What Wine Blogging Needs

Ed Not long ago I was queried by a writer about my thoughts on what if any impact wine blogs have had. Though I put it in more words than this, I think it can safely be said that wine blogs have, are and will impact the wine trade and wine industry.

However, the query got  me thinking: What do wine blogs and wine bloggers need individually and collectively to make a REAL impact, a bottom line impact, a permanent impact on wine drinkers and wine traders. I think wine bloggers and the wine blogging community is most in need of the following five things if they are to really step up and play a more important role

1. Editors
Anyone who has read FERMENTATION for any amount of time will know that more than anything else, what would make this a better blog is a full time editor to look at my posts before I hit the "publish" button. While I might be more grammatically challenged than others, it is safe to say that a good percentage of wine blogs could benefit from a full time editor.

The thing is, editors don't just ferret out spelling errors and punctuation problems, though this is an important part of their work. They also watch for continuity within posts and across posts. They advise on the flow of posts. They can even be charged with advising the blogger on when a prospective post shouldn't really be published at all. If wine bloggers want to do one thing that will immediately make them more professional, it's engage an editor to look over their work before publication.

A Prolific Wine Reviewer
When asked what it will take for wine bloggers to be taken seriously, I always respond the same way: witness the emergence of a wine reviewer/blogger able to post 3000 good and useful wine reviews annually and do so using the 100 point scale as well as via written descriptions. Wine lovers, for better or worse, want a guiding hand to help them navigate the 1000s of wine at their disposal. That's wine the major wine magazines and newsletters are successful. They provide this service.

There is no wine blogger that reviews wines in the kind of prolific fashion that I'm suggestion here. But when there is, they will, assuming they are competent and experienced, attract an audience as larger or larger than any wine blog currently in existence. More importantly, by following a publishing philosophy of Abundance, this prolific blogger will draw attention to all wine blogs, and create something of a rising tide in the process.

Of course, doing this is not easy. How does one obtain 3000 wines to taste and review and taste and review them in a relatively consistent environment? It would help to be incredibly wealthy. But the difficulty of dong this is not the point. The point is that this key approach to blogging has not been undertaken. Things will change when someone does this.

I think some wine bloggers believe "marketing" and "public relations" are dirty words; that self promotion is either beneath them or just plain rude. It's not. Well, that is to say, it doesn't need to be. The individual wine blogger can instantly draw attention to themselves and their work just by doing some very simple things, as well as doing some slightly more complex marketing. The point, however, is this: If bloggers spent 1/4 of the time on marketing their blog that they spend on writing their blog, they'd see significant increase in traffic and readership. What, you ask, should you do to market your blog? That gonna cost you if you want me to help.

Retail Support
The day wine retailers start regularly using wine bloggers' reviews, and using them in abundance, all bets are off. Wineries and retailers both know that shelf talkers sell wine. Wine publications know that its very good for their circulation and ad rates when retailers use their reviews in abundance. To date there is very little use of wine bloggers' quotes and scores on retail shelves. Yet I can't figure out why. The fact is, a nice shelf talker with a real nice quote on it about the wine above it on the shelf will help sell that wine, no matter who is quoted. Yes, shelf talkers that quote the "Wine Spectator" and "Wine Enthusiast" and "Wine & Spirits" carry more weight than "Joe Wine Blogger". But WHO Joe is, really is less important to buyers than WHAT Joe says. Get retailers to quote bloggers and watch that blogger's reputation and readership soar.

30 Responses

  1. @nectarwine - December 28, 2009

    Fantastic thoughts! I often wish I had an editor. My wife edits procedures for a large national bank and sometimes the last thing she wants to do is edit my work after work.
    Marketing – I spend the bulk of my time marketing my site. The results ahve been amazing. I’m looking toward local traffic because my focus is the local scene.
    Retail support – the 64 million dollar question is ‘how’ do we get retailers to do this?
    Awesome and thought provoking!
    Josh @nectarwine (twitter friend)

  2. Thomas Pellechia - December 28, 2009

    Your post needed editing–badly. I’m always available and at reasonable rates, too…

  3. Joe - December 28, 2009

    Great post as always, Tom. I think you’re on the mark as far as what would cause bloggers to impact the industry in a real way, but are we diminishing what’s great about blogs by doing so? The misspellings, the random tangents, the opinions and “unprofessionalism” are- I believe- what makes them genuine. Isn’t that what social media is based on: transparency, honesty, and relationship building? Like I said, I think you’re right; I guess it just depends on what people want out of their blogs (not that I wouldn’t mind some notoriety!).
    Josh, I’ve seen you pop up on all the sites lately! You’re certainly putting in the hours getting your name out and interacting with the online wine community (which doesn’t happen enough. Keep it up!
    Joe @suburbanwino

  4. Samantha - December 28, 2009

    What might be useful for some of us would be a rating system like the ones that are used in the film industry. You know, G, PG 13 and what not
    N= Newbies, people just dipping their toes in the wine world
    N13= Newish people that have started attending wine tastings and have a grasp of the major varietals
    D= Daily Drinker with more comprehension but still longs to read about where such and such is located on a winery tour map.
    C= Collector not sure why they are reading as they will be consulting Parker anyway
    I= Industry for the latest on what’s going on in the “biz”
    JF= Jaded Fuckers for those of us that just want to read rants, the occasional wine review and just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all…
    Guess which rating my stoopid blog would get?

  5. Hampers - December 28, 2009

    Thanks for sharing the tips on writing the wine blogs. Being a wine blog I found these tips worth going through it.

  6. Tom M - December 28, 2009

    As a retailer, I have to disagree on a few points. Outsourced shelf talkers are the domain of Gallo products, Kendall-Jackson and the like. Smaller distributors are getting on board with their own materials, but few look very professional.
    I don’t permit any. A good retailer should be making their own as I do for two big reasons that were pointed out in the WSJ Tastings article by Gaither and Breecher – one of their most useful articles which pointed out customer beefs with retailers.
    Item #3 (of ten) was “Post more information” and goes on to complain about the accuracy of many shelf talkers, particularly vintage dates. I personally find many to be out of date and cheesy. Nothing looks worse than a shelf full mismatched, dog-eared tags. I have no outside shelf talkers on national brands. They get enough marketing. I concentrate on interesting labels I personally support, some of which may be national.
    Item #1 was “Tell me what YOU think”. And I do with a useful, accurate, concise talker based on MY opinion on selected products.
    While you do a fine job with your blog Tom, I’m just not seeing any demand for blogger opinions. Perhaps a retailer that needs help would see otherwise.

  7. Lizzy - December 29, 2009

    as wine journalist I can tell you that an Editor for my wine blog is the last thing I need. I have editors in traditional wine magazine, and all of them tell me and my colleagues what we can (or cannot) write about wines and wineries. The traditional wine writers (in Italy) aren’t free as they would like. In my wine blog, I’m editor of myself, all the responsabilities are mine. Sure, I work (for myself) for free.
    Perhaps this is freedom’s price…because in Italy it seems impossible to be payed for something (write a recension, for example) and to be credible at the same time!

  8. fredric koeppel - December 29, 2009

    Joe … misspellings are not transparent and honest, they’re careless and crude. Having been a newspaper journalist for most of my career, being edited and also editing, I spend as much time going over and changing and improving a post as I do with the initial writing. When I see misspellings and grammatical errors on blogs, I don’t think, “How fresh and honest!” I think “How dumb!”
    Tom: you’re correct about much of your assessment about what bloggers need to do to be recognized. The problem lies in logistics and earning a living. Since very few people actually make money from their blogs, the time they could spend on marketing and reviewing 3,000 wines a year is necessarily limited. And, as you say, not many people can afford to buy all the wines they could potentially review. It’s a neat little Catch-22.

  9. Thomas Pellechia - December 29, 2009

    To add to Fredric’s post, there’s also the fact that print magazines don’t just present wine reviews. With the exception of a few, the majority of wine blogs offer one perspective on a limited subject each time. Once you’ve read those 500 words, then what? You move on. Loyalty is fleeting, especially if you aren’t paying for the service.

  10. Joe - December 29, 2009

    Frederic: okay, I think that’s a fair argument. I analyzed my visceral reaction to bad grammar, and it was negative toward the writer. I guess I needed an editor on that comment! I do have a degree in Journalism and have edited my share of letters, articles, etc., so I can certainly respect where you’re coming from.
    Maybe the voice of the blogger is what I’m after. Not everyone has to sound like WS or RP to be respected. I think someone’s true personality will come out in his writing, and if he tries to squeeze that personality into a “wine critic” voice that doesn’t fit, then the blog will not be successful, because it won’t come off as honest.

  11. Tom Wark - December 29, 2009

    As you know, an “editor” need not necessarily tell you
    WHAT to write about. But the real benefit of an editor (at least to this grammatically lost soul) is having a second pair of eyes repair the damage done by my slippery fingers. I believe that one’s work is received in a more authoritative manner when the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted appropriately, so to speak.

  12. jackslife - December 29, 2009

    Great post. You are right on the money about this. Two points are ones that I have already recognized as issues that I need to address on my own blog. The first is the need for an editor. My wife has already demanded that I start letting her edit my posts before they go live. The second is the need for better marketing. I have started making the effort to spend more time on this aspect of my blog. One of my main resolutions for 2010 is to spend more time marketing my blog.
    Thanks for the great post.

  13. Charlie Olken - December 29, 2009

    Great comments, Tom. At some point, a blogger or bloggers will find the key to bigger success, but it will be a long slog and, at least at the wine review end, either be someone who has real financial independence or some larger group of individuals who band together to create a critical mass of reviews.
    There is a little bit of chicken and egg here. One needs money and time to write thousands of reviews, yet there is no easy way to amass those commodities for the average person. Does publicity and marketing come before the investment of time and money or concommitant with it or does a voice develop and then attract resources to expand. My guess is that there is no “one size fits all” equation.
    What happens if and when CT begins to market the conclusions of its members? They are not a traditional blog? What would happen if someone like Tyler Coleman and/or Alder Yarrow with their large audiences began to offer two tiers of commentary–one free and one for fee? Could they attract enough paying customers to make a go of working full-time at wine reviewing?
    What about the Palate Press model? Regardless of that voice’s current stance on doing wine reviews, will an agglomeration of bloggers, many of whom already have established blogs, be able to get folks to pay for something that they used to get for free?
    Or will the democratization of wine commentary and the natural inclination of us all to want what we get on the Internet to be free create a barrier to financial success?
    My guess, for the whatever it is worth, is that someone is going to figure it out, and whether they follow your words or invent their own methods of breaking out, they will essentially have to do what you have prescribed. We might even be able to spot the likely candidates by measuring them against the model you have described.
    One more thing, however. I enjoy many blogs that are uniquely personal and succeed because they are. Yours is prime among them. You do not need an editor, and neither do the “personal blogs” like Sam Dugan’s or Ron Washam’s. That kind of “from the heart” writing, with its “take me as you find me” attitude, is very refreshing and welcome in a world in which most wine writing is stiff, formal and impersonal. Editing may actually harm those blogs. That said, we all make mistakes at times, and we do owe it to the folks who read us to take the time to do exactly what Fredric Koeppel has prescribed–read and edit ourselves.

  14. Shea - December 29, 2009

    I would suggest one more addition to that list, and would love opinions on it. Namely, bloggers need more of an offline presence. In other words, participate more in the local scene as much as possible, help to educate people, host events, get together with local industry types to promote wine and wine education (and your blog along with it). In my opinion, an offline presence adds a ton of personality that is a great positive augmentation to a blog. It’s also pretty good brand messaging :).
    And, speaking of editing, you forgot to enumerate your headings after 1. 😉

  15. Tom Wark - December 29, 2009

    I agree 100%. Although the Internet gives one a world wide presence and readership, the most impact one can have is really local…AS LONG AS THEY LET FOLKS KNOW THEY ARE LOCAL?
    And, Shea…You are Kidding??? In a post about editing I actually displayed a need for an editor. Goodness. That is ironic!!!

  16. Shea - December 29, 2009

    Tom, good point – bloggers should let people know where they are from!

  17. Benito - December 29, 2009

    Editing is hugely important. It’s harder to do for yourself, but not impossible–I generally let a post sit in the queue for a couple of days before publishing so I can review it with fresh eyes.
    Daniel Schorr recently commented on what is being lost with various forms of new media:
    “What we are losing is editing,” Schorr said. “I grew up and nothing could be communicated to the outside world that didn’t go through an editor to make sure you had your facts right, spelling right and so on. Now, every person is his or her own publisher and/or her own editor or her own reporter. And the world is full of people who are sending out what they consider to be news. It may be, it may not be, it may be made up and it doesn’t matter anymore. That, to me, is the worst part of this. The discipline that should go with being able to communicate is gone.”

  18. Thomas Pellechia - December 29, 2009

    I didn’t even want to mention that kind of stuff, because every time I have in the past, I’ve been called a Luddite. One blogger told me that I am out of step with new journalism. I responded that if new journalism means disregarding the tenets of journalism to satisfy personal desires, then I will gladly step out.
    Many times, the defenses of freedom of expression or innovative communication are merely ways to cover up a serious lack of discipline and training, as Daniel Schorr–an obvious Luddite–tells us.

  19. [email protected] - December 30, 2009

    I agree with you, 4 eyes are better than 2. But .. if the great fear – or fatal flaw – of wine bloggers is to write posts with grammatical errors (like probably I’m doing right now!), don’t you think that they have just simply to write slowly, and reread carefully? (in my case: to study English better … :P)

  20. Phil - December 30, 2009

    A thought on editing…it’s a real skill, much like writing. So someone can be a good writer and a poor editor and vice versa (although it’s difficult to be a good editor without being a good writer). Benito really nailed the main reasons that blogging could use editing and it has nothing to do with grammar (although that is helpful) and everything to do with another set of eyes and another brain critically evaluating the work without the bias of having written it yourself.
    I find that famous authors and film directors sometimes reach the point where they don’t seem to be edited and could have used someone looking over their shoulder for their work. Tom Clancy comes to mind, his earlier books are much tighter and sharper than his later work.

  21. Paul Gregutt - December 30, 2009

    Tom, don’t ignore the fact that there are bloggers (such as myself and Heimoff) who do review thousands of wines annually, and have for many years. We also bring professional polish to our work. Speaking for myself, I do not want an editor looking over my blog posts. Apart from the time limitations it would impose, I have editors parsing every other thing i write; the blog is mine all mine.

  22. Natalie MacLean - December 30, 2009

    Hi Tom,
    I taste about 10,000 wines a year to narrow that down significantly: I kiss a lot of vinous frogs to find those princes. (Tasting 3,000 wines doesn’t garner 3,000 reviews unless you like everything.)
    Every wine is matched with various dishes and recipes, includes the region, maturity (if it’ll age), bottle shot, servig tips and background notes:
    Love what I do but it means tasting wines every day.
    Nat Decants Wine Online

  23. Phil - December 30, 2009

    I would agree that bad editing would harm the blog, but a good editor would leave the voice of the blog intact, fix any grammatical errors, and most importantly, help keep you on-track in terms of accuracy and topic. A blogger would of course be free to ignore the editor, it is their blog, but having someone there to challenge your assumptions (and sometimes your facts) is in my view the way to get the best final product.

  24. Phil - December 30, 2009

    Also, are my eyes deceiving me or are there only 4 things instead of the promised five?

  25. Austin James Carson - December 31, 2009


  26. John Cesano - January 1, 2010

    #1 Editor. I often go back through my posts, after I hit the publish button, and make edits. How my errors hide so well until posted I have no idea. Great article. Thanks.

  27. Bill Eyer - January 3, 2010

    Great thoughts and recommendations, thank you! The part of about the editor, right on point, well said!

  28. twitter.com/EaglesNestWine - January 3, 2010

    Tom: Great thoughts as always. In these austere times editors or journalism staffs are a luxury. It always helps to have a second set of eyes or brains on a piece – but in these multi-tasking times with parallel lives that often doesn’t happen. Keep up the posts and drink fine wine. Congrats on kicking the tobacco habit.

  29. 1WineDude - January 8, 2010

    No way bloggers can match that kind of review volume unless quite a bit more than a few of them **band together** and somehow agree on a **common rating system**.
    And good luck with that – I don’t see that happening because we’re still all too damn individualistic, which has its pluses & minuses. Chalk up the lack of commercial shelftalker viability as one of them minuses, I suppose.

  30. Morten Pedersen - June 15, 2010

    Yes, you are right. We all have our opinions.And good luck with our web-site.

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