Not your Grandfather’s Wine Blog

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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.

WWBloggersSeveral 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.

Sketched and Digitally enhanced by Amy Corron PowerBut the old guard still cling to the gate, attempting to hold it closed with angry hands gnarled like 100-year Zinfandel vines.

They trot out writers from Wine Enthusiast, Wine SpectatorThe 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.

"Here is how you can make your Syrah taste more like our Cabernet Sauvignon. It will never be as good as our Cab, but perhaps you can make your Syrah almost as good as our Cab. But probably not, because all the Top Cab Spots are taken."

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.

strunk-whiteYes, 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.

Cheers!

The WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. Amy holds certifications through the International Sommelier Guild, and is also certified, with honors, as a California Wine Appellation Specialist (CWAS). She is a member of the Guild of Sommeliers, The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas and regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events.
  • Wine Harlots

    You had me at “bless their hearts.” (And baking pinot in August.)

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

      Thanks lady! While the South has its issues, that one little phrase has always been a gem that speaks volumes. Missed you in Buellton.

  • SAHMmelier

    I just wrote a long reply from the comforts of my tent but it didn’t post. I’ll try again.
    Excellent article. Love the wine analogy. I chose a Cat Stevens/Eminem one but this was more apt.
    I agree with your comments about good writing whole-heartedly. Listening to the seminars, I kept going back to the tenets of good writing I taught my Elementary students. We always began with TAP: Topic, Audience, Purpose. The same elements go into any medium of conveying information. As bloggers, our audience and purpose differs greatly from one another and from most print writing. As writers, this needs to be considered first and foremost when planning our writing. Cheers!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

      Thanks. I think sometimes it’s easier for them to just lump bloggers in with “print” writers so no one questions that the Wine BLOGGER Awards historically tend to lean heavily towards awarding known print writers and using print writers as judges. While we both convey words, we’re often as different as Patti Smith and Celine Dion. Failing to recognize that does a disservice to both the author and his or her audience.

  • Larry Schaffer

    Amy,
    I think your ‘syrah’ analogy hits home for me – and hopefully for many others. So here’s the real question at hand to me – should there be a panel such as this in the future at all – or is it better for ‘veteran bloggers’ to be up a podium helping their fellow bloggers instead? My concern is that it’s not the age or ethnicity of the print journalists up there – and I tend to like the journalists up there as individuals – but the fact that print journalists, in general, think differently than most bloggers (or at least that’s my impression). Therefore, should this be a key panel on a Sunday morning anyway? Or perhaps should the panel be replaced with something else entirely . . . Something to think about. Heck, why not have a panel of bloggers up there playing Cards for Humanity?!?!?! :-) Cheers!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

      I would venture to guess that the organizers like to use known print writers strictly for the gravitas and potential media attention they assume it brings. If the conference were truly about Bloggers, we’d see only Bloggers as panelists: Marcy Gordon, Melanie Ofenloch, Thea Dwelle, Joe Roberts, Dezel Quillen, Mary Cressler, among others each have something to bring to the table. In addition, the gender bias is astounding. The fact that Paul Mabray (a regular Wine Blogger Award Judge) in Vintank’s “9 Most Important Bloggers in the U.S.” did not include one single female is astounding http://www.vintank.com/2012/03/the-8-most-important-wine-bloggers-in-the-us/ . Just as an example: Nannette Eaton (@WineHarlots) has over 59,000 twitter followers. If that isn’t influence, I don’t know what is.

      • Craig Camp

        Hi Amy – if I remember right I think Paul Mabray’s ranking was based on statistics not a list of personal favorites.

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

          I see a Mark Twain (or Disreali, if you believe Twain) quote in your near future, Craig. ;)

          • Craig Camp

            I must have missed something – as usual I need you guys to fill me in ;-)

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

            I think that maybe you’re doing your own Mark Twain impression now.

            “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. ”

            Twain claimed that Benjamin Disreali had said that, but it doesn’t appear in anything he wrote and no one else ever claimed that he had said it, so it defaulted back to being attributed to Twain.

          • Craig Camp

            Got it. Sure stats can be interpreted many ways. That why polling is not an exact science – unless your Nate Silver anyway.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

            I am now doing my best to not make a goofy statistical anomaly joke about Silver.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

            Okay I went over and read the blog post and all the comments again…it looks like any stats were just references to monkeys flying out of …well… “the math” was a generic term that when questioned got a defensive ” the absurdity of your statement demonstrates your ignorance regarding this topic. ” <– whenever attacks like that come out, it tends to mean monkey butt statistics that cannot be defended. He's entitled to his opinion of his 9 favorite dudes writing about wine. But when someone asks for the analytics and he can't give them, he must concede it was just a nice little recommendation based on, well, his opinion. Rather than telling his commenters they just don't understand.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

            But can you provide statistical proof that he pulled them from a monkey’s butt and not that of some other primate?

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

          I think at the time, the “stats” had Nannette ranked pretty high — I would have to go back and looking but I remember the chatter that the list was pretty subjective. Kinda like the BCS Rankings in September.

  • Jade Helm

    Cab/Syrah analogy made me laugh and made a great point. Enjoyed the article.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

      Thanks Jade. Wish I had gotten to do the Paso Robles visit with you. We’ve been twice to Paso when it used to host Hospice du Rhone, but haven’t spent nearly enough time exploring the AVA and all its wineries. Cheers!

  • http://girlwithaglass.com/ girlwithaglass

    I am having a “church” experience as I read this, find myself saying”Amen Sister!, “oh Lordy, Yes!” “Uh huh, tell it like it is.” Fabulous!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

      Thanks Alana! While I love the conferences for visiting and learning about the wine regions, meeting other bloggers and seeing old friends, it seems like the content never really changes…probably the reason why there are so few who have attended every year. I really enjoyed the Rex Pickett session you moderated one year. And there was a session in Charlottesville about shipping laws that I liked. I hope with the proximity to NYC next year, we can get a more diverse program, and perhaps some more blogger-centric content.

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  • tomwark

    “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.”

    I got this one…

    Because writing, whether in a blog post, in a newspaper, in a magazine or in a digital book, is more than grammar and spelling. It’s about marshaling your observational skills, your creativity and, especially with wine, your knowledge and experience with the subject, to explain, convince, and inform.

    Particularly where wine communication is concerned, experience counts a lot if it is to be done well. You and others may not think this, but you’d be wrong.

    Those three old guys have more experience than most of the others in the room in communicating about wine to the very same people the bloggers are trying to communicate with. One of them straddled traditional wine print medium and the blogging medium in a way more successfuly than the vast majority of other bloggers in the world.

    But it’s not the confusing dismissal of the value of experience that is curious to me. It’s the flamboyant misunderstanding of history of wine writing, the current state of wine writing and the nature of the blog that I’m surprised to find in your post.

    This, for example, completely belies an understanding of wine appreciation and recent history:

    “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.”

    Then there is this unfortunate missive that is really no more than a continuation to the popular paranoid/conspiracy theory of history that rests more on broken hopes and dreams than anything near reality:

    “But the old guard still cling to the gate, attempting to hold it closed with angry hands gnarled like 100-year Zinfandel vines. 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.”

    When people trot out conspiracy theories I can tell when they are just theories built on personal disappointment and have nothing to do with reality: they don’t lay out the who, what, where, why and how of it.

    I’m not one to give advice to people who don’t pay me for it, who I don’t like or who I don’t respect. But I’ll make an exception in this case: talking out your ass is almost always guaranteed to produce a message the is muffled and unintelligible.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

      You use a lot of words to say very little, and for a guy who has a blog, you are rather ignorant about them.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

      Wow, when you say —>…I’ll make an exception in this case: talking out your ass is almost always guaranteed to produce a message the is muffled and unintelligible. <<— Bless your heart, Tom, the irony is simply delightful!

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

        Bless his heart, indeed.

    • Melanie Ofenloch

      Tom,

      First, you know I have respected and supported (on my blog and financially) your efforts to open the world of wine to consumers. My blog is my passion. My daytime job is in leadership running marketing for an energy software company. Those world’s rarely cross.

      The great thing about wine, art, politics and food is that you have the
      opportunity to have an opinion. What you like is subjective. My blog
      is based on MY experience with wine — and my readers respond.
      I’m assuming that’s why you reached out to me for the American Wine Consumer Coalition when you were working to engage action with consumers.

      The issue I have is telling people that you must have old guard experience to matter. Some of us have worked hard to build a site
      that resonates with our readers. Experience counts, but as I recall Steve
      has recently begun a new career in marketing … I’m assuming he should be given the benefit of the doubt to prove his worth at KJ before being dismissed for a “lack of experience.”

      Just my two cents and I’m happy to debate.

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

        Very good point Melanie — whenever I’m told you need old guard experience in a certain field, I think of people like Howard Cosell and Robert Parker. They were lawyers…they didn’t start out a broadcaster and a writer. Yet each ended up owning and defining their particular areas of journalism — in part, I think, because they weren’t navel gazing. They offered a fresh approach for their time which often an industry insider will never see — because he is too embedded in it to see anything new.

      • tomwark

        “The issue I have is telling people that you must have old guard experience to matter.”

        Melanie: I would have an issue with this too if it were the case, but no one is suggesting that to matter, one must have “old guard” experience—though I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that. What I’m suggesting is that experience matters A LOT. This is why there are mentors, apprenticeships and internships where you work alongside those with experience. It’s one of the best ways to learn.

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

          Perhaps an internship with a blogger might be just the thing for you, Tom.

        • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

          I’ve done internships and apprenticeships — they are great if you have another income to pay the bills while you do it. But here’s a problem with some of the gigs — they use a great deal of the intern’s talent as free labor, claiming what is largely the intern’s work as their own. Or a publication will offer to “pay” for a story ($50 – $150) that takes weeks of research and days to write. I had a journalism prof who thought internships were nothing more than indentured servitude. Why give away that kind of content to a magazine when you can self-publish and tailor your message to YOUR audience vs. someone else’s. The ROI just isn’t big enough for someone with worlds of experience in other realms that they simply don’t publicize because they are focusing on their own targeted and developed audience — not the blessing and high praise of other equally good or less risk-taking writers.

          • tomwark

            Yeah, internships, especially in this economy, can be that way. They weren’t always that way however. That said, I still don’t see a counter to the notion that we can learn a great deal from the experience of others.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

            We can always learn from others but there needs to be a dialogue, and understanding of one’s audience. If I’m speaking to a group of educated adults I don’t talk to them as children. If I’m speaking to kids (and you’re going to learn this one fast) it takes much more patience and open-mindedness to allow the kid to develop his own voice, without trying to instill in him ours as the parent. Sometimes the best lessons I learned were from children and interns teaching me, rather than the other way around.

          • Melanie Ofenloch

            I agree on both points, Amy and Tom. I have learned more from my 8 year old daughter than I have from the majority of bosses that I have worked for in my professional life (20 plus years). Her kindness, her integrity, her sense of right and wrong and how she treats others has made me a better executive, a better boss and a more balanced person. And, I have had some amazing mentors in my lifetime that made me the person that I am today. But, I take all of that life experience (travel, work, mom, wife, food and wine) – which rounded my perspective. I guess what I am saying is that I only started writing about wine over four years ago, but that doesn’t lesson my perspective.

          • tomwark

            Melanie….No one is suggesting that your perspective is less. Your perspective is yours and it could be no other way…obviously. And we might have something to learn from your perspective. We might also have something to learn from those folks who have for literally decades been writing for and getting feedback from exactly the same audience for whom most all bloggers write: The more than casual wine drinker and wine lover.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com Houstonwino

            No matter how condescending and paternal they might act towards their “audience.”

          • Marcy Gordon

            Bingo–
            I think the whole reason many of us reacted negatively to the panel and workshop was not because we were disinterested in the panels collective experience, it was because they were unable to covey that life long experience and connect to their audience in a meaningful way.

          • Marcy Gordon

            Meant to post this in reply to Tom- so I’ll say it again–
            I think the whole reason many of us reacted negatively to the panel and workshop was not because we were disinterested in the panels collective experience, it was because they were unable to covey that life long experience and connect to their audience in a meaningful way.

            Know your audience is the key to effective writing in any medium.

          • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

            If we continue to have a few print writers on a panel, I would like to see a combined panel of a print writer or two, a blogger or two a winery rep, and a PR person and have them compare and contrast their experiences in how they tell a wine story, with an extended Q&A from the audience. I think that would provide a much more enriching experience for all concerned.

  • http://coolclimatewine.wordpress.com/ Doug Levin

    I can appreciate both points of view here. The Writers Workshop put a spotlight on a trio of traditional print media writers that obviously had an issue with the lack of formal training in the blogging community. I was also a little put-off by the “hard-hitting” journalistic style one of the panel members was advocating. IMO, very little place for that in wine print. Altho, did make me think, before I dismissed it. That aside, I am always interested in learning and becoming a more well-rounded writer. If wine blogging means a thin skin, as a community, we should think twice. Blogging should be an expression of viewpoint, opinion, discovery and wonder. Elements sure to cause some people to disagree and argue. If 100% agreement is what you are looking for from your readership… it may be a good idea to look into another pursuit. So… did the panel ignore the focus and passion that makes wine blogging so relevant? Yes definitely. Did I learn from the discussion? Yes definitely. While it was not always easy to hear, IMO it was not a waste of time.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com/ WineWonkette

      Thanks for stopping by Doug. As a former print writer, myself, with an education in journalism and PR, and as a person who worked in executive education in a Business School, I’ve been on both sides. I’m not saying a panel of print writers would not be a valuable exercise as a pre or post conference workshop if the print writers understood their audience and tailored their presentation accordingly. I’m not sure they do.

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