Saturday, March 23, 2013

WHY WE DON’T LIKE WINE BLOGGERS or PARDON ME, BUT THERE’S A BLOGGER IN MY SOUP

I was writing this article last week, when I put it away and let it sit for 7 to 10 days, to see if I still felt the same way when I pulled it back out. In the meantime, there was an article just recently which pointed out the fact that blogs are more influential than ever before. Much more so, in fact, than social media!

“The latest findings from Technorati’s 2013 Digital Influence Report show that “consumers are turning to blogs when looking to make a purchase,” read the report. “In fact, blogs rank favorably with consumers for trust, popularity and even influence.”

So, in the last year I’ve gone to more conferences than a first year Ph.D. candidate. I’ve been north, west, and east, and am full up to here with wine conferences.

The two things that keep me going back? The wine. And the friends. And of course the exchange of information is invaluable.

But something bothered me greatly this year, and I need to speak out on it. I went to a number of conferences, and in very rare instances did I see any bloggers. More upsetting than this, when I went to social media seminars, not only were bloggers not invited to speak, but when mentioned, they were in fact derided by those up on the dias.

I must be blunt – I thought it was a disgrace. The wine bloggers are getting no love from the wine industry. What is that all about? There’s seminars on everything from how to wipe your face on Facebook, to how to pitch a story, but nary anything about bloggers. In fact, bloggers are considered little more than the proverbial fly in the soup by many wineries.

Now, as I said, I am an avid show attendee. I have attended in the last three years Viticulture 2013, two Eastern Wineries Expositions, and two Wineries Unlimited. That’s a lot of shows. That doesn’t include trail conferences, summits, and other regional and trail meetings. I’m not complaining, but I am making a point.

Not one of the winery shows caters to bloggers, offers tips to bloggers, or takes advantage of bloggers by offering them as guest speakers or as panel members. And oh yeah, how about using the show to show case some regional wines and invite the bloggers to a tasting…or to lead a tasting. How about using the shows to highlight the possibilities of having bloggers have the unique opportunity to interview winemakers and winery owners? Imagine was an absolute exciting inducement that would be to both groups!

Now, I can tell you everything wrong about bloggers. Firstly, most of them “have no formal training.” OK, I get that, but then again, few accomplished wine writers had formal training other than just drinking more and more wine and asking more and more questions. Frank Prial, most famous among many, was a city reporter before taking on wine. Johnny Apple was a political reporter. Formal wine education is a relatively new thing, and I am not sure it always makes a difference. There are a lot of people who’ve “graduated” colleges that I wouldn’t let walk my dog. Might classes make a difference? Yes. But they are not the gage by which I judge a wine writer. I look for insight, understanding of the process of winemaking, and an understanding of being able to judge one wine against better wines of the same ilk to understand why that wine deserves or does not deserve a good write up.

“They are not professionals,“ is another gripe. Good point. Nope, they are not professionals. They do it for the sheer love of wine and their passion for it. Secondly, only a few people do it professionally for a living. We have the staffs at Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, and Wine & Spirits, Matt Kramer, Jonne Bonne, Dave McIntyre, Eric Asimov and Sandra Silfen. Maybe I missed about four others. That’s it. There are fewer and fewer jobs for wine writers than ever before. And oh, by the way, in most cases, the pay isn’t enough to eat at McDonalds.

“Bloggers are rude, unpredictable, and they can’t be controlled.” Yes, this can sometimes be true. I have read less than favorable reviews from some bloggers. They complain out loud about things like bad service, unkempt tasting rooms, and bad wine. The nerve of some people. Maybe they should err on the side of more cautious language…maybe saying the wine tasted of dead flowers or cow manure is not optimal. Some of my friends have transgressed in this way. Sometimes temperance is a good thing, I will agree. But I will ask the opposite question…why would any winemaker put bad wine into a bottle, allow surly tasting room staff, or want their tasting room looking like a junk yard?

“No one reads blogs! Blogs are dead!” Yes, this is true. No one reads bloggers. The five top wine bloggers have all signed major book deals with the top publishing houses. Several bloggers have won major awards, including the pinnacle of wine writing as in Evan Dawson winning a Roederer Award in London last year! No one reads them. And of course, if no one is reading blogs, one wonders why people like Dave McIntyre and Eric Asimov among other wine writers also have blogs aside from their regular columns. No one’s reading those either. But on the other hand, wine marketers will tell you that people 35 and under are reading about wine almost exclusively on the web, and that they avoid the major wine journals and traditional media outlets. I can’t imagine what they are reading! But I can tell you this, when 20- and 30-somethings come to the tasting room, they don’t seem to care about the medals you’ve won, the newspaper reviews you’ve garnered, or the scores you’ve racked up. Yet, they can tell you which wines they’re read about and want to try before your staff can pour the wine. Hmmmm, they must get their information through osmosis.

Now, on the other hand, when’s the last time a wine writer ever walked into your tasting room and paid for a blessed thing? Now, I am not making fun of professional wine writers. They are a good lot, and many are my friends and colleagues, as I work with them to write books. I have the most immense respect for many of them. But many bloggers are willing to plunk down their money to pay for a tasting. That said, they’d love a free one, make no mistake about it. I haven’t paid for every one of my tastings either, and I am much appreciative. But bloggers come to your place of business and belly up to the bar. They are there to taste the wines, to understand where the wine is being made, and who is making the wines. They are there to find out what the story is. The few working wine writers in America can’t possibly cover every winery in the US, let alone the world. On an everyday basis, bloggers in this respect, are worth their weight in gold. In many cases, they are willing to go where wine writers in most cases can’t, or in rare instances won’t.

“And the other thing about bloggers I hate is that they don’t support local wine.” Bloggers vacation in other wine regions – this is true. They are unfaithful in this way. It’s not enough for them to drive from winery to winery, farm to farm, in their own regions. They feel this wanderlust for California, France, Italy, Australia, South America. Infidels. They love wine so much, not only do they write about it consistently, but they write about wine even when they go away. And they never complain to local restaurants, ‘Where’s the local wine?’ Never. They never ask for local farm beverages, nor celebrate them. They never write about local food with local wine. Never.

“Wine bloggers haven’t done anything for the industry.” This is my absolute favorite. This is the most horrific statement anyone knowledgeble about the wine industry can say. I will be blunt – the wine bloggers covering New York and Virginia alone have proved the power of their voice and their message.  The Virginia Wine Mafia as they are sometimes referred to and the New York Cork Report have had tremendous influence. It is undeniable. And the ones in Texas and Colorado have been good too. Or how about Remy Cherest in Quebec? They are out there pushing the local message every day. They have been the consistent and aimiable gladflys of both state industries, and have been thrilled to report on every little nook and cranny in each state to bring forth the good news. I find the regionally dedicated ones are the best, but there are others. Like the apostles, they walk and talk the good word, and their reward in many cases is being shunned when the industry gathers to pat itself on its proverbial back.

Now, there are wineries and wine regions that have catered somewhat to bloggers. I don’t mean to offend. Congrats to those lucky few bloggers who have been included in tastings, events, etc! It couldn’t be the wineries that have been getting the good reviews, could it? It can’t possibly be the wineries who have helped build up god word through social media and outreach, could it?

So to winemakers and conference organizers, to PR firms and marketing managers, and to publicity folks, I say unto those in power: It is time to let the great unwashed, ragged as they are, come invited into your tastingrooms so they can write about YOU! Like an army of wine zombies, let the bloggers in, embrace them, and make them part of the larger wine community. Winery owners and winemakers should demand and should expect that wine bloggers will be invited to participating in the seminars and round tables. Bloggers should be there to tell winery owners how to get more digital ink! They should be there to tell them what their competitors are doing that they are not!

Bloggers are the best brand ambassadors on the planet. It’s time to show them some love.
Here’s the article I was talking about:
http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/blogs-outrank-social-networks-for-consumer-influence-new-research/

Some Great blogger sites in no particular order (my deepest apologies to anyone I left off…):
New York Cork Report
East Coast Wineries
Hudson Valley Wine Goddess
Hudson River Valley Wineries
Wine About Virginia
Virginia Wine Time
Swirl, Sip, Snark
My Vine Spot
Virginia Pour House
Virginia Wine in My Pocket
Drink What YOU Like
The Wine Case
The Other 46
Undertaking Wine
The Why Wine Blog
Dowd’s Notes On Napkins
Richard Leahy
Relax. It's Just Wine