Posts Filed Under commentary
This little meme-type-thingy that I generated several days ago got a bit of traction on The Book of Face, and so I thought that I’d elaborate a bit on the position behind it (friends of mine will enjoy the RDJ inclusion, since they are constantly telling me “dude, you are so RDJ as Tony Stark, except you are Tony Snark!!!”):
Seriously, people, can we just stop shoving wine scores into the faces of media types?
Here’s the deal:
I know that you’re justifiably proud of the scores that your wine received from [ insert major wine publication here ]. By all means, use them to help you sell wine: advertise them, put them on shelf talkers, teach your tasting room staff to wax philosophically in fake humility about them to your winery’s visitors.
I don’t want to know about them, for two (to me) very important reasons:
1) Putting my critic-type-guy hat on for a moment, I’d rather not know what other critic-type-people have said about your wine. I don’t want it to influence me, even if subconsciously, so I strongly feel it’s best to just not go there until I’ve had a chance to taste it (usually using a very different process than what’s employed at those publications) and have at least formulated the genesis of an opinion on my own. What you’re implying by continually mentioning the score is that if I disagree with it, then you will think that one of us is wrong (and I am pretty sure that I know which of us that will be).
2) As a knowledgeable wine consumer, I might find a score helpful, and I might not. It’s not that simple; it depends on who is giving the score, their history of such scores, etc., etc., etc. I know what I like, from a purely subjective point of view, and so I’ll just formulate my own opinion on how good your wine is for me (thankyouverymuch). By the way, I strongly suspect, given the fact that it’s easier than every before for wine consumers to become knowledgeable, that I am not the only person buying wine for personal consumption who feels this way.
So… can we be done here, please?
A friend of mine – Elaine Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews – recently sent me a note indicating that another friend of mine (David White of Terroirist) and I were mentioned in an online article over at FirstWeFeast.com that was written by yet another friend of mine, Jonathan Cristaldi.
Yeah, the wine world is kind of small like that.
Anyway, the article is titled “10 Dirty Secrets of Wine (That Nobody Wants to Talk About)” and it makes for a fascinating, funny, and at times kooky read about some revealing but less-than-glamorous aspects of the wine trade in general (my personal favorite from the list, which is funny although it sells many bartenders seriously short: “Bartenders and mixologists don’t give a shit about wine”).
The item in which we’re mentioned is “Wine critics aren’t necessarily more qualified than bloggers,” which I am quoting below so you can get up to speed quickly:
If we drew a line in the sand and asked established Wine Critics (capital C) to stand on one side, and amateur wine bloggers (lowercase b) to stand on the other, we’d immediately expose an ongoing war of credentials—one which leaves its bloodied tracks on bitter comment threads around the Internet.
Wine bloggers are correct in assuming that many notable critics have bypassed formal beverage industry education in lieu of “life experiences.” They take great pleasure in declaring that major critics are class-act bullshit artists—the likes of Robert M. Parker Jr. (a lawyer and self-taught wine guru), James Suckling (an undergraduate tennis pro with a graduate degree in journalism), and Eric Asimov (the nephew of author Isaac Asimov, with an undergrad degree in “American Civilization”).
Still, the relationship between the two camps is complicated. When the Critic unleashes a bad score or expounds on the subject of natural wines, wine bloggers will heap waves of tyrannical expletives upon them—but only behind closed doors. Put those same bloggers in front of the venerable Critic, and you’ll see them whimper in admiration and jealousy.
The Critic is well aware of this duality, and several of these esteemed scribes take great pleasure in lashing out against people they consider to be amateur fluff writers. In truth, many amateur wine bloggers are anything but amateur, having earned legit credentials from industry-lauded institutions like the Wine, Spirits & Education Trust (WSET), the Society of Wine Educators, or The Guild of Sommeliers, and many of them contribute articles to the very publications that major Critics write for — folks like Joe Roberts of 1 Wine Dude; David White, who founded and edits a daily wine blog called Terroirist; Elaine Chukan Brown of Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews; and many others.
Does formal education trump life experience? Do professionals owe it to their readers to earn a formal degree? Who, then, is rightfully deserving of the title “Critic”?
There are a whooooole lotta worms in the can that JC opened up there…
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Back in October (yeah, I really am about that far behind on things), the scientifically-minded Becca Yeamans-Irwin wrote on her blog about a research study that examined five influential English language wine blogs (including this lil’ ol’ one right here) using content analysis software called Leximancer.
As you no doubt already expected from the above run-on, complex sentence, her article caused some heated discussion regarding the merits of the study, most of which centered on what seemed like obvious conclusions one would draw from websites dedicated mostly to writing about wine (for example, regarding the website Vinography, the research conclusions included the realization that “’Flavour,’ ‘wine,’ ‘tasting,’ ‘adventures’ and other flavor-related terms were central themes of the blog.” Surprise! Not!).
Now, I’ve spent enough time in academia to know that obvious conclusions need to be treated as non-obvious, in that they still need to be formally stated and backed up by data. So my take on the research study steered clear of that criticism, but I did initially have concerns about it, which I stated in a comment on Becca’s blog post:
1) I am not clear if there is a causal relationship between the automated text analysis and the findings regarding each blog.
2) The conclusions seem like sane advice for *any* niche blog topic, rather than offering anything specific to blogging about the topic of wine.
It’s an interesting start, but I am not sure it tells us anything quite yet
I had intended to leave it at that, but since posting that comment, I’ve had a bit of a change of heart, and I think the conclusions, though somewhat generic, warrant emphasis for those who are considering (or have recently started) blogging about wine (and yes, writing that makes me feel kinda old, okay?)…
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A troubling trend is starting to appear in my Inbox.
[ Editor’s note: I wonder how many cheesy detective novels now begin with that premise… ]
Somewhat ironically, the troubling trend seems to mostly be coming from very well-meaning wine producers and their various public relations arms / firms / etc., and with very well-meant intentions. But the gameplan execution is all fumbled-at-the-five-yard-line.
What’s happening is that I am seeing a lot (LOT!) more wine brands clue into the fact that what differentiates them in what has become the single most competitive wine market in the history of mankind is, in part, their stories. So far, so good.
Some of them have even clued in on the other great differentiator in a market in which we are deluged with mostly non-human, robotic, advertorial interactions: the simple act of caring enough to deal with customers and consumers as real people, and giving them the extra love inherent in good service.
What they seem to be forgetting, however, is that the price of entry in this intensely competitive marketplace that is the modern wine biz is quality. If we in the media don’t get a chance to check out the wine, we cannot answer the fundamental question of whether or not the service and story are worth getting into in the first place.
The troubling trend? I am getting inundated with requests to talk about wine brand stories, connected to wines that I’ve yet to taste. Whoops!…
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