Friday, September 26, 2008

The Wine Blogger: aka Self-Proclaimed Wine Critic

First of all, exactly what is "blogging?" Wikipedia describes it as:

A blog (a contraction of the term "Web log") is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Entries are commonly displayed in reverse-chronological order. "Blog" can also be used as a verb, meaning to maintain or add content to a blog.

So, what wine subject do you want to read about? Only Washington State Wines? Wines from Long Island, New York? Need to follow a budget of Wines Under $20? Care about the politics and marketing of wine? Want to learn about the wines from Spain and Portugal? Are you a wine drinking hiker ? A Pinot Noir enthusiast? Want to read a blog with a wine magazine point of view? A specific winery? Prefer to take in wine blog reviews via video, instead of reading?

When I first started blogging about wine, over three years ago, there were an average of 300 wine bloggers around the world and of course in the mean time, the numbers have grown - - even wine magazines, newspaper wine columnists, wineries and even retail wine stores are getting into the blogging action - - a very smart move and in some instances, I think, met with the mindset of "if you can't beat them..."

There are now even wine blogging conventions held in the United States and internationally. All I know is from my own experience when I first started blogging: I felt alone. I was one of the few women wine bloggers out there. I was also the only wine blogger in Walla Walla, WA and the only one at the time just blogging about Walla Walla wines - - and even one of the few blogging about Washington State wines. I was met with: "Walla Wall-where did you say? Washington DC makes wine? Oh, you have that little blaaawg. Isn't that cute (pat-pat-pat), she's writing about wines from her little home town."

It was either not knowing any better or stubbornness, but I hung in there like a small yapping terrier dog chewing on whatever bare ankle was visible (hmm...I think I just described my little dog, Chloe...), and my marks must have left some toothy impressions, as the stubbornness is beginning to pay off for me.

Blogging, especially wine blogging, sounds easy doesn't it? It's certainly easy to start one, as there are various free and inexpensive blog publishing tools available to us. And far too often, as soon as we make the decision to blog and the fingers hit the key board, it's even easier to think, "This will become one of the best wine blogs around..."

That thinking is not an impossible goal, but it takes more than matching thoughts to fingers on a key board. I discovered you have to put yourself out there if you want readers, because it is going to be a readership that will make you "the best." You have to be consistent and if people are going to take you serious, you must have patience and wait it out until you get an audience. This is where consistency, and being persistent (or being stubborn) is important. The World Wide Web is huge and you just don't wait for people to come to you! And while I was waiting, I read other wine blogs and was pro-active. I didn't expect any of the wine bloggers to come to me with the wine blog welcome wagon. I introduced myself to other wine bloggers and even found the courage to ask some of them to exchange links. Some wine bloggers wouldn't talk to me about exchanging links until I had a few months of blogging behind me and they knew I was serious.

For many wine bloggers, blogging has become a life - a serious hobby and one they do out of love. It's their art, their craft, their personal expression - - the wine blog is their baby. They give their blog-baby love and watch it grow by feeding it with words. Alas, I am not a perfect wine blog parent, but I am protective about my wine blog baby, and my feelings of protection extends to many of my wine blogging colleagues. In fact, a few months ago several of us wine bloggers "took down" a wine column from a newspaper in Florida because it plagiarized one of our own. And my feelings of protection also includes my readers. Some of my readers have commented they wish I would blog everyday. I wish I could! At the very least, I try to publish a blog or two every ten days. Yup, real life happens, but if for some reason "real life" gets in the way of wine blogging or I meet with writer's block, and end up ten days or more without a blog, I try my best to let my readers know - - I owe it to them. However, I want my readers to know that when I am away from the computer I am always thinking, no matter if I am on vacation, having personal time alone, driving in the car, working in the garden, or with family and friends, the following goes through my mind, "How can I share this single experience with my readers?"

Like anything new and unfamiliar, the explosion of wine blogs have been met with controversy. The "word" on the "wine blogging street" is it's about old guard vs new guard - - meaning traditional print/journalists vs blogs/"self-proclaimed wine critics." Wine bloggers are wondering if food bloggers get as much crap from traditional food magazines and if not, is it due to wine being a high profile subject? Wine bloggers really felt the jab of the cellar rat baton recently when a prominent wine magazine was exposed for not doing their research. When caught, the magazine skirted around the issue in one of their chat rooms and ultimately it was the wine bloggers who took the heat for letting their readers know about the magazine's faux pas. Their senior editor said, "This is the problem with the 'blogosphere'. It's a lazy person's journalism. No one does any real research..."

Umm...okay...and who didn't do any real research when handing out their restaurant awards to a restaurant that didn't exist? Explain to me again about lazy person's journalism and real research? And then - - within a week of that stamping of tiny feet, the wine bloggers took another hit: a wine blogger arranged for several wine and food bloggers to take part in a wine review. The wine and food bloggers, who agreed to take part in the tasting and review, were sent a bottle of wine to taste and review all within a certain amount of time. On came more controversy and this time the emphasis was on "ethics." The critics came out pounding their tiny fists, charging that agreeing to accept free wine with review time conditions was unethical and very unprofessional. The critics claimed they would never agree to...blah-blah and blah and have never agreed to...blah-blah and bigger blaaaaaaaaah.

But...but...when a magazine or newspaper receives new books sent to their book editor, new tunes sent to their music editor and wine to their wine editor, isn't it rather "understood" - - an "unwritten code" that if you are going to be the very best reporter/editor you can't let these reviews slide with no time period set for a printed review? The PR firm and/or winery that sent out the items are betting these reviews will be accomplished immediately for them to be effective. What reporter, writer, critic or editor wants to be the last to report a review? Uh huh - yeah - sure - - and movie critics and sports writers always sit in the worst seats (note mocking and sarcastic tone). I questioned what I felt was double-standards, I was told, "No. You're wrong. When we, 'real journalists' receive wine, books, theatre tickets, that's different." Interesting enough, through all of the finger pointing and hypocrisy, I never read a thing about the ethics of the food bloggers who reviewed the same wine.

Here is what I think about these recent controversies, and no doubt there will be more: Ralph Waldo Emmerson said, "Fear always springs from ignorance." I smell fear. Wine blogs have arrived and finally taken seriously and so serious that the naysayers of wine blogs are speaking a lot of ignorance and double standards. Wine blogs are being used as scape goats and being put down as not being equals to the masters in print, instead of being accepted as another media tool. Wine blogging is another way to promote the most beloved, historical, cultural, archaeological, and scientific nectar of them all. The unconventional wine lover turned blogger, no matter the generation or lifestyle, should be used to capture other unconventional and potential wine lovers. To those who are willing to open their minds to something different should look to this new concept of reporting about wine and make it fit in their own lifestyle or business. The criticism and parental finger pointing towards the wine bloggers is getting tedious and most of all, oh--so--transparent.

In the future, I suspect the wine blogosphere will settle down and everyone will find their own niche in the World Wide Wine Web, if they really want it. Sure, there will be those who won't give at least 75% and will fail and unfortunately there will be several. There will be those with life changes and other opportunities who will put their wine blog to rest with intentions of waking it up at another time. Then will be the wine blogger who is passionate about their craft who will succeed and then there is the stubborn...who knows what will happen to the stubborn.

So let me end this missive with: If I have heard it once I have heard it several times, and always with a dismissive tone, "Anybody can start a blogs are nothing special. You're all just self-proclaimed wine critics."

Yeah, that's right. If you don't like my wine blog or my wine blogging missive and have something to say about it, then start your own blog- - because after all, anybody can start a blog, right? But can you keep it fresh by being consistent in your blogging? Can you do it for almost little to zero dollars and still make your blog a viable wine information source and gain a readership? Are you willing to put yourself out there? If anybody can do all of this - then do it. I dare you. As the old saying goes, "Put up or shut up."


Unknown said...

Catie, I enjoyed reading your post and I think you make a lot of great points. The one thing I find fault with is the claim that magazines rate all wines that they receive. This simply isn't true. Though we'd like to have the time to rate them all, it's just not possible. I think this would apply to publications in all spheres.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hi Erika,

Thanks for checking in and most of all for commenting. You're right, they can't rate them all. I should have left the one word, "all" out of my rant and it would have been more accurate. But with or without the "all" I think everyone gets the "point" of that particular paragraph. Thanks again.


Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for this post, Catie. I couldn't agree more--but then, you knew that.

Unknown said...

AMEN, Sistah!

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hi Deborah and Patrick,
Thanks for writing and it's good to have you on my team!

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