Questions and Change Brought On By Wine Blogging

Bloggerss Occasionally comments on this blog come in the form questions, rather than statements. However, most often those questions are along the lines of "Who the hell do you think you are." Rhetorical at best.

However, very occasionally I get real honest to goodness questions that deserve a real responses.

Thomas Pellechia, a long time wine professional, excellent wine writer, blogger, and all around semi-curmudgeon, recently asked me a question in connection to a post about wine writers v. wine bloggers. Thomas asked:

exactly are wine bloggers "in it together and making a change to
something that has existed for decades."

What's the change? Tasting notes and opinions (especially the
baseless ones) read the same to me in print as they do on-line. I really
want to know what you believe the "change" is: more voices? more smarts?
more and better information? Fill in the blanks for me, please. You are
too general with your analysis.

Certainly one of the changes, as Thomas hints at, is that bloggers have brought far more baseless tasting notes and reviews into the public wine sphere. That's hard to argue with. Of course they've also brought a lot more superb tasting notes and reviews. 

But consider this other change: Bloggers have created more "unique bodies of readers". This is another way of saying there are more voices, but it also means that there are more audiences for members of the trade to pay attention to. It's not so difficult for a blogger to create a national discussion among hard core wine lovers and the wine trade that may never have emerged had there not been a blogosphere. This is important because it remains a fact that the trade and the top wine buyers frame the way wine is discussed.

Also, wine publicists like myself ignore these new voices and their audiences at their own peril.

It is also a fact that wine bloggers are playing an important role in promoting social media as an outlet for the average consumer to take wine into their own hands. They tend to be chronic tweeters and Facebookers and have for years now been encouraging a democratization of opinion.

And it's important to consider how the wine blogging world is playing a role in the ongoing reconsideration of the value of content in the wine writing world. What is a professional writer's product worth to a publisher when consumers of wine information can find huge swaths of wine information on the net for free? Thomas Pellechia likely knows, as do other long time wine writers, that it is becoming more difficult to be paid for their work as much as they did just ten years. Many believe the reduction in the payment that comes to professional wine writers has to do with the emergence of free media (read: Bloggers). Interestingly, all I hear is that subscriptions are up at the well established wine magazines. Yet, in many cases, payment is down.

But perhaps most important is that bloggers have brought political commentary to the world of wine writing. It is extraordinarily rare for the major wine publications and wine journalists at newspapers and magazines to take hard and fast positions on the political issues within the wine industry. And why should they? Their mission has long been to bring commentary on wine, winemaking and wine regions to the world of wine lovers and the wine trade along with reviews. They write for all elements of the industry and the consuming community and these publications neither achieve their mission nor deliver the objective product they should deliver when they take a stand on controversial political issues.

Not so for wine bloggers. Most bloggers launched their publishing career with the simple goal of adding to the discussion without restraint. It has been bloggers that have been primarily concerned with taking positions on issues of direct shipping, the three tier system, self distribution, blue laws, and other issues. I believe that the politics of wine, of which there are a great deal, have been best explored over the past 5  years primarily because of bloggers.

I think these changes just scratch the surface.

It's entirely legitimate to make the case that the changes that have been brought on by bloggers aren't so good. I'll listen to those arguments. But it's hard to argue that bloggers have not brought on change, and important changes at that.


17 Responses

  1. Thomas Pellechia - June 26, 2010

    Thanks for the response, Tom.
    It’s true with overwhelming certainty that blogging has opened a new avenue for marketers and for wineries seeking “word of mouth” sales tools–I place so-called social media in that camp. This certainly is a change, but I think it has little to do with the quality of blogging, and mostly to do with the extent of it–the volume of voices.
    I suppose when the wine world is flooded with Muscat that is much like the Millennial Best In Show Barefoot product, we’ll feel the power of those voices, but I’m uncertain if that’s for the good or for the worse.
    As to the political issue: you might have a point, but politicians hear voices and react to money. Not much changes in that regard, blogging or no blogging.
    You said: “Most bloggers launched their publishing career with the simple goal of adding to the discussion without restraint.”
    I wonder if lack or restraint is a virtue, but I know that restraint is often a necessity if you want to get something right the first time. Yes, issuing opinions requires no restraint, but all too often a lot of unrestrained opinion turns out to be either wrong or misguided, if not plain arbitrary. Unless you work for one of the yellow rags or are a member of the paparazzi, investigative journalism demands the application of restraint. In fact, life demands it.
    Incidentally, it’s been my experience that the term curmudgeon is usually used to describe someone who looks at life with a jaundice view of humanity. I like to think that a curmudgeon tries to look at life with an eye toward reality. I’ve known for at least half my life that the last thing most people want is a dose of reality, especially when they have things to sell to us–it upsets the playbook.

  2. Thomas Pellechia - June 26, 2010

    It should read: I wonder if lack of restraint is a virtue.

  3. W. Blake Gray - June 26, 2010

    Tom, with all due respect, you’re projecting from your own blog to the wider world of wine blogs. Please post links to some of the other wine bloggers who are making good points on direct shipping, blue laws and other legal/political issues. I’d like to read them.

  4. Pim V - June 27, 2010

    Tom, I sense a bit of wine snobbery to your comments, as if you feel the general wine public are mugs and should not be allowed to read about wines they are interested in. A person with a naive interest in wine (and plenty of money to indulge this interest) may completely ignore a website by a Master of Wine or an expert because it is too verbose or full of jargon. Wine-related blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook accounts, word of mouth incidents etc are no different to political, sporting, music equivalents – people are embracing new technologies and diversifying their different industries. It may ruffle some wine snobs, but bring it on.

  5. JohnLopresti - June 27, 2010

    I can see several contributions wine blogging has made, although acknowledge TomW’s ambivalance about the drawbacks of simplifiction, and ThomasP’s concern for depth.
    TW’s blog has isolated ways to improve functions of the industry, as well as adding a personality and concurrency to the exchanges.
    Also I have enjoyed ThomasP’s proprietary and enological realism, though I have yet to read his book; however, the latter likely is partly my own morphing plans contemplating various forms of land use other than the original concept to redevelop vineyard, in which I appreciated early encouragement from several excellent professors in the trade.
    Still, viticulture and enology have become valuable lenses thru which to glimpse the place the “fallow” terraces occupy in the landscape in the part of the CAnorthcoast where I reside.

  6. Thomas Pellechia - June 27, 2010

    It appears you might be talking about my third and latest book, the one about starting and running a winery.
    I, too, was once young, inexperienced and convinced that my every thought was a new thought and even better, that my generation had both the technology and all the answers to make a brave new world a reality. It’s the price of youth.
    The promise that early television made as it threatened the radio was that TV was the most innovative and important communications tool ever known and that it would bring the world closer and in better harmony through dissemination of information. Sound familiar?
    The lesson of history makes it better than even odds that social media will end as a replica of reality TV–paid for and promoted by the marketers, of course.

  7. Jo Diaz - June 28, 2010

    I really like the new picture of yourself.

  8. JohnLopresti - June 28, 2010

    Thomas P., Congratulations on the literate endeavors. I suspected the book I had heard about was part of a wider writing process. I have a sparse amount of time available for reading, though have appreciated the contributions you have provided at several websites. Keep the good blogging going.
    John L.

  9. Thomas Pellechia - June 28, 2010

    Why, thank you, John. I, too, have appreciated many of your comments. I admit that I sometimes lose the intellectual thread in them, but that’s not your fault.
    No one guarantees that writers are intellectuals 😉

  10. - June 29, 2010

    I think it’s true that bloggers don’t hesitate to express their political opinions, but few wine bloggers routinely address shipping/regulatory unless they’re in the wine business. Otherwise, it may be counterproductive to bring more attention to yourself by challenging regulations if you’re discussing wines that you might not have access to in your state. Like Maryland, for example, where carrying in more than 1.5 liters from outside the state is illegal.
    Personally, I started blogging to bring attention to my importing/retail business and to encourage my customers to try different wines. It became a little more than that as I learned what my customers were interested in. We’re lucky in DC, we can get pretty much anything we want, so my customers and readers aren’t as interested in the political (and they may get enough of that in their daily lives already). So I pretty much stick to food and wine.

  11. Wilsondaniels - June 29, 2010

    Blake, Tom is definitely a leader in talking about critical issues effecting the industry, but there are others with a broad audience and strong voice who are doing the same. Some blogs that come to mind are vinography, the good grape, dr. vino. I recently got an email from a blogger who complained that bloggers talk too much about the three-tier system going away, so even if there aren’t huge numbers of people addressing industry issues it appears there is enough of a presence to be felt.

  12. Kathy - June 29, 2010

    Tom, I’m sorry but I don’t see fresh and sustained political commentary other than yours and sometimes Tyler, Alder, Jeff and Blake.
    You do a great job – but it is your job. Many then link to your assessment and express support. (I haven’t searched lately but initially didn’t find any opposition to your position on HR 5034, for example.)
    From your client base and knowledge, how many wineries are contacted directly by bloggers/social media for an interview or to confirm facts before they post? If there’s an error or a commentary that is negative, what action do you recommend to your clients?

  13. Thomas Pellechia - June 29, 2010

    “…how many wineries are contacted directly by bloggers/social media for an interview or to confirm facts before they post?”
    Crucial journalistic question, Kathy.

  14. Taylor Eason - June 29, 2010

    Thomas/Kathy: I think this is definitely a difference between the “professional” and the “casual” blogger. The more contact a writer has with the facts and context (call a congressman for a quote, a f&b attorney, a wholesaler, a winery) before posting is crucial to the journalistic integrity of any writer. Maybe if more bloggers did this, the craft wouldn’t be as dissed?

  15. Tom Wark - June 29, 2010

    Reporters get things wrong about my clients all the time. Whether I recommend that the writer or reporter get contacted about it depends on the kind or mistake they make. Some mistakes just aren’t important enough to ask for a correction or even to call them about.
    I have lots of writers contact me about setting up interviews, though most of the time it’s me calling them to set up interviews. And I’ve had a number of bloggers call or contact me to ask questions or ask for an interview as the spokesperson for the client.

  16. Kathy - July 1, 2010

    Professional reporters (in whatever media) make mistakes, so I am not absolving them (or me), either. Having taken calls from many people representing clients, I do understand that asking for a correction is a time-consuming, wide and moving target.
    Yet, as I research and write about a wide variety of wine-related issues, I see errors repeated time and time again thanks to simple searching that may reveal the wrong information (not limited to wine by any means). Actually, I guess Cruvee’s OwnIt wouldn’t exist if basic facts were checked (and please, oh please, if wineries would only spell their own brand names consistently on their websites and labels!).
    Anyway, I realize it can be a pain but many thanks to Tom and those who reply to deadline-defined queries and who clarify or correct my errors. No restraint on that opinion.

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