BLOGGERVIEW #32: Benjamin Carter
BLOGGERVIEW # 32
Benjamin "Benito" Carter has been at this blogging business for more than five years. In fact, he just recently celebrated five years maintaining his Benito's Wine Reviews. That's impressive by any measure. Benito's primary area of interest is in food and wine reviews, though he's always willing to weigh in on numerous issues from reviews to terroir to the state of the Blogosphere. If you read the interview with him below what you'll find are the ideas and responses of a thoughtful man. I recommend Benito's Wine Reviews highly. I recommend you read him regularly. I recommend you hunker down with a glass of wine and a slice of Chef Boyardee pizza when you dig in to Benito's Wine Reviews
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
January 2005, so I'm celebrating my 5th anniversary on the 22nd. This
is the third blog I've written (the others are long gone and unrelated
to wine), and in the fall of 2004 I started going to lots of free wine
tastings. I started the blog just as a way to keep notes, with the
idea that jotting down thoughts and linking to the websites would help
me remember details about the wines. I didn't get into it with any
expectation that anyone would ever read it.
2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
I'm an amateur wine enthusiast in Memphis, Tennessee. Due to the
number of subjects I discuss I'd say the blog is delightfully
unfocused, like a friendly dog with poor eyesight.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
I try to integrate a lot of topics, because neither wine nor any other
subject exists in a vacuum. It's amazing how many food bloggers never
write about wine. Since every independent blogger is his or her own
publisher, I see no reason to totally avoid other topics. I write
about beer, cocktails, history, do book reviews unrelated to any of
the main topics, basically whatever is on my mind. I also create all
the content on my own: photos, text, graphics, etc. If I want to show
a map of a region, I'll build it from scratch in Illustrator. I have
nothing against bloggers that use existing images, but I like to flex
the old photography and graphic design muscles. I feel it
personalizes the site, even if my dog's tail is poking up behind a
bottle of wine in a shot. No, especially because of the dog's tail.
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
It's been odd. My first group of readers in 2005 were almost entirely
in California, England, and Australia. I didn't really develop a
local following until 2006, but since I been continually getting more
and more readers from everywhere else, Tennesseans are still a tiny
minority. Going by Google Analytics, I've had visitors from 168
countries but never Greenland, Myanmar, Turkmenistan, and a big chunk
of central Africa. I've considered specific content to reach those
5. Do you accept sample for review?
Hell, I've accepted samples from you a couple of times, Tom. :) Yes,
I'm happy to accept samples without any strings attached or guarantees
about publication. I write up most of the wines I receive, though if
something's boring or bad I don't feel like wasting the time, effort,
or space to trash it. When somebody walks into a wine shop, there's
hundreds of boring bottles staring at them. I'd rather spend the time
and effort praising a single good bottle so the reader can hopefully
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I only describe the character of the wines and how they work with
food. If I really like something I'll point that out. I've got an
extended theory on wine scoring that if you're going to do it, it
needs to be like Olympic boxing with different geographic divisions
and weight classes. Trying to score a Bordeaux and a Long Island Cab
Franc on the same 100 point scale is like pitting Lennox Lewis against
a scrappy little teenager: it's boring to watch and doesn't tell you
anything useful about either participant.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
I write mostly late at night, and I always write in advance. So a
post might sit around for up to a month before publication. It gives
me some time to self-edit, maybe look at it in the morning and realize
that a joke I found funny at 2 a.m. doesn't work in the light of day.
It helps me keep an even pace of three posts per week despite bursts
when I might write five posts in a single day, or a week when I don't
even want to look at a bottle of wine.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
I just started using Facebook at the end of 2008 and Twitter more
recently. The former lets real-life friends and family know what's
going on with the blog even if they don't care enough about the
subject to check often, and the latter constantly surprises me. In
2009 I started co-hosting online wine tastings with the local
newspaper, The Commercial Appeal, which has been a lot of fun.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
I think it's more immediate, more responsive to positive/negative
criticism, and certainly in this environment, it's the only way that a
writer is going to be able to refine his skills over time. No print
publication can currently afford for a young wine writer to find his
voice over the course of a few years. Again, coming from a print
graphic design background, I miss the precision and layout of the
printed page, but admire the flexibility the web creates with regards
to length and multimedia content. There are pros and cons to both
sides and in a perfect world, the two realms could co-exist in mutual
success and respect.
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
Any of the sites listed on my blog, I read on a daily or weekly basis,
plus I'm always looking at new ones. For my 5th anniversary I'm
highlighting Southern winebloggers I've discovered in the last year.
But a couple of quick shout outs: Fredric Koeppel, a personal friend
here in town and early influence from back in the 80s; Samantha Dugan,
soul sister from the City of Angels; Hardy Wallace, brother from the
Dirty South; Dr. Vino, the man with a name like a Bond villain who
uses his powers for good; Alder Yarrow, who exerts a zen-like calm on
this whole crazy enterprise… My time is up, I admire you all and
know a lot more about wine from having read your sites.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
I don't think we'll know the real economic impact on the industry for
another ten years. Certain segments of the wine industry are really
excited about social media, blogs, and connecting with individuals,
and that energy is infectious. Seeing my site quoted on a sales sheet
was thrilling and futuristic, like I'd finally gotten a jet pack and
flying car. On the culture front, I think wine bloggers have the
opportunity to serve as mini-ambassadors wherever they live. Who
would have ever thought that exciting, interesting wine writing would
be coming out of Idaho, Florida, Texas, and New Mexico? But it is,
and these bloggers are a lot more approachable for the general public
than the guys at the big magazines. Aside from just readers these
writers have friends, family, and co-workers that they can influence
when it comes to wine.
12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
Caribbean, but no resorts or cruises. I'd like to bum around the
islands in a little boat for a while, avoiding tourists and checking
out a hundred different kinds of rum. Plus there's the opportunity to
speak Spanish, Dutch, or French depending on where you land, and
awesome food all over the place.
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
Dog all the way. Got a mutt named Wolfgang and a Labrador named
Macbeth who show up on the blog occasionally.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
I'm a solid iPod passenger. But during takeoff and landing… The New Yorker.
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
BMW. More importantly, I'd go for the European Delivery program: pick
it up in Germany, zip around the Autobahn for two weeks, spreche ein
klein Deutsch, visit some castles, and have it shipped home.
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Leaning towards Chablis here, but I fear that lighter, more balanced
California Chardonnays are getting overlooked because of the broader
reputation for big oak.
17. Describe what you would have at your last meal?
Depends on what the circumstances are. Old age? I'm going to go for
local comfort food of the Mid-South, like fried catfish, fresh garden
tomatoes, collard greens, and cornbread. Not even really concerned
with the wine there. If my last meal has to do with some punishment
doled out by the state… let's just say that Roman emperors would
find my last meal garish and overindulgent. I'm talking pickled
hummingbird tongues, whale ribeyes, penguin eggs, etc. I don't
advocate the consumption of endangered species, but if I were that
sort of criminal I suppose I wouldn't really care at that point.
18. What is Heaven Like?
I'm old fashioned here: I don't discuss religion or politics.
Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, I do think it's best to make the
most of your time on the planet.
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 think a few of these have been mentioned in your previous
interviews, but… Benjamin Franklin brings the wine, wisdom, and
off-color jokes. Winston Churchill is in charge of cigars and
after-dinner drinks. Mark Twain (had to have one Southerner!) keeps
things moving during the evening but isn't allowed to bring any of his
own horrid cigars. Lastly, my late great-grandfather, E.J. Langdon, a
true Renaissance man in every sense of the term. I got to know him as
a child, but I wish I had had the opportunity to converse with him as
an adult. Sorry ladies, I love you, but this is going to be a long
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
I've got a lot to say on this topic, but my biggest advice would be to
sit down and think about branding before you start a site. Try not to
confine yourself to too narrow a topic, and if you decide to go with a
funny name or a silly blog title, take a moment and think. If you
call your blog The Adventures of Sergeant Shiraz, for instance: Are
you going to get bored with Shiraz or run out of them to review? Can
you imagine friends, family, even your mom starting to call you Sgt.
Shiraz? Are you willing to get mail, samples, and appear in local
media with that name? I really love some of the crazier, more
iconoclastic wine blogs out there but consider your potential future
in the industry and your "real" identity. Try to think of a general
direction, develop a certain style and look to your site, but allow
yourself room to grow.