Should Everyone Really Be a Wine Critic?
I'm not a professional writer? I don't get paid to write this blog. I don't have an editor that I have to satisfy.
I think the reason I have a decent readership is because it's pretty clear I have some sort of expertise in what I choose to write about, which is mainly wine PR, wine marketing, wine politics and the culture of wine. Let me say that again: I have some sort of expertise. Whether I'm entertaining is another question altogether.
This issue of what separates a professional wine writer from a blogger, what separates an amateur from a professional and what authority ought be granted to anyone writing about wine is explored in a fine article by Spencer Bailey in the Columbia Journalism Review entitled, "Everyone's The Wine Expert: Wine Critics and Bloggers, Professional and Amateur Are Mixed Up in the Social Media Web."
Baily observes, "These days, many young, social-media savvy bloggers are fragmenting
what was once a lofty territory reserved for mostly stalwart,
high-profile publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast….A number of amateur bloggers, for instance, now call themselves
critics. This is, some argue, a worrisome trend for the winemaking
industry itself, if not also for professional wine writing."
These statements are as true as the day is 24 hours. Measure the quality and competency of the wine writing community today, which includes a huge number of bloggers as well as shrinking crew of edited and well established wine writers, and it's impossible not to conclude that the average article about wine is less authoritative and more poorly researched, and therefore less beneficial to truth seekers, than was the average article of 20 years ago. Why is this? Simply because more amateurs with far less accomplishment, knowledge and perspective are writing about wine.
I want you to note something, however. I did not say that today's average wine article is less entertaining. One can entertain an audience of wine drinkers without much wine knowledge, if they are good writers.
Karen MacNeil, who is quoted in Baily's article really hits one of the shiny nails right on its head: “Maybe what blogging will do is undermine the whole idea that this is a
subject that is rich and deep and requires some substantive thought and
This observation also falls under the heading of "just like there are 24 hours in the day."
There is no question in my mind that the proliferation of self anointed wine scribes will diminish the perception that a deep understanding of wine is possible and even required to be a true writer/educator that delivers value to the readers.
Joe Roberts, who blogs under the 1WineDude moniker makes the case in the article that a deep understanding of wine really isn't necessary to be a good and valuable wine writer: "Readers today have got to feel like the experts connect with them in some way. It’s not just, ‘Oh, this person’s got great credentials because they work for Wine Enthusiast.’"
I think Joe has a point, but I think that point applies to those consumers who want more to be entertained and have a very casual connection to wine, rather than those who want to be obtain knowledge.
Bailey makes the case, too, that this new crew of voice, serves an important purpose: "for too long not enough voices were heard….too much of wine writing was stale, appealing largely to the Baby Boomer crowd."
This rings untrue to me. Today's bloggers have yet to figure out a new way to write about wine. They've only figured out a new way to deliver commentary and criticism…via the blog. There are different, more casual styles, for sure. But in the end, most wine bloggers are merely putting the spit and shine of "publishing" on what is really not much more than the same conversations that wine lovers have been having for many long years before the emergence of the Internet.
Believe me, before the Internet, wine lovers talked about how wrong different wine critics were. They debated the meaning of terroir. They bitched and moaned about access to wine and bad corks. They offered their opinions on how various wine events could be improved. The vast majority of wine bloggers are simply doing the same thing, but in a quasi-publishing environment.
In my mind, the great value of the Internet and the wine blogosphere is that this medium is very likely to give voice to really that rare wine lover who knows his stuff and can communicate that stuff in elegant and insightful prose. It's from the blogosphere where the next Gerald Asher will come from. In fact, it's likely that it is from the blogosphere that that the Wine Spectator, Decanter, Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits will find their next editor.
But these folks will make up the vast minority of bloggers.
I like Bailey's initial conclusion to the article:
"Wine is, after all, a complex drink, and it needs to be analyzed in a
complex way, usually by someone with a deep understanding of wine or by
someone with credentials, such as a WSET advanced degree. Which means that while passionate amateur drinkers can
write about their experiences with a Bordeaux, say, they’d ideally be
able to do so with as much authority and understanding as a professional."