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Parker, Laube and me

30 comments

[Cue: theme from Jaws]

Just when I thought it was safe to be a wine writer with some, ahem, experience under my belt, it’s happened again. Another “You’re old, get out of the way” attack from — gasp! — a blogger.

After last summer’s dustups over the Rockaway thing and the Wine Spectator restaurant hoax, both of which sent the blogosphere into gales of chatter over old vs. new media, here it comes back again, nipping at the heels like a pesky chihuahua.

This time it‘s via a blog I was unfamiliar with, Wine Questers, which describes itself as “focused on wine tasting road trips and the winery experience.” These are good and useful things to blog about, so I’m not quite sure why the owners, Jim and Katya Preston, decided to go off-topic and post this rant provocatively headlined “The old wine media is shattering! (And, yes, the exclamation point is in the original.)

The Prestons cite three examples of what they call “the old media gang of Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast [and] Parker.” They also say that “Many California  vintners definitely want their influence to end.”

I’m honored for my magazine to be included on the short list of old media elites (although I don’t really think of Parker, Jim Laube and me as being members of the same gang), but the Prestons’ citation entitles me, I believe, to respond.

1. Can we please get over this old versus new thing? It’s tired.
2. Print media is not “shattering.” Well, admittedly, the economy is making everyone tremble a little bit, but it has nothing to do with age, or whether you’re print or digital.
3. Re: “California vintners want [our] influence to end,” there’s actually some truth to this, but not for the reason the Prestons imply. To the extent California vintners desire good reviews in order to promote their wines, it stands to reason that they welcome more critical voices. That way, if “x” gives someone a bad review but “y” gives them a good review, they can use y’s review in their PR. It has nothing to do with some silly old versus new preference.

Here’s the Prestons at the end of their rant: “So let the old wine media shrivel up and die on the vine.” Snarky, no? I’ll rise above the temptation to out-snark them to observe simply that there may be some ulterior motives going on in Prestonville. Their website is very ambitious. It aims to be (in its own words) the “critical interface between tasters and tasting rooms and winery Web sites.” It would be convenient for Wine Questers, I suppose, for the likes of Parker, Laube and me to shrivel up and die on the vine. But I don’t think we’re going to.

  1. Dr. Horowitz says:

    Wine magazines will be around as long as there are people reading them. Until everyone has a smart phone, Kindle, and Google reader mastered there will be wine magazines. Is everyone lounging by country club pools next summer going to be getting their wine news from a PC?

    People who are critical of wine magazines should read “One Perfect Day” by Mead.

    From one review (http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/News/Feature/Book-Review-Rebecca-Mead%27s-One-Perfect-Day-38054.htm):

    “vendors (according to Mead), escalating the American wedding is far too lucrative; and for the brides, breaking the bank and one-upping their peers is far too much fun. It’s no accident that so many brides refer to the glut of wedding magazines as ″wedding porn.” They’re fuel for fantasy and guilty pleasures. Mead contends that the wedding industry is chock full of vendors whose M.O. is not just to fill brides’ needs but to feed them. As Colin Cowie, a party planner Mead describes as “the best-known wedding professional in the country,” asserts, “The bride is a marketer’s target. She is a slam dunk.””

    What would the wine industry think about the term “wine porn”?

  2. Steve, it has been clear for some time that print media is declining in value to readers, along with advertising dollars. I’m sure you are aware of that trend. There is a massive “dying on the vine” of old media that is very well documented.

    Also, as I mention in my blog, only a small number of wine tasters actually care about what the old wine media say. I never have and I’ve been tasting in tasting rooms and in wine clubs since the late 1960’s. No one I know personally cares about or reads the old wine media. I do have several mostly unread wine magazines in my home office and they are boring. I bought them a year ago and I’ll try to get interested again in reading something in them.

    Wine blogging has incredible if still untapped potential. It can and probably will reach a far wider audience than old wine media because it is personal. There is a greater chance that the taster will know the blogger and that is more powerful. Bogging is very powerful in some industries and seems to have greater potential in the wine industry than we currently see.

    I have no idea who you are except from the blog post I’m responding to but I’m sure you have your online following. You will now have to share the market with thousands of other wine writers. Tasters are going to be Twittering and text messaging from tasting rooms and their opinions will be more valid than yours for their audience.

    Almost every vintner I meet wants a better alternative to the old wine media and reviews. Based only on my personal conversations with them, and not at my instigation ever, they express frustration and even some anger. At first I thought it was just a little venting and not worth my time to develop an alternative. After a while I saw a real need and developed a software and business process solution. They came to me, it wasn’t my idea.

    I had no opinion at all of the old wine media until about a year ago when I was GPS mapping hundreds of California wineries. I didn’t even have the Wine Questers concept in mind until after I finished my field work in mid-November 2007. I was focused on GPS mapping and reviewing winery picnic areas. I just responded to what I heard over and over again from vintners, staff, and tasters at wineries from Temecula to Mendocino to the Sierra Foothills.

    We are currently in the process of producing little Web videos to introduce tasters to each of 19 California wine regions. This weekend we’ll be shooting in Amador County and maybe Lodi. In the past month I’ve driven about 4,000 miles and met vintners in all of the 16 regions I’ve already shot.

    Almost every vintner brings up their frustration with the old wine media – same as a year ago. That is why I decided to post that blog you refer to. Sorry, your media has a problem that it wasn’t fixing so I’ll have a go at it – Silicon Valley style – with software and improved processes.

    You are obviously becoming new wine media so I’m not sure why you would reject that. I see your blog as additional proof that the old wine media is shattering. It seems you have validated my observations.

    – Jim Preston
    Santa Clara, CA

  3. Dr. H., I will refrain from publically airing my views of what would constitute “wine porn” although I bet we could come up with some pretty good examples over a bottle of wine!

  4. In the wine marketing world, there’s still room for everyone… Period.

    As a wine professional who sits in constant wine marketing meetings, no one’s ready within the business to give up their interest in wine magazines and the people who write for them.

    Also, the real proof would be to look at magazine printing production numbers, versus making broad sweeping statements without the facts to back up the assumption.

    Shattering and dying on the vine?

    Wine magazines haven’t reached market maturity segueing into market decline. They are, however, segueing into also having an on-line presence. This metamorphosis shouldn’t give us the logical inference that magazines are dying on the vine. It just means that we’re undergoing through changes of growth and development. Some things are changing (I don’t have to print tons of press kits anymore, because all of that info’s no on winery Web sites, but not all things are changing…. I still have to create the original press and/or trade kit and PDF it.)

    Go visit the newsstands at Barnes & Noble. There are hoards of magazines that are being printed, and still more in the conceptual stages.

    I also know that the need for them won’t be drying up any time soon for wine marketing departments, who thrive on stories and endorsements from not only Wine Enthusiast, Parker, and Wine Spectator, but also from newspaper people of major consequence (e.g., New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Chicago Tribune, LA Times… the list goes ever on). Then, there’s also Food & Wine, The Tasting Panel, EveryDay with Rachel Ray… the list is huge.

    In wine sales, it’s imperative to be able to talk about what so-and-so said about such-and-such.

    We live on third party endorsements; otherwise, Tom Wark would never have invented his wine blogging awards. If you care about your popularity, you’ll covert this award, just as wineries covet a great score from Steve Heimoff, and everyone else.

    Berries are plump on the vine over here!

  5. Another thought… My experience – because I also work with winery proprietors every day… Winery owners are more frustrated, because they’re own story hasn’t been printed in the magazines, yet, versus anything els. We all operate on ego… Imagine knowing that you’re all that, but no-one’s written about you yet.

    Unfortunately, they’re behind a long line of wanna-be’s, so that won’t happen soon. I had someone fire me, because he didn’t like his score in a magazine.

    Marketing a “winery” is a completely different animal than marketing “wine”… Completely different. Step outside of a tasting world, and the inner workings of a wine company has a complex infrastructure.

  6. Thanks for your thoughts Jo.

    People are looking for validations, of themselves, their wines, whatever. The methods of validation can be changed and technology and new processes can easily do that. Well respected brands can disappear or become a backwater in just a few years. Your observations are correct for the present but I didn’t say “dead on the vine”, as in present tense. I’m looking forward. There are other PR folks agreeing with me.

    That the old wine media is moving online is just validation that the old methods are starting to wither and that the wine media market is shattering. Just early symptoms. That shattering is going to reach far more of the market than the old media did.

    http://www.WineQuesters.com is a platform for wineries to market directly and interactively to tasters. eBay is a platform. Facebook wants to be and it is evolving a bit in that direction. Wine Questers is not media but can be used as media. It is a tool that you, Steve Heimoff, or anyone else can use. I’m doing a little media on the site as an example. Many wineries will need your help in optimizing their marketing.

    I’m targeting the majority of tasters who don’t read the wine media and just want to explore and have fun. They usually aren’t wine dummies but like me they aren’t interested in every detail – they are casual hobbyists. This is the market that is critical for the wineries with tasting rooms and it seems to be much bigger than the advanced hobbyists market that is the focus for old wine media.

    I see you are in Windsor. I spent a couple of hours with your neighbor Ed Gomez at Russian Hill last Saturday. He is interested in blogging now but I’m sure he could use some help. I’m trying to avoid consulting. Been there, done that.

    – jim

  7. Apologies to Steve for not knowing who he is. I just found the time to locate and read his impressive biography.

    – jim

  8. Your thoughts are insightful and well presented, Jim.

    The “shattering” for me is more “segmenting.”

    I have a very unusual position in the wine business in that I’m not only performing PR (a segment of a marketing department), but I sit with wineries in their strategic planning sessions. There are less of us doing this, so there are less of us involved in knowing company financials and marketing budget. I also do advertising placements… There’s the insider track.

    Well established wine proprietors still revere wine mags (as much as they may sometimes be frustrate that they haven’t had that “feature” story, yet), and still look forward to annual wine magazine events, their awards, their scores, and their feature stories.

    We’re a long way from a paperless society, and by the time that does happen, all of these magazines will have an even greater on-line presence esablished.

    I pay a fee, now, to read Wine Spectator on-line, in order to capture verbiage for clients. And, I’ve advised lots of wine writers about ways they can begin to gather on-line income.

    These wine writers are diversifying, and will be much more successful than those of us who are just beginning to blog, because as a “product,” they’ve already got their credentials established and their followings.

    It might be a generational thing, honestly, because old habits die hard. Your comments and insight are from a younger generation’s perspective, so I ask you this question…

    If Wine Enthusiast liked your writing style, and asked you to join its editorial staff, would you take the job? This will some day happen, you know, because Adam Strum has a daughter in the business. These magazines also have growth plans. At one Wine Spectator party, I saw one of our fellow bloggers really trying to cozy up to Marvin Shanken of Wine Spectator. If Marvin offered him a job writing, do you think he’d turn it down? I’m honestly thinking “no way,” because we’re all trying growing within the wine writing community.

    I’ve asked you these questions with a very gentle voice, Jim… Flat words with no images can be so easily misunderstood, and I don’t want that to happen. I respect you and what you’ve written.

    Today’s wine bloggers are tomorrow writers with credibility established, and will be well on their way. They’ll be published on line, and they’ll have magazine stories as well. (There’s nothing like holding a magazine in your hands that inside holds one of your stories… It’s a delight.)

    And, yes, some day we’ll be paperless, but that’s a long way from fermentation, and by the time it happens, people like Alder Yarrow will be “on staff,” and I’ll be in a rocking chair watching shooting stars.

  9. Jo, your questions are very good ones. I’d point out only that Mr. Preston (whom I don’t know except through emails) doesn’t seem to be a member of the younger generation. I think he’s closer to our age.

  10. Well, there you go… Jim’ll be on the porch with me watching the shooting stars… You’ll still be scribing, though. I can’t see your typing slowing down with all that’s inside and your new found freedom of writing what’s been on your mind for a very long time ;^)

  11. it’s a lot easier to get over this “thing” if you would take to ignoring it and get on with wine writing. Maybe all you really want to do is stir the pot.

  12. What is the future of wine writing?

    Might as well ask what happens after you die – no one really knows for sure.

    While there’s no doubt that print media is in decline financially, it is not yet in decline in its influence, just as on-line mediums are increasing theirs.

    And I see plenty of room for old and young alike.

    Cheers!

  13. 1WineDude: Totally agree! Room for both! That’s all I’m saying. And all I’m asking is for people to stop bashing traditional print media. We are all on the same side.

  14. This is all ivory tower stuff, and I think the biggest problem the old media faces in coming months/years is the degree to which they foolishly ignore the new media (that does NOT include you, Steve).

    There is exponentially more wine information available to wine lovers today than there was pre-2000. That alone has made print media less important. And the way the old mags plod along with their mostly-unread buying guides suggests to me that they are indeed dinosaurs. The whole idea of a wine “magazine” is to expose readers to more of what they wnat to know/eexperience. The way the magazines treat their views insularly — ignoring expertise that abounds in other publications and the trade makes them utterly, sadly and hopelessly out of touch. They simply are afraid to cover the totality of the wine scene because (now more than ever) it undermines their own sense of authority.

    Think about how silly and surreal it isto have all the magazines churn out buying guide after buying guide…. what is the point except self-promotion? Would not readers be better served by a more rounded, realistice approach that eschews the tattoo-like permanance of ratings in favor of pluralistic discussion? That is what the new media is providing that the old does not. And while it may not be as easy to surf sites and follow blogs than it is to get a magazine in your mailbox every month, the difference is palpable.

    Unfortunately, the American mindset that loves shortcuts and easy advice will ensure that the demise of magazines is slow — barring some sort of unforseen event/scandal. Because the trade is in cahoots with the 90-point mindset, the ratings may not go away soon. But the sense of imperial authority behind them is tarnishing montlhy.

  15. Hi Tish, I think you’re just on another anti-magazine rant. The fact is — as near as I can tell — that about half of all wine blogs rate wines, just like magazines. So to that degree, they’re wannabe wine critics. Granted, not many of them use the 100-point system, but so what? All systems, in the end, are just that: systems. And, as Jo Diaz pointed out above, I doubt if there are many bloggers who would turn down an opportunity to be a major reviewer for a major wine magazine. I see magazines and blogs as complementing each other, not competing. As to your point that old media foolishly ignore new media, that is patently not the case. Every old media outlet is online, often in multiple guises. There’s not a single magazine or newspaper publisher who isn’t trying to figure out how to make the transition.

  16. Steve, I still write for magazines (Westchester, Private Clubs, Beverage Media), so I am not purely anti magazines. Yes, I am anti wine-ratings magazines.

    Perhaps I did not make myself clear on the ignoring new media point. I find that the online community is far more accepting of multiple viewpoints. Indeed, most blogs – those that review wines and those that do not – embrace the concept of plurality of opinions. This is realistic, earnest and healthy. By contrast, magazines – by their record if not policy – deliberately avoid any sense of dissent/discussion, even while every wine drinker out there understands the subjective nature of wine analysis. They also tend to avoid calling on wine-trade professionals for their opinions/viewpoints, as it would serve to undermine their own authority. And, with very rare exceptions, they ignore other wine media/critics and, as stated originally, new wine media.

    Yes, I know that magazines have online versions of themselves. But it doesn’t take much of a glance at these sites to see that they are merely extensions of their print agendas, and lack the open-ness of the best blogs and online-only sites. Again, the print mags are ignoring the online outlets (again fearing undermining their own self-worth), in turn shortchanging their readers.

    Insularty, I believe, is the rising achilles heel of print mags. And self-importance. The situation may not change quickly, mainly because retailers and the marketing depts of wineries continue to prop up the old guard. But that support is more a matter of habit than anything. As the economy tightens, I expect more wineries and marketers to look beyond the old guard. And they will find plenty of earnest and valuable outlets in the blogosphere.

    One last point: for years the general wine community has accepted the idea that wine as a topic can be covered by magazines. In truth, however, general wine magazines make as much sense as general music magazines, which is to say not much at all. Wine is too varied, and it is incredibly rare to find a conscious wine lover who adores all types of wine. Those who surf the Web are more likely to find sites/blogs that fit their particular tastes, whether it be Iberian wines, Pinot Noir, or great value wines. THe diversified yet highly informed information alrady present in new media fits the way real people approach wine; meanwhile, the glossy mags continue to take the lazy-susan approach (Italy in April, Bordeaux in May, Napa in June, etc). It’s a tired and unrealistic approach in my estimation.

  17. Living in America is great, because we can all have estimations…

    As I began to read what Tish was saying, it reminded me of the last industry I worked in… music, through broadcasting and PR.

    This is another industry that’s morphing (as do all things). The shifting parallels of evolution are about equal, but the changes within the record industry are astronomical as compared to the slow moving wine industry… from the days of LPs to today’s downloads off the internet.

    But, let’s return to magazines, where this all started, and is there room for all of it..

    It’s not ivory tower stuff… It’s green back stuff that pays the salaries of those who contribute, and pours out information for those who love to read… for whatever reason; be it what wines got what reviews by whomever is the favorite palate with which one aligns most closely, reading about how Alhona Vineyards is doing in the Carmel Valley, or reading about the Best of Bordeaux…

    Go to Borders and count the magazines. Wine has also slipped into almost every one of the life style sections… It’s broadening, not narrowing.

    And it’s not worth getting cranky over, is it?

  18. Morton Leslie says:

    When I got into the wine business in the late 60’s and early 70’s print wine journalism was the bottom of the barrel. If you couldn’t do sports, crime, or obits, they stuck you with wine. If you wanted to write about wine you could, because no self respecting journalist would. For example, Jerry Mead was a night shift police dispatcher who discovered wine and like many newbies immediately began writing about it as he learned about it. Same with Parker. They learned to write as they learned about wine. Sentence structure, grammer, vocabulary and spelling were dreadful. But over the last four decades it has changed. Wine writing in the print media is often excellent writing and well edited. It is often performed by individuals well educated and well read in the letters. Often they are a pleasure to read.

    The blogosphere is a throwback to the 60’s. There are exceptions, but most often the writing is amateurish, poorly proofed, never edited, and there seems to be a lot written by individuals who are just learning about wine. It will probably take decades to settle out and there will always be a preponderance of crap, given there are no barriers to entry. Despite the problems, print is still the most viable business model and it will still pay for the best product.

  19. Morton, you’re right about sloppy writing on blogs. In a way that’s tied into a larger phenomenon of traditional spelling and punctuation being eschewed in favor of a more vernacular approach to writing. For example, when kids text message they contract “what the f**k” to wtf. And in rap music (which is heavily influential to the younger generation) words are also intentionally shortened and misspelled so that “holler” becomes “holla.”

  20. Well, Steve, you started a lively discussion when you track-backed to my blog :-) (By the way, my blog’s comments aren’t working yet. Not sure what my previous programmer did but I need to get around to fixing it.)

    As I was shooting for our videos of Amador County and Lodi this past weekend I thought of a few points while driving around the wine regions:

    1) Again, vintners asked me about developing an alternative to the old wine media even before I told them that I had already done that. I didn’t have time to keep track but I would say about 90% of a dozen vintners. I’m doing run and gun photography for our introduction videos to each region so I don’t have time to chat much with anyone. I want to get basic videos online soon and improve the quality later.

    The point is, what appears to me to be an overwhelming majority of vintners of small to medium size operations with tasting rooms don’t like the old wine media. They want to be saved. Not my idea so don’t shoot the messenger. I’m a former CPA with extensive litigation experience and do ethnographic research of tasters on the side so I have the listening and observing thing down pretty well.

    2) There is confusion about what is media and what is the medium. Putting old wine media on the new medium with new tools does not make new media out of them. New media is a matter of more voices of various qualities, delivered through various channels for wider consumption, and interactivity. It also has nothing to do with the age of a voice.

    3) Since my age has become a factor on several posts then I’ll disclose. I’m 57. A somewhat complete bio is at http://www.conceptuate.com if anyone is curious.

    4) Old wine media will die on the vine. Not one response above understands how this will happen. I want to keep the conceptual framework I’m developing somewhat secret for another couple of years but a hint is that everyone will make their own wine magazine with the content of their choice. My Yahoo and such portals are early and primitive examples.

    The old ad model is the walking dead. Read some of Marshall McLuhan’s media philosophy for hints. His 1968 Playboy interview is one of my favorite intellectual discussions ever.

    5) To print or not to print is not an issue. That is just another medium and it seems to be a distraction in this discussion. Old wine media has nothing to do with magazines. Most people can print beautiful pages at home if they choose and those could be new media pages. You can read old media online.

    6) To answer Jo’s question if I would like to write for old wine media the answer is no. I’ve been published on a variety of topics over the past 40 years or so. Nice but only momentarily interesting.

    During the Basin Complex fire in Big Sur last summer I developed an advanced online incident information and communication platform concept and prototype – a form of interactive media. The Calif Office of Emergency Services is ignoring this proven and highly popular solution so with homes burning in the L.A. area right now I need to get this project moving. I prefer such projects to writing on a regular basis.

    7) I would like to discuss this quote from one of Steve’s emails to me:

    “Do you have to try and destroy your “opponent” in order to succeed? And we are not opponents. As I’ve said for years, all of us are on the same side: in favor of wine, increased per capita wine consumption in America, etc.”

    It didn’t really respond to anything I’ve written and I noticed that Steve was a bit defensive in some of his emailed thoughts with me. I think I understand what is going on.

    Old wine media has been turned into a kind of religious dogma by many “educated” tasters. Those wine snobs then use the dogma to pick on us wine heathens who really don’t want to get technical. The heathens get angry and beat on Steve who is now accessible online and a nice target.

    My guess is that Steve, Parker, et al really didn’t intend for their observations to be used as a club to beat on casual tasters. Maybe the vintners have some similar issue.

    8) However, to free ourselves of the snobs we probably will have to impeach the credibility of old wine media. We’ve seen some very good first shots in this little revolution with “The Wine Trials” and various sting investigations. (The results of these stings support my long-held opinions based on my observations.)

    With Wine Questers I want “Everyman” to break free of the established wine dogma and discover their own tastes. I’m giving the huddled masses the tools to do that, as are other sites. If Parker wants to keep telling us what he thinks of wine that is fine but I no longer want it to be used as a sword to cut the industry to his likes. (Reference the movie Mondovino.)

    I also want these ratings off the shelves someday. There are better alternatives in development.

    That revolution over the next decade or so will cause some pain to the old elite. Hopefully it won’t get personal. We want to have fun with our hobby and we are fighting back against the snobs, even if it is not articulated well by the “young” bloggers. They are a symptom, not the problem.

    9) OK, now I’m going to be mean and disclose Steve Heimoff to the wine world as a subversive new media agent. He is actually with the rabble and under cover in the old wine media for years. I quote from an email he sent me:

    “I myself wish there were more voices, and I’ve said many times that I’ll consider my job done when no one in America cares what any critic — me or Joe Blow — says about wine.”

    So there you have it. One of the “old” high priests of the wine press has been lurking in the barrel room shadows waiting for the opportunity to join the Young Turks. Who would have known …

    – jim

  21. I wonder if people get just as upset when Ebert and Roeper provide their “expert” movie reviews. Or when sites like Rottentomatoes came about, allowing people to judge movies for themselves in a public forum. Was there a cry for all movie critics to stop rating movies?

    Blogs and new media allow wine to be democratized which is great, now that consumers are more comfortable with wine and feel more free to share their opinions.

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t look to people whose palates we respect, before purchasing a bottle of wine. There is a place for both, whether delivered in print or online. Ratings systems just quantify opinions.

  22. Erika,

    For that matter, why don’t they get upset about restaurant reviewers? I bet the same crowd that screams about wine magazines uses restaurant critics to decide where (and where not) to go.

  23. Just a thought, but I don’t recall anyone telling me that my favorite restaurant or movie is “vinegar” like they do with wine. Something else is happening in the wine world. Who ever heard of a restaurant or movie snob? Sure, those establishments get picked apart by reviewers both orally and in writing but it doesn’t seem to get as personal as wine snobs do to the average wine hobbyists.

    I’m dead sure that Steve and the others don’t intend for this behavior to happen but it is.

    This discussion has been important to me and I’ll use it as reference at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in Santa Rosa, Sonoma County, next week.

    In my post above I said I was getting mean and outing Steve as a subversive new media agent. I meant that in jest but forgot to install a smiley face. There is some other icon in my post but I have no idea how it got there.

    Still, I have outed Steve as a new media guy. Those “young” bloggers will just have to cope with it :-)

    Wife Katya and I are doing a vertical tasting of Amador Cellars Zinfandel this evening :-)

    – jim

  24. Who ever heard of a restaurant or movie snob? ME! Jim, I’m looking forward to meeting you at the conference, both Steve and I will be there.

  25. OK, so maybe restaurant snobs exist but they don’t influence an industry like we see with wine. There is no Parker of gourmet food, at least on any scale that matters. I don’t recall seeing ratings on a menu.

    Yelp is the right direction. Lots of data points (ratings and reviews) will eventually create useful information and trends. That is where we are going with wine tasting. Probably still a fit for existing wine writers but the environment will be different.

    My next blog will be on how taste is influenced by context. If my hypothesis is right as our early research indicates, then the whole existing ratings and fair medals thing collapses – credibility impeached. I think we are seeing the beginning of that trend. I’ll work on this post today. http://www.winequesters.com/blog/

    See you at the conference! Katya and I are staying at the event hotel. The Sunday “Unconference” should be interesting.

    – jim

  26. Dear Steve,

    I came across the “Shattering!” post and your response completely by accident, and it was interesting to read.

    I wrote a response on my own (humble) wine blog:

    “Dear ‘Shattering’ Old Wine Media,

    I don’t think you’re shattering.

    I also am on the fence about Yelp being “the right direction.”

    As a writer (self-published at 10 with a volume of limericks) I find that blogging brings interesting perspectives to the wine world – but I don’t follow the wine ‘reviews’ of my fellow bloggers as gospel.

    Call me a Parkerite, if you will – and you’re right. Catching up on the headlines this evening, I stumbled across Steve Heimoff’s blog (Mr. Heimoff is the West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast, my favorite rag.) I’ve read his articles and columns for some time, as I am a subscriber (gasp! To a magazine!) Steve had posted a response to a wine blogger’s article entitled ‘The Old Wine Media is Shattering!’ The response launched into several comments and a very interesting argument between a few posters – is wine blogging the future of wine writing?

    God, I hope not.

    Don’t get me wrong. Obviously, I’m a blogger myself – I just have a hard time believing that one medium will ultimately crush the other (great pun.) See, I’m also an old-school bookworm – nothing like the smell of a favorite book, pages turning, note-taking in the margins. For that reason I really hope things like Kindle don’t replace the experience of a book. Ditto for wine blogs – I look forward to my monthly WE and enjoy reading every bit of it.

    One great point Steve makes is that text-messaging and email writing has changed (I’m tempted to say “ruined”) the beauty of written communication. He references short-hand like ‘wtf’ and ‘lol.’ I’ve come across many a wine blog with ample spelling and grammatical errors – yet I’m supposed to trust the writer’s opinion of a certain wine? Humph. WTF?

    Then there is always the argument that wine blogging opens the door to all – whilst there are few staff positions at Spectator. On one hand I think it’s wonderful that we (wine bloggers) can all join up and trade industry insights, personal experiences and our favorite bottles. But I don’t believe anyone can rightfully think themselves a Cyberspace Parker and throw point ratings around. For at the bottom of the wine critic’s barrel is pure experience – years of it. Years spent tasting thousands of wines from all over the world, visiting regions, learning about winemaking and farming, truly knowing the history of wine. This knowledge is invaluable and timeless; it will not be ‘shattered’ because Joe Sixpack decides he thinks that jug of Gallo was downright amazing and feels the need to write about it.

    Evident in print publications – above all – is writing talent. (Sigh.) I have yet to come across a wine blogger who can put together a 3-sentence review of a wine and really make my mouth water. My hope is that some day I can do just that – and of course, Advocate, I’d love to join the staff.

    As much as I’m proud to be a part of this new wave of wine writing, tasting, thinking, and buying, the ‘old wine media’ is simply adapting to this change in the publishing climate, much like the music and film industries. The consumer’s opinion is indeed very important – for he/she determines if wine writers (or novices like me) exist at all. The more I learn about wine, the more I realize that this love is a lifelong learning process; so, the less likely I am to think that my next-door neighbor knows better than Steve, or Bob, or Eric, or Jancis.

    But I’m sure he’s getting there.”

  27. Erin, nice discourse but it has little to do with why the old wine media is shattering. Printed material is a medium, not media, and not the issue necessarily. It seems everyone loves to link the two in a death lock.

    What I don’t see are discussions by people who understand media and have knowledge of what is happening to media.

    Media companies have their backs against the wall in pretty much every industry. While my post seems to be a surprise to many tasters and wine industry professionals it should be nothing new to media people.

    Many posts mentioned that blogging could never overcome well-written articles. Again, the posters are associating the “barbarian” stage of blogging now with the future of blogging.

    A bit over a hundred years ago the “wise” argument was that horses will always be more valuable than cars because the roads get muddy and cars get stuck. Almost no one could look forward and see that the problem they identified would be fixed and horses went from the main transportation mode to a minor recreation.

    Steve Heimoff, Parker, et al can easily deliver well-written and edited information directly to their consumers. However, as is happening in the music industry, media consumers will assemble their own media in the future. (Yes, you can print it and read it by the pool if you like.)

    Advertisers are getting restless about print ads. They have told me that they can’t reach their markets like they used to. Younger people are consuming media differently and that trend is advancing up the generations. As advertisers pull out of old media then it will sink. That is happening.

    Notice today that Google reported that revenue and profit went up a bunch. That is the sound of old media shattering. There are other shattering sounds out there but not everyone is listening, or understanding.

    – jim

  28. I couldn’t help but be involved with this discussion at this point. Speaking of old ways media shattering, your point of view is actually starting to get dated. Long has many reactionaries foretold the “doom” of ways of old. Robots replacing all humans in their jobs, computers running governments. Old men saying “I expect I’ll have to put up with robots bagging my groceries.” One thing people neglect to notice is that it hasn’t happened once. Things evolve..the more efficient cost effective way usually will fill mainstream. Cars certainly did replace the horse, but last I checked, horses are still ridden everywhere, I don’t suspect that is ever going to change. By your logic, they should all be extinct within fifteen years. You seem to feel that the person actually doing the writing has no say in this matter. The written word (or typed) has always had value, especially by an artist or professional, it will always be worth money to someone. Being an artist, I guarantee you the notion that my work will never reach a tangible hard copy is horrifying. Oil paint is always going to be used and writers are always going to want to see covers on their books. I don’t care that wine writing is the only thing that concerns you, this aspect of technology is universal. CDs are all but dead, cassette tapes are long gone, but Metallica still released their latest album on vinyl.
    There is an audience. Information – and the ways in which people get their information – will have several mediums.

  29. Russ, I agree that my point of view is dated for anyone who knows media. My original blog that started this discussion wasn’t targeting media folks.

    Millions of old ways have been doomed and disappeared from human culture and society. Your argument that robots will replace all humans in their jobs was never an accepted position but robots are replacing millions of humans right now and more to come.

    Computers are running the stock and other markets. Robots are bagging things, just not groceries yet that I’m aware of. That will happen and it is easy and inexpensive to do. A form of that has been happening for years in dozens of industries. As an artist you may not be in a position to see that.

    Horses, just one of thousands of examples, are now a minor after thought of their previous function. Old wine media is going the same way.

    “One thing people neglect to notice is that it hasn’t happened once.” Most people are aware that it is happening every day. I would love to have time to develop this topic!

    You viewpoint is like looking at a screen shot in mid-game and generalizing into the future. That doesn’t work.

    My logic does not have anything in particular about old wine media being obsolete in 15 years. Interesting how a certain time limit evolved from this. Notice however that Parker’s latest tome has multiple authors. The reason I’m not describing what is happening is that the responses to this statement will be so amusing if Steve wants this thread to continue.

    I never mentioned anything about the written or typed word not having value. Actually, that doesn’t matter, but I read and study day and night almost every day for the last 4+ decades so I think writing has value.

    You seem to glorify “hard copy” and equate that with old media. As I’ve pointed out previously those are not the same.

    Your conclusion fails to take into account that most of old media required their customers – advertisers – to have faith that they are reaching their audience. When you buy a Metallica CD, vinyl record, or whatever then you are the customer. Not so with buying a magazine. The publisher’s customers are the advertisers and the product delivered is your eyeballs.

    Those customers are leaving across most or all industries and it really doesn’t matter if you like read the publications or not. That is why Google’s increase in revenue and profits is significant.

    There are other issues but that is one biggee. Media is more than the medium, and the medium affects the media.

    Actually, old media was identified in the late 60’s and pretty well defined then. Some media people know that. For the rest of you then you can either research this on your own or open your minds to a new world that we are already part of and adopting to day by day.

    Interesting responses. My I guarantee that none of you will go unsatisfied with new wine media? Relax and enjoy the ride, but enjoy it by being at least vaguely aware of what is happening.

    This afternoon my wife and I are enjoying a wonderful bottle of Syrah from Route 128 Winery with a new tasting room in Geyserville, Alexander Valley, California. More flavor than usual.

    – jim

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