Making wine blogging credible
In an upcoming column on blogging I wrote for Wine Enthusiast, I said that the “tendency [among bloggers] to cite each other can result in a self-referential gossipy-ness that’s almost incestuous.” Now, the lead-in for print publication being what it is, I wrote those words nearly 2 months ago, while the column itself won’t appear until the July issue. Which is to say, I wrote them before I started this blog (and well before my new Unreserved blog at Wine Enthusiast launches, which is supposed to be any day now, but that’s not something I have control over, like I do here).
Well, maybe I was a little hasty when I wrote the incestuous thing, because I am finding that other peoples’ blog postings (and the comments they generate) can give me useful things to think and write about. Yesterday and today the wine blogosphere — parts of it, anyhow — was vibrating with the topic of “credibility.” Can wine blogs become credible sources of news and opinion among the vast wine-loving public, not just in the U.S. but abroad, the way print wine publications traditionally have been?
It’s a complicated topic, made all the murkier by the inevitable spectre of filthy lucre. Yes, money. Because a credible wine blog would be one which attracts a lot of eyeballs — and a website that has lots of readers on a consistent basis is an advertising magnet; that’s the way the Internet’s revenue stream works. So, you see, the issue of credibility is directly tied to the issue of revenue.
Which brings us to the Wine Bloggers Conference, a first of its kind set to be held in Sonoma County next October. You can bet that the question of revenue will loom large. As one blogger, at Good Grape, put it succinctly, “Simply, most people that engage in wine blogging want more credibility and they would not mind making a little money from the time spent blogging.”
The Good Grape blogger had a suggestion to make to boost credibility: Have wine bloggers complete some form of wine education, in order to become certified. (There are several different organizations in the world that offer such certification; some are more prestigious than others.) In Good Grape’s view, this would increase the public’s belief in the competence of wine bloggers’s reviews.
It probably wouldn’t hurt to have bloggers pass some form of rigorous training in order to educate their palates. After all, since anyone can blog, the standards as they are now are low to non-existent. I’ve seen umpteen wine blogs that purport to review wine, and while I can sympathize with these bloggers wanting to be taken seriously, the question invariably is, Why should we take anyone seriously just because they have a blog and put up some wine reviews? I don’t mean to sound snarky, but that’s the bottom line. So, yes, it’s a good start to have wine reviewing bloggers get all the professional education they can.
But to me the best blogs, the most interesting ones to read, don’t do wine reviewing. They’re blogs like Tom Wark’s Fermentation, where you never know what rant Tom’s going off on. If I’m taking the time to check out blogs every day, I want a sense of being surprised and delighted by what I find — and reading about so-and-so’s Chenin Blanc experience of the prior evening doesn’t cut it.
In the end, the most credible blogs will be the ones that do good reporting, offer lively and cogent analysis and opinion, and entertain (and occasionally outrage) you, the reader. I do not think that the most credible blogs will be ones that review, at least, not anytime soon. I think print publications will continue to dominate, not just magazines but private newsletters. Credibility doesn’t spring up instantly, like Athena from Zeus’s forehead. It takes years and years to build. The best advice I can give to wine bloggers is to stay at it, work hard, be patient, and do good writing. I intend to follow my own advice.