The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark

Vinted on December 14, 2018 binned in commentary, wine blogging, wine news
The future of wine writing: kill, or be killed?

The future of wine writing is kind of like… GrimDark.

No, I don’t mean that wine writing is headed for GrimDark as a cultural style of expression. Though that conceivably could happen as a symptom of where things are headed.

What I mean is that the future of the wine writing profession is f*cking bleak. As in, step-over-the-dead-bodies-of-your-former-comrades bleak.

Sorry to bust up your Holiday Cheer, but this topic has been weighing on my mind since my friend and wine-marketing-maven Tom Wark published the latest incarnation of Wark Communications’ Wine Writers Survey. He also took the time to add a bit of additional commentary on the more influential wine writers (as cited by other wine writers) on his Fermentation blog. Full disclosure: I happen to be among those writers cited, for reasons that I still don’t fully comprehend.

I love me some Tom Wark, but I am in a state of some disagreement with the Wark Communications conclusions from the survey; specifically, this tidbit:

Wark Communications 2018 wine writers survey

If wine continues to grow in popularity, if the now fully adult Millennial generation is as committed to the beverage as they seem, and barring any economic catastrophes, I’m confident that the wine writing project will continue full speed ahead. More new voices are coming. More new publishing exercises meant to meet the needs of new generations will arrive. Even new ways of understanding and communicating about wine are likely to appear.


While it’s of course true that more new voices are coming, the Millennials are devoted to the beverage, and that new ways of understanding and communicating about wine will appear, I have severe doubts as to the viability of the “wine writing project” in the future. Why? Well, that same survey serves up some very compelling reasons in some of the take-away commentary on the aggregated survey responses…

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-Maintaining a living writing in the wine genre is the greatest concern.

-Two-thirds of those who primarily write for their own blog or publication earn 10% or less of their annual income from wine writing.

-Despite the rise in digital publishing, there has been almost no change in the breakdown of publishing frequencies from the 2004 survey.

In the end, the viability of wine writing as a profession will, like other literary and journalism genres, depend on the financial health of the publishing industry going forward.


Ok… sooooooo… Wark’s rosey future is based on what, exactly? The facts that a) most wine writers cannot make a living now, b) wine writers are worried about ever being able to make a decent living, and c) wine writing is tied to the viability of writing as a profession, which has seen a decline as precipitous as a Mosel vineyard slope?

Well, F*CK ME, then.

There are more people wanting to write and communicate about wine, with fewer outlets outside of personal blogs and social media, and even fewer that are willing (or able) to pay anything even close to resembling a living wage for it.

You’ll forgive me for not getting the warm and fuzzy feeling all over about this theoretical future that Wark is seeing on the horizon, in the hopes that, hey, something is bound to come along and make all of this ok, despite the ever-mounting volume of evidence to the contrary! That’s not really hope, that’s… well, I want to write “delusion” but that seems a bit harsh. But then, if we’re headed for wine-writing-dystopia, then sure, let’s go with “delusion.” To quote Interstellar‘s Cooper, “that doesn’t even qualify as futile.”

Of course, I am hoping that Tom is right, and that I’m wrong; it would have helped if Wark had offered up more insights as to why those conclusions were drawn despite what seems like a much grimmer perspective from the survey respondents. Personally, I’m not quitting my gig any time soon, but I’m not about to recommend the wine writing path to budding enthusiasts of the written word – and the grape – as a means for building any kind of wealth, either.

Cheers (I guess)!





  • Carl Helrich

    Man, what a good post. It echoes/parallels what I feel about the wine industry a good bit as well. A lot of folks getting into it with the thought of “how hard can it be?” I see this all the time. And if you don’t need to be profitable, then sure, it’s not hard! But for those of us who face the vagaries of the consumer along with the cold hard facts of cash flow, it’s a different world: it’s a business. There are only a few fortunate ones of us who can balance that and our passions in life, and unfortunately a lot of the wannabes out there make it even tougher on us. I’m hoping that you (and I) are both wrong on all this!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Carl. Solidarity, brother! :)

      Here’s to potentially being wrong!

  • Michael Brill

    Wine writing covers purchase influence, education and entertainment… but realistically only influence has any broad compensation opportunity.

    Yet, most writers have far less influence than they should have simply because the distance between their content and consumer purchases is vast.

    I wonder if at least some of the answer can be found in influencer compensation models found in other industries… but customized for wine with its unfavorable shipping limitations.

    • 1WineDude

      Maybe… but good copy is good copy, and a big issue is that almost no one wants to pay for good copy (yet).

    • Carl Helrich

      Great point. With most commerce, companies buy advertising with influencers…wine writers since Parker have tried to eliminate that “conflict of interest.” Even though we know that Michael Jordan is paid to wear Nikes, we don’t want to think that Joe was paid to say nice things about Apothic Red, etc. Why is that? (Of course, we all know that a lot of this stuff goes on behind the scenes…it’s just that the normal consumer doesn’t hear about it.)

      • 1WineDude

        What I actually was thinking of was a bit different; wineries and sales outlets need to be able to write copy – stories, tasting notes, etc. – to get people to buy wines. At the fine wine level, that stuff usually does not sell itself. And crappy copy doesn’t work to sell it, either.

  • Michael Brill

    “yet” or “any more?” :-/

    Find ways to make the copy more valuable… then there will be $.

    • 1WineDude

      I actually think that some outlets are already realizing that they can’t use crappy copy. Not traditional outlets, but those focusing on sales, etc. They’re poised to spend more, I think/hope.

  • Carl Giavanti

    Hi Joe. As a PR flack, I hate to agree with you, but do, although I hold Tom’s optimism. Finding reliable and quality writers with impactful affiliations has become increasingly difficult due to the factors already discussed. I place bets on up and comers all the time, and sometimes come up roses.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Carl. There are opportunities out there for the better writers, but I think those opportunities are fewer than most realize.

      • Carl Giavanti

        I agree, it takes lots of pitching to piece together meaningful earnings. Too many writers chasing too few outlets. Sadly, I know a few who have bailed on wine writing.

        To that end, I just launched a Wine Writers Interview series to highlight the people behind the pen. The inaugural column featured Paul Gregutt, Wine Enthusiast, and ran in Wine Industry Network and on my blog: Would you be interested Joe?

        • 1WineDude

          Very cool, Carl! Sure, I’m totally game for that.

          • Carl Giavanti

            coming your way Joe

  • Elaine Brown

    Thanks for your honesty, Joe. As writers making our living in the subject of wine we have a different perspective on it than Those working elsewise in the wine industry. Writers across all subjects are struggling right now.

    Carl, your insights and support have always been appreciated. Thank you for your ongoing creativity.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Elaine. You know as well as anyone how difficult it really is.

    • Carl Giavanti

      Thanks for facilitating this conversation Joe. As Elaine points out, writing and journalism are facing unprecedented challenges right now.

      Elaine, you’re an examples of creating your own success, and a case study I often point to when speaking with up and coming writers.

  • Michael Brill

    BTW, I’m working on a wine subscription (club) platform that will go beta next month that does something like the following and would love to get some feedback from wine writers to see whether it’s on the right track or not.

    * Influencers publish short-form content (themes) about wine (image, title, short description, optional extra bits). Associated with each of these are example prototype wines.

    * End user scrolls through themes (looks like Instagram) and follow the ones that look interesting. If theme creator creates new themes in future, users are notified.

    * End user specifies number of bottles and budget they want (more shopping modalities in future).

    * We then use wine styles it infers from themes to find similar wines available to the user from online retailers, optimizing for quality, cost, similarity to theme, etc. It essentially finds the best bundle of N wines from the best retailer for the user, places the order and ships the wine monthly to the user.

    Haven’t quite worked out monetization, but revenue would would be shared proportionally with theme creators.

    The hope is that this would provide a fun alternative to a club model while allowing writers to repurpose existing content and have a more direct influence on readers’ shopping behavior without creating the conflict of interest that many writers are concerned about.

    Any thoughts?

    • 1WineDude


      At first blush, this looks like part of the problem to me.

      Not that the idea isn’t good (it looks quite good and a fun way of discovering wines), but the fact that you haven’t worked out monetization outside of revenue sharing of sales is definitely part of the problem about which I am writing.

      You want to use influencers to a) produce content, and b) presumably take on risk (associating their brand with that of the platform’s, which is new). Both of those are work – production and risk, nearly by definition in economics, should both expect compensation. And there’s no direct compensation for those in your pitch.

      See where I am going with this? In that scenario, I presumably don’t make a penny unless/until the platform gets traction and the wines are sold, both of which that business might totally suck at doing for all that I know. In the past, I have passed on any pretty much any compensation model like that, because it entails me doing upfront work for free, which isn’t a fair model no matter how it’s sliced (ever try getting, say, a lawyer to do a bunch of work without billing you?).

      • Michael Brill

        I 100% agree with you… I was focused on the sustainability of a recurring revenue model for content creators, but I implied that the initial set of influencers would have to create a bunch of content for free. That’s pretty much the definition of tone deaf.

        FWIW, it’s not really the case for us – we’ve been paying wine educators pretty well for content creation… and indeed the initial set of third party themes we’re certain to pay folks to create. I’ve got 8 developers working on it, so it’s not like we’d begrudge a writer compensation. And of course concerns about personal brand association with a platform/approach applies independent of compensation.

        Of course everyone has a different tolerance for risk/return. Some will want to take more of a risk to get involved in a new platform for first mover advantage; others will roll their eyes at yet another stupid wine app that isn’t going anywhere.

        But for me right now it’s about validating the general approach as it’s a recent product shift for us (moving from a 100% AI model to a hybrid human/AI model) and I want to make sure it makes sense for both buyers and influencers.

        • 1WineDude

          Thanks, Michael. In that case, I think that you are onto something cool there, especially if it’s marketed at the right audiences.

  • Bob Henry

    [A glitch transmitted the above comment before I was done composing it. Once again with clarity.]

    Damn. Has it really been four months since I last visited “Mr. Joe’s Neighborhood” and left a comment?

    Okay, let me resurrect this chestnut (hey, the original post appeared about Christmas time.)

    The economic model of “free” content . . .

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Opinion” Section
    (July 8, 2009, Page A15):

    “To Rake It In, Give It Away”


    Book review by Jeremy Philips

    “Free: The Future of Radical Price”
    By Chris Anderson
    (Hyperion, 274 pages, $26.99)

    “It is easy to see why free is an appealing price for consumers, although how companies make money by giving stuff away is less obvious. In ‘Free: The Future of a Radical Price,’ Chris Anderson, the editor of Wired magazine and the author of “The Long Tail,” sets out to explain why free is an increasingly compelling business model.

    “Mr. Anderson explains how the underlying economics of digital services make free business models far more widespread than they were in the analog world. Central to the new ‘free economy.’ he says, are the ‘near-zero “marginal costs” of digital distribution (that is, the additional cost of sending out another copy beyond the “fixed costs” of the required hardware).’ So Google spends billions on its software and infrastructure, to get its vast search engine up and running, but each incremental search costs it almost nothing.

    “Free business models, whether purveying digital products or tangible goods, are based on cross subsidy — that’s why you get a ‘free’ mobile phone when you sign up for a long-term service plan. In the digital realm, the ‘freemium’ model offers the elusive free lunch. Many millions of Skype users, for instance, making voice and video calls over the Internet, pay nothing at all, subsidized by a smaller group of customers who pay for additional functionality. The free service is a loss leader (and cheap marketing) for premium paid services.

    “Advertising is plainly the best known free model. You don’t pay for Web searches, any more than you pay for network television, because in both cases ads are attached to the product you are getting free. As Mr. Anderson notes, though, advertising can’t pay for everything online. IF YOU HAVE A BLOG, ‘NO MATTER HOW POPULAR,’ THE REVENUE FROM AdSense — a Google service that places ads on Web sites — WILL PROBABLY NEVER ‘PAY YOU EVEN MINIMUM WAGE FOR THE TIME YOU SPEND WRITING IT.’

    “Of course, that’s fine for bloggers more interested in fame or influence than in money or for blogs (like Mr. Anderson’s own) that are loss leaders for more lucrative endeavors, such as writing books or making speeches. But IF YOU HAVE TO EARN A LIVING FROM THE WEB, ‘FREE’ CAN BE A PROBLEM. Even Eric Schmidt, Google’s chief executive, doubts that free can work for everyone. “The problem with Free,” he allows, “is that it eliminates all the price discrimination texture in the marketplace. . . . It tends to be winner-take-all.”

    . . .

  • Bob Henry

    And resurrect this . . .

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Off Duty” Section
    (March 29, 2013, Page Unknown):

    “Five Wine Blogs I Really Click With”


    By Lettie Teague
    “On Wine” Column

    “There are about 1,450 wine blogs today [circa 2013], of which about 1,000 are nonprofessional endeavors (the rest are ‘industry’ blogs), according to Allan Wright of the Zephyr Adventures tour operator, who has organized the 2013 Wine Bloggers Conference in North America for the past five years. But most bloggers haven’t been doing it very long: ‘Only 18% of [wine] bloggers today have been blogging for more than six years,’ he said.

    “Most of the bloggers were doing it just for ‘personal satisfaction,’ Mr. Wright said, since the possibility of making money was quite small. Alder Yarrow, who writes a much-talked-about BLOG, VINOGRAPHY, told me that he EARNS $12,000 to $16,000 from it ANNUALLY, MOST OF WHICH COMES FROM BANNER ADS. Said Mr. Yarrow, who began his blog in 2004 and has a day job: ‘Monetizing a blog is very hard if you don’t want to sell products, sell advertising to wineries and therefore look like a shill.’

    “Most bloggers are more like Alice Feiring, a traditional wine journalist a traditional wine journalist [former Time magazine wine writer] WHO HAS NEVER MADE ‘A CENT’ FROM HER BLOG, the Feiring Line, which she started in 2004. (It’s one of the few that I read on a regular basis.) But unlike most other bloggers, Ms. Feiring has a newsletter; she has 450 subscribers paying $65 a year for 10 issues. ‘The blog was a soapbox; the newsletter is a mini-magazine,’ Ms. Feiring explained.

    “A lack of profit potential isn’t necessarily the biggest blogger obstacle; time is in even shorter supply. Judging from the number of bloggers who allow weeks, months, even years to go by without posting a thought, it’s clearly hard to maintain momentum. Or inspiration. More than one blogger explained his or her absence with a post that began something like: ‘I didn’t drink anything worth writing about.’ “

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