Mediocrity on the Eve of the Wine Bloggers Conference

WbcFLThe upcoming Wine Bloggers Conference in New York’s Finger Lakes region has me excited; probably because I was unable to attend last year’s conference and I miss the gathering. But it also has provided me the occasion to think about the process of blogging and blogging about wine.

In fact, I recently took time to think again about what it takes to be a successful blogger and particularly a successful wine blogger (it’s not rocket science), and to assess whether I’m living up to my criteria.

1. You Must Blog Regularly (Me–>FAIL)
To me, a successful wine blog is regularly updated—at least twice a week, better if its four times per week. We can never forget that a successful wine blog is written for an audience, not for ourselves. Readers want freshness. They want something new. They want another tip. They want another idea. And they want these things regularly. I’ve failed to write regularly enough to be successful—probably no more than 1 post per week for the past few months.

2. You Must Write With Confidence (Me–>SUCCEED)
Nothing is more disappointing than a writer who hedges their bets by not being a forceful advocate for their ideas and beliefs. If you want to explain why Natural Wine fails as a category or why wine wholesalers are the enemy of consumers or what we should understand about the idea of terroir, you must not be ambivalent when you write. You must be profoundly confident in your opinion. I’ve never had a problem in this area.

3. Be Relevant and Timely (Me–> FAIL)
This is the easiest thing in the world to be when you blog. There are countless issues that arise in our culture and society that impact the wine industry. Linking current events, the current zeitgeist, the most interesting ideas being talked about to wine is the right way to make your readers’ broader experiences relevant to wine. Donald Trump…He owns a vineyard. Climate Change….grapes respond to the climate. Black Lives Matter….why are African-Americans less likely to drink wine? Think broadly and be relevant. I’ve not been writing regularly enough to begin to be relevant

4. Demonstrate Expertise in Specific Subject (Me–>SUCCEED)
It is extraordinarily rare to find an excellent wine blogger who is a generalist. The best wine bloggers have an expertise in a particular area (tasting, an appellation, a type of wine, an area of the wine industry, a form of writing) and push that expertise out into the world via their writing and blog. I’ve tried very hard to stick to business/marketing/media/political issues in the wine industry and have been pretty good at focusing on these topics over the past decade.

5. Write Decently So That You Can Be Understood (Me–>SUCCEED)
This goes without saying, right? No. If you are not confident in your writing ability, you shouldn’t be blogging at all. The idea is to communicate your ideas and your thoughts and your opinions. It’s not difficult to learn to write effectively and you don’t need to be Shakespeare, Matt Kramer or Gerald Asher. Just competent.  I’m a fairly competent writer when it comes to being understood with the occasional typoe.

6. Read Your Peers Relentlessly and Consistently (Me–>FAIL)
Inspiration is almost always the result of careful observation. And bloggers writing regularly are always looking for inspiration. There is no better place to find that inspiration that from your peers. I’d wager a good 33% of my posts come from reading wine writers. Additionally, the more deeply we know the industry about which we write and the better we understand the zeitgeist of that industry, the better blogger we will be. Reading other writer will provide you with the industry zeitgeist. There was a time when I committed an hour a day to reading about wine. No so much anymore.

Those who blog about wine (the folks that publish their own thoughts, ideas and opinions almost always without compensation) are occasionally painted with the same brush that displays a poor picture of their competence. It’s a silly thing for anyone to suggest. However, there are good wine bloggers, bad wine bloggers and, as evidenced by myself of late, mediocre wine bloggers. The same can be said for those that write for cash.

This week’s Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes will be populated by a slew of motivated folks who blog about wine. Each of them can be better at their craft by focusing regularly on these basic rules.



8 Responses

  1. Jeff Kralik - August 11, 2015

    Great self-assessment. I think all wine bloggers could benefit from such a regular evaluation–I know I could. Thanks for providing a useful rubric. See you in FLX.

  2. Randy Agness - August 11, 2015

    Tom, I’m sorry to say your wrong. I read your blogs and I believe it is better to write passionately on a weekly basis than to create endless chatter for the sake of being seen more regularly. Your blogs have been informative and inspiring for at least me. I wasn’t sure if anyone was reading the articles that were being published until on more than several occasions I was approached on how enjoyable it was to read a full length piece on differing aspects of the wine industry in the Finger Lakes. You work to put together meaning thought has so much more value than 140 characters could ever have. And maybe the written word on a daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly periodical are still the media of choice that is desired in the ultra fast pace of #’s and tweets.
    I look forward to meeting many bloggers at the conference and if anyone is interested I will have samples to taste of my amateur Indy Intl Double Gold medal single vineyard finger lakes semi-dry Riesling on Saturday as ultimately it’s the reason why we all write about the wine.

    • Tom Wark - August 11, 2015


      Kind of you to say. Thank you. What I find, though, is that when I wrote on a daily basis, my writing was better and my thought process and analysis of issues were better.

      See you in FL.


  3. Carl - August 11, 2015

    You will be tasting many wines there. I think you will agree that the best wines from the FL are Riesling and Cab Franc.

    • Randy Agness - August 11, 2015

      Oh, yes get ready to be pampered with generoucity … Riesling and Cab Franc as well as Gruner, Sparkling, Pinot Noir, Dry Rose – could go on and on. Not a two trick region.

  4. Frank Morgan - August 11, 2015

    Thank you, Tom! Appreciate this thoughtful self-assessment. So many of us (i.e. – me, in particular – insert embarrassed emoticon here) could benefit from the same. Look forward to seeing you in Corning and reconnecting.

  5. Robert McIntosh - August 11, 2015

    Reading a post, and writing a comment seems so … 2007. Oh well, see if we can’t brush off the cobwebs! 🙂

    While I like the idea of having some specific criteria for assessment, and I do respect the public self-review, I also want to take issue with most of them.

    1. Yes, publish regularly, but once a year, if on schedule, is also regular. There is no reason to stick to trying to achieve 2 or even 4 per week. That puts people off. It also means readers are overwhelmed with content and can actually be turned away. Be ‘regular’ for your audience, and I would say that most wine bloggers are unlikely to have something truly useful to say more than once or twice per week.

    2. Confidence? sure. Personality matters more, but that is maybe semantics

    3. Relevant, yes, to your own topic and for your own audience. Topical? Not necessary, and potentially very wrong (see 6)

    4. Expertise? Again, depends on your topic, surely? If you are writing as an honest novice discovering wine, for example, where does that fit? This is a separate issue from “generalist vs specialist” focus, and I agree that IF you want to write an informational/educational (edutainment?) blog, then picking a narrow field of interest offers a better chance of creating value than the scattergun approach of generalism. Again, depends.

    5. Clear writing. Well I take a major issue with you here. Of course one should aim for clarity, but the message of “you can’t blog until you know how to write” is wrong. Very wrong, in my mind. For many, the act of blogging is the act of learning to write and discovering their voice. You can’t, and shouldn’t, interfere with this. Creating content, for an audience, is a learning experience for all involved.

    6 Read blogs. This is where I take the biggest issue with the list. Reading other blogs for inspiration is a recipe for decline. It creates and reinforces the echo-chamber of self-referential discussions, in-jokes, in-fighting and lack of customer focus that has stopped wine blogging from becoming more mainstream.

    Trying to be topical is also a way of becoming just like all the other blogs writing about the same thing at the same time. How many Thanksgiving or Valentines posts do readers REALLY need?

    Read, yes! But read widely, and read outside of wine blogs. It is natural. Other wine bloggers, as I am aptly demonstrating, are the ones most likely to read, and more importantly comment (and even more importantly be willing to disagree), on a blog. It encourages a closed discussion. Avoid the temptation, and read books, newspapers and magazines instead.

    There are things I would add to your list, such as:

    – share other bloggers content
    – spend more time keeping your blog fresh (with tweaks, and small updates) and avoid spending too much time mesmerised by social networks
    – spend time creating an editorial schedule for the days, weeks and months ahead

    There, how’s that for a conversation starter for the WBC? 🙂

    And if you fancy it, come along to the DWCC in Europe so we can continue this in person later this year 🙂

  6. Damien - August 14, 2015

    Just a thought (and it’s not meant to be facetious); maybe change the subtitle of your blog from ‘daily’ to ‘weekly’? Nobody can be disappointed if you don’t blog daily then.

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