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.

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