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Famously wrong predictions

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“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”
– Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?”
– H.M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927.

“Wine magazines are dead. Everything’s going online.”
– Just about everybody

We’ve all been pondering the future of wine writing vis a vis the Internet and/or print, and for all the verbiage, we’ve gotten exactly nowhere. Here’s what we know, or think we know:

- lots of stuff is migrating to the Internet
- “news” reporting, including wine reviewing, is becoming more democratic (with a small “d”) because everyone can Twitter, FB, blog
- younger people are doing everything digitally and since the future is theirs, print will shrink up and die
- no one has the slightest idea how to monetize the Internet, except the old-fashioned way, as Gary V. has shown: get paid for being famous, not for blogging

Nobody seems to be able to intellectually move beyond these bullet points, not even someone as savvy as Arianna Huffington. In a post she blogged last Friday, she admitted to being as in the dark as the rest of us concerning how a blog can make money. “[T]here is no question that, as the industry moves forward and we figure out the new rules of the road, there will be — and needs to be — a great deal of experimentation with new revenue models.” Great. I could have told her that.

Let me try one more time to peer into the future and see where this online/print thing is going. Let’s lift that heavy curtain and peer another millimeter or so down the line.

The year is 2013 (that’s about how long I think a good 2007 Pinot Noir will last, so it’s as far out as I’m willing to hazard a guess). There are still wine magazines around, including Wine Enthusiast. They remain important, because lots of people still get exposed to their reviews, not just by subscriptions, but pass-around copies, shelf talkers, email press releases, winery newsletters, citations in blogs and so on. (This is assuming the recession ends one of these days. If it doesn’t, it obliterates not only wine magazines and print journalism in general, but our way of life.)

There are still lots of blogs around, too. But wineries and advertisers don’t like working with an infinite number of people. They need to know who’s on the “A” list and who’s not. That there will be an “A” list, there can be no doubt, and the people on it will be taken seriously. They’ll get sent samples and invited to visit with the winemaker, their reviews will drive wine sales, and their names will be known to many people. By 2013, I don’t see any reason why a handful of bloggers won’t be serious rivals to the traditional wine press. (Obviously, the wine press will also be blogging. And we may need to come up with a new word instead of calling all online activity “blogging.”)

There. That advances things a half millimeter. Can I squeeze out one more tiny prediction? Try this. Once the recession is over, wine magazines, newly lean and mean, return to their positions of dominance. The kids who are all atwitter over Twitter grow up, get a little more conservative and traditional, and start subscribing to magazines again, just like their parents did. (Who knew?) What goes around comes around. Wine print journalism turns out not to be dead. Not even close.

That’s my prediction, and I’m sticking with it.

8-ball

DEPT. OF “HOW’S THAT, AGAIN???”

This just in from Forbes:

Eric Arnold, one of their writers, wrote an article called Ten Great International Wine Destinations, and included nothing from California! Instead, he indulges in some Napa-bashing, complaining about “near-standstill traffic On Highway 29,” and the always-trendy lament about the French Laundry. “‘Call [them] two months in advance, to the day, but you’ll probably get a busy tone.”

Come on, Eric. California wine country extends bey0nd Napa Valley — and there are great restaurants other than French Laundry — but maybe I’m asking too much of a writer for Forbes to comprehend that. You don’t like crowds? Fine. Ever heard of Russian River Valley? Santa Ynez Valley? Anderson Valley? Eric cites the writer, George Taber’s, book on wine tourism and advises his readers to “Go somewhere better” than Napa, to wit: Tuscany, the Douro, Central Otago, the Rhinegau and so on. Look, those are nice places, but they’re not “better” than Napa, or any one of California’s beautiful wine regions. It’s churlish to say that a “tranquil atmosphere and stunning scenery” don’t exist in California. Eric should know better.

  1. Hi Steve:

    I’m bored with the endless hand-wringing over “old vs. new media” but I like your comment about the necessity of intermediation and the A-listers always being there.

    I read Eric Arnold’s column and don’t think his intention was to light a fire and walk away as it burns. I think he is just logrolling for fellow author George Taber.

    He didn’t say anything factually inaccurate: it IS hard to get a reso at French Laundry, there is a lot of traffic on 29 (hint: the Trail – shhhh) and some tasting rooms are really crowded – I’ll go so far as to say that some are even staffed with incompetents who are openly contemptuous of paying customers.

    However you and I and everyone else know that one can visit Napa and see none of these things. Same in Sonoma, and all the other wine country destinations you mentioned. But Taber didn’t write about California. Arnold’s sin – and it is a grievous one – was to have said that the places Taber wrote about are “better.” Unh uh – they’re not.

  2. This makes perfect sense to me, apart from the bit about the online folk flocking to the traditional print mags to which their parents subscribed. I don’t think that’s happening anytime… like… *ever*…

  3. We’ll see…

  4. Steve, you are right to offer the “other” non-Napa sites that aren’t crowded, eg, Russian River Valley, Santa Ynez Valley, Anderson Valley, but I would like to add to that Paso Robles AVA. Crowds? Forget it. Natural beauty? Paso Robles can rival anything Napa has to offer with inherent natural topography, flora, fauna, and hundreds of magnificent lovely vineyards. And the wines? Exceptional quality is easily found, and at prices that make Napa blush. The recession has actually forced wine aficionados who normally would go to Napa to look closer to home, and many have ended up here in Paso Robles. Comments we got just the last week included:

    “This is just so much more cozy and friendly than Napa.”

    “Paso isn’t so congested as being stuck on Hiway 29.”

    “For your dollar, Paso just goes a lot farther, and the wines are superb.”

    “SF caliber food has come to Paso along with top flite accomodations”.

    There is no question Napa is too crowded to be enjoyable at times. Also no question they have been sky high price-wise for what seems forever. But there are alternatives, 3 of which you mentioned above. I would just suggest a 4th…Paso Robles. It would be curious to see what Eric Arnold had to say as he easily drove thru our lovely wine country and sampled our low yield, addictingly delicious wines.

    Nothing wrong with Bordeaux, the Rhone and Rhine, Douro, Tuscany… but those are a long and expensive way off. I still love them all. Also, my last several trips to Napa were not as enjoyable as 20 yrs ago…or even 10 yrs ago. It is too crowded (for me), and it is too expensive(for me). Paso is home to magnificent vineyards, both large and small, the topography is spectacular, we are uncrowded, less expensive, and…we are relatively nearby. I wonder if Mr. Arnold even has heard of Paso Robles…let alone been here.

  5. As a parting shot, I would offer Mr. Arnold a vineyard tour of Cerro Prieto Vineyard that he would not soon forget:

    —rows dropping 150 feet in the space of 150 vines
    —a trip thru a fern grotto nestled between different parts of the vineyard
    —nests of Red-tailed hawks, Great Horned Owls, Barn Owls, whose inhabitants watch over our vineyard
    —terraced hillsides, incredibly beautiful, death defyingly steep, carved out of solid limestone
    —coveys of California Valley quail, Merriam’s and Rio Grande turkeys, both inside and outside of deer fences
    —field after field of purple vetch, massive purple Lupine bushes
    —fields of lupine, California Poppies, intermixed with rows of brite red bull clover for cover crop
    —Spotted German short-hair Pointers, constantly on guard and roving the vineyard in search of pesky gophers
    —hundreds of formerly logged Live Oaks, now regrown, with central cavities containing several gallons of water for all wildlife
    —hundreds of yellow and orange calendulas lining our half mile of roadside deer fence
    —and lastly, no waiting, just come on by.

    Does any of that sound like Napa? Nah, I didn’t think so. Mr. Arnold, please come visit. I think California might make your list of top 10 after all, even if it isn’t in Napa…it’s Paso.

  6. There’s something really comforting about curing up with a great book or thumbing through (not at) our favorite magazines when all is quiet… A great cup of coffee and favorite reads.

    My kids all thought they’d never be like their mother, just like I never thought I’d be like mine. Well, we’re all over that one.

    I wonder…. if a glossy offered a Twitter an opportunity to see his/herself in print, would the Twitter say? I know the first time I saw myself in print, I was all atwitter!

  7. That’s curling… not curing….

  8. Paul Gregutt says:

    Steve, you are quite right about wine touring in California. We did five days driving north from Santa Barbera to San Francisco, including Ste. Rita Hills, Paso and Monterey (a revelation!) and had nothing but great weather, outstanding wines, friendly receptions, no crowds, and of course the usual California A-level hospitality (eg great restaurants, great hotels and inns). So stay off Napa Highway 20 already!!!

  9. Jo

    I suppose in the right circumstances, one could undergo curing if they remain still with a book…

    Every time my kids get the best of me, I catch myself acting and sounding like my dad. And yes, I also find myself making the same kinds of decisions he would make.

  10. Eric Arnold is guilty of the same anti-California bias that affects too many easterners. How he can suggest Tuscany as a getaway when the place is lousy with American tourists is beyond me. Sure, Tuscany is gorgeous, but gorgeous is not the point. Overloaded with tourists is. And has Eric Arnold ever tried to get a reservation at a Three-Star restaurant in France? Or at El Bulli? Let’s face it. The guy is doing us a big favor. We don’t need “no more stinking easterners”. We are already here.

    Oh, and the Duoro. Now, I love the Duoro. Steep hillsides planted with vines from the river up to the sky, but the Duoro is a one-time visit. It is dry, dusty, hot and not a place one would choose to live.

    I will quote one of the pre-eminent denizens of Oporto, whose Douro wine and guest house are quite spectacular. Sayeth I on my first visit, “It is really lovely here. It would be easy to live here”. Respondeth he, “There is a reason why we (the owner of big properties in the Duoro) all live in Oporto. There is nothing here except dirt and vines”.

    Which brings me back to Napa. Like Steve, with whom I share a profession (or is it obsession), I am in the wine country on a regular basis. Napa is wonderfully attractive, and so are the other places in CA that Steve and others have mentioned. Eric Arnold is entitled to his opinion. But he got some of his facts wrong–and that suggests bias to me.

  11. Today, I just got an EMail from wine writer dick Rosano, to tell me about a new (glossy) magazine that’s just been launched.

    http://www.thefoodmag.com

    Someone didn’t tell the publisher that this is a dying business…. or is it, when birth is given.

  12. What’s this about magazines and papers figuring out a new revenue stream as they transition to internet? How about the same model you always had? It’s just a new media and that doesn’t necessarily require a new model. People can subscribe the way the would to normal print-based versions. Let your Sunday version of the paper be sent by e-mail or accessible on the site only on a Sunday. If you are producing the same great content that readers want they will pay for the content. Not to mention, it costs less to have a server to store information as opposed to printing glossy pages, so magazines can become more competitive with subscription-based pricing or even earn more of a profit.

    Now when it comes to print fully transferring over to digital–I have my doubts. It’s like the argument of Hollywood switching from film to HD. There will always be proponents of one format which will continue to drive its use; this is the same with print vs internet. I’m what marketers like to call “a digital native,” and yes, I do a lot of things online. I grew up being online and met some friends from college through FB before even meeting them in person. However, I prefer to read print when it comes to longer articles and books, a lot of people I know feel the same way–reading off a screen for too long drives us up the wall. I see there will be room for both media types, print just won’t be on the same scale it once was.

  13. Dylan, your predictions are as good as any! I hope you’re right, that there will be room for both media types.

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