How To Make Money Writing About Wine (A Glimpse Into the 2010 Wine Writers Symposium)

Vinted on March 5, 2010 binned in wine blogging, wine industry events

This week, Alder Yarrow posted video coverage of the Wine Writing & Social Media panel discussion that he moderated at the most recent Wine Writers Symposium held in Napa.

I was fortunate to have attended the Symposium and to have sat in on the panel that Alder moderated.  It’s great to have the video captured for posterity, and in hindsight I’m not sure whether to laugh or to cry at the state of wine writing and its monetization possibilities.

In summary, there have probably never been so many challenges combined with so many potential opportunities when it comes to writing about wine and making any money while doing it.

The challenge is that, as we said in the panel discussion, “the genie is out of the bag” when it comes to free content and wine: people expect to be able to get high quality content about wine on the Internet, and pay nothing for it.  This is putting severe downward pressure on wine writing payment in general.

The opportunity is that the market for consuming information about wine has never been larger, and the price of entry is free, for now.  Personally, I fully expect that market to become saturated, after which it will become expensive to enter, and it won’t expand again for probably ten years.  If you want the details on that, well, you’re gonna have to watch my not-so-pretty face on the video!  Actually, fellow panelists Doug Cook, Steve Heimoff, and Patrick Comiskey make the video well worthwhile despite my inappropriately timed humor.

Would love to know your thoughts on this – please check out the video, and shout out in the comments; where is the future of wine writing and its monetization going?  To hell in a hand basket? Or soaring to new heights?






  • Richard Scholtz

    The biggest problem is that the vast majority of wine bloggers do this as a hobby, with little to no profit motive. As long as there is good information available for free, it's going to be almost impossible to get people to pay for it.

    • 1WineDude

      That's true. And we can never go back – if everyone changed tactics and started charging, a new wave of passionate people would come along and provide some great content for free…

  • Geoff Cornish

    As a qualified sommelier, I enjoy good wine writing, but I would never pay for it, nor would I "join" a website. Do you pay for information about good beer, chicken, beef, pasta or cheese ? Wine is so over produced these days, prices are falling, and good wines for most pocketbooks are so easily available from everywhere. Add to that, that websites are accessible globally and where is the added value ? Peer to peer networks, informational transparency from both producers and state/national wine distributors, collectors forums open to all on the net … would all lead me to suspect that with so many sources, the value of good writing is in decline… as in all print media. Add on podcasts and satellite radio as well !!! Quality wine talk shows are in far shorter supply… G

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Geoff. I'd like to announce the launch of my new wine talk show…


  • Jon Bjork

    I've been wine blogging for a few years now for the local Lodi paper. We started as a premium area of the Web site, with my blog and a few others, as well as local store coupons only available to paid subscribers. That didn't go over very well. So the paid gate came down, they gathered my 3 weekly blogs into a regular Wednesday column, and after a short while I'd get random attaboys from friends and strangers on the street. I receive a meager monthly paycheck for this work, which is nowhere near my regular consulting rate. But I've been able to justify it as a community service to get locals out to the surrounding wineries that are driving our economy…

    • John Krause

      Jon, I would like to see your blog. Lodi is growing in popularity but I believe many folks are missing out on a good wine experience.


  • Jon Bjork

    I will have to say that it would give me only a fraction of the satisfaction if my writing were not appearing regularly in print, as my local readership doesn't seem to be interested in interacting over the Web. Also, I really couldn't tell you if a mention of a wine or winery I like gets wine to fly out the tasting room door. So you can count me in the camp of those who don't believe in being able to significantly monetize wine blogging. You've got to do it because you love it (and don't mind the occassional free bottle of wine or tickets to events)!

  • 1WineDude

    Thanks – a lot of folks echoed both of your sentiments in the panel discussion as well. There's clearly a migration way from print, but to what exactly no one seems to be quite sure – and the migration certainly isn't happening at breakneck speed (i.e., print is totally going away anytime soon)…

  • tom merle

    Internet communications can charge when the information is vital to professionals performing their jobs better. Call this the Wall Street Journal effect. Reviewing publications such Connoisseurs Guide that also utilize this medium will continue to provide a niche since they arrived with a following. I doubt Charlie Olken could get his newsletter off the ground starting out today but, hey, Mutineer mag may thrive–though the beverage reviewing component is only a small part of its coverage.

    Like the WSJ, Wine Business Monthly has its freebie and its VIP subscription newsletter. Ditto with Lew Purdue's new Wine Industry Insight. But the paradigm has shifted from experts to users whether in travel, movies, restaurants, dentists etc. And like an increasingly number of cyberpubs, the publishers are relying on donations–Panhadling Steve Sailer calls it–as Eric Levine does at CellarTracker/GrapeStories. It's a bit like the emphasis that the Obama administration is placing on accountability and performance in education: show us your capacity and you get some of the pie.

    • 1WineDude

      Show us your capacity! Love it – the new rallying cry! :-)

  • Charlie Olken

    Tom Merle would be more right if he were not so wed to Cellar Tracker, which he pitches at every stop. I grant that Tom is an experienced observer and, even if he were not, is entitled to his opinion.

    But unless expert opinion goes the way of the dodo bird in every form of critical evaluation, something it has not yet done if you add up the one million subscribers who pay for subscriptions to wine publications or the money spent on Zagat (which, whether one likes it or not, get sold, not given, to the restaurant-going populace), let alone other areas of opinion, then there will always be room for the paid expert.

    • 1WineDude

      Hey pops!

      I do agree with you that people will pay for expert opinion, though I'd hesitate to use Zagat (which is more-or-less based on user-generated content) as an example. Consumer reports fits into the model that you describe, I think but also seems to carry an extra burden – if the reviews are wrong, people may unsubscribe (I've done that with CR after being burned too many times by products that they recommended).

  • Charlie Olken

    When Tom says that I could not get Connoisseurs' Guide to California Wine off the ground today, he is partly right. Earl Singer and I started the Guide as rank amateurs in a day when there was almost no professional competition in the CA wine space. Today, I come with my own built in audience–and so do all the other wine publications. It is now a space filled with professionals who work full-time reviewing thousands of wines a year.____It will be hard for anyone to compete in that space without making the same kinds of time and money commitments that I and my peers make. But, that does not say that one has to compete directly with us to be find a way to monetization. I taught a seminar at the Wine Writers Symposium that discussed what I consider to be the possible ways forward. Local content, a strong and interesting voice/point of view and a willingness to start small (it took me ten years to get profitable enough to quit my day job) are all parts of the picture. ____But, to say that it is not possible misses the point because it simply dismisses the creativity and inventiveness and persistence of those who would be entrepreneurs in this or any other writing endeavor.

    • 1WineDude

      "that does not say that one has to compete directly with us to be find a way to monetization" – I think that's the key, really; this space, in terms of its move towards on-line publishing and free-ish content, is still in its infancy, and it would take a strong prognosticator indeed to show where it might end up.


  • Dan G The Iowa Wino

    Since I started wine blogging Nov 2008 I have yet to make $25 in actual currency :) Write because you want others to know about the wine you taste. Love it because you have a passion for wine. Spotlight winemakers or wineries who in your opinion produce excellent wines regardless of size. Wine folks are great people. My reward is the samples or the simple thank you's from the winemaker appreciating the love we show them and their wine. I expect nothing but like everyone else with a passion for wine, someday I would love to work in the field

    • 1WineDude

      Ah, noble thoughts indeed! The question is, what will "work in the field" look like in the future (and how much will it pay? :-). Cheers!

      • Dan G The Iowa Wino

        Unless all of us attain the level of the panel in the video (not likely) or say a Rick Bakas or Hardy Wallace I think the vast majority of us will still be doing things for free. When and if samples dry up you will see those in it for free wine drop like cement in a lake, the true will survive.

        • 1WineDude

          I totally agree on the point about the samples (in fact, I have an article in the pipeline on a very similar subject, that will post here in about a week), though my article is more on the topic of why the samples will dry up (but with a very similar conclusion: fewer wine bloggers).

          • Charlie Olken

            Will samples dry up? Yes, of course. They already have begun to fromsome sources. The motivations for wineries to send samples include "what can you do for me" and "do I need the help you can give me".

            In today's world in whch the wineries are learning along with the rest of us what the Internet can do for them, including the blogosphere, there will be many folks sendings samples who will either stop or will begin to restrict their lists, just as they have done with print journalists. But, the second point is more telling. When the marketplace tightens up again, and it surely will whether one year or more from now, the number of wineries looking for help anywhere to sell their wine will diminish. And that will translate into fewer samples at every level of wine writing.

            As for your coming essay, Dude, I know it will be a lot deeper and more complex, especially in its analysis of the blogosphere than I have offered.

            Make me proud, my son. I did not adopt you at the Wine Writers Symposium for no good reason.

            • 1WineDude

              I will do my best, Pops!! :-)

              I think part of what you're saying here is that samples will dry up in part because there will be fewer wineries to send samples, and because when the economy rebounds fewer will be inclined to send samples. And I would agree on both counts. One thing I hadn't considered (until now) is that while PR and wineries seem to be moving towards mentioning the ratings / notes of some of the more influential wine bloggers out there, retail has yet to follow. This means that established wine publications still rule the day and help to push wine sales when it comes to most retail shelves. In turn, this means that blogger mentions of wines will continue to move far fewer sales than traditional wine publications, which could also result in ROI misunderstandings leading to fewer samples (this is one that I do touch on in the upcoming article). Cheers!

  • Whyne Rider

    File this thread under "Circle Jerk"….

    • 1WineDude

      I'll create the category in WordPress right now… :)

  • AprilD

    I'm consistently amazed and quieted by the unending flow of rhetoric and politics applied to what in my oh so humble opinion amounts to this stampede towards our mutual love of wine….the history, the land, the feeling of consuming the ancients in its most sincere form. My "education" with wine stops at my lips. I have such a passion and drive for finding that next remarkable concoction. The holy grail. But I stop myself short of that looming search in place of finding comfort in seeing that theres more to wine than fills the glass. My experiences with tasting and being absorbed with the fine art, as it is a fine art, of production, presentation, legacy of the vine are more than enough to fuel my innocent albeit naive pursuit of the real wine "specialist". The ideal combination of "poor" passion and fine tuned appreciation. So I laud your endeavor here and I will return with eager anticipation of the next great sip. Thank you!

  • 1winedude5036

    Cheers for that, AprilD!

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