Wine Blogging is Dead
“Wine blogging is the attention-seeking barking of lonely poodles.” Ouch! But wait, it gets nastier. Ron Washam, creator of the wickedly funny Hosemaster of Wine website, dedicates his own blog to eviscerating other wine bloggers. He portrays wine bloggers as a self-important, puffed up crew of verbose and prolific hacks with no audience beyond mom and their fellow wine blogging brethren. (For the record, both of my parents read my writing regularly. It’s only my mom who comments). “Basically the whole wine blog world is like the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, a whole bunch of loudmouths trying to shout over each other, only less dressy.” Fortunately Brian would be more flattered than offended when Washam declared he could not distinguish the wine bloggers from the Trekkies at a recent wine writers’ conference. Washam, himself a former fine dining sommelier with near 20 years experience, finds many wine bloggers’ absence of formal wine training particularly egregious (and it is). Still, it’s an easy caricature- wide-eyed Midwesterners descending on the Santa Rosa wine blogging conference like bombastic, laptop toting locusts, “I’m actually in wine country, where they grow grapes and stuff. I tried a couple of grapes right off the vine!” Low blow, Washam. We can’t all be lucky enough to live in Healdsburg (like you and me)! And while it may not be nice to reduce wine bloggers to huffy, audacious phonies, Washam has a point.
By one estimation, there are 500 English-language wine blogs, with 200 more in Europe. That’s a lot of background static. And how could all of those folks be appropriately credentialed to sell you their opinion of wine? I am not convinced they are. One lecture topic from the Napa Valley 2010 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers was entitled “What Wine Writers Need to Know about Winemaking.” Let’s hope they know something about enology before they headline “professional wine writer” atop their C.V. Better yet, how can a wine blogger convince you to buy the wine they snagged as freebie, industry swag last week? And to what end? The San Francisco Chronicle notes, “For the most part, a blog mention doesn’t register on any radar.” One winery owner explained that a blog mention “almost never” parlays into actual sales. Millions (OK, thousands) of people read either Wine Spectator or Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, but very few read more than one or perhaps two wine blogs with any regularity, ours included. Heck, we’re not even good enough to underwrite the booze at our kids’ preschool fundraiser. Their inclusion criteria demands 90 points or better from only Spectator or Parker. Add to this cesspool the growing leverage of social network sites like Twitter and Facebook, and wine blogging is already a hulking, obsolete dinosaur. Not only am I an ineffectual lackey blowing smoke up my own ass but I’m already a washed up has been. And even if I wanted to Tweet a post, I’d have the strenuously difficult and arduously, grueling and laborious task of trying to condense my often long winded, wordy, and dense literary voice into a butchered, condensed and profoundly curtailed, 140 character-limited, verbal skeleton of the incredibly important and useful things I feel compelled to say.
Few wine blogs command meaningful traction in the marketplace. Alder Yarrow’s blog, Vinography appears to be the singular exception. Noting the uptick in sales after a blog mention on Vinography, one small winery owner compared the sales effect of Yarrow’s online review to “a 93 from Wine Spectator.” That is high praise considering most blog mentions don’t convert to tangible wine sales of any sort. Much of Yarrow’s influence is attributed to the detailed behind-the-scenes information he provides about the wines he reviews- stuff examining the personal histories of the winemakers or vineyard owners, information that breathes vitality into drab commentary about gravely soil or oak barrel regimes. His website reviews wine “through its emphasis on the stories, the people, and the passion behind wine, all told from a decidedly down-to-earth perspective” (lifted from vinography.com). This website also happens to be quite glossy and very professional, the side galleys decorated with all sorts of food, bev, and cooking product placements. Writing about the colorful anecdotes behind the wines is a strategy familiar to most readers of this blog- only we lack endorsements of any sort.
Perhaps much of Hosemaster’s ire stems from the tsunami of misguided, convoluted, and incomprehensible wine reviews littering the wine blogosphere. It’s a little like the commercial with a random guy in scrubs, scalpel in hand, about to operate on someone’s brain. The nurse says, “Are you Dr. Smith?” Random guy replies, “No, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn Express last night.” In defense of the Bruliam blog, and in full disclosure, I am sure readers already know I am a phony. Rather than shill any old juice, we only try to sell you our wine. Look deeply into your screen. Your eyes will grow heavy and weary. Repeat after me, “I only drink Bruliam wines…I only drink Bruliam wines.” While I am not comfortable providing you with tasting notes from every bottle I consume, I am confident that I can relay the basic mechanics of wine production in a literate and entertaining way. Only now my anxiety hinges on crafting the condensed Cliff Notes to my blog. Of the 864,000 online wine discussions tracked last October, ¾ transpired via Twitter and other social networking sites. I am now seeking 762,208,972 friends so I can compete with Kim Kardashian’s $10,000 per Tweet payout.