The Future Of Wine Writing, Revisited

Vinted on December 27, 2018 binned in commentary

So… several days ago, I published a minor screed on what I perceived as the grim future of wine writing, which ended up generating a good deal of discussion and more traffic than most people send here to actually read about wine itself… but anyway…

One of the best responses to my rant came via another blog (and yeah, I realize that bu writing about someone writing about me writing about wine is several orders of magnitude of meta), Dwight Furrow’s Edible Arts. Dwight is a PhD (Philosophy) and WSET Advanced and CSW, so I’m going to make the (extremely safe) assumption that he knows what he’s doing when it comes to stringing words together regarding how we as humans conceptualize our discourse on wine.

Dwight’s entire response is worth a read (and so it’s embedded below), but I wanted to highlight two quotes in particular:

“I think Tom [Wark] is right about [ more hopeful view of wine writing’s future ], not because some magical model of paid journalism will reappear—it won’t—but because people will continue to find wine is an object of love worth writing about.”

“We have a disturbing tendency in the U.S. of thinking that the only people who are competent and motivated to do X are people who are paid to do X. Writing and the arts are perhaps the best example of an activity where this assumption doesn’t hold.”

I love this response for several reasons, primarily because Dwight hits on what has made user-generated content such a potent force in today’s marketplace (and in modern discourse, in general). What I love most about it, however, is that it equates amateur content about wine with amateur content about everything since ever. That’s an important reminder, because we tend to forget that amateur content can be excellent, despite the fact that this has been true for a few hundred years. We are distracted by the fact that we can find both the lousy and the excellent amateur wine writing with equal amount of ease in our online world, and so we draw the incorrect conclusion that somehow there is more crap created these days relative to excellence than there has been in the past.

I still find the future of professional wine writing – in terms of making a living at it – very dark, indeed. But Dwight has rekindled a bit of hope in me that wine content in general is likely to remain strong for a good long time.

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • Michael Brill


    I dunno… thousands of amateurs on Instagram, YouTube, etc. routinely make far more than professionals in traditional media. The worldview that there are publishers who will pick and choose a handful of wine writers and everyone else is doomed to have 100 blog readers feels too much like victimization to me.

    I’m not trivializing the solution, but if a tween can make millions of dollars opening f*cking boxes of toys, then maybe there are ways to increase the value of wine-oriented content that don’t require being singled out by (a declining number of) traditional publishers.

    • 1WineDude


      Michael,

      I think the traditional publishing route has been more or less on life support for years now. A tween can make a small mint opening boxes of toys on YouTube because the audience for that sort of thing is simply much, much larger than the audience who wants to deeply engage on content about wine.

      • Michael Brill


        Dunno… US wine market is roughly 2X size of US toy market. Probably ~ 10m adults in US who care a bit about wine and half of that care a lot. Wine Spectator has probably 1m readers in the US, etc. Not sure it’s an audience size issue… maybe it’s more about form of content? Engaging, short-form video vs. long-form written content?

        • 1WineDude


          Maybe… I think that a not unsubstantial portion of the subscriptions of, say, Spectator and the like are due tot he fact that wine producers, brands, PR, etc. all need to subscribe to be able to see what those pubs are saying when it comes to their products…

        • Bob Henry


          Michael:

          Late to this conversation.

          Here are the stats on wine consumption circa 2010 . . .

          Excerpts from WineBusiness.com
          (May 12, 2010, 2012):

          “The Market for Fine Wine in the United States”
          [Fine Wine 2010 Conference in Ribera del Duero (Spain)]

          URL: http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=73903

          By Graham Holter
          Associate Director – Publishing
          Wine Intelligence market research firm (United Kingdom)

          “According to the data presented by [David] Francke [managing director of California’s Folio Fine Wine Partners], US wine drinking is compressed into a small segment of the population.

          “SIXTEEN PERCENT OF CORE WINE DRINKERS consume wine once a week or more frequently, which ACCOUNTS FOR AROUND 96 PERCENT OF CONSUMPTION. Thirty-five million adults drink virtually all of the wine sold in America, Francke said.

          “Wine Intelligence has studied the US wine market in detail and categorised the wine drinking population . . . at 47 MILLION . . .”

          [Bob’s aside: Corresponds with the “80-20 Rule of Marketing” — 80% of your sales revenue comes from 20% of your customer base. For those interested in this observed phenomenon, Google these keywords: “Pareto principle” and “Joseph Juran.”]

          • Bob Henry


            Wine Intelligence market research firm projects 47 million wine drinkers in the U.S.

            And yet . . . Wine Spectator magazine’s paid circulation hovers around 350,000.

            The Wine Advocate’s paid circulation hovers around 50,000.

            Assuming no overlapping subscribers between the two publications, and 400,000 is less than 1% of the wine drinkers in the U.S.

            Readers of U.S. wine periodicals are the new (old) ONE PERCENTERS.

            • Bob Henry


              Joe’s suggestion that a good percentage of Wine Spectator magazine’s paid subscriptions are de facto trade periodical subscriptions is apt.

              As an ad agency exec, I ran national print advertising campaigns for Fortune 500 companies. I always looked at what percentage of the trade read consumer periodicals. (Think entertainment industry. Think “Entertainment Weekly” and “People” and “TV Guide” magazines.) Saw that as “bonus” circulation/readership complementing my trade media ad campaigns.

              • 1WineDude


                It would be fascinating to see the numbers on this. I’m convinced that it’s a not-insignificant amount of subscriptions (wether paid or not).

  • Tom Wark


    What’s kind of interesting is that there were not that many more good paying wine writing jobs back in the 90s than there are today. We still have a variety of writers at dailies and of course there are many more paying gigs at the digital-only publications.

    Despite the Vivinos of the world and their popularity, I don’t see any reason to believe that paying wine writing jobs will go away. For whatever reason, there are enough people who want to read about wine that editors are willing to pay for writing.

    The non-paid, self publishers of wine writing, who may make a bit on advertising, are the innovation. I find about 75% of them uninteresting. However, that other 75% are often very compelling voices.

    • 1WineDude


      Tom – I think that your 25% favorable figure is being kind :-).

      I guess that the evidence, if there is any, of paying wine writing gigs going away is that in my case I have seen many of them actually go away – as in, the gigs are gone, dissolved into non-existence with either a) nothing else having taken their place, or b) similar but not equivalent gigs in their stead, at significantly lower pay rates.

  • Doug Wilder


    Wine is something that most people only dabble in with serious hobbyists and collectors taking up only the top of the pyramid. As a wine writer using social media, it may seem like a good platform for influencing a lot of people.For perspective, how do some of the biggest names in wine writing stack up with followers on IG?

    Antonio Galloni: 20k
    Wine Advocate: 87k
    Jeb Dunnuck: 12k
    Jamie Goode: 21k
    Alder Yarrow: 3k
    Jancis Robinson: 46k

    Conversely, anyone who has children knows that it is a requirement to know the top preschools, piano teachers, language immersion programs, what to wear at school and healthy eating tips along with about 300 other things.This stuff can’t be ignored. So where do parents get tips? A very quick search of mommy blogger followers on IG reveals:

    itsjudytime: 892k
    mother_of_daughters: 561k
    amberfillup: 1.3m

    But getting back to what could be construed as a niche hobby, I just thought “what about fishing?” There two popped up on IG:

    flylords: 168k
    ynotoutdoors: 438k

    It kind of puts things in perspective. I imagine listening to Carl Sagan in his Cosmos persona describing the importance of wine in the realm of ‘star stuff’ in the IG ‘universe’. “Out past the orbit of Pluto, close to the Kuiper Belt are the rarest and least understood objects in the IG universe, these are the wine writers, home of 100 point wines, Picking Champagne for the holidays, Favorite wines from Provence, Pet-Nat, and Sherry. The journey will take decades and once you get there few will care.”

    • Michael Brill


      Hi Doug… my argument is that, for the most part, wine writing only matters to the extent that it actually helps the reader buy wine. There is no joy in looking at yet another vineyard or bottle shot, or reading about wines that can’t be conveniently purchased. In other words, 99% of wine social media content is boring AF and has no practical utility given how complicated the purchase path is.

      Wine Advocate drives billions of dollars of wine purchases, but that effect has nothing at all to do with social media. It’s because that content is integrated into the buying decision. When’s the last time you were shopping for wine and thought “what was that IG post from winegerbil13 last month – I should buy some of that?”

      The industry needs publishing platforms that can have the same type of integrated buying decision support that professional raters have. Otherwise, as you say, nobody cares.

      • 1WineDude


        Michael & Doug – This is a fascinating perspective and it’s one that I like to bring up in talks, especially when discussing the difference between traditional and online influence, etc.

        A much smaller number of people than we might otherwise think are responsible for a large percentage of fine wine spending at the top-tier of that consumer pyramid; and we shouldn’t ignore the fact that a not-insubstantial percentage of *those* subscribers / buyers / consumers are themselves in the wine industry.

  • doug wilder


    Michael Brill said “When’s the last time you were shopping for wine and thought “what was that IG post from winegerbil13 last month – I should buy some of that?”” Ummm, never? ;)

    Shout it out loud! By leaving a comment on 1WineDude, you accept the fact that you totally rock, and possess excessive amounts of intelligence and good looks. You also agree not to be a douchebag (we love debate here, but we don't tolerate attacks), and to use your superpowers for good.

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