Not your Grandfather’s Wine Blog
Wine blogs are in a flurry in response to comments made here, and elsewhere to the print writer panels’ critique and advice to bloggers on wine writing at the recent annual Wine Bloggers’ Conference.
Several blogs authored by both females and forward-thinking males call for more diversity in presentation panels. More women, more bloggers of color and diverse ethnicity and more young faces are the requests in response to the “grand-fatherly white traditional male print writers” with whom I take issue.
Let’s start there. Blogs have misquoted me. I know how to spell “grandfather.” My use of “grand-fatherly” was not a typo or a misspelling. It was intentional. A double entendre. Short-hand for “revered and fatherly” or “pompous and patronizing,” it is left to the reader to decide.
Many take it to mean “old.” If true, that would be the Pot Calling the Kettle Black from a card-carrying AARP member herself. I know I may not look old enough to be a grandmother, and thank goodness I am not yet one (Alex and Jake, no need to gift me with that for at least another 5 – 7 years). But “old” is not exactly what I meant.
Then there is the backlash. “Writing is Writing,” say some, whether it is digital or in print. Or, I love this: one cannot read gender or ethnicity through a wine review, because wine reviews are simply a collection of non-biased words. Or, better yet, most of the wine writers with 40 – 50 years’ experience just happen to be male, and it is difficult to get good panelists. Or, we simply misunderstood the exercise.
Bless Their Hearts.
If words are words, and writing is writing, then why do we need these sage, difficult-to-find men to tell bloggers how to write? Don’t get yourself all twisted in that pretzel logic, because it simply doesn’t add up.
Tom, Steve, Mike, Jim, Allan, et al, you are missing the point entirely.
Blogs are not Kindle.
Wine Blogs should not simply be print stories hosted on a digital platform.
Ask David Honig why he chose the name “Palate Press: The On-line Wine Magazine.” At the time he created it, he said he was not creating a blog. He said he was creating a on-line magazine.
Blogs are the antithesis of traditional medium: be it print, radio or television. Blogs or “web logs” originated primarily in response to two things:
1) the barriers to entry created by existing newspapers, magazines, radio and television, and
2) the ever-narrowing diversity of opinions due to the consolidation of media ownership.
Blogs like Daily Kos, and Huffington Post gave readers an alternative view to the corporatized news they were getting from three or four major media corporations. Likewise, Wine Bloggers create content in opposition to the profit-driven editorial content offered in traditional wine publications. Blogs are to traditional print wine writing what Indie films are to Hollywood.
While a few early entrant wine blogs simply mimicked the traditional print writer in posting wine reviews and stories in digital format (and these same few, in large part, still continue to do so), the blog is in itself an artistic and creative alternative to the staid publications whose target audience is primarily wine collectors, wine connoisseurs, wine industry reps and wineries hoping for a 90+ score to promote their wine sales.
Wine Blogs celebrate wine and provide information to the consumer that is free from the need to answer to advertisers, Boards of Directors, stockholders or clients. We provide a much cleaner, clearer lens from which to view inside the bottle or glass.
That is why blogs grew in popularity. That is why consumers read them, and that is why wineries pay attention to them — because they are leaping over barriers that took years and years to erect. They are gaining readers and subscribers faster than it takes for the UPS brown truck to cook your Pinot Noir as it travels from Oregon to Dallas to Houston in August (and trust me, that is pretty fast.)
This is what frightens the old guard and the gate keepers. This is what forces them to take notice. This is why some “old school” public relations professionals have gone out of their way to set themselves up as the arbiters of “good” and “bad” blogs with little awards’ competitions that continue to reward blogs that look just like the publications they advised their winery clients to pursue in the past.
Because we scare them. We force them to evolve. We force change.
It’s all about the Wine!
Since 2008 the Wine Bloggers’ Conference has brought together bloggers from all over the world. The renegades, the rogues, the punks, the anarchists, the stay-at-home-moms and the lawyers, the consultants and the accountants, the web developers and the technology nerds — we all show up each year to taste wine in new regions. We connect with wineries and wine makers; we see old friends and meet new. The wine might be fresh or vintage, but it is the thing draws us together.
They trot out writers from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, The New York Times, from books and big city papers as keynotes and panelists to reinforce the same message: you’re not us.
But maybe that is too complicated to understand. Perhaps a little analogy is in order.
We all know that Cabernet Sauvigon is King, especially in California. It is Napa’s crown jewel. While its grapes only make up 4% of those growing in California’s vineyards, it amounts to 34% of the California wine industry’s total impact and an impact of $42.4 billion on the United States’ economy.
Que? Syrah? Syrah!
Imagine you are a renegade Syrah maker. Poor Syrah…even the winemakers joke about its lack of respect:
“How is Syrah like pneumonia?” they asked at a Ballard Canyon presentation.
“At least you can get rid of pneumonia.” they answered.
Imagine you attend “The Syrah Makers Conference,” hoping to learn more and celebrate Syrah. Instead of Syrah growers and producers, the organizers impanel makers of Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet Sauvignon producers are renowned for their Cab, of that there is no denial. But here’s what you’re told:
“Here is how we make great Cabernet Sauvignon. Here is how you can make your Syrah taste like our Cab. It will never be as good as our Cab; perhaps you can make your Syrah almost as good as our Cab.
But probably not, because all of the Top Cab Spots are already taken.”
Bewildered and frustrated, you shake your head in dismay, “But I do not want to make Cabernet Sauvignon!” you say. “I make Syrah, and damned good Syrah at that!”
Friends of Napa Valley, before you get up in arms, I am not saying that I do not love Cab. But there is a place for Cabernet Sauvignon and a place for Syrah — and it does not need to be in the same bottle.
If It’s Just Journalism You’re After…there’s probably an APP for That.
Yes, good writing might be good writing. Proper grammar, punctuation, the Oxford comma or no Oxford comma, active rather than passive voice, and parallel sentence structure –they are all important in good writing.
But Journalism 101 should be a separate workshop delivered pre- or post-conference for a fee. Or better yet, if you must lean on print, just put a stack of Strunk & White in the Gift Suite and let he who wants one pick up a copy at his convenience. We do not need to pay (or not pay) print writers to teach bloggers’ mechanics as part of the conference. Or advise a blogger that her wine maker profile would be better if it were a story about barrel wood.
A Wine Bloggers’ Conference should be a celebration of Bloggers by Bloggers for Bloggers. Its awards should celebrate the blogger, not the writer who simply took his print writing and made it digital. Its speakers should be successful bloggers, who began as bloggers and made a name for themselves…as bloggers.
The speakers should not be print writers telling us how they took their craft on-line to save themselves from going the way of the manual typewriter. Or from writers who left their print jobs and landed a gig in PR.