The Grapes of Rant: Wine Blog Awards are Corked

I would like to preface this impending rant by saying that I am a fan of  Tom Wark and his blog, Fermentation The Daily Wine Blog. It was one of the first wine blogs that I ever read, and I am still a faithful reader to this day. I even attended a panel discussion where he was one of the featured speakers at last year’s Wine Blogger Conference. It is apparent that he knows and loves wine, is a serious and passionate blogger, and has a sincere desire to help and advance other bloggers.

That said, for the second year in a row Tom has horribly botched the American Wine Blog Awards. The categories are narrow and then further limited by restrictions, yet the standard for what constitutes a blog is exceptionally broad. This is a terrible formula for giving awards that should be about promoting and advancing the diverse wine blogging community.

Is this sour grapes, if you will pardon the excruciatingly easy pun, on my part? The answer to that would be a qualified yes and  a resounding no. Another Wine Blog was nominated, and I would have been thrilled and honored to have been a finalist. Hell, I was honored to be nominated at all. But that is not really the point, and I harbor no ill feelings at not making the cut because other sites were deemed to be better than this one. No matter how good one is at something, there is always someone smarter, stronger, faster, and just plain better, and if by chance you do manage to become the best at something, it is fleeting because the next “best” is hot on your heels. I am a big boy, and can accept how this works.

No, my problems are with lost opportunities and missed chances to do something with these awards. Instead of being about recognizing the hard, unpaid effort that so many bloggers put into their labors of love, and the exceptional ability and skill of so many unsung writers that make up the real blogging community, the ones that seeks to push the envelope, these awards seem to be geared for recognizing the already recognized. YAWN!

To demonstrate my point a little better, here is a rundown of the categories and my opinions about them:

Best Writing on a Wine Blog. This is a category that would seem to be perfect for recognizing the little guy, shining the light on someone that should have a larger audience, but has not yet found one, or should I say, been found by one. That is not what Tom and his judges have chosen to do, and I guess that is okay, but what a lost opportunity. Still, that alone isn’t what makes the choices in this category so bad. No, what is so bad about this category is that two spots that could be filled by deserving bloggers are taken up by traditional media.

Anyone who loves wine should probably read what Eric Asimov and Alice Fiering have to say. They are both excellent writers who know a lot about wine, and definitely love their subject matter. That does not make them bloggers. Both are traditional media folks with long resumes chock full of printed-page credentials. Ms. Fiering has written for so many printed publications that my keyboard would wear out before I was finished typing them all in, and she has also written and published books. And, oh yeah, she has a blog. A good one mind you, I do not mean to suggest otherwise, but she is first and foremost a successful writer who happens to also appear on the Web.

Eric Asimov comes from a literary family, has worked at the Chicago Sun Time, and has been an editor and writer at the New York Times since 1984. He is currently the chief wine critic for the New York Times.  His work appears on the New York Times’ Web site. He very well may be my favorite wine writer, but to call him a blogger is stretching the term to the breaking point.

Maybe it is my ingrained and immutable punk ethos talking here, but to me a blogger is the do-it-yourself type. Someone who has something that they want to say, has no real outlet to do so,  and then reacts by creating that outlet themselves. A blogger starts out by shouting into the void, knowing that no one is listening, but hoping that if they shout long enough, and well enough, people will slowly begin to pay attention. It isn’t about adding a Web site to the list of places that you are published.

That two such accomplished writers are being included with the rabble that make up the blogging community is akin to having an indie film festival along the lines of what Sundance once was, and then expecting the invited filmmakers to submit their work into competition along with Martin Scorcese and Steven Spielberg. That is not a statement on the fairness of the situation, it points to the fact that Scorcese and Spielberg do not belong at an indie film festival as contestants. Neither do Alice Fiering and Eric Asimov belong in an awards competition for bloggers. They should be judging or giving out the awards.

Only four slots available to bloggers, and two are taken up by print journalists/published authors. Not cool.

Best Graphics and Presentation on a Wine Blog. Okay, to reiterate, I am a huge fan of Tom Wark’s writing. Have I been clear about that? Good, because I am about to insult him some more. His site looks like ass. Not J-Lo ass, either. Hairy, cellulite ridden, drooping ass with a pimple or two for effect. It is a stunning example of poor design and even worse taste. So, what type of sites are nominated for best design? For the most part, similarly cluttered designs. Oh, and some nude and semi-nude photos of women.

I am all for naked photos of people. I don’t have a prudish bone in my body. In fact, it may be brilliant to combine nudity and wine on a blog, but it does not make for award winning graphic design.

What qualifies me to pass judgment in this category? This site certainly does not come close to have an award winning design. However, I am an experienced and fairly accomplished Web designer/developer. This site’s design was created and implemented in less than three hours with plans to follow behind and do a good design later. Like the cobbler too busy to fix the holes in his shoes or the barber that needs a haircut, I am a designer with a less than spectacularly designed site. Then again, I am neither asking for or even offering awards for my graphics.

With all due respect to the nominees, there are more qualified sites that should have been honored.

Best Single Subject Wine Blog. I actually don’t have a problem with this category. I read most of the nominees, and they are all good.

Best Winery Blog. Some of these choices are better than others, but once again, I have no problem with this category. In fact, I whole heartedly agree with the inclusion of blogs by Judd at Michel-Schlumberger and Morgan at Bedrock Wine Company. These are very good examples of what a winery blog should be. These two, in particular, give great insight into what goes into making great wine. Kudos to Tom and his judges on these selections.

Best Business/Industry Wine Blog. Two of these selections were very good choices, the other two not only left me scratching my head as to why they were included, but also as to why so many others were not. Who knows, maybe my problem with this category is just a matter of personal taste? There really is nothing wrong with any of the nominees other than taken all together it points to what may be the second biggest problem with these awards in general, the judges seem to be big fans of safe and boring. Well, except when it comes to gratuitous nudity. I do applaud their one choice at being edgy I suppose, but enough of dwelling on nudity. Enough, that is, after one more peek…

Best Wine Reviews on a Blog. I will recuse myself from commenting on this category as I am already on record as not being a reader of this type of blog except when they come up in a search for reviews of a particular wine. The nominees are fine with me, Vinography is a favorite resource (and a damn good read too), and I am happy that I was introduced to Wicker Parker through these awards.

Best Overall Wine Blog. Again, we have a ringer thrown in. Blogs are alternative media sources, the New York Times is America’s paper of record. This is probably the most important of the awards and it was botched.

After seeing that all of the criticism of these awards from last year fell on deaf ears, I was seriously considering working with some other bloggers to create an alternative. Then it was announced that Tom would be turning the awards over to the Open Wine Consortium, the fine folks who created the Wine Blogger Conference.

I have high hopes that this will be a great improvement. However, if it isn’t, no matter how big of a fan I am of the OWC, I will be just as harsh in my criticism next year and hope that Joel doesn’t take a swing at me during the WBC. Just like with Tom Wark, it won’t mean that I am any less of a fan, it will just mean that instead of promoting and furthering the wine blog community, we are still picking a Prom Queen from the same group of popular kids as last year and sucking up to traditional media.

Some changes that I have heard suggested and would strongly endorse would be to add categories such as best use of technology (hey Enobytes!) and best new wine blog. Another would be to drop the silly number of posts per year requirement. Good writing is good writing, and if someone writes 51 posts that are fantastic the award should not go to someone who wrote 52 decents posts.

Feel free to add any other suggestions, we will be sure Joel gets them. Or go ahead and rip on me like I just ripped on Tom…I can take it. I would like to congratulate all of the nominees, wish them luck, and thank them for all of the enjoyment I get from reading them. This critique was not about them, but about the process. Anyone who is not a reader of Fermentation, or of the nominated blogs really should give them a shot. I also suggest reading Asimov and Fiering, they are fine writers and know a lot about their subjects. Oh, and go vote for your favorite nominee.

  • k2whino

    I hear ya man, and I totally agree. A couple of serious curveballs. Loads of good blogs that were seemingly overlooked. Not sure who judged this thing, but they obviously like to ogle naked girls.

    Maybe next year they'll get it right, right?

    • Hope the naked girls are hotter next year. Oops, I mean I hope that they have better categories and stuff.

      • Or there could be a category for best use of gratuitous sex and curse words tangentially related to wine.

        • I hope you're right – then I might win! :-)

  • Thanks, Man! I laughed out loud appreciating the perspective. Agreed that SOOO many were left off nominations and categories: may I add 1WineDude, WannaBeWino, Luscious Lushes's, BrixChicks, The Able Grape, Anything But Wine…Humanitas Drink Charitably Blog, My Daily Wine, DirtySouthWine, Goosecross, oh SOOOO many I can't get them all in…and I will curse myself for the ones I forgot here…oh! OF COURSE…Another Wine Blog…f*ck!

    I did ask about “Best New Wine Blog” on twitter: Mr. Wark had the decency to answer both on twitter AND on WineBizRadio (ALSO should have been nominated!)…something about too much work, logistics of sorting through qualified blogs, judges time, blah, blah, blah.

    Ok, so what did we decide? More categories, better criteria, more finalists, more nudity and …more wine. Did that cover it? Are you listening OWC? Good grief, give credit where credit is due…yes, I'll step up if you need help!

    Too many darn wine blogs going without recognition!


    • Great list of blogs and suggestions there! It is great that Tom answered your questions, but he shouldn't be giving out awards if he doesn't have the time to do it right. That kind of reflects badly on us all, imo.

    • To me, if you want to have a “Best Newspaper Column in Blog format that has a paid writer, advertising, access to paid photographers and worldwide credibility” well that should be in a category with other similarly situated on-line columns.

      Or heck, just have an honorary category for all those.

      But having honest-to-goodness blogs go up against them? Make not one lick 'o sense.

  • This is a great discussion. When I originally looked at the categories, my thought was “I don't really fit into any of those.” I would love if they had a best regional blog (although Lenn would always win, at least I'd feel I had a category), best new wine blog to encourage those who are shouting into the void for a while, and best newspaper or publisher blog. That would make me feel a little better about having talents like Asimov in there who actually get paid to do this sort of thing.

    I also think that if you win the category so many years in a row, which is going to happen I suspect, you should take yourself out of the running or be removed from the running automatically. This gels with what you are saying – some of these awards should help promote the hidden gems, not call more attention to our shining stars.

    As I mentioned to Kevin, it's a good thing I don't judge myself on awards. They're nice, but if I let myself get upset (as some folks seem to) about the AWBA, I'd be in trouble. I learned this lesson in high school when I was always “almost” prom queen. As it is, while they are semi-large in the wine blogging community (at least to some), I find it quite easy to completely ignore the presence of the AWBA as well.

    Fantastic post, by the way! Cheers!

    • You know what might be a good idea, is if you win three times, you then move to the Judges panel, and write a blog post on what makes a winning wine blog.

      I think we should all be helping each other to promote wine education and enjoyment. And there's nothing better than providing tips to newcomers to help them to do so as well.

  • I absolutely agree that I should not be nominated for an American Wine Blog Award. And I really don't care whether I win or not. I blog for my own entertainment, as a creative outlet for my former comedy writing urges, and to spoof on wine blogs in general.

    My blog was created graphically in way less than an hour and I make no claims for any graphic sense or originality. The jokes are mine, unlike most of the opinions out there in the blogosphere. The nudies just started appearing one day from somewhere in my comedy subconscious and the whole deal just sort of worked for me. I get a lot of public reaction condemning it, and four times that reaction privately telling me that they love the whole thing. The juxtaposition of naked women with a blog about wine (ostensibly) merely heightens the absurdity.

    I hope that no one votes for me, or for anyone else. Come on, you can't complain about it being the usual suspects and then praise Vinography and Lenndevours and all the other old wine blog cronies. If you need a new category to win doesn't that just further dilute the awards, make them even more meaningless? Would an award make you feel better about yourself? Gosh, I hope not.

    It's just a little award made up by a very nice, ambitious, marketing guy that does more for his blog than for anyone else's. It ain't the Nobel Prize. It's not even a People's Choice. Relax, keep blogging, if you just do what you like your audience will find you–you don't need to go looking for them.


    • Ron – *fantastic* response!

      • Hey agree here! Totally. Thanks for the post, keep coming with posts like this one!


    • Good points for the most part, Ron. Things I take exception with, however minor, are as follows. In your comments you state that you don't deserve an award. You very well might, but I just find the category that you are nominated in to be an odd fit. Also, adding categories would be to recognize folks who don't write wine reviews or work for the industry. There are some very cool blogs out there that do not fit any of Wark's categories.

      My biggest disagreement with your comment is that you seem to think these things don't matter. They do, and they are a highly visible representation of wine blogs. I'm not losing any sleep over them, but that doesn't mean that I have to like the fact that the nice, ambitious marketing guy's promotion of his own site promotes the NYT's instead of real bloggers.

      All in all, however, I think you are dead on. Oh, and too late on hoping that no one votes for you. I already did. :P~

  • Sorry to spam comments on this post, but it's the best summary of challenges facing the AWBA that I've ever read – great, great work.

    Whether or not the AWBA are “serious” awards (or not) is (IMO) less important than the potential impact that the finalist lists can have on the blogging world.

    I will offer by way of example something from my own blog. The collective blog-o-world can feel free to flame me here for doing that if I deserve it – but honestly this is not about generating a link / traffic to my post, it's just that I don't have another example so I am going with what I know:

    I make very little from advertising. I make very little from affiliate programs. I receive plenty of wine samples but I don't sell them so I don't make any money from those, either.

    This means that my budget for the wine blog is effectively ZERO.

    Anything I do to bring better and better content to my readers has to be a labor of love, because it's done entirely at my own expense.

    Last year, I interviewed the founder of Ravenswood (…), went in-depth on how an up-start winery is trying to change the face of East Coast winemaking (… ), and went as deep inside an established high-end winery icon (Opus One) as I've ever seen anyone in traditional wine media do (… ).

    I'm not bragging (I didn't say if they were *good* articles or not! :-), I'm just saying that I tried, at my own expense, to offer my readers something hopefully as good as they could get at an established wine magazine, but for free. Whether I succeeded or not is less important than the fact that I did it at my own expense.

    Now, I'm not going to hang up my blogging boots, but I would be lying if I didn't say that I haven't considered doing just that several times. Even though I love it, it's not making me much cash and it takes a LOT of time and effort to offer this kind of writing for nothing.

    What's my point?

    What if another writer, way better than I am, was going to offer the same but decided against it because blog articles like that get no recognition?

    No James Beard award, no links from the likes of the NYT, no AWBA. People getting that kind of attention already have the backing of expense accounts from their association to traditional media.

    Good writers might decide not to blog because a) they won't make $$ and b) won't get recognition.

    They will migrate to traditional media, where they might get both.

    I fear that we are killing our own, sort of.

    • Feel free to spam ;) I'll spam answer you. Very good points!

  • Regarding the format, I know that it is a super terrific way to drive tons of traffic to Fermentation but, I would REALLY like to see it go to an anonymous surveymonkey format. I basically boycotted (ok, I nominated for one category and voted in the finals) because I think in such a tight-knit community it can become too much like a high school popularity contest. Well…it is a popularity contest I guess–that's the point. But, I mean there are possibly friendships at stake and so on…

    • That is a big part of the problem, these awards are presented as representing this tight-knit community, but the inclusion of ringers just shows that the main purpose is to drive traffic to a single site.

      Hopefully the move to the OWC will solve a lot of these issues.

  • Bureaucratic grievances aside, it's truly delightful to rejoice in the wealth of new flavours and great writing from all corners.

    We've put together a brief behind-the-scenes video at the award-winning Gaspereau Wineries in Gaspereau Valley, Nova Scotia. It's worth your while!

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  • Great post and comments!

    Last year, we kicked around a lot of great ideas on how to modify and/or improve upon the wine blogger awards over at OWC, but I’m afraid not much activity happened after the lengthy discussion:

    What about this – what if we have a Wine Blogger Award session at the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference? We could get everyone in the same room to discuss improvements (e.g. adding categories), policies (e.g. 3 wins and you’re out), etc. etc. Everyone could come with their ideas, and we could have a moderator/facilitator to oversee the meeting and capture all the great ideas and then figure out next steps for implementing changes.

    I know that Joel is usually open to suggesting session topics at this event, so I propose we ask Joel to support a session topic for said agenda. Heck, it might have to be a ½ day workshop! :)

    • Excellent suggestions!

  • Oh heck, the above link isn't working. Let's try it again…

    • rjh

      couldn't agree with you more, enobytes. i think the wine blogger's conference is a great place to sort this out and given how passionate this community is, should also be fun and productive.

    • That sounds like a great idea! It would make even more sense, to me, that the finalists were announced prior to the start of the 2010 conference, and that the winners be announced AT the 2010 Wine Blogger Conference.

      • That is another good idea. We might even be able to find a bottle or two to toast the winners there.

  • Lots of intelligent comments here, with suprisingly little rancor or ego. There may never be a solution that satisfies everyone, but the wine blogosphere has clearly busted wide open. Reading lots of blogs (but NOT ENOUGH – as I now see I need to follow yours) has convinced me that the future of wine writing is definitely on the Web. Keep up the good collective work and the attention will come….

    • Thanks for stopping by Tish, feel free to come back often!

  • The great discoveries in wine are usually from off the beaten path, the back roads or down the drive with only a number on the post. So it will be with blogs and other wine content on the web.

    It is only natural that in a short space of time “awards” or ratings are now part of the picture.

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  • As far as rants go, this is a pretty damned good one and as cogent as it gets.

    The most interesting nugget is the idea that:

    “a blogger is the do-it-yourself type. Someone who has something that they want to say, has no real outlet to do so, and then reacts by creating that outlet themselves. A blogger starts out by shouting into the void, knowing that no one is listening, but hoping that if they shout long enough, and well enough, people will slowly begin to pay attention. It isn’t about adding a Web site to the list of places that you are published.”

    I don't disagree, but I think also that the nature of the blog and blogging is also wrapped around the technology that spawned it and spawned the possibility that anyone, include those who have seen their words distributed on dead trees, can do it themselves and even compete for eyeballs.

    Take Steve Heimoff for example. Long time editor for Wine Enthusiast and before that the Wine Spectator. As Mainstream as it gets. Steve all of a sudden has a blog where HE is the editor, HE posts what he wants. HE says what he wants. HE controls the flow. The fact that he has contacts, perspective, experience and built in credibility doesn't necessarily mean he's going to produce a great alternative to mainstream wine publications that he is indeed a part of .

    But he has. Steve, like it or not, is your blogging competition and deserves to be considered in any process that recognizes good blogging.

    Your point about the up and comers is a good one, however.

    So here's my suggestion. Contact Joel Vincent right now. Ask him to be part of the team that evaluates and re-creates the Wine Blog Awards. Get involved in the process so that when the next awards roll around, they will be better and better-able to recognize the “do it yourself types.”

    Great post!!

    • Thanks for taking the time to stop by and post. You are a gracious person and a true gentlemen for doing so in the manner that you have. However, I disagree about Heimoff. Until he stops treating other bloggers disdainfully and starts to reply to comments more regularly, he is just another print guy who decided he needed an online presence. There is much more to being a blogger, imo, than just being online. The fact that you decided to come here to post illustrates that point.

      Good point about contacting Joel, I believe that my wife already has. If not she will be soon.

      • JP,

        Really? There's more to being a blogger than setting up an online presence at which you post regularly, with the latest posts on top? This begs the question: what are the minimum criteria for being a “Blogger”?

        And, as it turns out, In a post from yesterday in which steve got 26 comments (so far), he posts 8 responses.

        I'd also not that how one treats other bloggers, has never been a criteria for being a blogger yourself. It might not make you a nice blogger, or a cooperative blogger, but I think one's disposition really has nothing to do with whether or not you are blogging.

        The beauty of the blogging format is that it allows experienced people like Steve to set up shop without an editor, where he can rant, report or rave on at will and with no holds barred.

        Seems to me that's what he has done. He just happens to come to this publishing format with far more experience, writing talents and reporting background than most other bloggers.

        I can't compete with Steve's use of the English language, with his reporting skills or with his contacts. But I cant rant and rave and opinionate right there with him. In fact, I'll put my ranting up alongside Steve's any day.

        Still, we are both bloggers.


        • Good for Heimoff if he has started replying to comments in a timely manner. Maybe he took the advice he was given last time he decided to tell bloggers how they should comport themselves. As I told him then, he may become a blogger yet.

          And no, just putting up an online column in addition to your print activities does not make you a blogger. Blogging, done well, is a conversation. That is why so many celebrity blogs are a joke. They post, their fans comment, no connection is made. Traditional media folks tend to follow the same model. Heimoff WAS guilty of that at one time. He was setting himself up as both a blogger, and yet somehow above the fray all while being condescending to some very good bloggers. Bloggers don't necessarily have to be nice to each other, but straddling the divide between new media and old while delivering lectures from on high to those that you seek to join doesn't quite get you admitted to the club.

          I have not read him since that dust-up, despite him being an excellent writer. I probably should start doing so again, especially given what you've said here. Not because of his writing and knowledge, those are a given, but because it sounds like he might be getting the hang of this whole blogging racket.

          To put this all in a nutshell, CNN is online. It has writers. It allows comments. But it ain't a blog in my book, not even on the pages where it pretends to be one.

  • Hey agree here! Totally. Thanks for the post, keep coming with posts like this one!


  • Hey agree here! Totally. Thanks for the post, keep coming with posts like this one!


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