Friday, May 10, 2013

“I don’t read wine blogs anymore”

One of the takeaways from this week in New York was the admission by a surprising number of industry folk and journalists I met with who said they just don’t read wine blogs like they used to. This comes on the heels of the breaking news in California from none other than the Hosemaster himself, Ron Washam, who commented on The Connoisseur’s Wine Blog, “I spent a day in a tasting room where I work occasionally asking everyone who entered if they read any wine blogs. Of the 200 or so ordinary folks I asked, not a single one, NOT A SINGLE ONE, had read one. An outcome I expected, but was still humbled to learn.”

My research this week has been confined to industry folks, so excuse me if I offend anyone with a little of my “inside baseball” analysis. The wind-up is many folks just aren’t finding relevant information on wine blogs these days.

Common complaints are:
  • Lousy tasting notes that tell one nothing about the wine or where to get it.
  • Endless laments over what natural wine is with ensuing arguments, often resulting in acrimonious displays of anger and bias. Like one friend said, "It's just wine. folks." But for that soul, it was a turn-off, and they turned it off.
  • One person I spent a little time with me gave me a list of words they noted are suffering from Heavily Overused Syndrome - heavily charged words to get hits or to just spark controversy – "words like awesome, the best, psyched,over-the-top, unbelievable and super. And seeing way too many people use the word curate." 
  • Information that really doesn’t have anything to do with wine. Over and over, people told me blogs they used to read for wine information/inspiration have transitioned into diaries about what they ate, who they ate it with, who they ran into at the Oyster Bar @ Grand Central Station, what an awesome life they are living. And the list goes on.

I am recently (and often) guilty of straying off the wine trail, so it was a wake-up call to me.

The one thread that many folks told me that kept them looking at one or two wine blogs is their search for the story. People of all ages still love a good story. Don’t we all?

Has wine blogging become the Pilates of the world of words? Are we navel gazing so far into our little world that we can barely see the sun setting in the near distance?

New York is often at the spearhead of a trend. We shall see, shan’t we?

Good reference as I head back into wine country tomorrow, with stops in Piemonte, Friuli and the Veneto. I hope to send back some interesting stories from the front lines on the wine trail in Italy.

What are your thoughts? Are you feeling the same Wine Blog Fatigue as my New York friends? Are you over it? Is it time to transition to the next phase, whatever that is? Or has the train already left the station?

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


  1. Damn you, Alfonso. I have a post scheduled for next week about why no one reads wine blogs, and now everyone will think I stole the idea from you.

  2. I think that it does all come down to being able to craft a good story about wine, the people that make it, history, etc as opposed to just tasting notes, etc.

  3. I stopped reading most blogs for some of the same reasons you were given but the biggest one for me is redundancy. Look I work in the wine business and have for many, many years, I'm not popping on wine blogs were some enthusiast has been shipped sample bottles from some giant marketing firm, just nothing in that for me. Nothing to learn other than how much we continue to waste money in this business of ours. As for the other guys, well I just got so sick of the arguments over shit that we are never going to agree on. What once got me all fired up and inspired me to jump into the comments pit now leaves me rolling my eyes and screaming, "The damn horse is dead, stop kicking it!!" I have no idea how those guys keep getting their panties in a wad over the natural wine bs, the Parker crap, the critics vs writers vs bloggers nonsense....over it.

    I'm very guilty of making my blog less about wine and more about my life and that is why years ago I stopped calling myself a wine blogger. I sometimes write a blog and there is often, but not always, wine in it. I've been so lucky to have met some pretty incredible folks because of it...yourself included, so I could not be happier with the way things turned out.

    Safe travels friend.

  4. sorry Jeff...

    Hal - thanks for reading - I know what a busy guy you are

    thanks, Sam - little Nico sez hi!

  5. Thank you, Alfonso. As always, you've delivered a well-written, thoughtful post here.

    I'm thrilled to know you're still in Italy. Please love Friuli a little extra for me.


  6. Seriously. I can barely stomach my own writing anymore. Stale, boring, flat. Such is the challenge of any writing, though - to remain relevant, to shake yourself up when your words have become little more than components of sentences.

    As far as the Wine Trail is concerned, though, sometimes it's about wine and its people and places. Other times it's not. I doubt that stops anyone from returning as it's always a destination to find good writing.

    Safe travels.

  7. Thanks, LEHW..

    In my mind I'm In Italy; my body will catch up to it in about 15 hours, (when Hosemaster gives me back my molecular tele-transporter).
    Thanks for checking in...

  8. I am a small and young wine producer from Veneto, and have been reading, researching, and following some blogs (national and international) and do agree with you that some are just "worthless". I also agree that there is much more attention given to topics that are interesting for only a small number of professionals and are of absolutely no interest for the "just curious" wine lover. I read an article the other day (can't remember where) that says that most bloggers are writing to other bloggers. I tend to agree with this. Just to give you an example I searched for a blog that would focus only on wines from Veneto (which on its own is a huge wine region to cover), and there isn't one. There are instead a bunch of sites that talk about consortiums, associations, etc. All "professional" sites talking to "professionals", no story-telling or sharing, and most importantly very little about wines. To me it seems like most bloggers write as if they were "talking" to other bloggers/industry friends they know, making their "conversation" boring and difficult to follow..

  9. Howdy Steve - hey dont be so hard on yourself - once again, I'm channeling my inner Hosemaster (eww)..

    thanks for stopping by -

  10. Alfonso,
    I guess I need to chime in here, since I seem to have inspired this post.

    I conducted my "survey" out of my own belief that we are just attention-barking Poodles (I've only been saying that for five years now). Nothing wrong with that, a little neurosis is good for the soul. I wish I'd conducted it with a camera, though, so you could see the looks of utter incomprehension on normal people's faces who had no idea such a thing as a wine blog even existed, much less being something anyone would want to read. It was wonderfully comic.

    I've always believed that 95% of the people who read HoseMaster (so, nine people) are in the trade. I'm OK with that. I only write it for the creative outlet it provides my twisted mind. I don't really care if anyone reads it (well, I care a little, but very little), and I also don't need gratuitous compliments from other bloggers to make me happy. If I make a few old and a few new friends laugh, that's enough. And my wife loves it, so that's important.

    Wine blogs won't die, but they'll sit in a corner and whimper. It takes TALENT to gather regular readers, a quality that is sorely lacking (ask any judge of the Wine Blog Awards). And then it takes some authority and experience. You have that (see, gratuitous compliments don't mean much), as do a handful of others. The rest are, well, pathetic. Why read them?

  11. Love you, man, but there's fallacy of small numbers problems all over the place on this. Talk to people with aggregate data on this, like Vintank, otherwise it's like me trying to forest ingredients planning for Snickers production at Mars Inc based on whether or not the 29 people in line ahead of me in the grocery store aisle bought any Snickers bars or not...

  12. Why is it taking so long for everybody to realize that nobody reads wine blogs? Don't you check your Google Analytics reports?

  13. I always enjoy your stories...

    Ciao from St. Louis

  14. I dunno, I find myself still reading blogs: love yours, btw. It is true that people love to hear stories-I've sent out emails to my customers (I'm a former restaurant owner, now a wine broker who gives tastings), and the ones getting the best feedback and sales have an interesting story attached to it.

    The problem might have to do with the fact that there are a lot of bad blogs out there. But that applies to all subjects.

  15. Anyone else digging the irony that there are more comments on this, "No one reads wine blogs anymore" post than there are on most of the major wine blogger's, (hahaha that was funny to say, sort of like important wine bloggers) postings?

  16. I wish I could add something new and clever to this exchange, but, well, I'm a wine blogger. And for the first time this year, I'm a judge for the Wine Blog Awards. I just finished reading around 140 posts. There's a lot of dreadful material in cyberspace, but there's also posting that is cogent, pithy, funny and moving - something like literature, in other words. One thing that amazes and heartens me is the creativity, reporting, structure, etc., that a handful of wine bloggers - a small hand, granted - practice for no compensation. The judging exercise also introduced me to some bloggers I otherwise might never have read, and while their material often was rough they show the potential to become regular and valued members of the wine commentary community. I suspect, however, that they generally aren't into marketing themselves, will become discouraged by the lack of readership and appreciation, and drop out. I did my own survey of around a dozen wine retailers in and about Sacramento not long ago. I asked them an open-ended question: When a shopper comes in, what motivates them to seek or ask about a particular wine? Not a single person volunteered that social media or wine blogs in particular had an impact. The answer was nothing new: The shopper had had a wine at a restaurant, dinner party or tasting room and wanted more. Magazine articles and newspaper columns also had some influence, but not as much as an introductory first-hand experience.

  17. A successful wine blogger must be first and foremost a good writer. Wine knowledge is of necessary, but for the wider market, good writing ensures a good readership. Good wine writing must be entertaining, informative, and thought provoking.

  18. For this one, Alfonso, I am breaking my latest commitment to myself, which is: no more commenting on blogs.

    I still read a scant few blogs--yours included--because I like the writing, and, in one case, I like the humor.

    The majority of blogs are either too self-centered or--a trend I am seeing a lot of lately, too manipulative--what with giveaway contests and sundry promotional plugs.

    Most of all, like Sam, I am tired of the inexorable redundancy of the conversation.

    Good writing will always perk up intelligent people, but good writing is not exactly an easy task, which is why those of us who do it for a living are given time to write a 500 word piece. If you plan on writing a few hundred words every day, in short order your words will become a string of innocuous mumbles, not to mention that you'll start repeating yourself an awful lot. There's a reason behind a weekly or monthly magazine.

    Finally, and more to the point, wine blogging is essentially a conglomeration of various opinions. Why should anyone take it seriously?

    Finally, finally: I got a captcha that was easy.

  19. sorry, Joe, my reporting didnt meet your metric standards.

    However, where I gathered my date in the urban forest of NY, the folks I talked to have considerable weight in wine journalism, both print and digital.

    So, while it might not meet the scientific standards of Vintank, it's a legitimate (and well-vetted) survey of the arena.

    Fallacy of small numbers? too cute - I only wish I had the proper Hosemaster response for that one - made my day - lightened my load - yeah, you really, really did - too cute...

  20. Data, that is. No more dating in the forest, I'm sorry to report

  21. Thing is, Joe, the fallacy of numbers may be at Vintank.

    What is that company's incentive to show anything but good data?

    What was the incentive for Standard and Poor, et al, to show bad data connected to investment banks--their customers?

    On the streets of Brooklyn many years ago I learned that the best mark for a con is the one who wants to believe.

  22. Totally understand - not saying it has no merit, only that it's not enough data to make a decisive claim either way. It is enough to spark a good discussion, however (obviously! :).

  23. Ha! You hit the nail on the head. I quit reading wine blogs when I some little blogging twit referred to the wine list (at a pizza place) that he "curated." I thought curators dealth with Renoir.

    Susan B.

  24. I have to admit that I am prejudiced. Since we have the same DNA, I find that your primordial mix of humor, pathos, integrity, sprezzatura, honesty, nose, feeling for wine culture as a way of life et al... hits home in more ways than one. Yes, I skim the Brunello-scandal and state-of-Prosecco posts, but I always look for the jewels that combine word and image into something special affording that peek into the world beyond our senses and conceptual thought. Did I mention that you recommend some good vino too?

  25. Thank you for writing about this. I actually started my blog a month ago because like other consumers, I couldn't find what I was looking for in the wine world. I go to tasting rooms and on tours because I love the story. Wineries are always trying tell their individual stories. I'm glad we have the wine blog awards because they do help sift the crap from the credible sources. This is the first time I've read your blog, you can bet I'll keep reading.

  26. Samantha's, Alfonso's, Elaine's, and Joe's Wine Blog...

    Now that sounds like a Super Team (The Ambigiously Drunk Bloggers?) that could join forces to compete with the likes of Robert's, Jeb's, Lisa's, Neal's, Mark's and Luis' Advocate and Marvin's Spectator...

  27. I still read and post to a few blogs that cover topics of interest. (Heimoff, Wark and sometimes Vinography) however I stopped writing mine two years ago when I decided I wanted to monetize my wine reviewing (and plastering ads on my work was a non-starter). After my magazine was a year old a survey went out to subscribers. Among the questions I wanted answered were who else they read, wine critics, as well as blogs. Just over 1/3 said they read blogs (but nothing mentioned beyond the top tier of industry pros), however 100% said they subscribed to at least one other wine critic and 86% of those prefer wine reviews with a numerical score.

    It is no secret there is limited engagement even with the most established writers (maybe a dozen blogs) beyond a small group of fellow bloggers who regularly comment. I keep waiting for the next wave of bloggers to establish themselves (not as pop icons or twitter mavens, but true vessels of authority). Surely there are at least a dozen more, right?

  28. When the smoke clears I wonder who will be left ? There are many wine writers who have sold their souls to the wineries for "support". Their work is not pure nor truly valid. Product on their doorstep or "subsidized" travel is the currency of commitment. Those bloggers who do it out of passion should have applause. Love though that there are many more voices and routes for information. If you love wine, life, writing just keep sharing. Your voice will be heard by some or many. It is a bit noisy and confusing but like arriving at a party those who need to connect will eventually find each other and focus will drown out drone.

  29. I enjoy reading blogs if they are good. But most just suck. This blog does a good job of putting a slice of Italy on the computer. And that is not easy. In many ways it like wine, you have to try tons to find the good ones. But in the end, it is worth it. It gives you a connection to a topic, wine or region that you would never have made. And it doesn't cost very much.

  30. I was ready to call it quits until I got to the part about telling a story. I was just told this past week they enjoy reading mine because I tell a story and one person before said I was a good storyteller. Why, I don't know. But I blame it all on Russ Kane ( who told me to tell a story when I first started blogging.

  31. Quite a lot of comments here. At least some people are reading this one. ;)

  32. I don't know, I think nowadays the question isn't whether people read wine blogs, but whether they use the web search to search out info on wine. If they do, they've probably read a wine blog without even realizing it.

    For whatever reason, Google loves blogs. It's the reason we get any traffic at all beyond other wine bloggers. (And that all could change tomorrow.) But as things stand right now, once you get beyond the very popular wines, there are very few people talking about wine on the web. Especially since many mags and well known reviewers put their info and ratings behind a paywall. To have someone, ANYONE, talk about a wine/winery in a positive way can have a big impact on how that wine appears in a search result, which can in turn translate into a sale.

    So are there many dedicate readers of wine blogs? No, not many. (And this is definitely not helped by the fact that most bloggers don't really direct their sites towards consumers, but towards other wine bloggers, which is an extremely small audience.) But if you ask if wine blogs play an important role for wineries and the wine industry in general, I think the answer could be different.

  33. I enjoy a few blogs, but not as much as I used to. I am somewhat bored of reading people's food and wine diaries. I don't really care about tasting notes and I dont care about scores. I want a story.


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