Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Care, Feeding, and Responsibility of Wine Bloggers

The care and feeding of a wine blogger is easy: give wine bloggers samplings of wine, some food and water to balance out or enhance the wine, and just as important; overwhelm the wine blogger with good information. 

Now the responsibility of the wine blogger is another story. (Hang on folks, this is going to be a long one ...)

The responsibilities of the wine blogger are many.  After attending the Fifth Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon in August; I left with a lot on my mind and many questions. The most important question was, "How can I grow and improve? How can we all grow together as wine bloggers?"

How do we grow together? Like many groups, wine bloggers are of one. The actions of one wine blogger can categorize us all - - unfortunately the good is rarely mentioned, while the bad is always mentioned. We have been called names by the best wine writers in the industry: from boogers, blobbers, and my personal fave, "bitter carping gadflies." We have even been called names ironically by the tedious and acrimonious wine bloggers.

I have been wine blogging since 2005 and certainly seen and felt the growing pains. Blogging was a new tool at the time and established writers were feeling a slight pinch due to this new writing platform. In my opinion the open-minded writer, no matter if they were 100% for this new platform, still embraced it and started their own blogs. The old saying applied, "If we can't beat them, we might as well join them." 

Why are you blogging or why do you even want to start a wine blog? If you think it's because you dig a glass of Arbor Mist Peppermint Chardonnay with the girls during happy hour at Applebees, you love cute pink wine labels with Eiffel Towers, and visiting a winery is so romantic, then you may want to rethink it.  And if you don't believe me, go ask the vineyard workers and the winemaker tomorrow morning at 4:00, with a touch of frost in the air, exactly how romantic wine making is. 

If you want some credibility in wine blogging, you will want to gather as much wine education as possible and even some hands-on experience would be to your credit. The fascinating thing about wine, there is always something to learn.  Recently a young wine blogger dismissed me. Could it have been my gray hair and sensible shoes? How dare I talk to her, let alone sit next to her and she took opportunity to let me know how much she knew about wine, been blogging for about a year, and she was in control of our blind tasting. Yeah, so I played along. When trying to agree on the red wine variety in our glasses, I reached to feel the covered bottle. I mentioned, with a humorous note, that we could eliminate syrah since the bottle had a short neck and high shoulders like in a Bordeaux-style bottle.  

She rolled her eyes, hissed, flipped back her hair, and with a twitch of the head, snapped at me in disgust with her Kardashian voice, "Liiike - - bottle shape like doesn't mean like any-thinggg." 

Bitch. More than often, bottles shape does mean something. Historically and traditionally, different regions adopted their own bottle shapes: Bordeaux, Burgundy, Germany, and even Champagne. Today, many wineries in the New World still follow Old World tradition - if the bottle shape ain't broken, then why fix it?

Please note, it isn't that I want to be an old curmudgeon like the "grumpy old man" character on Saturday Night Live, "I'm old and I'm not happy. Everything today is improved and I don't like it. I hate it! In my day we didn't have computers, we had quills and stone tablets and I liked it that way!"

My feelings are quite the opposite from the grumpy old man. I love youthful ideas, new technology, tools and platforms. The youth of America are tomorrow's wine lovers, so this boomer doesn't need to just concentrate on other Dead-Head boomers. However, I do think that "old curmudgeons" can give out some sage advice. It isn't always about being edgy and a "hipstah," but the responsibilities of a wine blogger are many and certainly easy to endure - - and actually proven if you look at wine bloggers who are successful. 

First of all, know what you are getting into when you are pondering starting a wine blog and no, you are not going to get rich overnight. No, you are not going to build up your wine cellar without some responsibility (be honest about your intentions and upfront about your consideration of reviews) and once again, you will not be the exception of getting rich overnight. Oh and did I mention you are not going to get rich overnight or even in several years? No, you will not get rich in a year, let alone strip away Marvin Shanken's title or even get to sit in his chair, smoke his cigars and drink his brandy. (If you do not know who Marvin Shanken is, you should find out before you start a wine blog.)

The obvious responsibility is to your readers: Find a voice and start building your brand - - you. You are the brand. When blogging give thoughtful and good information. Turn on the spell check a few times while you are typing pontifications and even do some proof-reading the next day. I am guilty of this one, but I recognize my weakness and keep on trying. Be consistent in your publishing so that your audience will know when to return to your blog. Also guilty, but I keep on trying.  

After the wine bloggers conference, it dawned on me or more like a confirmation, that if you want to be a successful wine blogger, you have to act upon and treat it as if you are working or even on a job interview.  Remember what I said about "building your brand." I think the responsibilities can start right at the wine bloggers conference, itself  - -

Last night on the radio I heard a simple tip about going on a job interview and what many employers will base a first impression on - - the candidate's shoes. It mentioned that if a job candidate shows up wearing a pair flip-flops, the employer finds it a negative and the flip-flopping candidate gets a flip to the back of the file labeled, "flop."  So what does all of this mean when it comes to wine blogging? 

Being mindful of our first impression, especially when building or maintaining our "brand." Okay, so an adorable pair of flip-flops with a little cluster of grapes or "Hello Kitty" medallions could pass with the right outfit. However, wearing gym shorts or tight-butt-cheeked-exposing shredded Daisy Dukes to visit a winery or even at a wine bloggers conference just ain't a good look for ya, honey. Now obviously you don't have to wear a suit, tie, dress, petticoats and heels, but be mindful and at least dress, "wine country casual."

So you may be saying, "But Catie, why can't I wear my plastic K-Tarjay flip-flops and my tight polyester short-shorts to the break-out sessions?" Well first of all, you never know when you want a reference, interview or one-on-one advice from one of the speakers. Duh - - this is an opportunity to network, right? Take a cue from your break-out session speakers. How are they dressed? Would you take them serious if they looked like they just got out of bed or out of the gym? 

Going to be trekking through the vines on a hot day? Think ahead about what your host will be wearing and try to dress similar - meaning short and shredded Daisy Dukes and bikini top? Probably not. Wife-beater tank and spandex shorts? Nope, don't think so. Walking shorts and t-shirt. Yes, getting closer.   

To sum up a "dress code" ask yourself, "Would Marv, Bob or Jancis show up at a winery to conduct an interview or for a winery luncheon wearing tight short-shorts and flip-flops?" Well, at least Bob would wear a tailored elbow-patch L L Bean cardigan with his short-shorts and leather tassels on his flip-flops. If you have to ask who Marv, Bob or Jancis are, then you are probably not ready to start a wine blog.  

There is a fine line to walk in the wine industry, because alcohol is involved. Part of our job is to taste wine and especially at a wine bloggers conference the wine is endless. Absolutely, we need to enjoy the wine and the benefits.  Sometimes that second sip can even help us break away from our shyness and give us the courage to approach or be spontaneous when necessary, but we should also understand our individual tolerance, especially when wine is served from the first thing in the morning until ... I mean, do you really need to drink all of it? I understand wine is produced every fall in the calendar year and currently there is no shortage.

Nothing worse is to visit a winery or wine and dine with winery representatives, on behalf of wine blogging, and a wine blogger has passed the point of having fun and now obnoxious and obviously drunk. Congratulations, you have just given fodder to the critics of wine bloggers. 

Enjoy the wine, but remember your threshold, hydrate-hydrate-hydrate, and even spit and dump. That's what private after-parties are for - - to relax and have fun, but I would still use whatever brain cells you have left when visiting an after-party hosted by a winery or wine alliance/distributor.

Remember, the wineries want to read a wine blog about their wine and hospitality, not about how you partied and butt chugged their wine.  Okay, so maybe nobody butt chugged during WBC#12, but the subject seemed so damn timely (Hello, University of Tennessee frat boys). 

So after a night of drinking lots of wine, you feel like dog feces in the morning, don't you? Well buck-up my little wine blogger. Get yo' sweet ass out of bed, shower, and show up to the sessions, receptions, and functions;  especially if you are a recipient of a scholarship. 

I am remembering a blogger who kept missing the morning sessions of a conference. The story was the live-in significant other came with and they needed the mornings to "cuddle and catch-up." They would show up late to the afternoon sessions (and the live-in had not signed up for the conference, but managed to eat for free). One event in particular, they disrupted the group that was already in session by needing their lunch because the partner was hungry and of course, after the rest of the group had just ate. All of a sudden, the group time became all about the thoughtless culprits as they asked questions that had already been answered and wanted information that had already been given. It was rude to our gracious host winery, but to the other bloggers, as well.  Frankly they should have just stayed home and done their "cuddling and catching up." Would you bring your cuddle-bum, spouse and kiddies to an employee business luncheon?

You may be thinking, "Listen up Catie, I paid for my conference fees and I will do what I damn will feel like it." Well and if we all take on that mind set, chances are that we could start seeing higher conference fees and get less for our dollars. Why does a sponsor want to continue to wine and dine us when their events are not well attended?  

We have to remember that sponsors do expect a little something back for their dollars. Wineries and wine distributors are not non-profit orgs. Is requesting a filled room of listening ears and bright shining faces too much to ask? Sponsors and hosts have spent a lot of time and money setting up and sometimes even prepping food. Remember, an empty chair is an empty chair and the speaker/host doesn't know if the chair is empty due to a hangover, shopping trip to Nordies, or attending a private party gathering instead - - or having special moments with your special needs cuddle partner. "gag"

I recently read on a wine blog how the author chose not to attend one of the functions and felt rather proud he didn't, as a few other bloggers "congratulated him" for missing it.  Boo-hiss. Do you not see a movie because a critic said it sucked or see it anyway and decide for yourself? Ironically, the same author expressed how bloggers should be spontaneous ... 

And speaking of being spontaneous, I was so happy that I chose to be spontaneous during one of the WBC#12 break-out sessions. During the last session, I had no idea which panel I wanted to visit,  so I quickly walked into the first open door. There was a panel of speakers, who a few I had heard before and about the same subject. At the end of the session, I was inspired. I felt some affirmation for following some good advice from the previous years, but gathered some new information I actually had been seeking and wasn't sure where to find it. Can I share with you that I am still thrilled for taking a chance and can hardly wait to use my new information?  My point? Don't miss these opportunities as they are priceless and especially if you paid for them. 

Okay, so I am ready to leave my soap box. Got a ladder? Wine blogging is one of my passions and I love sharing it with my readers and of course, other wine bloggers. From the first wine blogging conference I attended in 2009, I indeed felt a camaraderie and felt it from the best and passionate in their field. Looking back we were also a smaller group. At the recent wine bloggers conference I noticed more new faces than I did familiar ones. I am a gemini, so the generous side of me is thrilled that we are growing in numbers giving credence to what we do.  The suspicious side of me is wondering, which one in the herd is not in it for honorable motives and when will they eventually thin out?

The notion of a getting rich scheme, image of a self-appointed "cool" wine critic,  receiving free wine and adoration has to be removed or you will be disappointed and others will be disappointed in you. For me, trekking to wineries have become a job, but who could ask for such great employment? We are blessed to be a part of a wonderful industry where we have the best food, wine, fresh air, people and one in a life-time experiences.  

I believe that if you are honest, open to learning, and truly passionate about what you are doing, you will be rewarded. While the responsibilities are many, the journey of wine blogging will be filled with great surprises and your life will be enhanced.

4 comments: said...

Thank you so much for your sage advice! Not all young wine bloggers are full of uppity sassafrass and know-it-all.. I am a fledgling blogger and I appreciate your wisdom and your words very much. :)

CJ and PK said...

You seem to have a very narrow definition of what constitutes a "wine blog" - one which coincides with your own style of writing, dress, behaviour and the provision of " "thoughtful and good information".

What about entertainment, for example? We have a significant following at The Sediment Blog because we try to entertain, and examine social, financial and cultural issues surrounding wine. We don't provide the kind of analytical tasting notes which you do - but we are, nevertheless, "wine bloggers". So, for example, is the Hosemaster of Wine. Neither of our blogs fall into the somewhat rigid confines you seem to propose.

One of the awards we picked up, for runner-up best editorial wine writing, was for a post in which a wine was not even tasted - it was about the joy of browsing. No information - just an enjoyable read.

Your comments about dress are not, actually, related to blogging at all. They are related to attending events, wineries and conferences. In case you hadn't noticed, you can blog from your desk - and you can sit there wearing flip-flops, shorts or even nothing at all. Your audience won't know. And writing for an audience is what blogging is actually about.

Surely a "wine blog" can be any form of online writing which has wine at its heart - and its success lies in its writing, not (unless it is relevant to their chosen content) in the education or dress of its writer.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hi Vixen,
Many thanks!Also, please know that not all older wine bloggers are cranky all the time.

wild walla walla wine woman said...

Hello Two Gentleman (CJ and PK)

Thanks for checking in. Might I suggest that you first disarm and then reread my blog? My suggestion of "thoughtful and good information" is hardly “narrow” or even “rigid confines.” Being “thoughtful” and with “good information” is a very generous and broad statement. Now, you may think that my wine blog is “narrow” and with “rigid confines,” but thoughtful and good information should always be used no matter the subject. Right?

“So what about entertainment,” you ask? So what about it? Isn’t wine used for entertainment? Not quite sure what point you were trying to make by that example, especially when a topic about entertainment should be thoughtful and with good information or what is the point of sharing it? Like you, I have certainly done my share of wine blogging topics pertaining to entertainment, social, financial and cultural issues. Don’t you want to share thoughtful and good information in your blog? So what is the problem here, gentlemen?

Call me confused, but I don’t remember anywhere in the article where I wrote that a blog must give analytical tasting notes, like I do. Can you point that out? You also made a claim, and perhaps even a defensive claim, that you posted about a wine you had not tasted - - and it was just about the joy of browsing. And you claim there was “no information?” Sounds to me that your joy of browsing about the wine indeed had enough “good” information to get your audience to read it. Once again, good information is indeed pretty broad statement.

Now, where did I put in that article that one must not wear flip-flops when blogging? Can you point that out? It’s true I made suggestions about what to wear when visiting wineries or even at a wine blogging conference while networking with others. But I made no reference about what to wear when blogging, especially from home. Hell, one can sit on the toilet or blog naked only wearing a dog collar, and as long as it brings inspiration to the blogger – do it! But again, put some clothes on when visiting wineries ... leave the dog collar on if you like.

I agree that much of the success of a wine blog lies in its writing. However, why would a writer want to limit their ability by not being somewhat educated on what they are writing about and why would you not want to make a good first impression, especially to the winery you are writing about or even a wine industry specialist? That’s my point and apparently the point you are taking issue with. I would be happy to hear all of your reasons for not wanting to learn something new and your reasons on why a blogger shouldn’t care what they are wearing when visiting with others in the “wine industry” while especially wearing the title as “wine blogger.”

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