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Paper vs. digital: The future of wine writing


I did a book signing and talk last night at the Napa Library in St. Helena for my last book, New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff. The people who turn out for these kinds of things are book lovers, supporters of libraries (which need all the help they can get) and wine lovers. In a day and age when people are reading less and sitting at their computers more, it’s nice to see there’s still an audience who likes the old-fashioned pleasures of reading a book.

We didn’t get home until close to 11, but of course the first thing I had to do was check my messages. And I found an email, from someone commenting on my recent post Making wine blogging credible, who chose to privately email me instead of posting publically. (For that reason, I won’t identify the person.) The email said, in part, “It’s clear that bloggers think print is dead and that they’re the wave of the wine-writing future. But I’ll bet a bottle of Champagne that any one of them, if offered the chance to write a column for a mainstream print pub, would jump at it.”


Segue: About 10 years ago I moderated a debate between the owner of the famous Berkeley bookstore, Cody’s (which just announced it’s shutting down after 52 years) and the head of the new media center at the University of California, Berkeley. The topic: Is the paper-bound book dead? The media center guy alleged it was: too many dead trees, too much waste. He predicted we would someday read everything on high-tech portable devices that could download anything, anywhere, quickly. The bookstore owner begged to differ. No technology, he said, could ever replace the feeling of browsing in a bookstore, fondling books, flipping through their pages, curling up in an armchair with one.

Come we now to the age of the Internet, wine blogs and that email that was waiting in my computer last night. Let me make a few observations. Yes, I do think many bloggers — maybe most — think that print is dead. Maybe many of them want print to be dead. Maybe print is moribund, dying, on its way out. Maybe someday there will be no books or magazines or newspapers. But print is hardly dead now and it’s not likely to be buried anytime soon. Print still dwarfs digital. I would argue print remains more influential in wine than anything online. There’s probably no way to prove this, but I think this way: Take the world’s top ten wine publications (it’s not necessary to define what they are). How many people read them? How many other publications quote them? How many wineries use their reviews in their marketing and advertising? Then take every wine blog on Earth. How many people collectively read them? How often are they quoted?

End of debate.

Whether or not my correspondant is right about any wine blogger jumping at the chance to write a column for a mainstream print pub, I’ll leave to others to decide. That’s a third rail I don’t want to touch. But I will say this. At the book signing last night I met a 29-year old MBA, Courtney Cochran, an entrepreneur who runs two San Francisco-based wine companies, Your Personal Sommelier and Hip Tastes. Her entire mission is to make wine accessible to members of her age group who want to enjoy the lifestyle but are intimidated and put off by what they see as the snobbery and elitism. I’m guessing that a lot of people her age have never read a wine magazine and wouldn’t know Robert Parker if he walked up to them with a bottle of Petrus. What I’m getting at here is that I know things are changing and everybody’s moving online and Courtney Cochran represents that trend with eloquence and intelligence and I’m sure she’ll be hugely successful. But you know what? Courtney was at the Napa library to promote her own book. It’s paper-based, not digital, and I’m betting she’s hoping that all those 20-somethings will buy it, cuddle up in an armchair and read it. Too bad they won’t be able to get it at Cody’s. But I’m sure it’s available at

  1. Steve,

    What a lovely compliment to be included in your post. I have also been musing (and discussing with interested pals, many of whom work in print or digital media) about the future of the book vs the blog. And while I’m genuinely worried about the future of print, I find that I still go back to it time and again – in fact can’t WAIT to get back to a new or favorite book. Tonight, for example, I plan on curling up with four lovely books I bought last night, to look at lovely pictures of wine country and read about my favorite kind of celebrities – winemakers. Your book will be among them.

    Warm best,


  2. Steve – you can’t even call the folks who cry “print is dead” Cassandras, because Cassandra was eventually right. Any time some economic segment sees its market start to shrink, folks fall all over themselves to be the first to say “its dead, Jim” and then the echo chamber starts.

    When new things hit the scene, for sure the market for the old shrinks – sometimes dramatically – but I’m having a tough time thinking of an example of one that has completely gone away. Heck, you can still buy whale oil if you look hard enough, or a manual typewriter.

    I blog. I maintain a website. I research facts and news online. I shop online, too. But you can’t read a computer screen by candlelight when the power goes out.


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