the not-so-great divide

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


In an e-mail to bloggers, the organizers of the recently-concluded Walla Walla conference posted this wrap, headlined “How Did Sponsors View WBC10?” The post describes an “official survey” that drew responses from 16 sponsors. In summarizing, they issue a couple of disclaimers:

“In looking at the results, keep in mind a few things. First, these sponsors did not include wineries who participated in the Saturday morning wine country excursions. That event was coordinated by the Walla Walla Valley Wine Alliance directly and we did not even know which wineries were participating. Second, in dealing with sponsors, we are always trying to balance two things: giving them enough exposure and access to make them happy and not giving them so much that it overwhelms the conference. Remember our number one focus is blogger satisfaction. Third, sponsors have to take some responsibility for their own success. We provide a Sponsor Packet to all sponsors but know not all sponsors even read this.”

So basically, sponsors, the ball is in your court. It’s your job to woo bloggers who, once they have been satisfied, will presumably write nice things about you.

On to the actual survey. “How do you perceive the value of your sponsorship package?” was one question. 12 sponsors said “fair value – my money’s worth”, two thought it was “excellent value – more than my money’s worth”, and two responded “not good value – less than my money’s worth”.

“Why did you sponsor the conference?” was another question. 14 responded “I am hoping to connect with bloggers who will remember my product or company name for possible future posts”, four responded “I mostly want to support wine bloggers because it is good for our industry”, and no one replied “I was hoping for immediate online exposure from attending bloggers”.

In summary, the organizers conclude, “we… are very satisfied. Our sponsors are, for the most part, happy. They do not think they are getting a steal for their money and we’re glad for that. They do think they are getting fair value and they clearly understand their role is to communicate with bloggers and get to know them, a process that will pay long-term (not always immediate) benefits. Our tip to bloggers? Remember the sponsors at each conference you attended. Write about their wines if you come across them at a later time. Contact the wineries and other companies, tell them who you are, and ask questions! The sponsors will love you for it.”

Yesterday I was interviewed (on Wine Crush Radio) and asked to give my thoughts on new (social) media vs. old (print and broadcast) media. (Interview will be posted up on the Wine Crush website sometime soon). Basically, I think the whole debate over new vs. old has been grossly blown out of proportion. Wineries are confused and a bit scared, and they don’t know how to reach out to these new blogger/reviewers, so they grab at any life ring (eg. Bloggers Conference) that appears. Whether or not there is value, even the organizers don’t seem to know. They just know that a satisfied (eg well fed and wined-up) blogger will probably write something nice.

That’s all fine, but the actual value and impact will always depend upon the particular blogger’s readership, prestige and reputation. So we’re right back to good old journalistic credentials, aren’t we? Touring a region, drinking a few wines, slamming through a series of five-minute discussions with winemakers is not going to make anyone an expert. That takes years. It takes a lot of study, learning, and travel throughout the entire world. If you don’t know how wine is made in Bordeaux and Burgundy and Sancerre and Tuscany and along the banks of the Mosel and the llicorella-strewn hills of Priorat, how are you supposed to write about New World versions of Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese, Riesling, Grenache, etc. with any real authority? You’re back to I like/Don’t like.

What is actually happening with print and broadcast media is that they are integrating new media, while bringing solid journalism to bear. In my own world, I have as many or more readers online at the Seattle Times than those who see my columns in print. The Wine Enthusiast is introducing a fully-interactive digital version of the magazine (for a free trial subscription, go here.)

And when my book appears (in just a few weeks – Amazon is already taking pre-orders) I will actively use this blog to post updates, respond to critiques, and keep the discussion going. So moving forward, I see a lovely convergence of old and new media, to the benefit of both.

16 comments:

Ron Washam, HMW said...

I had dinner with an eminent blogger a couple of weeks ago and he and I were talking about rating wines. He's relatively new to wine and admitted he hadn't really tasted many of the great wines of the world. "So," I said to him, "taking your wine ratings seriously is like taking relationship advice from a 13-year-old. Why in the world would I listen?"

It's as convincing a sign as any that wineries are suffering greatly in this economy that they want to believe wine bloggers will help sell their wine. Your blog no doubt sells wine, but that's because of your established credentials. The attention-barking Poodles out there may, and that's a big may, sell a bottle or two, but that's about it. I guess wineries hope that just having their name bandied about will help with brand recognition. I can't speak for anyone else, but when I see a winery on four or five different blogs I smell Fear. Not sure how good that is for brand building.

Bloggers aren't going away. Pests never do. It is the great glory that is the Internet, the democratizing of wine criticism, the great comeback of Ignorance disguised as opinion that is the Internet's stock in trade.

I'd be bummed about it, but it is an infinite source of comedy.

Carl said...

Ron,

You make some good points about the credibility of any given individual, blogger or not, and their expressed opinion about a given wine. However, there is a tendency for most people to believe that anything posted on the Internet is true. As a result, I believe that most bloggers will be assumed to be right (credible) about their ratings whether they are or not. So if you buy into that, wouldn't be just as important for the wineries to woo the "attention-barking Poodles" as well as the experienced folks like Paul?

PaulG said...

Ron, exactly my point! It has been my observation that without exception, the best winemakers here in WA have global palates and winetasting experience. And Carl, you speak to another point – the wineries are in sucy a dither about "social media" that they are grasping at straws, and who is sucking on those straws? Hmmmm....

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Carl,

I've told this story elsewhere, but I'll quickly recap it here. I once house-sat for a gentleman who made his fortune providing Internet security. I was speaking with him about the Internet one afternoon and he said to me, "You what the Internet is? It's the death of truth."

Never forgotten it, and the more I'm around it, the more I've come to believe him.

And I wouldn't call what the wineries are doing "wooing." I would call it "using." Much easier to use the inexperienced and untrained than folks who have done the job for a long time.

1WineDoody said...

Paul, Ron - Love your writings and respect the hell out of both of you.

I'm sensing that the whole thing is being blown way out of proportion.

There's no way that attending the WBC is grasping at straws; it's the BEST opportunity for wineries/PR/sponsors to get to know what is going on wen it comes to on-line media, derive the best way for them to use it (or not) and to (most importantly) HAVE A DIRECT INFLUENCE on it. I would hope that the more astute sponsors would see it that way.

Regarding the discussion of credentials and experience, I wholeheartedly agree. We have to note however that no one was born having tasted DRC, Haut-Brion, and the like. Comparison with the best - and worst! - wines of the world is important and critics need to have as broad an experience as possible to have the most valuable and balanced perspective (just my opinion there). That comes with time, but I'd argue that it in no way obviates the journey - what I mean is, self-publication (for Gen X and Millennials) is not a sign of unfounded arrogance or a bloated ego, it's simply one of the primary means of communication, full-stop. So for many, there may be value in the journey and stories of some of those bloggers, who publish their own thoughts before they are "experts."

The only exception, in my mind, are the (very few) who announce themselves to be experts but who lack any credentials or experience, or knowledge of wine styles beyond their region, etc. Like pretenders in any format, they're dangerous, but give people credit - most folks will smell that stuff for the bullshit that it is.

PaulG said...

Joe, Thanks for weighing in. I think I fall somewhere between you and the Hosemaster, maybe just my penchant for fence-straddling. But I sure do value the people I've met via blogging, and the worlds it has opened up, and continues to open up. In that respect, i have no doubts at all about its value.

Catie said...

Paul, stop straddling the fence. Come on over to the dark side of social media and wine blogging. The new wine consumer is already there and will be waiting for you. Maaahawww

Anonymous said...

I so concur with Ron, to much of a thing be it good or bad will in doubt...dilute the truth, My opinion is that so many bloggers are so inexperienced and just trying to cash in on the new social media attention ie. twitter, facebook etc. Fun to read, but do not take it seriously! and I have been doing this industry in & out for 30 years. thx for the forum. Merlotman

1WineDude said...

Merlotman - "cash in on the new social media attention ie. twitter, facebook etc"

That is spoken like someone who has little experience with the wine blogging community. What cash-in? Please let me know, personally I'd love to get a piece of that money-making action...

Anonymous said...

Free samples, Have Many friends, business associates, the are on a very frequent basis..hit up for free stuff! I rarely show my business card, which most cases gets me a lot of free stuff. I personnaly find it a bit overwhelming. I recieve anywhere from 12 to 36 bottles a week unsolicted, Dont know how you do it Paul? lol, tough job :) merlotman

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Hey 1WineDude,

Didn't expect to see you here. And the feelings of respect are mutual. I'm just the Class Clown, without the Class, the Fool, not ever to be taken too seriously. But I do love wine, know a lot about wine, and have for an awfully long time. I'm just too damned old.

I completely agree that it behooves wineries to investigate social media. They would be crazy not to. And I personally love that there are so many wine blogs out there, with a grand total of maybe two thousand readers (let's face it, no one actually knows how many consumers read wine blogs, hit counters are completely unreliable) who aren't bloggers. Like Paul, I've made some amazing friends through the spectacle of my embarrassing blog. The blogosphere is fantastic, and I encourage everyone to start their own wine blog. It changed my life, which, God knows, needed it.

To be honest (when am I not honest?, he asked) I find it all amusing and poignant. So many bloggers wanting to be part of the wine business, so many wineries wishing they could just make a dollar at it. We all just do it for simple love. There's an occasional Parker, or Gregutt, getting rich doing it, but the vast majority of us don't. I use my blog to belittle bloggers and wineries and PR people, but I do it from a sense of deep admiration for their persistence, especially for those who face an alarming lack of talent. I think I have a few interesting things to say, and a small talent for saying it. I write HoseMaster for myself, for the simply joy of writing. Truly, I'm amazed anyone reads it.

Sorry, I'm rambling.

I think the folks who are talented bloggers contribute much to the discussion, both you and Paul among them. The other 99% are careless and unimaginative and ignorant, and taint the rest. And that's not about inexperience, that's about vanity and the human need to be heard. Most of them will never really attempt to become better educated, they'll simply keep on keeping on. That ratio holds for most art forms, and writing about wine is an art form.

Sadly, about 80% of wine bloggers believe they're in the top 10% of wine bloggers. Maybe the best wine bloggers need to get together and start an M.W.B program, the Masters of Wine Blogging, and separate themselves from the ocean of poseurs, frauds and dimwits.

What do you think, Dude? Joe Roberts, MWB. Sorry, I've got the only official HMW.

PaulG said...

Gents,
Very much enjoying the discussion. I'm holed up in Waitsburg, where it's a balmy 95 degrees with a light breeze blowing. Working thru a dozen or so wines for the day's tasting. Chewing on the "occasional Parker, or Gregutt, getting rich doing it" concept. If only! RIch is how you define it, I guess. I am rich in friends, happy in my work, and enjoying a fair amount of independence. That's the only kind of wealth that means much to me. Wine, to paraphrase an old (very old) SNL routine, "has been berry berry good to me."

1WineDude said...

"especially for those who face an alarming lack of talent" - Ron, its those sort of statements that reinforce your title as Master! Nearly spit my drink at the PC monitor reading that one.

Cheers!

Ron Washam, HMW said...

Joe,

Blogging and wine writing is a lot easier if you have some talent. Too many bloggers believe their mothers that they can do anything they set their minds to. No, they can't.

And I love that I made you perform the Danny Thomas spit-take.

Anonymous said...

Lol, right on PG, I read most wine blogs for entertainment, not knowledge...merlotman

Anonymous said...

I am going to add another opinion to the aging of wine question. My studied opinion is that acidity and tannin are the basis for a wine that can be sucessfully aged. The fruit needs to show through the influence of those factors. Certainly there are many Cabernets which age well; but, Malbec and Sangiovese(Leonetti) hold great potential as well.

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