers love it because they feel it makes the wine more approachable and it makes more sense to them than a scale of 100 points that's really just 20 points anyway.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
Sometimes I don't. I try to post 2-3 times a week and occasionally, I'll manage to pull out 5 posts, but it depends on my "real job" workload. I try to post as soon as I get up in the morning, but sometimes I really am floundering for a post. I've made it easier on myself by running two consistent series: Weekly Event Fridays and Mad Men Mondays (where I talk about what our favorite '60s ad guys had to drink the previous evening). I've discovered that a series like that makes it easier – I don't have to hunt for a topic. With the exception of special events, I usually don't post on weekends or holidays. When I travel, which is frequently, I try to line up guest posters ahead of time and have their posts scheduled and ready to go.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
It's all been a happy accident. At one point, I realized I needed to get business cards and this year, I decided to establish a consistent brand across my Twitter, Blog, Business Cards, and any where else my logo is referenced. Other than that, I've been blessed by the benefit of word-of-mouth (and -link) marketing. A local wine shop occasionally has me in to host tastings, which is a blast, but that's about it.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
With my newspaper deal, I've had to look at this a little more closely. When they pull one of my posts for print, they make certain editorial changes. Bloggers in general don't have to adhere to fact-checking and can just post from the heart. Print journalists don't have that luxury. In my own writing, I try to adhere to more journalistic standards, but I'm still a lot more conversational in my posts than your average print article.
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
I always read Lenn Devours, and my local friends CheapWineRatings.com and Under the Grape Tree. My Google Reader has over 50 different wine blogs and I skim the headlines daily, including Anything Wine, Vinography, Luscious Lushes, Fermentation, and so many more. It's a combination of blogs I read for knowledge and those I read because the bloggers have become my close friends.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
Looking at the impact here in Ohio – yes. Particularly because there are several of us across the state who promote the local wine industry, and I believe that has helped bring a much-needed spotlight on our great local wineries. Overall, well, those big famous wine writers wouldn't be getting all upset about wine bloggers if we weren't making a difference. But the best impact, in my opinion, has been made by Gary Vaynerchuk. Love him or hate him, he has made wine very approachable and fun for a lot of people, and blazed a trail that many of us are happily following.
12. Vacation: Paris
or the Caribbean?
The Caribbean, provided there is a pool bar with a roof or a beach chair under the shade of some palm trees, plus a neverending supply of cocktails. (I'm a redhead who loves the sun but fries like a lobster.)
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
Dog. Ideally I'd have a Burmese Mountain Dog. But instead I have a husband. Kevin is allergic to all things furry and cute, but since I'm allergic to peanuts and nuts, it's sort of a fair trade for us both.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
The New Yorker.
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
Do they make a BMW hybrid? Really, I'd prefer the BMW but my conscience calls out for a Prius.
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
17. Describe what you would have at your last meal.
I would probably enjoy a whole lot of comfort food – grilled cheese, mac and cheese, fried chicken, or pasta. There would definitely be an overload of carbohydrates. I'd finish that off with bread pudding souffle from Commander's Palace in New Orleans and some miniature cupcakes from my favorite pastry chef here in Cincinnati. I'd pair all of it with small-grower Champagne. For me, every meal is just a prelude to dessert.
18. What is Heaven Like?
Chocolate, Cupcakes, Marshmallows, Champagne and many clouds and bubbles?
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?
Neil Patrick Harris
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
Who would bring the wine? Hmm … I bet Neil Patrick Harris has a good appreciation of wine, so maybe him. Or maybe we'd just go to French Laundry and let the sommelier pick the wine.
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Part of my day job is teaching social media and one class is called The Art of Blogging. My first piece of advice to anyone starting any blog is be prepared for the commitment. There is a reason there are so many abandoned blogs out there – they take a lot more time than anyone realizes. For a wine blog in particular, I think folks should be willing to admit there is always a lot to learn. You don't have to write like a stuffy old wine writer to make it sound like you have a clue. Just be human, admit that you don't know some things, and dive headfirst into all the learning.