Passion and Knowledge at the Wine Bloggers Conference

Photo1 Maybe it shouldn't be the case, but I find it far more enjoyable to look writers in the face and hear their words than to read their words remotely. This was confirmed last night when I sat in a room with a bevy of wine writers at the Wine Bloggers Conference in Charlottesville, Virginia and dined and drank and talk.

The blogger face-to-face was meant, simply, to bring together a lot of interesting people and talk blogging, wine and life. In the course of the evening I eventually had the opportunity to bring those around the table to what I think is an important topic for the wine blogging world: how to create a significant audience for a blog so that this well-read blog will make a difference in the world of wine, attract advertisers and spur readers to possess the confidence to check out and trust other bloggers

The suggestions varied, but many of the suggestions for how to do such a thing were agreed to by most n the room:

-Start with great content

-Post Frequently

-Use all forms of media to drive readers to the blog

-Write for consumers rather than bloggers or the trade

-Spend as much time marketing your blog as writing it.

-If ads and revenue is your goal, strive for quality readers.

This all seems to me somewhat obvious. And if it were all executed well and begun with a certain stash of funds particularly to get the marketing off the ground, one might succeed in growing a blog up the 50K to 80K unique readers monthly.

My two ideas for achieving a large base of readers remains what they were for the past few years:

1. Start a blog that chronicles what celebrities drink in restaurants and buy in stores. You'd need lots of informants and celebrities tend to guard their lives closely, which would make this a difficult thing to accomplish. However, were  "TMZ-Wine" blog started and if it gathered the informants one would need to make it successful, I am positive our celebrity-obsessed culture would make a be line foPhoto2r the blog and readers would abound.

2. Start a serious, deep, extensive wine review blog that strove for at least 100 reviews per month, all well  categorized and all give relatively short descriptions along with a score on the 100 point scale. The Wine Advocate, The California Grapevine, Burghound, Connoisseurs Guide and International Wine Cellar were all successful not only because the palates behind them were and are remarkable, but also be cause of the extensive number of reviews they deliver. This later element, in my mind, is a crucial element to a successful wine-related publishing endeavor.

It was a lively conversation around the table in the private room at Hamilton's at Main and First in the downtown mall, not far from the Omni Hotel where the Wine Bloggers Conference is being held. And the minds at the table were pretty impressive: David White, Angela Logomasini, William Allen, Lisa Mattson, Allan Wright, Craig Camp, Joel Vincent, Taylor Eason, Jeff Lefevere, Anthony Burich, and David Honig.

I left wondering if this collection of talent, if called upon, and given the funds, could successfully create a blog that attracted the kind of readership necessary to attract thongs. I think they could, of course. Listening to each of them you realized they all had the one key factor necessary for delivering the goods: passion and knowledge.



8 Responses

  1. William Allen - July 22, 2011

    Thanks for the invite Tom, I was honored. Thanks everyone for sharing, and I’d love to collaborate with all of you in the future.

  2. Tish - July 23, 2011

    Tom, your heart is in the right place, but your head is not here when it comes to points. Quality of wine reviewing need not include 100-pt-scale ratings. Lots of bloggers actually use the scale; how many of them can the average wine-lover name? On the other hand, top blogs like Dr Vino, Vinography and Good Grape do NOT use 100 points. Lenn Thompson’s NY Cork Report started using them (after years of not); and not much changed.
    Granted, the scale has long been a target of my criticism. And I acknowledge its impact. But the only two truths about the 100-point scale that matter in 2011 are: 1) The only ratings that consistently matter are WS and RP. 2) functionally there are only two ratings: 90 or not. One more truth: it is becoming clear that savvier retailers are cutting back on their reliance on ratings.
    Your idea about celebrities is a good one. But while this may attract many eyeballs, will this satisfy true wine lovers over time?
    Having attended WBC09, my take is that the key to ongoing success for bloggers is the exact opposite of ratings. It boils down to old-fashioned expertise and the degree to which they can extend that to an audience. Bloggers are the new connoisseurs. That is to say, they are the individuals who have the combination of knowledge, passion and effort to immerse themselves in the realm of wine; this puts them in a position of expertise; they can be counted on for advice, guidance and example-setting, even though they are rather extreme comparedto the average wine drinker. Transferring this sense of expertise into a real sense of *authority* is the trick. Not all experts can be influencers on a wider scale.
    My hunch is that specialization is paramount. Not the superficial appeal of celebrity. Not the worn-out and lazy crutch of ratings. SPecialization in terms of focus (type of wine; geography; usage; etc.) or in tone/style. Those are the elements that have always earned writers followers. Bloggers are no different, essentially.

  3. Tom Wark - July 23, 2011

    Hey There Tish….
    Important: Don’t confuse my view of what kind of wine related blog I think would garner a large audience, with the kind of wine related blog I think is of value to the serious and semi-serious wine lover. In this respect, what you are reading is an analysis of what the vast majority of potential readers of wine blogs are most interested in: Celebrity and guidance.
    As for the 100 point scare, I find it, as a general rating tool to be very useful when combined with a good note. That a reader can’t combine the two offerings and give the score and note proper weight isn’t the fault of the reviewer.
    Wish you were here,

  4. Kathy - July 24, 2011

    You are absolutely right on celebrity obsession and informants – I hear there are a lot of unemployed or jailed News of the World reporters who could do it.
    Seriously, anyone thinking of getting into using paid (or unpaid) informants or informing on celebrities should be told of the potential consequences (not the least of which is being fired).

  5. Kathy - July 24, 2011

    Having said the above, I just came upon a story regarding copyright in E&P that every blogger and every journalist should read regarding copyright.
    After reading the story and E&P’s terms and conditions, I have decided to ask permission to use the link… Or just do a search: Editor and Publisher ® copyright Ellen Sterling. Article appeared 07/19/11.

  6. Juliet Johnson - July 25, 2011

    Hey Kathy…
    I agree with you agreeing about celebrity obsession. And Tom, thanks for the useful insights. Bloggers can really make use of them.

  7. Lisa Mattson - July 25, 2011

    Dear Tom,
    Thank you again for including me in your dinner. I was honored and humbled to be surrounded by such amazing, passionate people. I left a comment on Steve Heimoff’s post about you today.

  8. Aburich - July 25, 2011

    Thank you for including me in Thursday’s dinner. An absolute honor to interact with a group so talented, insightful, and passionate. I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiment regarding face time. I learned a lot over the weekend through conversation with my cohorts but it’s the formed friendships and exchanges of ideas that make it invaluable.

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