The finalists for the 2010 Wine Blog awards were announced today and I had high hopes that I wouldn’t have to write this annual column again this year. Unfortunately, here we go again.
Until this year the awards have been handed out by Tom Wark who runs an excellent wine blog entitled Fermentation. In addition to that he is a wine consumer advocate. I respect him for those things. What he is not very good at is deciding who should be given awards for wine blogging. In fact, he has serious problems figuring out what constitutes a blog at all. Perhaps that is because he also runs a PR and Marketing firm that serves the wine industry. I can see how some lines might get fuzzy for him, whether intentionally or not.
Which is why last year there was a lot of dead-on criticism of the fact that a PR guy was giving out awards that many, myself included, believed were conceived primarily to drive traffic to his site. There was also the concern, given some of the nominations, that they were being used as a means to curry favor with powerful folks in the wine industry. To Tom’s credit he responded to the criticism by announcing that he would be handing over the awards to the Open Wine Consortium.
There is only one problem with that solution; the OWC is run by a bunch of mostly good guys working in the wine industry. One of those guys is Tom Wark. I have been trying in vain for most of the afternoon to find out who the panel of 11 judges are who chose the finalists from the nominated sites. If I ever get an answer, not only will I be stunned if Tom’s name is not on it, I will not believe that the list is accurate.
Why is that? While some things have changed, way too much has stayed the same. The improvements are mainly in the inclusion of some very deserving sites, some of whose exclusion inspired me to write about this previously (hey Enobytes, Winesleuth, Twisted Oak, Catavino and 1Winedude!), albeit some of which would seem to be in the wrong categories. Progress is good regardless. There are other well-deserving nominees, as well. One is Steve Heimoff whom I have taken to task for not actually being a blogger. I never took him to task for not being a great writer, and he has dug in over the past year and has this blogging thing down pretty well these days. Congratulations to Steve and all of the other great nominees.
Thus concludes the warm and fuzzy portion of this post, it is time to roll up the pant legs and wade into the shit, so to speak. The entire process was in need of an overhaul, beginning with making the process transparent all the way through to the categories.
Let’s start with the big category. There are five nominees for Best Wine Blog, however there are only three blogs among the five. Pretty strange, eh? Uh huh. It is like turning on the Academy Awards and finding out that most of the nominees were actually sitcoms or e-Trade ads (Btw, hey new baby, you SUCK! Who told you that you could act? You couldn’t carry the old baby’s diaper bag. Just quit, you poser!). Now that doesn’t mean the nominees aren’t great, I am a huge fan of them all. 1Winedude and Dr Vino are two of the best bloggers in any field, and both deserve to win. That brings us to Lenndevours, who writes the excellent single subject New York Cork Report. Lenn deservedly won for Single Subject Wine Blog last year and as far as I can tell, still belongs in that category. That takes care of the three actual blogs, one of which appears to be a finalist in the wrong category.
The other two finalists in this category are baffling choices but for completely different reasons. Last year one of the most contentious pick was Eric Asimov, wine editor for the New York Times. This year I am nominating The Cellarist for an Asimov Award (formerly known as the Heimoff) for the best impersonation of a blogger by a mainstream media journalist. Fantastic writing which I read religiously, but blogs have to compete with the San Francisco Chronicle? That’s fucked up. Seriously. If this guy is nominated, how does he not win?
Jon Bonné is the wine editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, responsible for each Friday’s Chronicle Wine section as well as the annual Top 100 Wines. He covers wine, spirits and other libations throughout California and around the world, and joined the Chronicle in 2006.
Doesn’t much sound like a guy who didn’t have a voice until WordPress rolled out, does he?
Which brings us to the hardest one for me to call outs. Palate Press is an awesome site, and both Amy and I have written for them, our reviews appear in their database, and we have worked with them in other capacities as well. They are certainly deserving of an award…for best new wine magazine. But one would need to have an exceptionally broad definition to call it a blog. Some of their writers *gasp* are even paid. Oh, the horror!
So, there is the Best Wine Blog category and it contains a grand total of three blogs, one of which is arguably in the wrong category. That means that two or three deserving blogs were left out due to their inclusion. That is just not right. If the Mysterious Panel of 11 want to give awards to mainstream media writers who write columns that appear on-‘line, then they should create a category for them. And if they want to recognize on-line wine magazines, and I am of the opinion that they should, it should be in a category for them. As for single subject blogs, well they already have that category.
This is already getting to be a long post, and I don’t plan to go through every finalist and every category. I also mean no disrespect to any of the finalists. But these are the wine blog awards, not the wine retailer awards, or the wine editor for a major newspaper awards, or stroke the PR guys’ ego by letting them play king maker awards.
There is one more category that I want to touch on however, since it is very near and dear to my heart. That is the award for best design. Wark gave it some long name that included a bunch of unrelated items, but you don’t have to be named Carson to know that design school ain’t on his resume. Another clue is that design and photography are lumped together in this category, and presumably his mind. Perhaps, like on his site, design is merely an afterthought. Or, perhaps he truly doesn’t understand what design is. Tom, as someone who makes his living with Photoshop, let me assure you that design and photography are two entirely different beasts. For example, I have seen some great photos on your site, but it still looks like ass. Don’t make me repeat what kind of ass again, you know I will!
Design is about combining graphics, typography, usability into a unique user experience. Last year one of the nominees was a site that was poorly designed, but it did mock wine bloggers and had lots of tits on it. This year I have to say that every nominee exceeds the standards used to select that site, although I have to admit to being a big fan of tits and kind of miss them. Boobs aside, there are sites nominated with barely altered stock templates. That is not design, that is convenience.
In closing, let me tell you a little story about the Mysterious 11. This morning when the names of the finalists were announced, there was a blog on the list that no longer appears on there, and has been replaced by another blog that was not originally on the list. Why? Because they did not bother to check and see if it met their own criteria. So, I think that when I ask for their identities and their qualifications, we all deserve an answer.
Is this sour grapes on my part? Perhaps I’ll address that tomorrow. Especially since so many of our reader’s were given a stiff middle finger by 11 guys…and rumor has it, they are all guys. No women allowed. Hmm…