The Distrusting Wine Writers Survey (Thoughts on Thoughts on On-line Vs. Printed Wine Coverage)

Vinted on December 1, 2010 binned in commentary, going pro, wine blogging

Wine writers who work in print are a distrusting bunch.

That’s one of the conclusions that, while not exactly all “sunshine, peace, love & Marsha Brady,” is nonetheless a logical one that could be reached after you peruse the results of Tom Wark’s recent 2010 Wine Writers Survey.

Much has already been written on the subject of Tom’s survey results (my personal fave to date comes to us courtesy of the scathingly witty Tom Johnson), and while I tend to avoid “me too!” subject matter articles, not chiming in on the wine writing survey results (in which I participated as one who was surveyed) while attempting to make a living as a wine writer… well, that just felt odd.

In terms of what the hubbub is all about, the main point of contention is this: the survey results strongly suggest that print wine writers find on-line wine bloggers to be unreliable sources of wine information, and (less strongly) imply that print wine writers feel their livelihoods are threatened by a largely inexperienced cadre of on-line wine “writers.” Tom sums it all up nicely:

“In my view, the single most important point that would lead anybody, and in particular experienced wine writers, to downplay the credibility and trustworthiness of a blogger is the well know fact that there is absolutely no gatekeeper when it comes to who can publish a blog. There is no pre-assessment of the talent and skills of a wine blogger prior to their publishing. There is no editor that evaluates their skills and gives the blogger the job of writing about wine. Bottom line: A fourteen year old girl inhabiting the attic of her mother’s home on the North Dakota border with Canada and suffering from delusions can as easily start writing and publishing a wine blog as the most experienced wine writer living in the heart of Wine Country.”

The trouble for me is that the argument so far seems to be (at least partially) ignoring the very thing that sets on-line wine coverage apart from print…

Namely, the fact that blogs are interactive, and printed articles are not.

This is so profoundly obvious that many in the debate could be missing it solely from its obviousness, sort of the way that tiger attack victims often report that that they didn’t view a several-hundred-pound predator as a threat until it was too late, even if they knew it was close enough to be a threat.

My take on print vs. online media is that print’s business model screwed the pooch a long, long time ago. It has nothing to do with wine and is happening in every form of print media on any subject matter. People enjoy interactions and opinion, and are seeking to balance straight-ahead, mostly-objective, fact-based coverage (which for decades has been the bread-winner for print) with subjective, opinion-based, op-ed-style pieces that by-and-large center on the unique voice of the writer.  In other words, nowadays people will take a human relationship and a sense of personal trust over a pronouncement of facts (or even opinion) as deigned from an expert.

Blogs are, of course, uniquely well-suited to ruling the roost when it comes to this interactive style.

If you don’t believe me, I suggest that you listen to Jancis Robinson, a name that most readers will already recognize as having conquered both the print and on-line worlds of wine coverage (and who now credits her on-line publication with providing the majority of her income). Specifically, cue up this Masters of Wine Symposium video to 12:40 and listen to Jancis’ take on the role that she thinks non-interactive wine expertise holds in today’s wine coverage:

“I think the age of the wine guru… the wine expert that cannot be criticized and cannot enter into any interaction with their consumer is dead and gone.”

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

I of course have a much more positive view of the potential influence of bloggers than the rest of the panel in that video (who largely see blogs as having little-to-no-influence on consumer wine purchases), but I don’t disagree with founder Eric LeVine’s take on the current influence of wine blogs (and that’s not just because he mentioned 1WD specifically as one of the few that are having impact… but I suppose that I do owe him a beer now…):

“It takes a really exceptional blog to have enough of an audience to have any real impact.”

Hasn’t that also been true of wine writing in print for, well, more-or-less forever?  On the Internet, people can smell a fake from a mile away, and expose them faster than Carl Lewis could run that same mile. You need be good to have impact anywhere online, not just in wine.

Of course, not all of the wine mags and print columns are exceptional, but would anyone honestly read the work of people like Eric Asimov, Steve Hiemoff, and Jancis Robinson, and say they “just got lucky” that they’d built a following via print?  No f—king way. We can say the same for the Alder Yarrows and Tyler Comans of the online world – the impact is smaller only because there’s been less time, not less talent (just more lesser-talent!).

All of this, I suppose, is a rather long-winded way of saying that blogging is still very early days when it comes to wine writing, and it will eventually move more and more of the wine market, and that this is part of a much larger fundamental shift in the world of media from consumption of facts and expert-based opinion to one of opinion about facts that operate on smaller, interactive groups that have come to view someone as an expert for them.

Hold onto your corkscrews, ‘cause this ride is just getting’ started, baby!






  • kjkarl

    Well said and I absolutely agree.

    • 1WineDude


  • Steve Heimoff

    Whew, with all this talk of Marsha Brady, 14 year old girls in attics and the dazzling Miss Jancis, I almost got the vapors. Fortunately I was able to right my mind in time to ponder the issue at hand. Joe, you have hit the proverbial nail on its hard little head. You have always been a visionary when it comes to wine blogging. Yes, this thing is just getting started, and it will travel in unpredictable ways, but that it is here to stay is undeniable. I'm sometimes accused of suggesting that MW types–the elite of the elites, the upper tier of wine snobbery–are going to be as extinct as the dodo bird, and sooner rather than later. But it's what I think. The whole world is marching in a different direction, toward interactivity and conversation. And by the way, next time you're in Oakland, beer's on me!

    • 1WineDude

      Steve – I'm taking you up on that beer in Feb.!

      Thanks for the kind words, and sorry about the strange visions of young girls and MWs. :)


  • @WineWonkette

    I have not completely read the survey. I did read Tom's post about it. This is a meme that Wark had been pushing for at least three years now. That bloggers can't be trusted. Wineries need someone to TELL them which bloggers are credible and deserving of attention. A PR person who has taken the pulse of the blogosphere and can tell them who is legit and who is not. And gee, wonder who does that for a living?

    I also know how to structure questionnaires to support a hypothesis. I'd like to see all the questions and their wording. If you start with a set of conclusions, it's easy to structure questions, and even read the results in a way that supports your original argument.

    So until there is a survey written, conducted and interpreted by an entity or organization who doesn't blatantly benefit by its results, that hasn't set himself up as the gatekeeper and The Decider of which blogs are legit; or by continuing an old, tired, PR model of directing wineries interests to the vaunted print media, then I'll take this survey and its results with a bit of cynical skepticism and consider it more of a self-promotional piece, rather than a White Paper.

  • @WineWonkette

    That's simply ridiculous in my opinion. And you're right, so BACKWARD looking. I've BEEN in print – that was the FIRST step, why would I go back to that? What would it add? Besides one more thing to take up time that could be better spent on the blog?

    We often get picked up by national papers and put in their on-line versions, as you do. It's like asking a national television host to go get a local radio show to get some cred. While I don't consider all bloggers on the national or international level they CAN reach a much wider audience in a much faster evolving medium. I just get sick and damned tired of this dead horse that insists there is only one way to do something. Parker started out with a newsletter for Gawd's sakes. There's room here for everyone – and each serves a purpose.

    • 1WineDude

      I'm always happy to be referenced in print or anywhere else, but like you I don't see the point in doing it for the sake of legitimacy. I mean, at this point I really don't feel any pressure to become more legitimate (more profitable, yes, but not more legitimate :-).

      • @WineWonkette

        OMFG. Just read the survey. When the surveyor selectively chooses the sample size, how could the results be anything but biased? Imagine if a pollster based a poll of "likely voters" on a poll conducted between 10 a.m., and 3 p.m. of those answering Land Lines. Do you think those results would be representative of the actual voting population? It's beyond the pale.

        • 1WineDude

          Hi Amy – Maybe I'm missing something but while the methodology section of the report is a bit short, I don't read in there where the sample size was biased (though it may be a bit small vs. the potential hundreds of wine bloggers that could have been included – or is that what you meant?). cheers!

          • @WineWonkette

            "Those bloggers that were asked to participate were chosen based on their commitment to consistently providing information in their chosen format. Most were either well known to me or were vetted for their commitment prior to receiving an invitation to participate. Clearly not all those with a wine blog were invited to participate. However, I am confident that an impressive selection of those individuals who blog about wine seriously and consistently are represented in these results." <– actually that translates in survey-speak to "here's how I biased this study"

  • Grape Sense

    The days of the printed word adding credibility to the byline are long gone. I come from a unique perspective as a wine blogger and former print journalist – reporter, editor, and publisher! My wine blogging friends were all impressed to hear I have a newspaper column, now circulated in 13 Indiana newspapers with a combined circulation of about 200,000. When I pitched this FREE column idea, not a single editor asked about my credentials or expertise. I did offer some notes on my background in the pitch, but no other questions were asked. Am I more of an expert because I appear in print? Obviously, not! I want to be diversified. I lean on others for expertise. I try hard not to speak above my confidence level. But the newsprint adds nothing to my credibility.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Grape Sense – **perfect** example of exactly what I am talking about here.

  • Benito

    (My comment disappeared, here's a summary)

    I think one thing missing in the print/online divide is just how much work goes into a good blog. Eric Asimov gets to focus on writing–he's not physically delivering newspapers in the wee hours of the morning. A successful blogger has to combine all the following duties alone: Photographer, Videographer, Graphic Designer, Webmaster, Marketing, Advertising, Travel Agent, Editor, Publisher, etc.

    To someone in traditional print, this seems bizarre, like a one man band covered in drums, bells, playing the accordion, and blowing into a series of flutes, harmonicas, and kazoos. They operate under certain rules: don't mix editorial content and advertising. Don't touch the printing press or you might lose an arm. We'll send a photographer out with you. Someone else will make the phone calls to sell subscriptions.

    Breaking these taboos is one factor in the divide, but I think there's also a little fear: How many of these jobs am I going to have to do in the future?

    • 1WineDude

      Sorry about the comment issues, Benito!

      I hear you – and in fact, I touched (bemoaned is probably a better term :) on that same topic in the last two vids. in this Going Pro series. Forget one-man-band, some days I feel like a one-man PARADE.


      • Benito

        I'm pretty sure it was my fault, the comment was running long and I had bullet points and stuff.

        And to your next comment, the site's looking great. My site runs off a Blogger template, but I've fiddled with so much of the CSS that it barely resembles its former self. There are days when I want to just set the whole thing on fire and start over from scratch. ;)

        • 1WineDude

          Thanks, Benito – I know the feeling! Which is why I gave up and got a pro to design 1WD :-). Hasn't stopped me from tweaking the CSS a bit here and there, but that's a MUCH better place to be for me than diving headfirst into the CSS deep end (where there be monsters!).

    • 1WineDude

      I should add that this morning, I felt this pain acutely as I played tech guy to fix the blog after the WordPress 3.0.2 update played badly with one of this blog's plug-ins; I ended up fixing a bug in the PHP code of the plug-in (and it's NOT one that I wrote)… a far friggin' cry from concentrating on blog content!

    • @WineWonkette

      Amen to that. When I wrote for traditional print I had a secretary to answer the phones, someone was paying for my salary, my travel, my computer, the publishing system, etc etc etc.

      But I have to take issue with "don't mix editorial content with advertising." Having also worked in PR AND Advertising, I can't tell you how many times my client was "invited to participate in a special advertising section" that would allow us to also provide some very well-placed PR that became another writer's by-lined story. Full-page ads tended to get much better editorial treatment. Don't believe me? Go take a gander at the editorial and advertising content of some of the higher end wine mags.

  • Richard Scholtz

    "There is no pre-assessment of the talent and skills of a wine blogger prior to their publishing."

    While technically true, the assessment comes when a person reads their blog and forms an opinion as to the quality of the writing. Instead of having one editor that approves, you know have millions of editors deciding if the writing is worth reading. Those that produce well written pieces will see an increase in readership. It's not a difficult concept to understand. Instead of an editor being the "gatekeeper," the blog reading public becomes the gatekeeper.

    • 1WineDude

      Richard – great point, and I'd add that in blogging you're in a way creating art, in that it takes on a life of its own once it is consumed by the public. That might sound lofty, but not all art need be lofty! Cheers!

  • Thomas Pellechia

    One reason I don't take surveys–THE reason–is that I cannot imagine myself being either the median or the average, and as winewonkette said, a survey can be bent to meet an agenda.

    In this debate I probably prove my point about not being median or average, because I don't see a reason for the debate–at all.

    Like beating a dead horse, I will once again point out that print was supposed to kill verbal story-telling, radio was supposed to kill print; television was supposed to kill radio (and the movies); computers were supposed to kill paper (now that's a friggin' joke).

    To some extent, each of the "supposed to kills" did their job, but not completely. The reason for that is twofold: the things that they were supposed to kill perform some functions that the killers could not duplicate and the things that each new media promised almost always seemed to come up short of the promises.

    In my view, which I posted at Tom's blog, the dichotomy is not between print and online but between quality and garbage. Quality should rise to the top, but there is evidence throughout our culture that garbage has a way of appealing to the masses.

    • 1WineDude

      Thomas – I hear and definitely appreciate what you're saying, but personally I have a lot of difficulty trying to come up with examples of garbage in wine coverage appealing to a massive amount of people.

  • Tom Wark

    I hate when I'm found out.

    It's true. I've never believed bloggers could be trusted. Including myself. What ever you do, don't trust anything I write. It's tainted. It's tainted with my experience, which, again, can't be trusted.

    Those bloggers I highlight and try to point folks to on FERMENTATION? Incompetents who I highlight and try to point folks to because they pay me huge, large sums of cash. I have no Idea what their blogs are about or even if they can write a simple sentence.

    And again, on the issue of being "found out", it's all true. The way I pitch clients' stories to the Wine Spectator, the New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, the Press Democrat, Wine Business Monthly and other print publications is more tired than the hundreds of thousands of readers who are fatigued from picking up their newspapers, magazines and iPads to read the stuff.

    The worst part of what I do, of course, is advising clients which wine bloggers they should send samples to. This is really just a ruse. Rather than evaluate which 20 or so bloggers my clients should spend the money and product on to get them samples, what I really should be doing is giving them a list of 800 bloggers to offer samples to. But of course, all 800 or so bloggers don't pay me huge sums of cash to get them on the recommendation list. So, they are out. Damn…found out again.

    But of course, the silliest part about the Wine Writer Survey is the reason for actually doing it. When I started doing it in the 1990s, did it again in 2004 and with this last incarnation, I stupidly had the idea that I could learn more about the wine media…their needs, their approach to working with publicists, their interests, their perspective. The idea was it would allow me to do my job better. That's just dumb.

    • 1WineDude

      Sh*t, Tom – does this mean that I owe you a big wad of cash for when you featured me on Fermentation?

      Crap… I'm just gonna go find a cash machine… ;-)

  • Thomas Pellechia

    Yeah, and Tom was also dumb enough to mention my blog on Fermentations. The guy simply has no idea what he is doing because I haven't a dime to send to him.

    Full disclosure: Tom once accepted lunch from me and my ex-business partner, but that was after Tom wasted his money buying us dinner.

    Don't sweat it, Tom. Being found out is liberating, until it ain't ;)

  • Tom wark

    You owe me WineDude!! Fork it over. I've got bills.

  • Tom Wark

    One more thing…

    Wine blogging isn't illegitimate. However, I hope no one will question that a person writing about wine in Time Magazine will see their reputation enhanced by virtue of the legitimacy delivered through their appearance in that magazine than they will by having their worlds published on

    And, all things being equal, it is much more likely that a person writing about wine in Time Magazine will have more wine experienced and more writing experience than the author of

    Whether one ought to seek out publication in an established print publication or even an established publication duplicated in the digital world depends on their goals for their writing. For example, if one wanted the opportunity to write for pay more often, it's a good idea to have your work show up in well-established, paying, well-edited publications. There's no getting around this. However, if your goals is to simply blog and build your audience, then there are two ways to go: get a byline in an established high credibility publication that links back to your blog in the bio section online (and lists it in print) or simply continue to blog well at your own blog.

    • 1WineDude

      Tom – no doubt that Time carries cache and a rich history, and being published in that type of mag comes with a (deserved) amount of reputation-boosting power.

      However, there's a HUGE cache chasm between TIME and The Springfield Post Tribune Review & Hootenanny, and I don't think a byline in the later is needed for writers of established or up-and-coming, well-written blogs to feel legit (just as it's not necessary for many writers in other print outlets that are respectable but are not quite TIME).

      I realize that you know this, but I just wanted to chime in to clarify my position a bit.


      • @WineWonkette

        My By-line has appeared in USAToday and Dallas Morning News. The on-line version. Does this make me more legit? Of course not. It means I'm better at choosing key words. Print version? The guy who writes for our HUGE Metropolitan newspaper says Texas wines are awesome. Why? Because the Texas wineries are mainly what he knows.

  • Australian wine

    Hi… I read your post and I want to say that it is very informative and good and interesting post. I like it and I appreciate you for your effort.

  • @norcalwingman

    Dear Dude,
    I am out of my league commenting on your new "Pro" blog, but your articles always seem to pique my intrests, so I'll add my 2 cents, which aren't worth 2 cents.

    “In my view, the single most important point that would lead anybody, and in particular experienced wine writers, to downplay the credibility and trustworthiness of a blogger is the well know fact that there is absolutely no gatekeeper when it comes to who can publish a blog.
    (Very true, but I'd wager the majority of us bloggers do it because we love wine, not because we get paid from it)
    There is no pre-assessment of the talent and skills of a wine blogger prior to their publishing. There is no editor that evaluates their skills and gives the blogger the job of writing about wine. (Also true, but that doesn't mean we don't know our shit, maybe we have been educated in wine, or live in wine country, or work in the industry)

    Bottom line: A fourteen year old girl inhabiting the attic of her mother’s home on the North Dakota border with Canada and suffering from delusions can as easily start writing and publishing a wine blog as the most experienced wine writer living in the heart of Wine Country.” (I know very few 14 year old girls who give a ratt-F@(K about wine, but what do I know, I'm just an occasional wine blogger)


    • 1WineDude

      Brian – you are always welcome here, man!

      I understand your $0.02 (and think it's worth a lot more!), but would only caution that I think Tom Wark in making those statements isn't commenting on the general merit of wine blogs, but is more facing the fact that public and professional perception is still behind the times when it comes to the legitimacy of blogs and certainly when viewed through the lens of traditional media, which still helps to form a large part of public opinion.

      Not saying that means bloggers have to go print – or that there is even a valid distinction between the two anymore – but I am saying Tom is right in pointing out the reality that is suggested in the survey results and opening that up for discussion.


  • Jenny

    Complete agreement as there has never been a time where you can have so many judges within minutes of writing.

    • 1WineDude

      True, Jenny – the natural follow-up I suppose is "which one(s) should I trust?" and the modern answer is "whoever 'speaks' to you the most."

      While it's challenging for both consumers and producers alike, it's also liberating and full or amazing potential for both. Those buying wine and looking for new things and recommendations now have opinions available to them on potentially hundreds more wines than can be covered in print. Producers have the opportunity to have their wines promoted like never before.

      So, like anything, we have to take the responsibility and potential with the liberation and the power.


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