Blogs will transform the wine world! Or not. You decide!

999bottleswall In a few weeks, I will deliver the keynote address at the annual meeting of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. About half the group’s members simply grow grapes; the other half also make wine from grapes that they grow. But either way, they’re interested in hearing about important trends that affect wine consumers and producers.

Much of my talk in Sacramento will focus on wine blogs as well as “social media,” such as Twitter, Facebook, Open Wine Consortium, or the group Wine 2.0. Here are two possible titles for my talk:

“Blogs and social media will transform the way wines are made, criticized, and purchased!” or

“”Blogs and social media make a whole lot of noise but are a huge waste of your time and resources!”

Hmm, maybe there’s a middle ground. Anyway, hit me with your thoughts on which way you would lean and feel free to provide evidence for your perspective! I might just use it to support my final argument in Sacramento.

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40 Responses to “Blogs will transform the wine world! Or not. You decide!”


  1. To say that we bloggers will make a lot of noise is to underestimate the collective volume of hundreds of opinionated voices, each with its own (small but usually loyal) following.

    To say that blogs are a waste of time is to ignore the influence that wine blogs already have – i.e., they are quickly becoming part of the “now”, not the “future”, of wine media.

    To say that blogs will change the way wines are made, criticized, and purchased is to overestimate the influence of wine bloggers, and significantly underestimate the changing tide in how a new generation of wine consumers are interacting with wine.

    It is we bloggers that are a reaction to the changes taking place in the wine consumer landscape, not the other way around.

    Cheers!


  2. like any well read publication it will make an impact the thing with a blog is that its free for me to read not like a subscription to a Magazine or Paper.

    And hopefully the bloggers are doing their job to make sure the wineries are making good unique wines and not the same old good boring old stuff


  3. What I have seen on Twitter, Facebook, etc. is that the groups that work, live, and breath wine blog about it. However, those that are into golf gravitate towards golf blogs, knitting towards knit blogs, etc.

    What I am saying is, I do not think that bloggers will be the strongest influence of the wine industry, but that they are the most avid consumers. People that have never picked up the Wine Spectator or do not read their weekly columnist’s discussion on the wine of the moment will not research a wine on a blog before walking into a store. The most influencial source is still going to be the clerk that recommends the wine or the sommelier that helps you pick from the list.

    Wine bloggers are still a necessary target for wineries and PR people because (in my opinion) these are the people that will be the heaviest purchasers of wines, although not necessarily the audience that influences the greatest number of others to purchase wines.


  4. I think blogs and social media will definitely have a huge affect over the long term on the way wines made, criticized, and purchased. Now that depends on individual interpretation what that “transformation” or “affect” means. For one, it definitely has helped bring wine to a wider audience. Wine, historically, has been an intimidating subject for most whether talking about, buying one or selecting in a restaurant. I, personally, feel that the social media has had played a huge role in bringing a varied demographic of ppl to the wine market.

    Albeit, I do agree many of these people might continue to order a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon without knowing what actually “Cabernet Sauvignon” means, which might irk a lot of wine enthusiasts!! But, hey, we are just at the start of the revolution. Paraphrasing the unbashful words of Ms. Rice on Iraq – “These are just birthing pains of the new wine order”

    Cheers


  5. To further the discussion… perhaps you let your audience decide for themselves the relevance of wine blogs…

    Perhaps poll the audience to ask how many (the ones who are the winery operators) have sent wine samples to bloggers for review in the last few months. Then ask how many of them sent samples to wine bloggers two years ago. I suspect there weren’t too many wine samples going out to wine bloggers a couple of years ago; however, sending samples to wine bloggers today seems to be standard practice as part of many wineries overall marketing strategy.

    Clearly the relevance of wine blogs is growing, but the influence a wine blogger has to transform the way wines are made is very limited – as of right now. The real trend, in my mind, is the ‘potential’ impact that social networking can have on a winery (and wine grower) operates once social mediums like Facebook really mature. Social networking tools such as Facebook allow people to connect that would not have otherwise connected and communicate about things that they may not have otherwise talked about.

    For me personally, Facebook has allowed me to reconnect with old high school and college friends that I may not have otherwise connected with.. and these “renewed” connections have resulted in discussions about our lives, which, for me, leads to wine… which then leads to these renewed connections reading my small wine blog and taking my recommendations to their wine shop. This grass roots, one-to-one connection is a growing trend that I’m not sure any of us fully understand and appreciate… yet.


  6. I’d go with something in between as well. Or perhaps, rather than “Blogs and social media will transform the way wines are made, criticized, and purchased!”

    “Blogs and social media will transform the way wine-makers connect with consumers, promote, and brand their wine!”

    The fact is that there is a growing “wine space” happening via social media, and if wineries aren’t there, they are leaving a vacuum where their brand should be. On the other hand, being there may *not* show a significant ROI for some time but, even if that’s the case, they should still be there and consider it the cost of doing business.


  7. Both of your statements are correct depending on who the consumer is.

    Wineries and grape growers who produce wines for consumers who do not care, probably will not gain from social media. Distribution solves the sales challenges here and usually with price as the motivator

    For those wineries that are involved and have a personal story to share, pride in their efforts and drink their own wine then social media is a great way for them to communicate with a very large and growing community around the world.

    Rob’s comment above about the importance of wine merchants and sommeliers is right on the mark in my mind. These are the people who really can influence consumers. And consumers should learn to seek multiple sources of input for finding delicious wines.

    Enjoy your presentation.


  8. Can you post your presentation on you blog?

    The Internet increases a winery’s ability to communicate to its customers and facilitates the sharing of information/communication among its customers.

    The real question is: Does your winery have anything besides a physical good (wine) that your customers care about?

    If you’re just selling a physical good, then the Internet might not matter that much, but if you’re trying to sell an idea, offer a service, or build a community of customers, well, your winery might be a little late to the party if it’s still just communicating and community building using mail, the phone line, and email…


  9. Is this at Unified?

    It would be great to meet you.


  10. Social networks are going to influence what wines people drink. Everyone down to the novice will be exposed to new labels and/or varietals.

    It should be expected that as the wine world grows socially online the purchase of wine will become less brick and mortar and more online. Social tools are helping online store owners develop relationships with their customers.


  11. Good thoughts! Keep em coming!

    @Greg – yes, it’s Tuesday Jan 27. I’ll also be participating on a panel on Thursday Jan 29 about blogs and social media at Unified proper. Hope to see you there!


  12. I think another point to touch on is reputation. Consumers have become more and more aware of the ties between traditional publications (like magazines) with advertisement income and that has created the impression that they are no longer impartial in their opinions and reviews.

    The appeal of blogs and social media is that people feel they get their information from peers, from others like us. And as such, this information is deemed as free from the compromise to appeal to their main source of revenue, which is ads (most mags do not make money from subscriptions of newsstands sales but from the ads published). As an excellent example of the type of bias I refer to, one needs not look further than the Wine Spectator award to the fake Italian restaurant http://osterialintrepido.wordpress.com/

    In general, blogs and social media are perceived as free from such obvious scandals.


  13. The following is a coffee injected brainstorm:

    I think we have a way to go before winemakers are worried what we bloggers think. But when that day comes the network is going to be so huge there will probably be one big wine bloggers website with features from a plethora of bloggers with some of the main workhorses featured.

    It would be sort of like a wine mag online but coming from a different direction. It would be coming from the wine lovers writing from the trenches. The people that don’t get the exclusive chateau and Bodega tours.

    I think what is important is that wine blogs are written by people that sift among the piles and piles of wine shops out there scouring the shelves for something, some bottle that will satisfy them enough that they are compelled to write about it.

    We pay for the bottles we write about so you get a more genuine feel for a particular wine. This fact might be what will eventually lead to solidifiying wine bloggers as a source of critique recognized by the masses.

    Wine Advocate started out as a flimsy pamphlet. No one was paying Rob to do what he was doing. He was doing it for the love of it. Shanken was doing the same thing and look where it got him (of course he would been set back tremendously if he had beaten Kip Forbes in that famous Christie’s auction in ’85).

    Wine blogs are good for the internet and the public. it is a breeding ground for the people that may shape a new generation of wine appreciation. Maybe the mags out there should be reading more wine blogs to find some fresh talent for their pages.

    We are the people that go beyond the point system. We go deeper into the wine ideas and are on the fringe of something new. All we have to do is keep it up and keep it different. Let’s keep doing things like pairing wine with some more weird stuff like The doctor does here. It allows us to enjoy wine and not let it stress us out.

    I should stop now. Have a great gig DOC!

    EvWg


  14. I have no doubt that bloggers have contributed to the conversation about wine; I read many myself, including Dr. Vino.

    But in response to Flavia, let’s not be too quick to distinguish “corrupt magazines” and “honest bloggers” simply on the basis of advertising. After all, there are ads on Dr. Vino’s site.

    More important, in my mind, are ethics and experience. Wine Spectator’s wine reviews are always based on blind tastings, so that we can’t be influenced by producer or price. How many bloggers can say the same? Many of our editors have been tasting and writing about wine for more than 20 years. How many bloggers can say the same?

    My point is that there is no reason to oppose “mainstream media” and bloggers. Both have their audiences, and so long as all are honest and hard-working, both will contribute to the growing culture of wine.

    Thomas Matthews
    Executive editor
    Wine Spectator


  15. Blogging has created a wonderful alternative wine-media universe, which — to those who embrace it — is undeniably fresher, more inclusive and more useful than old-school magazines like WS. No reason to doubt Tom Matthews veracity, but I would say: Who really cares? In fact, it is only the retailer’s slobbering devotion to ratings as sales hooks that keeps Spectator and Parker relevant. As the online wine scene continues to expand, the whole blind-tasting & wine-rating thing is bound to lose its luster and impact. (Seriously, wine is too good a thing to allow it to be lorded over by middle-aged men tasting 25 anonymous glasses at a pop without a crumb of real food!)

    And voices from the blogosphere will start to be heard on the street. Smart people in the wine industry are already paying attention. No doubt a new wine generation is forming; it’s a process, though. There is no way to predict the course of old vs. new media in wine. History has a way of being clearer in retrospect, and difficult to impose willfully (witness Sideways vs. Bottle Shock).

    No pressure or anything, Doc, but I think it’s fair to say that your address at the CAWG meeting marks a turning point. Please post online after delivering. Actually, make that You Tube! And we expect theatrics, on par with smashing a guitar!


  16. Dr. V -

    Why not let your audience do a “choose your adventure” and by show of hands let them pick the path that dovetails into your conclusions.

    In my opinion, we’ll see a whole big shakeout of social media, but what is true of this period of time is:

    1) consumer power related to brands and brand engagement is infallible

    2) Consumer advocacy and word of mouth marketing is likewise infallible

    I would move to higher ground in messaging and use social media as an example of manifestation, while not making predictions about facebook, twitter, etc.

    good luck!

    Jeff


  17. Thomas, I am sorry if I offended you. It was not my intention. I only used the Wine Spectator case as an example of why audiences may feel more inclined to trust bloggers reviews which they may perceive as more independent (and notice how in my original entry, I did use the word “perceive”).

    Also, rightfully or not, you have to admit that the whole Wine Spectator schadenfreude only contributed to that perception. There are currently 170 comments on the Osteria wordpress blog, and I am sure you noticed how the vast majority are along the lines of “yeah, one cannot trust these magazines”. Again, I am not saying this is deserved for Wine Spectator (I do not know the whole story on this matter to be able to pass an informed opinion).

    DrVino asked for opinions on the value of wine blogs and social media in general. I still believe the case described above illustrates a good example of why readers might find blogs appealing.


  18. @ Tom Matthews,

    Great to know that you read blogs like Dr. Vino! The lack of references to blogs and other publications in the magazine and on winespectator.com always made me wonder if the staff lived in an ivory tower but it’s good to know that the tower at least has windows. Maybe there is hope for WS in the wine 2.0 era?

    Since you’re here, I’d like to ask you something that I’ve always wondered about: the WS Bordeaux ratings. How is it that with the WS Bordeaux ratings, the top growths always seem to come out on top if the tastings are truly conducted blind? Year after year, the First Growths, and wines like Cheval and Petrus and Ausone, somehow always manage to garner Suckling’s highest scores. Young wines are notoriously fickle, a fact confirmed by the Grand Jury European’s results. Also, Bordeaux barrel samples are almost always tasted in situ at the chateau, if I’m not mistaken, so tasting those wines blind is logistically not possible. It defies belief that Suckling is tasting blind and that the First Growths and their Right Bank equivalents, and Super Seconds like Leoville las Cases and Ducru, somehow always manage to come out ahead on his scorecard; it is, one might even say, a statistical improbability/impossibility. So how are we not to believe that the scores are receiving ex post facto adjustments?

    Thanks for your thoughts on this.


  19. It seems as if the “mainstream media” is not so irrelevant, if my post can generate such impassioned responses…

    To Tish: Wine Spectator is not only about scores. We publish hundreds of pages of stories each year that profile winemakers, explore vineyards, address technical issues in winemaking and grape-growing, and present menus with suggested wine matches. We cover the whole life of wine.

    To Mark Ashley: Your assertion is incorrect. In the 2005 vintage, for example, Malescot St. Exupery, a third growth, received the same score as Cheval Blanc and a higher score than Mouton-Rothschild. But in general terms, is it any surprise that wineries with the best terroirs and the most resources to devote to crafting their wines consistently earn the best scores?

    To Flavia: We were hoaxed by the Intrepido affair and have taken steps to improve our processes. But even honest people can be deceived. I note that Alder Yarrow at Vinography has apologized for his “schadenfreude,” admitting that the affair was more complicated than many people initially believed. The fact that so many bloggers repeated the perpetrator’s assertions without making any effort to learn Wine Spectator’s side of the story is perhaps an indication of some weaknesses in the blogosphere.

    Let me be clear that I am not condemning all bloggers; I value many blogs. I simply do not see how “bloggers” can be “good” and “Wine Spectator” can be “bad.” The world is more complicated than that.

    Thomas Matthews
    Executive editor
    Wine Spectator


  20. The fact that the editor of the industry bible is commenting here is proof alone that blogs are important (and Dr. Vino in particular). I give you credit for joining a fray, particularly since WS has proven to be expressly opposed to controversy on its own blogs (yes, I wasbanished from the WS b-boards a few years back). In fact, one of the most ludicrous aspects of WS is the fact that they seem blatantly ignorant of other voices… critics, bloggers… they are very good at projecting an image of being better judges of wine than everyone else.

    This is not he place for a debate on scores, the crack of the wine industry. It’s really about good, solid, interesting content. I can’t remember the last issue of WS someone told me I had to read. Or even an article. Whereas, online, via blogs and other sites, I have discovered more things about wine than I would have ever imagined 10, 15 years ago. Wine content on the Web is simply light years beyond the American print glossies. And as time goes on, more people will be tuning in.


  21. @ Thomas Matthews,

    Just a short follow-up to your response:

    While it is indeed unsurprising that the top growths would have top scores, you fail to address one issue in particular: Barrel samples at these chateaux are not tasted blind. This runs counter to your claim above.

    I don’t necessarily believe that knowing the producer of a barrel sample is a problem. What would be a problem is a claim of objectivity where such objectivity does not — and cannot — exist.

    Especially when that claim of objectivity is being used to bolster the credibility Wine Spectator and to slam the reliability and authority of blogs such as this one.

    Your own words above, as a reminder:

    Wine Spectator’s wine reviews are always based on blind tastings, so that we can’t be influenced by producer or price. How many bloggers can say the same?


  22. @EVWG – but just as we bloggers go to the heart of the matter of what is actually on the shelfs, so we are limited. The real value of publications like Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate is that they have the access to information we don’t as well as wines that we, by virtue of their rarity, will never see.

    @Tish – I doubt that blind tasting will go away. It literally revolutionized the shape of the world during the Paris tasting.
    Although if you think they are doing only 25 glasses at once, you might not appreciate the amount of wine that is reviewed. Entire country portfolios are tasted in less than 4 days. I am setting up two such tastings as we speak.


  23. Doc,

    First off, congratulations on the honor!

    I’d like to get back more to the topic at hand (despite my enjoyment of the debates above). You have a great topic to discuss and think about. Since you are speaking to people who are pursuing a passion but still hope to make some money at this business, I think they would be interested in some good facts on how bloggers and social media affects their business and how do they effectively manage those channels.

    Besides being a wine lover, my day job is in finance. Previous roles have found me working with engineers and marketing on various products to build business plans. A necessary evil as I’m sure we will agree. Marketing has a limited budget and is a significant part of a winery’s cost structure. I want to know how bloggers are helping me reach new customers at a (hopefully) lower cost. It can be difficult to track the effectiveness of a marketing channel along with cost. To the extent you can bring them data to use and discuss would be extremely valuable (IMHO). So to truly answer your question perhaps you have a discussion entitled “How Bloggers and Social Media Help Wineries Lower Marketing Costs And How to Effectively Manage Those Channels”.

    Perhaps that is too boring of a topic or unproveable but I don’t believe it. Anyway, I hope my thoughts are useful. Good luck! I also would love to see the presentation once delivered.


  24. I think winemaker blogs will be a very good tool to strengthen customer loyalty. This will be most effective for the higher priced wines with lower case production.


  25. Until some early adopters among the winegrower community can point to actual positive effects on the bottom line, pronouncements by those offering a service, free or otherwise, will only seem self serving. Isn’t it about time that some small number of producers can be cited in support of your first option? If not, your comments will fall on deaf ears, alas.


  26. I have only been reading wine blogs for a short time and enjoying wine for a bit longer, so I have more questions than remarks about the relevancy of blogs.

    It seems that this relevancy, and that of other types of “social” wine media, would be to enable certain types of winemakers to survive and even prosper. What types of winemakers? Those, I think, that make hand-crafted products that go against the grain established by mass-distributed wines.

    The question is, do readers of this blog and others like it, who clearly have a passion for hand-crafted wines, have enough buying power ? Will their passion enable the wines they love to continue to exist in a globalized market dominated by the mass-distributed brands ?


  27. It really depends on the wine’s target audience. Wines targeted towards a younger, hipper crowd, like many sold at Trader Joe’s, can’t ignore blogs. More expensive wines probably could.


  28. The wine world, in my view, can support traditional magazines and blogs, just as it most likely will be able to support traditional channels of distribution along with the newer models (Amazon, etc). I am often mystified when I detect (most often on blogs) extreme all or nothing at all, good vs. evil, old is bad new is good perspectives. Human expression doesn’t need to be limited to one medium. Personally, I think Thomas Matthews has displayed rational, calm and civil responses whenever he or his publication has been thrown under the bus. There truly is room for all at the table. And that is coming from someone who walks in both worlds quite easily.


  29. Recomended reading for the weekend is Edward De Bono’s book “I am Right You are Wrong”.

    Good reading for everyone learning how to play in this new sandbox.


  30. great suggestion! De Bono’s book “Lateral Thinking” was required reading, back in the day, along with Toffler’s “Future Shock.”

    Thanks, Ron


  31. I think wine blogs will do to wine journalism what political blogs have done to political news.

    Some that are seriously interested in wine will read blogs, and those blogs will be influential on them. These people will then influence the media, who will in-turn influence the less serious.

    Wine blogs will have a “trickle-down” impact on the industry by influencing what the mainstream wine media discuss. This will trickle-down even further to the mainstream media. This will, eventually, democratize wine criticism and dramatically alter the industry.


  32. The first title is much more exciting, if you want to have people listening to you…


  33. “Blogs and social media will transform the way wines are made, criticized, and purchased!”

    Perhaps it’s not how they WILL transform, but how they are already transforming. This discussion, which includes representatives from both blogs and trade magazines being a good example of that.


  34. Thomas Matthews wrote: “More important, in my mind, are ethics and experience. Wine Spectator’s wine reviews are always based on blind tastings, so that we can’t be influenced by producer or price. How many bloggers can say the same? Many of our editors have been tasting and writing about wine for more than 20 years. How many bloggers can say the same?”

    Maybe most bloggers don’t taste blind, but neither does the Wine Spectator really. Based on multiple sources, but from the book “The Wine Trials” James Laube has been quoted as saying that “We know the region, the vintage and the grape variety” The knowledge of these facts alone going into a blind tasting will have a great influence on how a wine is judged. Also, being someone in the wine industry with a small winery we know how hard it is to even have WS pay any attention to us. Blogs level the playing field in that many thrive on finding hard to find wines.


  35. Famously, A. J. Liebling (1904-1963), perhaps the funniest writer to grace the New Yorker’s pages, observed sagely that “freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.” Until the arrival of blogs, that freedom was confined to the small sphere of newspaper wine writers and specialized wine publications. Except for occasional letters to the editor, vox populi — the voice of the people — went largely unheard. This uneven playing field left a false impression of, as francophiles might put it, “de haut en bas”: from high to low.

    Irrespective of their specific content, blogs as a personal and journalistic form are democratizing wine and helping America become a wine-drinking country. Taken together and separately they are enlarging the entire conversation and, by being able to talk back to the supposed authorities, form a countervailing body of critical power. Power in debate gravitates to those who have the last word. Today, nobody has the last word anymore.

    The upside of blogs and readers’ comments in them is the volcanic expression of passionate interest in wine whose dimensions have been perhaps underappreciated except when Wine Spectator has, over the years, published data on it circulation.

    The downside is incivility. Far too much ad hominem content appears, and, I think, discourages potential contributors. Who wants to go into electronic print knowing that he might be dry-gulched by a cowardly sniper hiding behind a pseudonym?


  36. Howard,

    One must also consider quality both in the writing and in the content. Too many blogs are glorified diaries. Some are well executed like the one we are writing our comments to. So it may be that a dozen blogs are followed by a sufficient number of wine enthusiasts (not just other bloggers) to make a difference in buying patterns and other lifestyle decisions (since after all WS is a lifestyle mag–tourism, restaurants, gadgets, recipes, cheeses, etc).


  37. As a neophyte to the social media concept and practice, may I observe that bloggers appear to be less Napacentric than do the major glossies?


  38. “Blogs and social media will transform the way wines are made, criticized, and purchased!”

    That’s the one for me. I have enjoyed wine for the most of my time alive, however, I never really read or discussed wine and it’s flavors until now. After working on a mountain vineyard, I have since been writing for a wine blog, and, have entered an informative community of other wine bloggers.

    I’m amazed at the amount of information I pick up; the candid opinions on different bottles and the industry as a whole. Without bloggers and blogging I don’t think I ever would have learned as much as I have.


  39. [...] Blogs will transform the wine world! Or not. You decide! – January 8, 2009 [...]


  40. There is clearly a tendency among wine lovers and passionates to use extensively wineblogs in order to look for ratings, comments and general info on the wine world and to share their thoughts with other passionates.

    Two elements seem to be priviledged: 1) blogs seem to be a representation of growing civil society (in contrast to business interests, that also include wine magazines and journalists); 2) blogs are interactive and allow exchange of experiences.

    Even producers are paying growing attention to wineblogs and their impact. To make an example, Angelo Gaja (a famous Italian producer from Piedmont) invited 20 bloggers to his winery for a discussion last sunday 18 January. The meeting was a success because of this recognition and because a blogger transmitted a live report of the event through his PC.

    P.S. To complement what Ray said above, bloggers appear to be less “parkerized” or “winespectatorised” and reflecting other views on the world of wine.


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