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Why don’t wine Internet sites get the traffic of food Internet sites?

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And what can wine-istas learn from successful foodistas?

There’s this guy, John Mitzewich, whose cooking recipe YouTubes have 83,143 subscribers, nearly four times those of Jamie Oliver; his upload views are 25 million. He even had an interview with the Food Network, which was interested in offering him his own show. (It didn’t happen…yet).

There’s another food YouTube site, Hippy Gourmet, that got so popular, the author now has a PBS television show, in addition to gigs on the DISH Network, a local San Francisco cable channel, and even shows on Comcast on Demand.

Then there’s Pailin’s Hot Thai Kitchen, which started just over a year ago and, according to the San Francisco Chronicle (the inspiration for this post), has been embraced  by the online food community, “posting her videos on their own websites.”

The Chronicle story is a compelling narrative of how budding Food Network wannabes, armed with little more than cheap videocams and a little talent, are turning themselves into overnight sensations–future Paula Deens and Tyler Florences.

Search YouTube for “food” and you’ll get 2.5 million hits. Search for “wine” and the number drops to 1/6 of that. The point being that amateur home cooks are way ahead of amateur wine writers in successfully using the Internet to launch careers.

If you discount Gary Vaynerchuk, all the activity on wine blogs, even with the new, Vaynerchuk-inspired turn to video, has not created a single star. It’s very curious, and demands an explanation. I suppose that “food” as a category is always going to be much bigger than “wine,” in terms of economic impact and popularity. Everybody loves to eat. Lots of people love to cook. Not everybody likes wine, and there’s a limit to how interesting a wine video can be. Watching a chef slice, dice and spice her way through the preparation of a meal on TV can actually be exciting (as we’ve understood since Julia Child proved it). But how interesting can a wine writer be on a video interviewing a winemaker, asking him or her the same trite questions: “How did you get started? What’s your favorite wine?” Then too, we can actually go into our kitchens and try to recreate a dish we saw being prepared on TV or the Internet, whereas we can’t exactly make wine after watching a winemaker do it.

There may be an inherent limitation to the popularity of a wine Internet site, but if you’re a wine blogger, you have to be inspired by the emergent success of people like Mitzewich, Hippy Gourmet and Pailin. They’re pushing viewers away from their television sets and toward their computers for entertainment and education. I’m not sure how the first Internet wine star is going to do it (again, excluding Gary V.), but whatever it is, it’s going to have to make for compelling computer viewing. It’s show biz, and some things never change.

  1. Good read, Steve!
    I think you’ve accurately summarized what’s going on.
    There’s also been a tradition of food celebrities on TV and in book form going back to Julia Child. That’s much less true of wine (or indeed, beverages in general). There may be a perception, in large portions of the public, that they are getting better value for their time watching food videos than watching someone talk about drinks.

  2. But this is an inappropriate comparison!

    There are many, many activities which attract greater followings than wine – why pick food? If you compare wine sites to, say, whisky sites, the following is much greater. If you think there’s a necessary connection between wine and dining (debatable), wine sites still attract a greater following than, say, cutlery sites.

    The thing is – the level of instruction and participation in cooking is SO much greater than in the consumption of wine. Learn how to bake a cake, and you still have to learn how to make an omelette – and both will attract followers to instructional sites. Find yourself with a leftover roast, and you turn to a cooking site to find out what you can do with it; find yourself with a leftover half-bottle of pinot noir and you, er, drink it.

    I just can’t see the relevance of this particular comparison; and instead of measuring ourselves in such a depressing way, why NOT compare us to whisky sites?

  3. Dear Sediment Blog, of course you are correct. I tried to say the same thing (food is much more relevant and meaningful to people than wine). I guess the reason I blogged on this is because, living in the wine blogosphere as I do, I am painfully aware of how much the top wine bloggers want to create careers out of this. There has been much analysis over the years about why the top wine blogs are not making big sums of money — why the top wine bloggers aren’t being invited on TV, or getting lucrative book deals, etc. This is an important topic for a lot of people. I thought it was interesting to show how the three food bloggers I profiled are succeeding. Maybe a study of their methods will provide some insight. I don’t claim to have the answer.

  4. Reading this made me think that one way for an wine writer/blogger to enter this arena would be to work in conjunction with a foodie and address pairings.
    The appropriate wine enhances any meal and should be treated with the same importance as any ingredient (Maybe more so).

    Areas where the consumer might learn something would be proper decanting, serving temperatures, glassware, etc.

    Sam Calagione is having a great time with his show “Exteme Beer” but I don’t see a wine equivalent even though wine drinkers are every bit as passionate about their preferred drink as beer drinkers are.
    Maybe a show that combines travel with wines and terrior, local cuisine and customs, and a bit of history. Plus a virtual visit to the great Chateaus of the Bordeaux would be very stylish.

  5. Bill Stephenson: good ideas but why just “the great Chateaux of the Bordeaux”? Why not great wineries from all over the world? Of course, the challenge there for a blogger is money. It would cost a ton to travel the world. These successful food bloggers are creating content for almost nothing. I like your idea of a wine blogger working with a foodie on pairings. Too often the mystery of pairing is hidden behind a veil. It would be nice to lift the curtain and let people know exactly how and why a sommelier arrives at a decision.

  6. Interesting. The thing I can’t stop thinking about is the one person that has gotten the book deal and been asked on television shows isn’t a “writer” at all, (the one you ask that we exclude) but a “personality”. Reminds me of the early days of the Food Network, back when David Rosengarten was one of the primary hosts and then Emeril splashed on the scene. Big personality and a less than refined way of doing things…20 cloves of garlic in everything and BAM! Whatever happened to David? I think we might want to be careful what we wish for….not sure I want the Gary V’s and Emeril’s taking over.

    That being said I am interested in the idea…..maybe we should try and get The HoseMaster of Wine to do a Siskel & Ebert kind of podcast with The Chronic Negress.

  7. Interesting comments…hadn’t thought about this before, thanks!

  8. The last Nielsen figures I saw showed that 44% of the American public don’t drink — at all. Most everybody I know eats, so even if they’re not “foodies,” they can at least relate to the concept of a nicely prepared dish. If you’re not into wine (or drinking in general), then the chances that you’ll watch a wine show are rather small.

    As you’ve already shown, a big portion of the cooking show is *showing* how to put together the dish and the vinous equivalent of that would be a program on how to *make* wine. The one program that I’ve seen two episodes of about a year ago was somewhat boring, even if it was a “reality” program about aspiring wine programs.

    Personally, I think a program along the lines of what Rick Steves does for travel on PBS would give us the best shot at reaching a major portion of the demographic that cares about wine. It could also tie in to the travel segment of the demo, as you’ve outlined in the scenario where the host(s) travel to the major wine-making regions of the world and have vinous adventures.

    My bag is packed — any backers?

  9. Steve,

    It’s important to consider the possibility that there is nothing inherent about the subject matter that makes a star emerging less likely, but rather there simply hasn’t been anyone writing about wine or appearing on video about wine with the chops to be a “star”.

    Tom…

  10. Raley Roger says:

    One of the issues that I have with wine blogs is that they’re widely read mostly by wine industry folks; other wine bloggers, winemakers (hoping there’s some mention of them) and publicists (hoping there’s a mention of their client wines). The comments, therefore, start to sound very insular and industry-like. If I’m a consumer, the last thing I want to read about it hassles with the TTB and debates about screwcap vs. corks, etc. especially if those things are being discussed by folks who are all in the same business and even, in many cases, know each other.

    Food is the great equalizer and these sites appeal to consumers. They’re not sites about food for chefs, GMs and somms to peruse, necessarily. They’re more about the JOY of food. Once you get a wine blog up that’s really about the JOY of wine, than the business of wine….and once it’s delivered by a real STAR (I think Wark’s right about that) then we’ll finally have a wine celebrity. The closest we’ve come yet is Oldman and Sbrocco. But, we still need someone with a greater “It” factor.

  11. Raley,

    Good job of bringing up a valid point. Not only are wine blogs dominated by other bloggers and industry people (and therefore of little use to consumers)they often end up projecting an elitist image that makes consumers run away. As a perfect example (Steve, no offense meant, I know you are not snooty) why would a consumer care about a 20 year vertical tasting of Williams Selyem? Even industry folk do net get to experience it. I think Steve’s basic question is a good one. Eventually, someone will come up with the combination of personality, content and attitude to make it work. Can we genetically combine Jaques Peppin, Steve Heimoff and Hally Berry?

  12. Steve: I think you have framed the issue correctly but are missing an important point. The reason there are no wine blogger crossovers to cable TV is because the demand for wine content is not high enough to justify any shows. The last time something interesting was tried, the ill-fated ‘The Winemaker’s’ on PBS, things didn’t go so well. Food, however, is so universal there is an entire cable network built around it.

    The fact is a lot of people drink wine, but only a small subset care enough to learn more.

  13. Food as a topic in all its variety is endlessly fascinating, particularly the making of dishes from various ingredients (Iron Chef continues to fascinate). The making of wine is both essentially uniform and not all that interesting. By the way, add Mark Phillips, which has aired on PBS, to the list of TV presenters.

  14. and there was also that cat that was on The Bachelor….

  15. We eat more than we drink.

  16. Me and Halle Berry! Yes! By the way I once drove Jacques Pepin to the airport and got lost in San Jose — he was freaking out cuz he thought he’d miss his flight! He didn’t.

  17. Tom- not even me? :>

  18. Food magazines far outsell wine magazines, even among regular wine drinkers.

  19. Food is prettier to look at! I never heard the phrase “wine porn”… Foodies have a lighter touch–most are willing to take risk to make a fool of themselves. We vintners are cautioned to be far too careful with our “image.” Perhaps it’s the same for writers/bloggers? I make a fool of myself every day. I wonder if I shouldn’t start putting up videos of it…

  20. To drink wine one must merely know how to operate a cork screw or twist a cap. Grab a wine randomly off any store shelf and it is probably better made than that dinner your spouse put in front of you. Invariably the wine was made by a professional. Who needs to read a wine blog to enjoy a glass of wine. You need only fingers, a short attention span, and a glass.

    To craft dinner is more complicated. People need help. Most cooks are amateurs. Cooking is more complicated than just plucking something off a shelf, there is are techniques one must learn, seasonings, chemistry, and taste. People flock to these cooking sites for recipes and lessons from experts in how to learn this craft.

    BTW, I have worked with two serious individuals who wanted to produce a TV series on wine. The first envisioned one like Ebert and Siskel, but I couldn’t time (or money) in it because all I could see was something BORING at best, annoying at worst! Imagine yourself sitting with another buffoon giving thumbs up or thumbs down to a group of wines. Excruciating!

    The second was a reality series sort of like the ‘Angry Chef’ or whatever that series is called (that I have never watched.) I couldn’t get behind ‘Vineyard Survivor’ or whatever they wanted to call it… (enthusiastic vintners vie for chance to make their own wine) and it turns out that one based on a similar idea was made and was a total bust… and BORING as I imagined!

    Maybe “Winemaking, With the Stars” will be the big breakthrough, but first we have to get one or two people who actually care to watch it.

  21. steve,
    i, too, am surprised at this question, since, as it’s been pointed out, it’s like comparing (snooty) apples with (everyday) oranges, the former being wine, the latter food. and here’s why i say this: in the last five years or so since looking in on this industry with an anthropology and applied linguistics background, and now being in it directly, i’ve been appalled at how snooty it still is: what people say, what they don’t say, how they act, what’s considered protocol for this industry, etc.. compare wine to the everyday “what’s for dinner” syndrome of the common man, and there’s no comparison at all. that’s one of the reason, IMHO, that food ranks up top.

    coming with a branding background onto the scene however, i have this to say: know who you want to reach. and then all you have to do to be successful is to break through and down the barriers and be you, and think about more than wine. we’re an all encompassing world these days, like we’re all encompassing people. while wine is important to many, do you think that’s all they think about (other than morton, tom and sherman?!)? no way! so take that thread, that premise of who you are, and while you’re extending it to wine, extend it to other things relevant to you and your followers. did martha stewart simply focus on cooking? no! hers was a full life-style attitude. maybe yours can be a wine tat-itude? anyway- those are my two cents after a lovely gin martini. should i have shared that with you, since we’re in the wine industry after all?

  22. In a recent Facebook live video chat with Tony Bourdain, a viewer asked how to be a better food writer. Tony simply replied, “Be interesting.”

    In my opinion, that’s what so many wine writers lack. Many just aren’t interesting. So many choose the easy way out & publish their tasting notes. No one cares. I don’t even care. Every time I read a “hints of cassis on the nose” review, it makes me want to put a gun in my mouth.

    Instead, try telling a story. For examples, watch Bourdain & read M.F.K. Fisher. Explain to your readers why wine matters. Share stories about the people behind the labels.

    Instead of being a “wine writer”, try being a storyteller. Stories are interesting.

  23. Dale Cruse, fantastic remark from Anthony B. “Be interesting” !!! Now there’s a concept. As you point out, on my blog I do try to be interesting, tell stories, give some attitude, impart information, offer interpretation. Ideally everything I post covers all those bases. Of course I’m sure it doesn’t always, but I always try.

  24. Morton, somebody is gonna figure out how to make this work.

  25. Food, let me count the ways: breakfast,lunch, dinner, snacks, appetizers, desserts, pasta, meats, poultry, vegetables, grains, fish, and shellfish multiplied by the number of cultures and the infinite number of variations within those categories.

    No way Wine can compete. However, having said that, I really like Hugh Johnson’s “Wine” series on PBS many, many years ago.

  26. Tom B., Yes Hugh Johnson’s wine series was classic! Somebody should do something like that again.

  27. I agree about the “be interesting” idea.
    I certainly have no interest in watching people sit around a table and taste a wine. Totally Toxic — unless they were unbelievably crack observationalists and intelligent as well as great looking.
    The number of people who are interested in wine is actually much lower than it seems. If 44% of 308 million people never drink at all, that’s a lot of disinterest. But it is improving. Twenty-five years ago it was about 65% or so, leaving 35% open to influence. Now we have 56% open to interest.
    But it is quite a problem to translate the DIY experience to them. There might be 10,000± wineries/winemakers in the US where people can go to see it happen. Maybe double/triple that, amateur winemakers, with a garage/basement barrel or two. Less than 50K national experiences available.
    OTOH, There are over 10,000 restaurants each in cities like NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles. Even small cities and towns have places. Places to gain experience in food, + everyone has access to a kitchen where they can try to bake bread, make pasta, etc. Even if it isn’t 4-star dining, you can eat it.
    Making wine as an individual costs $$ and takes a certain amount of time to do it right.
    There are also a lot of barriers that instill disinterest in wine in our society, some are even governmental. Advertising barriers don’t help.
    Then there are the marketing/branding folks interested in promoting their own label and building their own sales more than developing generic interest in the public.

  28. Bob R., good points.

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