The State of Online Wine Talk

Back around the early 1990s if you wanted to spend time on-line discussing wine with fellow oenophiles you frequented the "wine boards" on AOL and Compuserve. These were the premier "bulletin boards" where folks passionate about wine would post topics, comment on topics and discuss the world of wine. I was somewhat active in the AOL board and its where I first witnessed not only the kind of very deep and consequential wine conversations that could be had on line, but also the kind of deeply contentious conversations that on-line forums could provoke.

Boardparker Today, while the AOL and Compuserve wine forums are long gone,  the same kind of forums for wine lovers still exist. In fact, for many years, it was the "Mark Squires Bulletin Board" located at where by far the most robust and interesting on-line forum was found. Numerous topics of conversation were posted daily. Thousands of "commenters" would weigh in on a variety of subjects. Tasting notes, new wine releases, wine politics, philosophies of collecting, issues connected to terroir, buying strategies, anything under the sun was discussed.

To say the least, the "Squires Board" at eRobertParker was the most dynamic site on the Internet for the discussion of wine and for meeting up daily with some of the most interesting wine-minded people.

All this ended on April 26, 2010, when Robert Parker and Mark Squires decided to make access to this forum "subscriber only".

Prior to this date, one needed only to register and you'd have access to the most robust wine forum on the Internet with "posting" privileges. Today, one must subscribe to the website at a cost of $100 annually.

The change to subscriber only access came swiftly and without warning to the thousands that used the forum at eRobertparker. However, their was an explanation given:

"Supervising the
huge volume of posts has become increasingly time consuming and
expensive. At the same time, we've noted that the
subscriber-only forums we created some time back are
increasingly popular and much easier to manage. Moreover, we're
committed to providing even more functionality and greater
coverage of wines for our subscribers in the near future. This
will require us to spend wisely.
We are a small company with limited resources and, after months
of deliberation, we've come to the conclusion that it is in the
best interest of the people who count most – our subscribers –
that we change our policy with regard to the bulletin board."

The response to the change was not pretty. Many users of the forum felt like they had the rug pulled out from under then. Some felt like they had lost access to good and close friends. Many thought the move to subscriber only access was a response to contentious conversations in the forum over its administration. Among the response to the move posted at the Forum were these:

“Draining the board of the majority of its content and its value to make it easier to run is simply irrational.

But destroying the board — and make no mistake that is precisely what you have done — to solve that problem is an over-reaction of epic proportions. I am grieving the loss of community I suffered. I am angry that there wasn't any opportunity to prepare. An apology is warranted but I don't expect one.”“This was the WORST insult I have ever suffered on the www!

"THE WORST ever! I absolutely do NOT want to simply continue like nothing has happened! This was an attack-like action – WITHOUT any pre-information – without any chance for everybody to prepare (e.g. gain some contact e-mails of friends)…..and the reason was simply the intention the prevent any discussion about it in advance."

Today the Forum at eRobertparker is a shell of what it once was with a hugely decreased amount of discussion primarily because so many who had actively participated in the forum went away after its privatization and chose not to subscribe.

One very active member, still, of the eRobertparker forum as well as other wine forums on the net describes the upshot of the privatization decision in terms that users of forums would understand:

"At present time many posts will remain on the 1st page for days before moving to page 2, as of today (8/20/2010) discussions that were posted on 8/14/2010 are only on page 2, in previous times they would have been on page 6 or 7 by now.  There far less postings of tasting notes or wine driven conversation in the 'Wine Talk' section.  There is little to no posts in the Social Hall section on a regular basis. Mark Squires and Robert Parker are generating more topics than I ever recall seeing them do so since I’ve been a member since 2004."

For those unfamiliar with the logistics of posting topics on wine forums, all this translates to their being very few new topics posted at eRobertparker forums than prior to the privatization. No forum is of much use if there is little or no discussion. After all, this is what folks primarily go to wine forums on the Internet for: discussion of topics that are their passion.

The on-line wine community is relatively small compared to those who come on line to discuss politics, celebrities, food, technology and any number of other subject matter. But, it is a passionate community. I think it can be said without exaggerating that the shuttering of the eRobertparker/MarkSquire wine forum to non-paying members was a real blow to the on-line community of wine lovers.

So, do wine lovers just stop their gabbing? Hardly. Conversation on the Internet is like water. If flows, as though a gravitational force is pushing it toward the densest community of conversationalists. It doesn't stop.

There are other wine forums on the Internet where wine conversationalists have found a home for robust discussion.

Boardbeserker Take
, for example. Founded in 2009 by former users of the eRobertParker board who either left in frustration or were actually banned from participating at the forum (that happens!), WineBerserkers is today, by most accounts, the most active wine bulletin board in use. In just the past 85 days, more than 72,000 unique posts have been contributed to the site by users for an average of 855 posts per day. Like all other wine boards, Wine Berserkers generates conversations on any and every topic under the sun.

Wine Berserkers, like most other wine forums on the Internet, benefited greatly from the exodus (banishment?) of users form the eRobertParker forum when it privatized. Wine Berserkers has increased its membership base by 50% in the four months since the eRobertParker Forum privatization and now counts roughly 3600 registered members. What's important to realize, however, about this new influx of registered members at Wine Berserkers is that these new members are more likely to be active members since many of them came to Wine Berserkers as a result of being shut out of the eRobertparker forum.

Of course there are other wine forums on the Internet.

Boardspectator Wine Spectator Forums: Claiming over 15,000 registered users, the Wine Spectator forums are and have been very useful for a long time. However, a quick look at the number of daily posts shows that despite its larger number of registered members, it is not as active as Wine Berserkers.

Boardwinetalk WineTalk: Another relatively new wine forum, WineTalk also has fewer posts and users than WineBeserker.

West Coast Wine Discussion Group: A granddaddy of wine forums, the West Coast Wine Discussion group was founded in 1996 By Brad Harrington. It remains a place to find astute commentary on wine issues.

Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: Another long time wine discussion forum, the WLDG was founded by Robin Garr. It too remains a venue where wine lovers can find a daily discussion of wine.

Boardwinelovers eRobertParker: At this point it is difficult to know exactly what kind of usage the eRobertParker board gets. The benefit, of course, is that Robert Parker himself often weighs in and that's not a benefit to sneeze at. Parker remains the most influential wine critic in the world and access to his comments is not to be underestimated.

I've said it before, but I think it deserves saying again: The on-line wine forums are the single best internet-based venue for learning about wine and conversing about wine. They are the location where you will find the most passionate and most deeply involved wine lovers on the Internet. They are places where, if you put in the time you will make friends. Frankly, nothing rivals them for pure, interactive, wine talk.

But they can also be contentious. No question the eRobertParker wine forum made this clear. But that forum was not unique. Every wine forum I've ever participated in has had its moment of ranker and contention. And they always will because there's something about conversing with people form a distance that encourages some to get aggressive and petulant. Still, the upside is great.

I encourage wine lovers that want to talk about their passion to check out WineBerserkers as well as the other on-line wine forums.

25 Responses

  1. unknown - August 25, 2010

    I’ve been wondering how the traffic has been over on eBob after the shut down. I miss hearing from lots of folks ITB as we enjoyed talking about farming, winemaking and the weather. As Demi Moore said in GI Jane, Parker and Squires can ‘Suck My #ick’.
    Wine Berserkers and WCWN are my two spots where good conversation can flow freely.

  2. Eric LeVine - August 25, 2010

    Thanks for your thoughts on this topic. It is one near and dear to my heart. I am still saddened by the turn of events and even more sad to see that the eulogy of sorts I delivered on 4/29 is coming to pass.

  3. Walt - August 25, 2010

    The West Coast Wine site is run by BRAD Harrington. And it is a great place for wine lovers to exchange ideas. As is Wineberserkers.

  4. larry schaffer - August 25, 2010

    Thanks for your post and a good run down of where things are at this time with wine discussion boards. A few others to note:
    There is no one board that I use exclusively to find out info about what’s going on in the world of wine . . . I tend to frequent eBob, Berserkers, Spectator, WCWN, and a few others. Each has its plusses and minuses for sure.
    I too was saddened to see what happened with the eBob board back in April, but to be fair, I think it is important to note that SOMETHING had to happen. That board had become simply too nasty – there was little ‘open discussion’ going on – just potshots at Parker, Squires and other Board members. It was not fun nor was it informative.
    Berskerkers did spring up as a result of a number of folks being ‘banned’ from eBob for a number of reasons, but mainly for butting heads with Squire himself.
    But here’s the problem with wine boards – too much moderation and you have a dictatorship . . . and too little and you have anarchy. I think we see both at times, even today.
    Hopefully all will settle down and the wine world will continue to see active boards – with mutual respect shown all.

  5. James McCann - August 25, 2010

    Couldn’t agree more. I actually think that Squires and Parker were more patient than they should have been. While disagreement and lively discussion are a part of any type of bulletin board, eBob was completely out of control and becoming simply a vehicle to trash Robert Parker.
    To Tom’s point, how interesting it could have been (and may still be) to have Robert Parker (love him or hate him, or something in between) taking part in your wine conversations.

  6. Doug Wilder - August 25, 2010

    Now that the Squires Board is over with I have not felt compelled to join any others. It was a tough transition for a few days but I’m over them now.

  7. William - August 25, 2010

    There was a post on the Parker/Squire BB this morning but seems to be gone. Sort of proves the point, yes?

  8. Ron M - August 25, 2010

    Unfortunately the juvenile attitude that resulted in the precipitous action at eBob has just migrated to another site (Berserkers). There is some good conversation worth reading there, but much like its predecessor it’s hard to wade through the childish behavior to find it. Squires and Parker did not kill the golden goose on their own – everyone played their part, owner, moderator and participants alike. Civility was lost on all sides, and the joyous celebrations on Berserkers over any potential slight/slip-up/negative report at the current eBob only reinforce that it has not returned.

  9. Valvekeeper of Must - August 25, 2010

    Take a moment what kind of personality gravitates to on-line discussion boards……
    Got a good description in your head?
    OK. Now, are you surprised why boards like eBob devolve into what everyone bemoans?

  10. David S - August 25, 2010

    Nope – it will happen everywhere eventually. There are only two possible out comes: death or anarchy.

  11. customcrushwinery - August 26, 2010

    It is a great place for wine lovers to exchange ideas. If one owns or operates a traditional winery or virtual winery brand, it is important to look into custom crush winery insurance. For more details visit

  12. Wes Hagen, VM Clos Pepe - August 26, 2010

    I posted for over 10 years at eBob before being booted–and it soured me to the point where I don’t post much on any bulletin board. I started my own blog and found other avenues for my writing: namely LA Times Mag, Sommelier Journal and WineMaker Magazine.
    Thanks to the eBob editorial staff for giving me a kick out of the nest and getting my writing to the next level: getting PAID! 🙂
    Also kind of lame that I got booted, as we’ve subscribed as a family to the Advocate for almost 20 years.

  13. James McCann - August 26, 2010

    I certainly would not host / pay for a bulletin board on which many of the members were trashing me, questioning my relavance and otherwise attempting to hurt my subscription sales. Can anyone imagine a winery where they would post random criticisms of their wines in the tasting room??

  14. Chris - August 26, 2010

    FWIW, a member posted a link to this blog post on the Parker board and it was removed immediately.
    In other words a balanced treatment of the recent history of wine BBs was deemed inappropriate on a… board.
    Why am I not surprised?

  15. Tom Wark - August 26, 2010

    If it were me, I’d have posted the following quote at the Parker Board and linked to this blog post: “the shuttering of the eRobertparker/MarkSquire wine forum to non-paying members was a real blow to the on-line community of wine lovers.”
    But I’m just a PR guy…so, there’s that.

  16. Chris - August 26, 2010

    I never trashed Parker on his BB and I was a member when it was still the Squires board.
    The end for me was when I started a thread asking how people were using Cellartracker in their purchasing and drinking (is this wine ready). It was immediately moved to the Social Hall. When I questioned Mark about why an obviously wine related thread was moved to Social (where it would get much less response and BTW would not be archived like threads on Wine Talk) he jumped down my throat claiming I was undermining his board. He suggested I go elsewhere. So I did though now I regret I didn’t get nasty and get banned. It would have been kind of like being on the Nixon’s enemies list!

  17. James McCann - August 26, 2010

    I would certainly not say that Mark and his boss are blameless, as they clearly over-reacted to many situations, especially in the last couple of years. It is a shame, because Mark really was the pioneer in the medium, and everyone built on what he started.

  18. Daniel - August 26, 2010

    A nice article.
    The Parker Board had been dying a slow death for the past few years, for a number of reasons.
    It has opened the doors to new stuff, but also closed the doors to many people who used to frequent that board, and have no desire to go elsewhere (a la Doug Wilder).

  19. Graham Farrell - August 26, 2010

    The fact is there is nothing at all new in this article. It’s a re-hash of events that happened months ago that the author is just now catching up on for a cheap gig.

  20. Thomas Pellechia - August 27, 2010

    Why do you refer to a personal blog entry as an “article?”
    Articles aren’t usually op-ed essays, and blog entries usually are.
    Yes, there is nothing new in this entry, but it is an op-ed nonetheless; the opinion is what’s new.

  21. Kimberly - August 28, 2010

    Changing from an open forum to subscription-only with no warning? That’s just bad customer service, plain and simple. B-a-d.
    Thanks for the tip on Wine Berserkers, though. I’ve been looking for a more robust wine forum than Wine Spectator and the one or two others I participate in, and everytime I google “wine forums,” the ones that come up just don’t seem that that interesting or engaging.

  22. Graham Farrell - August 30, 2010

    Referring to a blog posting as an article? No reason. Why do you care? No pedantic enough for you? Just because you consider it an op-ed doesn’t make it worthwhile.

  23. Enzo - September 1, 2010

    As a former subscriber to the WA, I had a lot of respect for Robert Parker. That is, until I came to know the man through the WA. The Squires board was not a big player before RMP due to his moderation style. The Spectator site, Garr’s and WLDG were far more popular. With the marriage of RMP to the Squires board, that board really took off but I cannot imagine a worse combination of egos and personalities than Squires/Parker when it comes to handling dissidents among the ranks.
    All was rosy when the majority of the board was Robert Parker acolytes and sycophants and critics or free thinkers were easily shouted down and out. When respected contributors began to dissent and were banned or placed on triple secret probation, the tide began to turn and hostility grew. Instead of reacting with “moderation”, the powers that were, reacted strongly and exacerbated the mood shift. Courtesy went out the window with common sense.
    It is neither the way of Mr. Squires or Mr. Parker to ever admit any culpability in any matters. Rather than extend an olive branch, the path to the current status was chosen. Mr. Parker has lost a great deal of respect, and a number of followers in the wake of the debacle there. In the end, his transition to the WWW would have been much better off to have just started with a subscriber only based forum.
    But like his former, and current cellar tracking software, Mr. Parker has received much bad marketing and technological advice. He also suffers from an inability to reverse directions when it is obvious his choices have not been sound. There will always be contention and controversy on bulletin boards. Wine forums are actually far more civil than many other types of forums. One needs to understand a business before one buys it. In my mind, the WA is much like the Roman Empire. It was once great, but is sadly in decline. Todd French was not long ago, unknown to the wine community. The Kind is dead. Long live the King.

  24. bulletin board - December 29, 2010

    bulletin board in

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