When blogs go bad
Got this very thoughtful comment yesterday from Shana, who has a blog, Breath[e]:
When you all bring up the subject of experience, I think about the so-called mommy bloggers and their experience. These bloggers are all over the board, from blogs from women about their first child, to moms that adopt, moms that have a few kids, moms that have children in college. Of course, I could go on and on… With mommy bloggers as well as with Wine Bloggers.
And this is what makes any blogging community interesting.
There are so many different perspectives on wine and IMHO that is what readers want. Not everyone wants to read tasting notes from an experienced wine critic (or vice versa) and that is where some of the not so educated bloggers come in and while they may not have the experience, they still are a part of the wine world and can influence those who would rather read their POV.
Anyone who drinks a bottle of wine or visits a tasting room now a days is a potential wine blogger or critic and I think there is room for all sorts of opinions on wine, not just the ‘experts.’
Shana distillizes the pro-blogging camp’s position as clearly as anything I’ve ever read. If I can sum up, it’s “It’s a new world out there. Anybody and everybody can speak authoritatively about anything they want, and that’s good.”
Well, I respect Shana’s point of view, but in this case I can’t entirely agree. Let me state the case, for some of us, for the difference between a good wine blog and a bad wine blog.
* * *
I read a lot of wine blogs. The ones I like tend to be what I think of as more literate, wittier and thoughtful. Also, those written with some particular competence or expertise, whether it’s Tom Wark on the industry at Fermentation to Hosemaster on a rant, or someone telling me something I don’t know about Tuscany or Tasmania.
Then there are blogs that bother me and make me worry. They tend to fall into the category of naivete — marked by passion, but undermined by lack of knowledge and understanding, and by a susceptibility of the blogger being flummoxed and flattered by a winery or wine association. This is both an inevitability, given the nature of blogging, and a danger.
The worst thing a wine blog can do is to shill, however inadvertantly, for a winery or region. The minute I read about someone’s “delightful” visit to so-and-so, they’ve lost me. Visits may indeed be delightful, but the writer shouldn’t say so, because it just sounds — I don’t know — smarmy and credulous. If the blogger describes the visit as “delightful” then her credibility suffers, in my mind. What if the wines suck? Would the blogger say so? Or is the blogger so delighted with the visit — with the hospitality of the owners, the personally guided tour of the winery and caves, the lovely luncheon by the pool, catered by the winery chef, and with the gorgeous tranquillity of wine country — that he’s unable even to know that the wine is mediocre?
Ditto for writing that might have come straight out of a press kit, which too many wine blogs sound like. I saw a blog the other day where the Lodi Winegrape Commission sent the blogger a case of samples, and the blogger wrote that Lodi is “one of the up-and-coming wine regions” and is a “gem of a wine region.” He compared Lodi to Napa and Sonoma and determined that Lodi’s wines “rival” theirs, but at lesser prices.
Now, I’m sorry, but these are not true statements. Lodi is not “up-and-coming,” it’s been around for many years and actually peaked some time ago. Lodi’s wines do not rival Napa’s or Sonoma’s nor for the most part do they wish to do so. Lodi is about value, or should be, and when it’s wines get too expensive, they’ll suffer. (Which is probably happening to some right now.)
If the blogger in question had done his homework he would know that what he said about Lodi isn’t true. How should he have done his homework? By reading, reading, reading the work of those who came before him and who know better. Throughout history, wine knowledge was accumulated slowly by individuals who studied it for years, then had apprentices to whom they handed down their knowledge. This assured continuity, which in turn gave us a collective inheritance, a bedrock, called “truth.” We had the medieval guilds and now their modern descendants, V&E departments, and even groupings like the M.W.s who similarly try to pass organized knowledge on from generation to generation. If you think about it, this is the only way real knowledge and truth can exist in a turbulent world. Imagine if, say, medical knowledge were haphazardly reinvented every day, with every doctor coming to his own opinions regardless of what the medical community had previously determined to be true. I would not want to be treated by a witch doctor who hadn’t studied his craft, or who thought that his opinion was as valid as those who worked harder and longer than he had.
The problem with this age of the Internet is that everybody feels he can be his own expert. But just because somebody says something doesn’t make it true.
I fully understand that every wine blogger has got to start somewhere, and that is usually from a zero knowledge base. However, if you really want to learn about wine, you need to know what people with more experience and understanding have to say about things, and then go on from there. You can’t just come out with inaccuracies or repeat banalities told to you by a P.R. person.
That’s why this kind of thing is a danger. I’m not really worried that genuine wine writing is going away, because the cream will always rise to the top. But we — the wine community — do have to be alert to naive bloggers, with potentially sizable readerships, being “useful idiots” for wineries and associations.
Having said all that, I’ll revert back to Shana’s comment. “Not everyone wants to read tasting notes from an experienced wine critic (or vice versa) and that is where some of the not so educated bloggers come in and while they may not have the experience, they still are a part of the wine world and can influence those who would rather read their POV.” I have now read these words many times, and they fill me with complex, confused emotions.