The Great and Influential Wine Blogger Confesses
Yesterday I spent a little time looking over the recently issued “Top 100 Most Influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry” after a couple of friends alerted me to the 2nd annual listing by IntoWine.com. The way I know they were friends is that they didn’t smirk, laugh or guffaw when they said I made the list.
I take list making seriously primarily because I know other people do too. Also, the act of ranking things can entail some pretty sophisticated thinking. So, the idea of a Top 100 Most influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry holds interest for me because not only is wine my industry, but it also begs the important questions: What is Influence and How do you measure it.
The person behind the Top 100 Most Influential People in the U.S. Wine Industry is Michael Cervin, a very accomplished writer whose byline has appeared in numerous publications of note. Michael doesn’t really explain how the list was developed or how the ranking was done other than to write: “we sought help to assemble this list from a diverse group of people and we are grateful for their input.”
The really big question about this ranking is how do you define “influence” in the U.S. Wine Industry. Michael gets us part way to that answer when he writes that influence is defined as “people who move markets, impact consumers, inspire winemakers, form policy, and create debate.”
I think this description of what amounts to “influence” is incomplete or slightly off base, but it’s a very good start. And with that brief description of how influence in gauged, it’s interesting to look at the top 10 of the 100 people listed:
1. Robert Parker (Wine Critic/Publisher)
2. Annette Alvares-Peters (Costco Buyer)
3. Marvin Shanken (Wine Spectator Publisher)
4. Wayne Champlin (President of Southern Wine & Spirits)
5. Rob Sands (CEO of Constellation Brands)
6. Gina Gallo (Winemaker, Gallo)
7. Jim Laube (Critic, Wine Spectator)
8. Adam Strum (Publisher, Wine Enthusiast)
9. Doug Frost (Master of Wine, Master Sommelier)
10. Matt Kramer (Columnist, Wine Spectator)
It’s a pretty interesting list of U.S. wine industry influencers, I think you will agree, and in large part a good case can be made for its correctness. But, it is beneficial to try to get at what “influence” really should mean.
“Influence” is coveted. It’s earned. It is often wielded in pursuit or in defense of something or someone. Real influence can be so valuable that there are well-defined marketplace where one can purchase influence (or rent it). But primarily, influence amounts to the possession of tangible things such as money, audience, loyalty, access, and intelligence. The real important thing to understand about influence is that to be influential one must have much of one or more of these things than most others and one must be willing to use it.
The idea of listing in order, then, the Top 100 Most Influential People in the U.S Wine Industry must really be evaluating who possess the greatest and largest pile of these tools and who wields them most effectively. When you look the top 10 listed above with this in mind, you start to understand why some should belong in the top 10 and why some may not.
But to sum up, I know this list is bogus and incorrectly devised. I know this not merely because of my own ranking at #50, but more importantly because of who is listed behind me. Today, a couple thousand people will read this blog post. However Jay Sung, CEO of Lot 18 (#100), will put a great wine offer in front of hundreds of thousands of people. John Hinman, Partner at Hinman & Carmichael (#98), will make a legal defense for very powerful companies that will impact the future of their businesses and thousands of their employees. Trey Beffa, owner of three K&L Wine Merchants stores (#93) will introduce wine to thousands of wine lovers online and in his stores and will help the futures of numerous wine brands. Bill Foley, Founder of Foley Family Wines (#92) will oversee a winemaking empire that spans continents and is responsible for the production of nearly 1,00,000 cases of wine.
But I do want to thank the couple thousand people who will read this blog post.
Yes, it does become important to know how exactly a list such as this is devised. Still, considering that the top ten includes large-scale buyers/distributors and celebrity names, they likely rest exactly where they should in the pantheon.
Only 10 bloggers on this list and for four of those (Heimoff, Gregutt, Asimov and Tanzer) blogging is an outgrowth of their extensive magazine or newspaper work. You and the others certainly merit a place on this list, but i wonder if there’s an indication here that the large majority of wine bloggers — granted a deeply fragmented phenomenon — are considered insignificant, either individually or as a conglomerate function in the industry.
Frederic, that would be one legitimate way to interpret the number of wine bloggers on the list. And it is an interpretation that is backed up by the folks on the list that rank behind me, yet most certainly should not.
As the writer and compiler of the Top 100 list it’s my obligation to respond to your post. I agree, and heartily disagree with you on several points. Your assertion that you take these kinds of lists seriously I agree with. Having written about the wine industry for 15 years (some of the top wine mags in the world, my book California Wine Country, a wine judge on two continents, blah, blah, blah) I sought out the advice and input from wine industry people across the globe, some of whom I know personally, some of whom I do not. I compiled an extensive list and began to weed through it based on a uniformity of opinion from these people, up to and including you, Tom. And I take my work seriously. Ultimately the responsibility of ranking people is mine, and it is a difficult and frustrating experience. Unlike some writers who dash off their text as fast as possible – I think deeply about it, occasionally waking up in the middle of the night wondering if I am off base.
Is the list ideal? Hardly. Any list of any kind will of necessity be imperfect. After all, one person’s opinion, or an entire group opinion, is never law. Is it “bogus? Absolutely not. Bogus would imply that this list was compiled for pure marketing reasons without regard to, or any consideration of, who is actually on the list and their ranking on it, quite possibly by someone who doesn’t know the industry they are writing about. But I do know the wine industry.
I fully expect people to disagree with some of the rankings, and trust me, as a fulltime writer I receive my share of hate mail, nasty emails and more. But bogus? Careful consideration went into my list and the placement of people on it. I am fortunate that IntoWine, for whom I have written for a number of years and who commission this list, was hands off. They have no agenda, and frankly, neither do I. Case in point. Many people get pissed off that the large multi-nationals are on the list, and yes, you may hate the distribution system (please read my commentary on each of the people listed – that will explain much), but you cannot deny they move a lot of wine. Many people abhor Parker, but he, and not they, move markets. You Tom, and folks like Joe Roberts and Doug Frost also move markets, but in a different, more subtle way.
I have taken great pride in including a wide diversity of people, many of whom rarely receive recognition, but who steadfastly work outside of the wine spotlight to make wine more available to the masses and who truly have an impact on the industry.
Your assertion that my list is “incorrectly devised” might very well be true, for I am a writer with opinions and to rank 100 people will be fraught with difficulty: how does one separate #50 from, say, #49? But your assertion that it’s incorrectly devised because of your own ranking causes me to wonder about your own ego. Lot 18 might very well put a wine list before their subscribers, but that does not mean they will take Lot 18’s advice (and for the record, with Jay only recently assuming the CEO position and the issue that they laid off nearly have their work force and are undergoing tremendous changes, they certainly should be further down the list until they prove themselves). I was traveling in Crete with Joe Roberts last year covering the wines of Crete (my first list was already out, Joe was already on it and I only just met Joe in the airport in Crete) and he too was surprised that he was so far up the rankings. His ego told him he should have been further down. But he didn’t belittle the list – frankly he and others take it for what it is, but nonetheless use it to promote their own work. For if the wine industry supports itself, then it’s a better world for everyone.
Agree with me, disagree, read the list in its entirety, and comment as you will, but unless you know me personally or have any factual understanding of what I go through to make this list, calling the list bogus is not only ignorant, but also makes me wonder exactly how you desire to influence people.