On blogs and blogging about wine

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“The first rule of Fight Club is – you do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is – you DO NOT talk about Fight Club. Third rule of Fight Club, someone yells Stop!, goes limp, taps out, the fight is over. Fourth rule, only two guys to a fight. Fifth rule, one fight at a time, fellas. Sixth rule, no shirt, no shoes. Seventh rule, fights will go on as long as they have to. And the eighth and final rule, if this is your first night at Fight Club, you have to fight”
-Tyler Durden

There seems to be a lot discussion lately among wine bloggers, traditional wine media, and the wine industry about the how we all fit together. There have been numerous posts and discussions on this site about the subject, as well as on many other blogs. In addition, social media sites such as Twitter have been abuzz about the place of wine bloggers in the big scheme of things. It seems that everyone has an opinion and a platform for expressing it, which is a wonderful thing.

From what I have seen, it would seem that many in the wine industry itself might have the clearest idea of what they think a wine blog should be. Most of the folks that I have talked to recognize that the traditional media outlets are not as responsive to them as they would like. Having to depend on three major sources, all tending to all have a similar viewpoint, is not the easiest way to get the word out about your labor of love. When your livelihood depends on some guy, for whatever reason, rating your wine a few points lower than what his readers deem to be good or even great, it must be a great relief to have some more outlets to turn to. Sure, even the biggest blogs out there have way less readers than Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, but reaching thousands of intensely interested readers is better than being left off completely, and the cumulative impact of all of the blogs can be quite large.

Then there are the traditional media types. Many of them have a pretty clear vision of bloggers as well. The barbarians are at the gate and they don’t like it. They wonder who all of these people are voicing their opinions, challenging established institutions and ideas, and basically kicking up a lot of dust on what they consider their turf. How does an accountant in Erie, Pa. or a web geek in Houston have the audacity to write about wine? On the other hand, a lot of these same traditional media types feel the need to start blogs of their own, and some even use those blogs to attack wine blogs and bloggers. People are funny when they feel insecure or under attack.

Finally, there are the bloggers themselves. We are a free-wheeling group of sodden scribes from diverse backgrounds scattered all around the world who feel that having an opinion, a corkscrew and the ability to turn on a computer gives us the right to voice our opinions. Or, as Lisa at WineDiverGirl put it so well, wine bloggers are a bunch of anarchist wineophiles. The traditional media types are right, we really are the barbarians at the gate. Some of us wear suits and ties, some of us are old punks who still believe in the ethos that when you dislike how something is being done you do for yourself and God help the old guard if they get in your way, some are lawyers and teachers, and at least one of us has pink hair, but make no mistake, we truly are barbarians one and all. And like the barbarians of old we are not going away until we get what we want.

Therein lies the rub, we all want something different. To me that is the beauty of wine blogs…there is such diversity of opinion and style. Just like with wine. Also just like wine, I keep coming back to the ones I love, and set aside the ones that I do not. Life is simple that way. Some wine blogs are nothing but reviews. I do not typically read those, except when I need to Google a wine for a review, and then I love them. Some people do not like my style and I am more than okay with that. Others love how I write, and I am even more okay with those well-educated, obviously well-bred, gorgeous folks with such impeccable taste. The point being, there is room for all of us.

However, there are some bloggers who have taken it upon themselves to decide for all of us what a wine blog should and should not be. Despite the fact that I like these folks, and like their blogs, they can, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, kiss my hairy yellow butt. If my ramblings fail to find an audience then it is on me and no one else.

I do not know if this discussion has its roots in the Wine Bloggers Conference, but it is when I became aware of many of these issues. This is a healthy discussion, in my opinion, but one that requires everyone involved to understand that we all have different styles and approaches. We have different visions and goals for our sites, and that has to be respected. Some of us want to create huge successful sites and others of us just have thoughts that they want to express and do not care if anyone ever reads those thoughts as long as they find outlet. Most of us are somewhere in between. But none of us have the right to decide where on the spectrum someone else has to fit.

What sparked this current rant? One was this piece by Steve Heimoff on his version of a blog. Steve is an accomplished writer and wine critic. He is good at both, very good in fact. He is intelligent and apparently has a fine palate. What he isn’t is a blogger. He is a traditional media person who is trying to shape the new media to be just like the old media. Sorry Steve, but not only doesn’t the new boss want to be the same as the old boss, we do not want to be the boss at all. We just want to have conversations about something we hold dear. You hold the same things dear, I am sure, but your writings demonstrate a serious lack of conversation, and that is what makes a blog. I hope Steve keeps writing beautifully for years to come, but he should be taking advice about blogging, not giving it.

The second was a comment made by a fellow blogger, dhonig, who writes the excellent 2 Days per Bottle. His blog is a no-nonsense, completely unpretentious and approachable example of how good a wine blog can be. In other words, I LIKE IT! However, he made a comment that I could not disagree with more even if I disliked everything about his writings. He claims that anyone who accepts wine samples and always writes nice things about everything they are given should be a pariah. Personally, I would rather just make fun of them until they went away on their own instead of shunning them, but that is an issue of personal style. However, he then included ME in his budding band of potential pariahs! Me, can you believe that nonsense? Yeah, I was shocked too.

Here is what he said:

Any blogger who (a) lauds everything they get free, or (b) only posts good reviews, should become a pariah in the community. They will hurt the rest of us.

I am firmly in the second group, and future pariahhood or not, will remain in that group. Furthermore, I submit that by doing so I will not harm a single soul, unless of course they try and take my glass away from me after the first warning growl, then all bets are off.

Look, no one reads this blog to see what wines I do not like. I hope not, at least, because you will not find many. I also will not post recipes to dishes that taste like crap, so if that is what you are looking for please leave and ask Mr. Google if Sandra Lee has a blog. Then come back and leave the URL so we can all head over there and mess up her comments section.

Anyway, when a wine is reviewed on this site it is because we enjoyed it and we want to share that information with our readers. It is that simple. It does not make one bit of difference if a friend gave it to us as a gift, or if it came from one of our wine clubs, if it came from the grocery store, or if a wine industry person sent it to be reviewed, the review will be positive and it will be honest. Does anyone really want to hear about the Franzia that was served at some reception? Or the crap bottle the local wine megastore lackey conned me into buying because he is an idiot and ordered too much of it? I may write about the megastore or the lackey, but who cares about the bad wine? Besides, someone might like that wine. My palate is not omniscient, despite a drunken boast or two I may have made to the contrary.

I do not want to be the next Robert Parker, nor am I in any way even remotely qualified to be. Nor, with all due respect, do I want to be Steve or dhonig, although I will devour every word all of them write. What I will do is try to entertain, amuse and inform my readers. As for my reviews, they exist to help my readers avoid, as the French say “drinking dumb.” None of us want to drink dumb, but unless we know what is good, what choice do we have? Who scans Wine Spectator looking for poorly rated wines? Not me, I want that rare $20 bottle, that I can actually get my hands on, that got 93 points. Then after I buy every botle I can find, I will tell my readers about it.

It is my sincere hope that this does not make me a pariah in the community because I sincerely like the community, but I ain’t changing my ways for anyone.

  • http://2daysperbottle.blogspot.com dhonig

    I'm not sure if I should start by saying “As shucks,” or “Heck No!” Please note, the “pariah” comment was made in the context of reviews of free samples. i rejected Steve Heimoff's comments about Rockaway, noting (as I had many times before) that his print standards actually work AGAINST blogger credibility, rather than for them. However, taking that particular thought to the next step, publising only positive reviews of free samples can damage credibility. In other words, we can only reject Heimoff's demand that we hew to his standards if we think through our own, WHEN IT COMES TO HOW WE HANDLE FREE SAMPLES.

    Also, I confess, I have, at least once before in my life, tended just slightly toward hyperbole when trying to make a point.

    Finally, I'm not shuning anybody. In fact, I just added you to the blogroll at 2 Days per Bottle (don't know how I missed it before), and if you send me a useable email (dhonig_at_indy.rr.com), I'll send you an invitation to join The 89 Project.

    d

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

      Let's go with the “aw shucks,” ;)

      I still disagree 100%. I do not write bad reviews about any wines that I taste because I see it as a waste of my time and that of my readers. To me is serves no purpose. The source of the wine doesn't even come into play.

      If I like a wine, then I share that information with family, friends, and anyone who reads this blog. Just like I might call a friend and tell them about a wonderful Cab I just had, However, I can't for the life of me imagining calling anyone and telling them about how much I did not like some wine. Why would I do that?

      If I like a wine that I bought at a restaurant, a wine bar, or the supermarket the rules are all the same. I do not change the rules just because it is a free sample. That would be entirely illogical. The wine is the same no matter the source, and so are my standards, or lack thereof.

      Btw, I know that you have rejected Heimoff's demands, but in doing so you are trying to impose your own. That is the point that I was making by including you in my post. No real offense was taken at your pariah comment, I was just seeing your hyperbole and raising you one smartass. Thanks for the invitation, and I look forward to continuing this debate with you and everyone else that has been involved.

  • DylanConroy

    @ YoungWinos.com, our blog is actually based on a the consensus of whatever winos happened to show up to that weeks tasting. It's a panel of sorts, and even though Jesse Porter our president chooses which wines to review and he is the editorial voice of the Winos, you actually get to hear from a group of millennial drinkers. Some of the voices, such as Andrew (http://youngwinosofla.com/wordpress/wp-content/…) happens to be at most meetings so you get an idea of what kind of wine he likes.

    Rambling point being, you are going to get a variety of opinions on the wine being reviewed, some will love it, some will hate it, rarely (it can happen) will it be completely one sided, and if all the feedback comes back negative, then the wine in question should have never been sent for review.

    Bottom line, mob justice is fair.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

      That sounds like a good way to produce quality reviews, Dylan. And if the focus of a site is primarily reviews, then it would be probably be strange to only present positive reviews. However, this, and a lot of other wine blogs have a different focus than just reviews.

  • http://chaosinthekitchen.com katie

    I am far from a wine blogger-in fact I am the suburban minivan driving soccer mom of the wine bloggers (no, really)-but I do offer anyone who is interested my opinion on wines they should try. That means I don't trash wines I don't like, I simply never mention them at all. Isn't that the cruelest punishment after all?

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

      Hi Katie. Great point!

  • paswines

    Is there any real point in reviewing a wine that you don't like unless it is to warn unsuspecting winos to avoid it? If you've only got a limited amount of time to drink/blog/work/whatever, are you really going to choose to spend some of it writing about rubbish if you've got something better and more interesteing to write about?

    Personally, I do everything in my power to avoid drinking (or even tasting, if possible) wines that I'm not likely to like (e.g. – mainly those wines made by large, industrial producers who are seeking the common denominator). If someone whose palate I admire actually recommends a wine from one of these producers, I might give it a try. But my goal in life is to try as many unusual and unknown producers and grape varieties as possible.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Amy

      If someone asks my opinion of a particular wine I give it, but often I ask the person what she/he thought of it first. Because, really, what I think doesn't matter if the other person likes it.

      If I bill myself as writer of a wine blog, then my job would be to talk about the wine, the industry, the tourism, etc.to benefit my readers. But I cannot imagine trolling other blogs, appropriating another's post and then attacking it point by point.

      It would be as if I walked into court and said, “Judge, I'm not going to make an argument for my client in his divorce case today. But I did sit in a custody hearing, and I'd like to tell you how wrong this other lawyer was in making his presentation to that judge.”

      What would be the point, except to try to mask that I was unprepared for court that day?

  • http://steveheimoff.com Steve Heimoff

    I try to review everything that comes in, because I view it as my job. I don't ask wineries to send me anything, so if they do, they have to realize they're taking a chance. I see my job as simple: To tell people who are interested what I think. If I don't like a wine, I say so. I try to say it politely, but the important thing is to tell the truth.

    On the matter of my not being a blogger, I don't know why it's important for you to believe that. Are you saying that anyone who's “made it” in traditional journalism cannot be a blogger, by some definition of your own? I'm a blogger because I blog. I may say things you disagree with, but that doesn't make me “not a blogger.”

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

      Most bloggers that are primarily focused on reviewing wine have exact the same policy. Do you think that your average blogger asks that wineries send samples? Reviews are not my main focus, but I get asked, not to review, but to try wine. That is an area that traditional media and blogging have in common. The industry wants to make it easy for us to talk about them, and they take risks by doing so.

      As for blogging, it is not just writing and posting to the web. It is a conversation, and as such it demands immediacy and the recognition that what one writes is just a jumping off point for that conversation. In that respect I would submit that, while you are a very fine writer, you have a ways to go as a blogger. Disagreeing with fellow bloggers is half the fun, and doesn't have anything to do with my opinion as stated above. In fact, since you did engage in the conversation, albeit quite late, I have to admit there is hope for you yet as a blogger.

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

    Most bloggers that are primarily focused on reviewing wine have exact the same policy. Do you think that your average blogger asks that wineries send samples? Reviews are not my main focus, but I get asked, not to review, but to try wine. That is an area that traditional media and blogging have in common. The industry wants to make it easy for us to talk about them, and they take risks by doing so.

    As for blogging, it is not just writing and posting to the web. It is a conversation, and as such it demands immediacy and the recognition that what one writes is just a jumping off point for that conversation. In that respect I would submit that, while you are a very fine writer, you have a ways to go as a blogger. Disagreeing with fellow bloggers is half the fun, and doesn't have anything to do with my opinion as stated above. In fact, since you did engage in the conversation, albeit quite late, I have to admit there is hope for you yet as a blogger.

  • http://steveheimoff.com Steve Heimoff

    I try to review everything that comes in, because I view it as my job. I don't ask wineries to send me anything, so if they do, they have to realize they're taking a chance. I see my job as simple: To tell people who are interested what I think. If I don't like a wine, I say so. I try to say it politely, but the important thing is to tell the truth.

    On the matter of my not being a blogger, I don't know why it's important for you to believe that. Are you saying that anyone who's “made it” in traditional journalism cannot be a blogger, by some definition of your own? I'm a blogger because I blog. I may say things you disagree with, but that doesn't make me “not a blogger.”

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

    Most bloggers that are primarily focused on reviewing wine have exact the same policy. Do you think that your average blogger asks that wineries send samples? Reviews are not my main focus, but I get asked, not to review, but to try wine. That is an area that traditional media and blogging have in common. The industry wants to make it easy for us to talk about them, and they take risks by doing so.

    As for blogging, it is not just writing and posting to the web. It is a conversation, and as such it demands immediacy and the recognition that what one writes is just a jumping off point for that conversation. In that respect I would submit that, while you are a very fine writer, you have a ways to go as a blogger. Disagreeing with fellow bloggers is half the fun, and doesn't have anything to do with my opinion as stated above. In fact, since you did engage in the conversation, albeit quite late, I have to admit there is hope for you yet as a blogger.

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