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Some thoughts on Californian Wine (from Across the Pond – Guest Post)

Vinted on October 29, 2008 binned in California wine, commentary, guest posts
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Following is a guest post from Andrew Barrow, the brains behind the venerable (and excellent) wine & food site Spittoon.biz in the U.K. While we North American wine bloggers were toiling (aka drinking) away and working hard this week at the first NA Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma, I asked Andrew to provide a different perspective on the California wine scene than what we typically experience (good or bad) here in NA. Check out Andrew’s thoughts bellow – it’s a much different, and enlightening, scene than you might be used to here in NA – and check out his excellent writing (and superb photography) at Spittoon.biz. Cheers!

As I write I’m sipping a glass of Californian red – a Robert Mondavi Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 to be precise…

It’s fairly typical of the type of Californian wine readily available in the UK. Following the 1WineDude’s request for some foreign thoughts on Californian wine, the Woodbrige is ‘research’. A day or so ago, more research, with a bottle of Zinfandel – the only interesting Californian red available in the UK’s largest high street chain of off-licences.

Both wines display a certain richness, demonstrate varietal characters and are both very drinkable on their own.

“I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.”

I don’t know what the sales figures are on these wines but they will certainly be eclipsed by the likes of Gallo White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc etc. There is no escaping these critic-derided wines. They sell at basic prices by the case load. The vast majority of Gallo drinkers wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care where they come from. How ever much we deride them, they are the bedrock of California wine in the UK – both in terms of style and in sales. Drinkers of these are highly unlikely to trade up to the Mondavi or the Zinfandel.

I look at many blogs – most are American – they talk of making hit wines, of boutique vineyards, limited edition bottlings and so on – names that get the writer (and their readers) excited and lustful. The same names mean nothing to me. The wine just do not make it across to the UK.

We are blessed with a multitude of specialist wine merchants in the UK – many are holding their own against the supermarkets and the high street chains. Only a couple though offer a decent range from California. And don’t even begin to look for Arizona or Long Island, although a smattering of wines from Oregon and Washington have found their way to these little islands. But those specialists are offering the wines at eye-wateringly high prices. You have to ask why would anyone bother – the range of wines readily available from across Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa often provide much better value for money [in the U.K.].

“[The CA wines available in the U.K. lack] texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.

With my evening meal I switched to the Mondavi Woodbridge Chardonnay 2006. This retails at about £7.50 [roughly $12 USD]; the average price of a bottle of wine is half this. The wine is lightly oaked, again highly drinkable but lacks texture and perhaps a little complexity that similarly priced wines from say the South of France or Italy, so readily available here, provide in spades.

And that about sums it up really – you CAN get various Californian wines in the UK but they come at a price that doesn’t often stack up well against similar wines from elsewhere. And those Gallo wines, at the cheap end of the scale, must be enjoyed by someone. You can’t really be saying they are brought solely on price can you?

Garden Party: How To Keep Wine Blogging From Going Mainstream

Vinted on October 27, 2008 binned in commentary, wine bloggers conference, wine blogging

So… I’m “freshly pressed,” so to speak (specifically in terms of palate fatigue and possible liver damage), from the first North American wine bloggers conference in Sonoma. Overall it was a fantastic event, about which I could pen a great number of virtual pages in covering. But that’s not what I’m going to write about.

Not exactly, anyway.

I’m also, as I type this, just returned from a visit to C. Donatiello winery in Healdsburg. I could write a lengthy amount (what else is new, right?) about how nice owner Chris Donatiello is (he’s quite pleasant, and generous), how beautiful the aroma garden grounds were (very), or the quality of their wines (extremely promising for a first vintage, but unfortunately not yet widely available – anyway, more on those upcoming on my twitter wine review feed).

But that’s not what I’m going to write about. Not exactly, anyway.

Instead, I’m going to write about how the face of wine media is changing, and why that’s dangerous for wine bloggers. Because I just spent the better part of three days at a conference where I and my fellow wine bloggers were being at times courted by the Sonoma wine industry, which helped to sponsor the event.

The congregation of 150+ wine bloggers at the WBC, whose individual influence in the world of wine could by-and-large be considered modest (at best), or insignificant (at worst), has amassed the collective power and reach of this new(ish) arm of the wine media – one that is now drawing a larger and larger amount of wine marketing attention. Gary Vaynerchuk underscored this during his WBC keynote speech, when he provided the energetic NJ businessman’s view of the opportunities available now that the ‘old guard’ is no longer the all-dominant force in wine media. The attention given to bloggers by PR departments is a natural progression – and now this is happening for the world of wine.


This is a dramatic turn of events compared to how wine blogging was viewed (more or less as a fad) a little more than three years ago. The winemakers, PR, and the Sonoma wine industry in general “get it” – and it’s all happening rather quickly thanks to the immediacy of the Internet.

Which means that wine blogging has the potential to completely screw itself now.

First, I need to make one thing very clear: there is nothing wrong with what the PR departments in Sonoma are doing by sponsoring the WBC and courting the wine blog-o-world. It’s their job – one that they’ve been doing for years with the traditional wine media.

In a way, wine blogging has arrived. The danger is that, as guest panelist Tracy Rickman told us during one of the conference breakout sessions, outside factors (such as the potential influence of the courting PR) can influence us to become more and more mainstream. At the moment we actually become mainstream, we have lost our edge (and might as well be ‘overtaken’ by the next phase of wine media, whatever that may be).

Uh-ohhhhhh…

In the same breakout session, Wine Enthusiast’s Steve Heimoff cautioned that winery PR would no doubt attempt to “use” us, and that we needed to be prepared – and cautious about to whom we lend our trust. Keynote speaker Alice Feiring (yes, she actually entered CA wine country for this…) added (among some very inspiring dialog), “Trust no one.”

What’s a wine blogger to do?

Go on blogging, of course!

I’m not saying that bloggers need to become prudes who completely shut down at the very thought of having to walk a tightrope line of credibility just because they’ve been invited to an industry event, or a personal winery tour, or the like. Heaven knows I’ve got no problem whatsoever being courted by winemakers, PR contacts, or the wine media in general (in fact, my view is that it’s about time this has happened).

The trick is maintaining the willpower to keep a unique, individual, and (hopefully) credibly opinionated voice as a blogger while the “courting” ramps up.

I don’t know what the future will bring, but I’m looking forward to the ride…

Cheers (and “Organic Flow” forever)!
(images: 1WineDude.com)

Greetings from WBC08 (or "It’s 10AM PT, and I’m already drinking")

Vinted on October 26, 2008 binned in wine bloggers conference

Greetings from the waning moments of the 2008 Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma.

It’s 10AM PT. And yes, I am drinking already. Some great things are happening here in Sonoma, and I’m looking forward to blogging about my winery walk through Michel Schlumerger, our discussion on the state of wine media (during which I received props from Steve Heimoff), being interviewed by WineBizRadio and Mutineer Magazine, and tasting some amazing wines (many at very odd times).

More to come after my mini-vacation, wherein I will visit Kaz winery (finally…).


10AM Pacific Time @ WBC08 on 12seconds.tv

1WD LIVE @ WBC08 :: The LIVE Tasting Event!

Vinted on October 24, 2008 binned in 1WD LIVE, wine bloggers conference, wine industry events

1WineDude is LIVE at the 2008 Wine Bloggers Conference in Sonoma

Friday October 24, 2008 at 3:30 PM PT!

The event is now over, but you can get a recap of the feed from the event below.

Enjoy!

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