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In a social media world, expertise still matters


Yes, this is the Age where Everybody’s Opinion Matters. Social media and the Internet have done that. They’ve toppled dictators like Mubarek and maybe Khaddafi, mobilized union workers in Wisconsin, and undermined the power of authority in general, including wine experts.

Anybody can write about wine and just about everybody apparently does.  Google “wine blog” and you’ll get 21.3 million hits. That’s nearly 15% of the entire U.S. population. I doubt all of them are wine blogs, properly speaking, but a good many are. I know some people will find this hard to believe, but I’m glad that so many people have taken such an active interest in wine, and that they like it enough to write about it and then publish it on the Internet.

It’s tempting for some columinsts to take this phenomenon a step further and say that it’s proof that everybody’s opinion is as good as anyone else’s–that Joe Blow from Kokomo’s thoughts about wine are as valid as those of a professional wine critic, like, well, me. And, of course, from a philosophical, humane, political and democratic point of view, that is correct: my views have no more worth than Joe Blow’s.

Joe Blow is certainly entitled to his opinion, and anyone who respects Joe Blow’s opinion is entitled to read his thoughts. But I would argue that, in addition to the philosophical, humane, political and democratic perspectives according to which Joe Blow is entitled to express his thoughts about wine, there is another dimension in which Joe Blow’s opinions are hardly worth the electrons it takes to send them into the ether. And that dimension is the epistemological.

Epistemology is the science or philosophy of knowledge. It looks into the questions of how we know, how we determine if what we know is real or illusory–in short, how we know that something is true.

“Truth,” most people would agree, is different from “opinion.” It may be your opinion that 2 plus 2 equals 5, but it would not be true, and this can be proved (if you’re a mathematician) rather unequivocably. There are many things in this world that even the simplest, least educated people will agree is true: that the sun rises in the east, that squirrels like nuts, that a full belly feels better than an empty one.

But there are areas of truth that are not obvious to everyone. Meteorology, for example. Do most people understand why cirrus clouds form, or what causes a tornado? They do not. In order to understand such things, you have to be educated in the science of meteorology, which requires years of study in a school. You can say that tornados happen because God wills them, but that is not a real explanation. If somebody claims to understand the weather without formal training in meteorology, that person should not be trusted.

It’s the same with wine knowledge. It takes a long time to develop, and an even longer time to develop a palate that can taste wine and say intelligent things about it. Now, I know that wine reviewing isn’t a science, like meteorology. It’s more of an art or craft. But the validity of a person’s opinions about wine is directly related to the amount of time and effort that person has put into the study of wine, which includes reading, traveling, learning from others and extensive tasting.

There’s been a lot of debate over whether the end of an era has arrived where older critics have been replaced by a new, democratic wave of wine enthusiasts who are tired of being dictated to by the same clique of power-hungry elitists that have dominated the wine world for decades. There may be some truth to that; younger generations are always overturning the older generation, and that’s the way it should be. But before anybody claims that professional Baby Boomer critics, who’ve been at it for a long time, have no more right to their opinions than Joe Blow from Kokomo, remember that you may be right from a philosophical, humane, political and democratic point of view. But epistemologically speaking, you’re dead wrong. Expertise still matters.

Here’s a challenge to any blogger who thinks his/her overnight words are worth reading: write a 2,000 word article (much less a 100,000 word book) on the technical aspects of any wine, variety or region you choose. Make it coherent and intelligent and compelling, something to read 50 years from now. Anybody can fake a silly review on a blog, recycling information provided in the press release. Few people can write an authentic wine article that’s true, substantial, complex, explanatory and visionary. Those of us who can are called experts, not bloggers; and bloggers that hope to knock us off our perches need to step up to the plate and hit home runs, not take an occasional base on balls, to get taken seriously.

  1. Sounds like a good challenge to us little fish! You are correct that expertise matters. If we were a part of the construction blogosphere (there has to be one, no?), would you listen to any old Joe or Steve who tried to explain how to wire a 220-volt outlet? Probably not. The one thing that I don’t get with you yet, Steve, is you claim to be an expert (and you have the accolades and credentials to back that up), but you also bash the established “experts” that many wineries rely on for reviews. If everyone were coming to you and you were the king maker, would you still feel that way about only a hanful of people having power? Sometimes you come off as an outside the beltway politician; stuck between what you want to be and what you are (expert vs. democratic wine champion and I’ll leave it up to you and the other readers which is what you want to be and which is what you are 😉 ).

    Nevertheless, calling on others to improve their knowledge and writing is important for spreading our love for wine! That’s why I post on your site. That’s why I want more than just my family to read my blog and comment (I assume the same is true with you). If people didn’t tell us (and I’m lumping experts and bloggers together here) when we’re doing well and when we’re writing utter crap, how can we improve. This exchange of ideas is why bloggers stand a chance against the Parker’s, Suckling’s and Heimoff’s of the world!

  2. Colorado, I see where you’re coming from. You make some good points. I do sometimes feel combative because of my passion. I want people to know where I’m coming from. I’m in the funny position of being both inside and outside the beltway, as you put it. I also see some of the things people say about me on Twitter, blogs etc. and that was a large part of the reason for today’s blog. It gets tedious to be bashed as some kind of out-of-touch dinosaur who’s afraid of losing control. If some of these bloggers spent their time studying wine instead of carping, they’d be smarter and better writers. Give me credit for this: no credible wine writer has defended and lauded the wine bloggers more than I have. In fact, my “competition” has been either silent or downright negative to bloggers. I’ve jumped into the pool and made myself visible and approachable, and it’s been a joyful process. But that doesn’t mean the wine blogosphere as a whole is without fault. I welcome the thoughtful criticisms, like yours, that come my way. They make me think and help me understand.

  3. Erin McGrath says:


    While I agree with the overall idea of your post – and think that everyone should view wine as a lifelong education, and not overnight expertise – echoing my email, it’s beating a dead horse to once again remind some crappy bloggers that you’re the expert, and not them. I seek opinions of the experts such as yourself as needed and enjoy your articles, but I also get a kick out of folks like Viva La Wino, whose “reviews” are fun to read and sometimes ridiculously stupid. I guess I’m a champion of both worlds but more so a champion of experts allowing amateurs to learn from them, so that the next movement in wine writing consists of knowledgeable, talented writers who were inspired by those before them.

    I’m not sure being negative – and tossing the shit back – is the way to go with it, IMHO. If I were you, I wouldn’t waste my time.

  4. Gotta tell you, the minute Joe Blow can make his own decent wine – as well as review it – I’ll hang up my hat. I’ve got plenty of experience of Joe Blow’s wines, and I can say unequivocally that they are not fun to drink, and often ridiculously stupid.

  5. Not to put to fine a point on it, but it takes all kinds to make up a world. There are plenty of bloggers who blog for the love of wine and are not trying to knock anyone of whatever perch they occupy or think they occupy.

    We all wind up on those perches because the reading public buys our words, and frankly, some perches are higher than others while some perches are out in left field–and that is just for the folks who might be acknowledged as long-term pros.

    I have faith the good writers will emerge, have already begun to emerge in the blogosphere, and I have faith the poor writing will ultimately be ignored.

    Joe Blow may not know how to make wine or predict the weather, but describing wine is not like creating it. My favorite example of this phenomenon comes from my first meeting with Jordan Mackey. Never mind whether we agree on wine reviews. What struck me was that Jordan, who was then pretty early in his wine education relative to where he is now, had a brilliantly fluid and handsomely articulate way of expressing his understanding of the wines he was tasting. His word pictures were interesting, atraactively, fun to listen to. That kind of writing skill is not learned.

    I am not worried about the Joe Blow bloggers because the good wines will rise on the value, the interest of their words. The others will not. And that is also what happened within the established print community. There are many more writers than there are successes.

    Expertise must be sought. No doubt. But, beginning the quest in the blogosphere is as good a way as any to start. I am happy to see the thousands of starts. The best of them will be taking your place and mine over the next decade or so. More power to them. Three thousand will not replace you. One or three might. But who can blame the rest for starting the journey.

  6. Argument #1: In a Wine World, Social Media Expertise Matters

    It appears that social media is threatening the “security” and “authority” of many wine experts, and you are not the first nor the last to express this concern. In today’s super tech savvy consumer market, Darwinism is more evident than ever.

    Survival of the fittest, darling.

    “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else.” — Albert Einstein. One can not rest on one’s laurels too long in the age of social media. If you want to stay current and relevant, you have to adapt. It is entirely way too arrogant to think that you can stand the test of time.

    Argument #2: Wine Blog Readers are NOT Ignorant

    Your greatest flaw in your argument is that you underestimate the intelligence of wine blog readers. We are not naive, we know that Joe Blow is not a wine expert. We know he is not part of “the same clique of power-hungry elitists that have dominated the wine world for decades.” And you know what? We don’t care. And even more than that, we PREFER it to be this way.

    And why?

    We read Joe Blow’s blog because he doesn’t treat his readers like you obviously treat yours — ignorant and naive. He writes to us in a language that we can understand. He is not arrogant and condescending in his writings, like many of the experts. He makes wine approachable, unpretentious and less intimidating.


    Argument #3: It is JUST Freaking Wine

    Why do all the “big time” wine experts feel the need to make wine out to be more than it is? You all act like understanding and appreciating wine is a skill and talent reserved for only the most elite of palates. You treat wine as a product that only the special few can truly appreciate, and the rest of us are just . Give me a freaking break.

    I am not a farmer raising cattle, or a butcher, or a professional chef — but I still know a good steak when I eat it. And I don’t need to grow grapes, make wine, or be a wine expert to know a good wine when I taste one.

    It doesn’t takes extensive travel, studies, experience and decades of tasting to understand, appreciate and develop a passion for wine. And as far as I’m concerned, all it takes is a passion for wine to be able to write about wine. I would rather have Joe Blow get me excited about a wine because he thinks it is amazing and delicious than have a “wine expert” shove intimidating terminology in my face and then tell me I do not know how to appreciate wine because I don’t have a well-trained palate.

    Argument #4: Calling Your Bluff

    You claim: “Few people can write an authentic wine article that’s true, substantial, complex, explanatory and visionary.”

    Considering you have an invested interest in this issue, we will go ahead and say that this is merely just your opinion. And as you clearly noted above, truth is different from opinion.

    You obviously feel that your opinion carries a higher value that most others, which once again is simply your opinion. And we have already established that opinion is not the same thing as truth. And so Mr. Heimhoff, I must come to the conclusion that my opinion is that your opinion is not the truth and, therefore, chose not to believe it.

    “Those of us who can are called experts, not bloggers; and bloggers that hope to knock us off our perches need to step up to the plate and hit home runs, not take an occasional base on balls, to get taken seriously.”

    Arrogance is not a very flattering color on you. Not all wine bloggers are looking to become professional wine writers. And most of them are not trying to knock you off your perches — however, if it did happen, this particular wine enthusiast would not lose sleep over it.

    Susie Q did not go to culinary school, she does not work in a Michelin ranked restaurant. But Susie Q loves baking cookies. And Susie Q wants to share her love and passion for cookies with the internet. So Susie Q writes a blog on baking cookies. And who the hell are you to question her legitimacy, her worth and her place in the industry? No one.

    In closing, I am not a wine blogger. But I read wine blogs. And I definitely do not read stuffy, pompous, “old school boys club” wine publications. And why? Because, in my opinion, wine bloggers are legitimate wine resources. And despite what you may think, I am neither ignorant or naive in my choice of wine writers. I’m just thankful that emergence of wine blogs have given consumers a choice.

    Disclaimer: My opinion is not the truth, but it is my opinion and I am entitled to it.

  7. What an exhilarating post, Steve! One of my clients is an international news website. They were born out of traditional media journalists leaving their posts at respected organizations such as The Boston Globe, Washington Post, CNN, etc. to join this upstart 3 years ago. The attitude then, as it is now is, is extremely separatist from the blogging community. These are not bloggers, they are seasoned, professional journalists. And they make that blatantly clear. But at the end of the day, the general public will decipher that. The general public can distinguish between a pro and an amateur (for the most part – and if they can’t, it’s at their loss). But that doesn’t mean that the amateur effort can’t be a part of the consumption mix. The beauty of the web – championed by Google and Social Media – is that people can choose to consume whatever content they want whenever they want. And perhaps what’s relevant to you, isn’t relevant to someone else, and vice versa.

    There is way too much content out there to read everything. So people select only the most important media they wish to consume. And if that person is to deem that they enjoy reading some ramblings from an unseasoned wine blogger, isn’t it their decision to do so? That person may also wish to read the more professional writings of a seasoned pro – like you. Perhaps they like a mix of perspectives. And, perhaps we should give that person more credit for being able to decipher what is what and how much salt they’ll need to take with any given blogger. But fact is, there are about 2,000 wine bloggers in total (last I checked). The vast, vast majority of them don’t get any meaningful traffic. The good ones rise to the top – and some of the good ones aren’t pro’s. But they rise to the top because they’re good writers (at least enough people perceive them that way). They’re entertaining. But they’d probably never get a slot writing for Wine Enthusiast. I just started a drink blog because I have a serious passion for whiskey, wine and craft beer. But do I think that I can do what you can do with the perspective you bring? No way. I look up to people like you and hope that with years of hard work, and drinking, I may get there. So, I’d suggest the same as a few others have already in this thread… you’re still relevant, and you have way more of an edge to compete in the blogging world than most. So, don’t sweat it, nobody is getting any more respect or attention than they actually deserve.

  8. Steve, no doubt you’re one of the experts. I’m just a “Joe Blow” blogger. I started my own blog to share my experiences with the various bottles of Pinot that I drink. I even admit that I’m no expert and the things I share are simply what I taste; and there are thousands out there like myself who just want to share their own views.

    Why would you want to invalidate that? I don’t taste 800 wines a year like you do. I buy a bottle at a time based upon expert reviews like yours (I’m getting a couple of different bottles of Copain because of your previous article), and I share the wines that I drink on my blog. Simply to share. Does it have the backing of years of constant study? No. But it does have years of drinking wine, and knowing what I like, and at least identifying the things I taste.

    But I think one important thing you’re missing about bloggers in the blogosphere is their motivation to share. There are indeed some who pose as experts, but as I’ve been blogging even before there was the term (my first “blog” started in 1995 is still in existence), one thing that I can tell you is that most bloggers out there simply write about their experiences. Period. There’s generally an admitted self-effacing attitude that we know we’re not experts, but we’re in the same boat as a lot people who want simply want to know how “Joe Blow” feels about certain things.

    I started another blog called back in 2007, based upon the same premise: I just want to share my experiences with guitar gear I buy with the general public; not beholden to any trade magazine or manufacturer or some group of so-called “experts.” That blog has grown into a resource for regular folks who want to get a regular person’s view on gear. It has also created a way for me to get acquainted with people from all walks of life. To me, that’s an inherent value that keeps driving me to write.

    As for this “Joe Blow” blogger, I value experts’ opinions such as yours, but I’m also very interested in what the mere mortals of whom I am one have to say as well. Personally, it makes it much more real for me.

    And you’re right: Expertise still matters. But that doesn’t mean that the expert’s view is the only definitive view that moves people into action. A good analogy to this is when I want to take my teenagers to an event. One of the first things they ask is, “Who else is gonna be there?” Never mind that I’m the expert and the event would be good for them, they’re driven by social forces that defy my “expertise.” Such is the case with blogging. The experts will always be valuable, but the social component can’t be ignored.

  9. Terry, thanks a lot. I’ll check out your blog.

  10. Steve although your underlying premise makes sense and I agree with you that expertise does matter, I think you fail to appreciate two things. First is the old adage of knowing your audience and second, you seem to assume that just because someone has formal training that makes their writings and opinions more valid than someone without formal training.

    If someone wants technical data or information on wine from an academic or professional perspective then by all means it makes sense for them to learn from someone like you who is a trained professional and so called expert in the field of wine. On the other hand, if someone is a novice just learning about wine or if someone just wants basic information then what you have to offer may be intimidating or even incomprehensible to that person.

    I formally started my wine blog Vinogger 1 year ago after encouragement from friends who for years would call and email me with questions about wine or they would ask to come wine tasting with me so they could learn more about wine.

    I do not profess to be an expert on wine but instead someone who loves wine and tries to share that love of wine and the information that I have acquired about wine with others. I may not have formal training in wine but I read, travel, learn from others and have done a great deal of tasting. All of this I have done and continue to do not to become an expert but instead to learn about and enjoy wine myself. So why can’t I share my experience and knowledge with others? What I have to say is not any less valid than what you have to say but instead comes from a different perspective.

    If people want to read my blog they will and if they want to seek out an expert like you they will. There is room for both bloggers and experts and we serve different purposes and probably different audiences although ultimately we all want the same thing to share our love of wine with others!

  11. Ashley and Terry – I disagree. The general public is more ignorant than not when it comes to most things they would read in the blogosphere or in the more traditional media outlets. I am always surprised when I am reading on a topic where I am an expert and there are facts that are blatantly wrong. It’s then when I ask myself what misinformation am I getting in the other things that I am not an expert in? The thing is the blogosphere has completely blurred the line between opinion and fact/truth. You can find anyone out there to believe anything if you blog it. Social media is merely a communication tool just like the spoken word. It happens to be a very efficient tool, but efficient does not necessarily equate to effective.

    Ashley – When you’re passionate about wine, it is more than just freaking wine. Just like those people who are really into music, or gardening, or snowboarding, or beer. And a question for you, what about Steve H.’s writing do you find unapproachable, pretentious, and intimidating? Trust me, I often disagree with what Steve says, or at least how he says it, but I never feel he assumes that I’m ignorant or naive.

  12. Scott, thanks.

  13. Greg Brumley says:

    Dear Mr. Dinosaur,

    If your expertise and your corner on truthiness and your magazine’s vaunted vault of wine reviews are so valuable, how come fewer and fewer people are buying what you have to sell?

    We can all agree that you know wine; that you have developed decades of experiences with wine, that you know everybody who’s anybody in wine. We can all agree that your opinions on what wine is good rests or great technical knowledge.

    But that’s not your problem.

    Your problem is that — virtually every day — fewer wine drinkers care.

    Your problem isn’t knowledge, its relevance.

    The number of people who desire — much less need — to have you tell us what we should drink is shrinking like a Bernie Madoff bank account. That’s your problem. And it’s Parker’s. And Laube’s. It’s the reason Asimov has lost his regular column. The same is true of every wine critic.

    Every time this issue is raised, we get to watch you rail at the bloggers (great post, Ashley R) or beer drinkers, or whatever impudent unwashed masses you believe have offended The Font of Given Wine Knowledge at that moment. While we’re at it: Fifty years from now, nobody’s going to be reading what Joe Blow wrote today….OR what you wrote.

    You write very well. I was first attracted to your blog by your knowledge of wine, your industry insights, and the repartee your blog created. Since, at least, 4Q 2010, those experiences are increasingly rare. To find them, a reader must pick through a forest of lofty pronouncements, posturing (“here I am at another gathering of everyone who matters in wine – which, dear reader, doesn’t include you”), and posts which drop more names than John D. Rockefeller dropped dimes. Very candidly, it’s disappointing.

    Posts on subjects like social-media-&-ROI, Napa-vs-other-counties’-Cabernet, “A mid-winter’s Bay Area evening” or “A message to Ascentia” are informative, fun, and thought provoking. Wine drinkers and wine professionals are drawn to blogs full of that sort of writing. If you focus on useful and informative fare, you’ll be one of those dinosaurs which sprouted feathers, learned to be birds – and survived. Beats hell out of becoming a fossil.

    I’ve been blunt for two reasons: (1) Over recent months, you’ve gotten down on your knees and begged for it. (2) I truly want you to prosper. Like many, I enjoy your writing when you choose to inform & entertain readers rather than opine. You’re good at it. Admittedly, it’s a lot more work than swirling some wine in your mouth and writing, “I like this. I don’t like that”. But, for long-term prosperity, it’s worth it.
    You can bend your work to the readership’s interest…..or continue trying to bend the readership to what interests you. Become an eagle, Steve. Give us the information we want to read about, be useful to us. You’ll soar. And we’ll all be glad of it.

    If, on the other hand, you choose to herd with the other dinosaur critics and demand that the wine world bow to your exclusive possession of The Holy Book of Wine Epistemology….. Somewhere nearby is a Yucatan meteor with your names on it.

  14. Steve, the only thing that bothers me about this post is your insistence that you are an expert. You are for sure very knowledgeable (and that’s why I read you regularly) and you may even BE an expert, but claiming outright that you are one, well, I have to say that it takes you down a peg in my mind.

  15. Wow! Nice post Steve! I think when I started I was one of those wine bloggers who was taking shots at you and others associated with the traditional media, and whether it has been a gradual realization of my tiny, insignificant place in the whole scheme of things, or maybe at long last, maturity has graced the threshhold of my mind, but I am comfortable with my blog being simply my opinion, and the almost-daily goings-on behind the scenes at my humble job as a retail wine buyer. While I have been working on becoming more more experienced and more learned in the wine biz, I know that I’ve quite a long way to go (as studying for my upcoming CWE exam is showing me nightly). When I do try to convey facts about a particular region, I do my best to research the topic, not just let it fly. There is a truckload of wine bloggers out there, everyone shouting into the ethers to be heard. I agree with comments made by Charlie that the good ones will emerge and the bad ones will be ignored. Seriously, most wine bloggers have to do it for the love of it because it is highly unlikely we are ever going to get paid for doing this shit. I love to write – albeit unconventionally – and I have been in love with the wine business for a long time. If anything I will be like one of those annoying relatives that just never know when to go home, blogging my brains out for nothing more than the love of it. I get it, Steve. We brat children of the blogosphere demand to be heard, many of us – and I include myself in this – have popped off about our impending dominance of wine’s corner of the internet. We’ve thrown mudcakes at you, the guys at Spectator, we’ve mucked up Parker’s forum, drove Charlie Olken crazy, and blown up Tanzer’s Winophilia comment sections. Instead of hurling insults, we should be pestering you and Charlie and the rest for advice. (No I am not bucking for sycophant of the year, just ushering in a milder, gentler me). Yet anyone who writes about wine should do what they can to enlighten and inform our readers. Not just vent. And Steve, I will take up your gauntlet, just after April 29th.

  16. Dear k2, I don’t know what will happen with you after April 29, but bless you, my friend. Best of luck and please continue to speak truth.

  17. Web 2.0 may be bringing an end to the authority of the ‘professional wine rater.’ But the true epistemological Wine Expert will still be valuable as a ‘wine commentator.’ A good writer with interesting perspective, incredible access, and a wealth of knowledge is exactly what wine lovers want and need.
    ‘Wine raters’ are become more irrelevant every day.
    Let the bloggers rate their wines, Steve. You help me see and understand the whole wine world.

  18. Thank you Austin.

  19. Austin–

    Steve is being too kind. There is no evidence that the wine rating publications are losing popularity. They may be losing market share, and that is OK because the new medium allows other voices to be heard. But, when someone confronts 30 Cabs at Safeway or 100 or K & L, the question is going to arise–which one to I choose and why.

    Comprehensive reviews remain the best answer to that question, and until the bloggers are able to answer that question fully, they will be nibbling at the edges of wine reviews even while offering all kinds of interesting commentary.

    Sure, an insider like Steve or Gerald Asher can tell insider stories with wonderful perspective, but there are lots of very good and interesting stories being told everyday by bloggers.

    What the bloggers are not doing is offering an across the board view of the wine choices confronting buyers, and that is why the wine review pubs, whether in print or for pay on the Internet are not losing subscribers or support.

  20. “Now, I know that wine reviewing isn’t a science, like meteorology. It’s more of an art or craft. But the validity of a person’s opinions about wine is directly related to the amount of time and effort that person has put into the study of wine, which includes reading, traveling, learning from others and extensive tasting”.
    Steve, you are confusing opinion with knowledge. “A posteriori” knowledge is acquired by experience, in the sense that it can be empirically/scientifically tested and falsified. And one can’t do it with tasting notes.
    The kind of “experience” you pointed out above is merely a belief system (or a proven business model): you describe your experiences the way you perceive them.
    Furthermore, most wine reviewer’s critiques focus on the subjective, hedonic, organoleptic aspects of wine that are not aprioristic (or logical) either; but derive from an insightful individual experience: which is limited to its intra-personal value and has no scientific validity, at all.

  21. Can we just say that Joe Blow is welcome to guest on The Sediment Blog?

    That is, if he can write entertainingly about wine in all its social, financial and lifestyle contexts. Because that’s why we try and do. It has nothing to do with being experts, which we certainly are not, nor would claim to be. But people seem to enjoy it all the same.

  22. Is there such thing as knowledge in the domain of wine? Yes and no. Yes, someone can know information about wine, e.g., information about grape varieties, climate, vinification process, etc. This domain of wine information is what your challenge targets. And yes, accumulating wine information takes time. Although with the enormous explosion of information, acquiring this information is must easier now. The salient point about wine information–or any information–is that there is no such thing as special/privileged access to wine information, e.g., only a wine critic with 25 years of experience can access some specific piece(s) of wine information. So as A. Rouston (above) notes, a person who knows nothing about a particular wine region can write a valuable, informative piece about that region given some time to research. (Your standard of requiring the piece to be compelling 50 years from now is WAY to strong–the overwhelming majority of article published in the most respected academic journals don’t satisfy your standard.)
    No, whether a wine is good or bad *partially* depends on personal taste. After all, judgments about information is cognitive (e.g., beliefs) and judgments about whether a wine is good includes one’s (non-cognitive) sense of taste, one’s preferences, etc. This is the bugbear that some seasoned wine critics don’t address because what matters most to the public about wine critics is wine ratings.

    Last, one thing that your entry overlooks in light of the recent significant increase in wine blogs is that wine blogs can fulfill a niche. For example, my wine blog (FB page, Twitter account, etc.) is designed to almost exclusively target my local community, e.g., good values in town at retail stores, restaurants, wine bars, etc. And this service isn’t something that a national (online/print) periodical can provide. And, yes, your work and other’s like you provide an important service that a niche blogger does not.

    p.s. I love your passion and I understand that you’re the object of many personal attacks because of your position but the tone of some of your pieces comes across as combative, self-righteous, etc., which can be off-putting.

  23. I’m pretty sure of all of your readers and commenters, I live the closest to Kokomo. Kokomo, IN, that is. 35 minutes north. It’s a God forsaken town of traffic lights, chain restaurants, manufacturing, and the Hip Hugger, a strip joint of some measure of ill-repute.

    Maybe you can come up with a Joe Blow-like alliteration for Dubuque, IA or Peoria, IL instead?

    Seriously, your points are well-taken just the same as they were well-taken when Matt Kramer said about the same thing in WS a year 1/2 ago. It’s a tired conversation though and I think your immense talents could be better put to use as a mentor and sage then a raconteur truth-teller about who can and cannot write well about wine.

  24. Jeff, thanks. Point taken. Next time I’m in Kokomo, let’s go to the Hip Hugger! Drinks on me.

  25. We’re having a little conversation about this over at my place. I thought you should have a chance to respond, if you choose. If not, that’s OK, too.

  26. Aaak. These comments went off in the usual predictable, boring direction. “Established wine writers are arrogant condescending dinosaurs, bloggers sharing opinions are what readers want and need, this is the inevitable future, blah blah blah.” In my opinion this is even more self-serving than what these folks think Steve’s motives are, and is delusional to boot.

    In my comment above I tried to express that wine writing is a craft, as wine making is a craft. As a craft, the skillful practice of both requires dedication, repetition, deep and specialized knowledge, and commitment to lifetime learning.

    The dedicated practice of a craft gives one expertise. Possession of expertise is what defines one as an expert.

  27. Steve is right: expertise still matters. But you’re talking about the sort-of-journalism business here, which means that quality of writing is as important as command of the subject matter, if not more so. And, as pointed out by several commenters already, relevance trumps both quality and expertise.

    This assumes, of course, that we write for the reader and not ourselves.

  28. Huh. All along I thought an expert was someone who knows how little they know. I guess it’s really someone who knows how little everyone else does. Thanks!

  29. I want to weigh in on a specific aspect of Steve’s point. This is going to appear self-serving, but there it is.

    I don’t consider myself a blogger. I’m a professional journalist for my paid career, and I write about Finger Lakes wine for the New York Cork Report. The founder and I long ago stopped referring to NYCR as a blog. In our view, the one downside of general wine blogs was the lack of specific strength and coverage. We figured the way to establish credibility was to become credible in a narrow, targeted section of the wine industry. We happen to cover NY wine like no one else.

    We don’t claim to be experts on Willamette Valley or Greece or Virginia. We simply cover our region, and we cover it with journalistic principals, and we try to cover it better than anyone ever has. My most recent story is 1700 words; my forthcoming book is 90k. We’re able to do these things because we seek to fill a void in wine coverage, and we do it at a high level.

    That’s not to say there aren’t general coverage bloggers who do it well. (I consider Jeff L to have a specific aspect of coverage, which would be industry trends, insight, etc, and I think he does it at an extraordinarily high level.) Joe Roberts is a great example of someone who has broken through, thanks to hard work and long hours spent working his craft. There are others. But it’s not easy when you don’t zero in on a niche of some kind.

    While I don’t agree with every inch of Steve’s post, he’s bang-on right to say that blogging is writing (unless it’s pure video blogging, and unless we’re Gary V, that’s tough to pull off). And if we’re writing, we should be able to, you know, write. Quality reveals itself in one’s ouevre, fortunately.

  30. I think the comments on this particular blog have the most long individual posts of any I’ve seen on Steve Heimoff. Whether the debate will ever be resolved, you certainly inspired them to write!

  31. Wow – I LOVE that this site attracts the intelligent commentary on display here!

    Here’s a 6-word interpretation of your post, Steve:

    “Hey wine bloggers: up your game!”

    Obviously there is more to it than that, but for me this encapsulates the heart of it. And I agree with the sentiment, and in fact it’s more-or-less been the advice that I give to folks at the Wine Bloggers Conf. and in private conversations / emails / etc.

    If you take what Evan and Charlie Olken have said above (btw – thanks for the kind words, Evan!), you have a formula for what separates the wheat from the chaff: specialize, and do your thing like nobody else; people will notice because the quality and passion will be so obvious that they can’t NOT notice it. Networking is a part of that, of course, but networking only gets someone’s attention – once you have that attention, you MUST deliver the goods. You must Up Your Game every chance that you get!

  32. First of all you do Social Media very well for a traditional journalist, hats off to you.

    As a proud joe-blower myself, I go out of my way not to talk about things I do not understand, and I try to verify every fact that I do state. I think that standard is often abused, and leads to wrong ideas floating in blogospace. If the entire guild of joe-blowers took up your challenge the wine online space would start to stink of rotten information.

    And frankly when authors like Jancis Robinson have books we can buy for nest to nothing, I think your challenge is more about making a rounder wheel than anything else.

    I think one thing that has not been touched on here is that wine information seems to be spread in two large channels 1) information about a particular bottle of wine 2) information about viticulture and oenology. You get all sorts of voices in those distinct channels. Web readers are not obliged to turn to single sources who supply both.

    Wine appreciation happens between the mouth, nose, eyes and the brain, (presumabley after a visit in the heart!) and readers will find voices that they want to converse with on that aspect. Others will want to dig deeper and uncover all the background information from the roots to the bottling. Those people will seek out a voice they can trust as well.

    The web provides us access to many voices in all frequencies in those two channels, so I am not sure that any voice has to do both well to be valid.

    That having been said, great stuff.

  33. It is worth thinking about the ‘profession’ of wine writing. One runs a serious risk when what you do for money is something that others will do for free. That is a reality that has to inspire fear in the heart of the professional wine media.

  34. Dear Steve Shanahan, you provide as cogent an argument for the advance of social media as any I’ve heard. I do not stand in its way, nor could I. If I have any role to play, it’s just to provoke wine commenters to be as knowledgeable as they can be.


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