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Pffft! That’s the sound of the wine blog bubble bursting



Kudos to Tom Wark—the original wine blogger—for doing research showing how interest in wine blogs has been waning now for a good six years …”.

Tom ran the numbers to prove his contention. And there it is, in his first graph: interest in wine blogs, as indicated by Google Trends, peaked in 2009, and has been falling steadily ever since.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. We live in an age of bubbles: Wine blogs had their own bubble, an era of super-popularity that seemed like it would continue to expand forever until wine blogs, like The Blob in the 1958 movie, would take over the world. Of course, nothing expands forever: that which expandeth eventually bursteth: That is the definition of a bubble. (Okay, enough with the old English word endings.)

When blogs were young, they were the hippest, sexiest thing in wine writing. That’s the main reason why I myself started blogging, in 2008. I saw the rocket ascending towards the heavens, and I wanted a front-row seat to go along for the ride.

But all the while, I doubted the glowing predictions on the part of many wine bloggers that wine blogs were the journalistic and reviewing wave of the future. I knew that was false. I said as much—and got body-slammed by the wine bloggers who didn’t like my message. Hey, hate the message, not the messenger!

And now here we are. It’s been evident to me for years now that wine blogs don’t have the energy or momentum they once did. A year or so ago, I considered giving up this one, until my readers persuaded me not to. I continue for them—for you–and also because it’s not that hard to crank out a blog everyday, and it gives me immense enjoyment.

Where I disagree with Tom Wark is in his contention that the reason for the diminution of interest in wine blogs is because those who had been showing interest in blogs, including wine blogs, have migrated to social media.” I don’t see any evidence of that. Or, to put it another way, I don’t think people feel they have to choose between reading wine blogs and participating in other forms of social media. It isn’t either/or: You can do both; they’re not mutually exclusive. If wine blogs offered wine consumers enough reason to keep on reading them, then consumers would continue to seek them out.

The problem, let’s face it, is that they don’t: most wine blogs are really boring. The ones that just spurt out reviews are unreadable, except by P.R. types who “Search” through the blog for their winery’s name. I mean, does anyone else besides a publicist care that some blogger somewhere reviewed their Cabernet?

I’ve thought from this blog’s inception that the only way to succeed to motivate viewers to click on it is to have creative writing that is interesting, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. I know there are blogs that are way more popular than mine. I can’t compete with them, nor do I want to. I want to continue to write about things that are on my mind, about issues of relevance to the wine industry, especially in California, and I want to continue to hear comments from my readers. Lots of those comments don’t appear on my actual blog. Many are on Facebook, which runs my daily blog, and quite a few people email me directly with their comments. So I know this blog is still reaching lots of minds. Tom referred to Julie Ann Kodmur’s theory that people today are “silo-ing” their blog reading; instead of looking at “a number of wine blogs, today they stick with and are loyal to only a few and perhaps even one wine blog.” I think that’s true.


Zaca Mesa sent me this wine, so I’m reviewing it.

Zaca Mesa 2014 Estate Vineyard Viognier, Santa Ynez Valley, $18. I’m not a huge fan of California Viognier, which can be blowsy. The variety has a naturally strong flavor that makes it difficult to pair with food. This particular wine has potent apricot jam, peach pie, pineapple and honeysuckle flavors, with exotic hints around the edges: papayas, guavas, nectarines. It was aged in a little oak, not too much; in fact, all the barrels were more than eight years old. Just enough to soften and mellow the wine. The alcohol is a refreshing 14.1%; the acidity is okay, but the wine does feel a little soft. The blend includes a few drops of Grenache Blanc, which perhaps contributes a taste of tangerines. I can see drinking this wine next summer as a late afternoon aperitif, with little finger foods: egg rolls, chips and guacamole or hummus, prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears, sliced watermelon, fried shrimp. It’s not terribly complex, but it is a nice sipper, and deserves a score of 89 points.

  1. FWIW, Santa Ynez up to SLO is my favorite American Viognier, from what Andrew Murray has traditionally cranked out next door to Zaca, down to some of the Ballard producers, or back up to Sawyer Lindquist, etc. It’s almost the only place in America that I get the magnificent floral nose that makes Viognier so distinctive. I rarely find it overbearing.

    Now, Zaca (which produces some Rhone reds that I quite enjoy) has rarely impressed me on their whites. It’s kinda puzzled me.

    The farther north I go, the less Viognier has what I’m looking for. On the other hand, it’s possibly my favorite variety out of Arizona. (Yeah, Arizona.) Of all the “let’s smile and wish them well, they just ain’t there yet” you can say about Arizona wines (including the fact that they LOVE growing Grenache, and mostly just shouldn’t ever grow Grenache), their Viognier might even reach “fabulous” occasionally.

  2. Wark’s comment; “those who have been showing interest in blogs. . .have migrated to social media” Does not ring true for me.
    I have seen wine posts and commentary on social media but I only become interested if they link to something more substantive.

    A blog, to me, is free-form journalism (small “j”), Facebook is not. A bias on my part, for sure, but I don’t see social media in its current form as the proper forum for serious expression. (cat videos notwhithstanding).

    I have yet to see a wine “article” on social media that is not a thinly disguised advert.
    A blog, in most cases, comes across as objective.
    I doubt the Hosemaster is for sale at any price.
    (Not too sure about that gut with the red-rim eyeglasses, though)

  3. Bill,
    Make me an offer.

    When PR types start declaring things dead, I assume it’s in their own self-interest to do so. Does this mean no Wine Blog Awards this year? Don’t you just hate it when your Poodle dies?

    Wine blogs were only barely ever alive in the first place. There are still thousands and thousands of wine blogs out there dedicated to soliciting free samples and junkets. That no one reads them hasn’t really changed. I once spent a busy weekend in a tasting room asking everyone if they read wine blogs and not one single person had–I’d guess I asked a couple hundred random wine buyers. That was three years ago.

    What Tom seems to be hinting at is that winery PR people should stop sending samples to wine bloggers. Well, duh. Declaring them dead is just click bait, and the equivalent of declaring OJ Simpson guilty.

    But, hell, it kills a column.

  4. Kurt Burris says:

    I barely have time to read the interesting links from “News Fetch”, although I do subscribe to “Hosemaster”. (Thanks Ron) Quite honestly I don’t care what the Lodi Grape Commission is plugging today. And the same goes for random reviews. Most of them read like they were generated by an algorithim that wouldn’t get very far in a Turing test. The ones I like (like your Steve) are one’s that are more about the state and trends in the industry. That is information I can use.

  5. Steve, the social media migration (away from long form blogs) is content creation *and* consumption. Doesn’t have to be either/or for Tom’s analysis to be correct.

    The thing I don’t understand here is why you accept Tom’s data for the first proposition, but not for the second, despite them having the same source?,+Instagram,+linkedin,+/m/0h3tm0f,+blog&cmpt=q&tz=Etc/GMT%2B8&tz=Etc/GMT%2B8

  6. Don’t know nuthin’ about viability or life expectancy of wine blogs…but I do like the term “blowsy” to describe some CA viogniers. Suits a few of them to a ‘T.’ But one that I absolutely loved from the moment I first tasted it in Calistoga — is Lava Vine’s. If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting it, you should definitely try it!

  7. Bradley Gray says:

    I have so much to say about this!

    As wine professionals, we never really understand our colleague’s job. It’s easy to go through life in our own job,and it’s super-easy to forget another’s position.

    I am a wine industry publicist. I was ridiculed in this article. Tom Wark is the same. Yet I would say that we are both veterans in our field and good at our jobs.

    Let’s look at this from a publicist’s point of view, which we never ever do. My job is to get good reviews for my client’s wines. And delivering samples to writers isn’t easy! Each sample needs to include a personalized cover letter, statistics and pricing, background, and a bottle. And the writer needs to be home to sign for it when delivered (it’s alcohol), and that all needs to be coordinated.

    So my boss asks me to send out 20+ samples of a wine. Boatload of work!

    As far as bloggers are concerned, yes, I submit a fair amount of my sample allowance to bloggers. Remember, winery bosses don’t give PR guys like me a green light to send out 20 samples of anything! It’s expensive as hell to ship! And with wine, it has to go overnight or two-day. $$$

    I think that the cream is rising to the top in the blogger world. Steve mentioned bloggers looking for free samples and free holiday junkets. My boss won’t go for that. Bloggers like the Terroirist, Alder Yarrow (Vinography) and Grape Experiences (Cindy Rynning) are doing an amazing job. In point, they write well-thought out stories.

    I agree with Steve that there are too many blogs barfing up daily wine reviews, with no backbone or story. God bless them if they have a following.

    Mark my words: The next Robert M. Parker Jr is coming from the blogger community. It started happening this year, when Elaine Brown went to Wine & Spirits and Jameson Fink went to the Enthusiast. It won’t stop.

    I had a recent conversation with Ben Carter of Benito’s Wine Reviews. He’s been blogging for 11 years. He shared statistics that each of his blog posts reach hundreds of thousands of people on a multitude of platforms.

    I am a wine industry professional publicist. I contacted the Wine Spectator about submitting wines for review. They told me they were not interested in submissions form me, and not to call them for a year. Hmmmmm. I guess I need to advertise. And I’m in the biz!

    The company I represent produces a big portfolio of value wines. Parker won’t review them. Nor is his audience interested. Or the Spectator, Enthusiast or Tasting Panel. It’s a whole different world!

    So I send those wines to respectable bloggers. Many of them specialize in value wines, like

    85% of the wine buying community buys wines at $10 and less.

    The bottom line is: As a publicist, I want to generate good reviews. But I don’t send samples so I can high-five my boss when we get a good review. THE POINT IS – We generate SHELFTLKERS (you know, those paper things in front of a wine in the grocery store) that reflect an accurate description from a respectable blogger.

    We generate CASE CARDS that are attached to that stack of wine in the store.

    We generate point-of-sale material. THAT’S what wine PR people do!

    Unless we’re dealing with the geek wines that we all love (and several that Steve has made famous), 90% of the wine buying public has no reference point. 90% of the wine buying public has never heard of Parker, or never opened a copy of Wine Spectator.

    Spectator, Parker, Enthusiast, etc isn’t going to bend over for $7 wines. A quality shelftalker, with a review form a respectable blogger, goes a long way when it comes to sales.

    I think there is a big future for the wine blogger. And the cream will rise to the top. Rule #1: a respectable wine blogger ALWAYS posts at least twice a week. I won’t send samples to them if they don’t. Those are writers that love what they do, take pride, and aren’t looking for freebies from wineries.

    The diversity in wine bloggers is amazing. Chris Kassel, The Dallas Wine Chick, 1WineDude and the Drunken Cyclist are a great cross-section.

    I think that established bloggers have their own individual audiences.

    I’m not giving up on the blogger just yet. I, for one, enjoy drinking wine I can afford. I get that direction from bloggers, because major print publications won’t mention those wineries. Unless they pay.

  8. Bradley Gray says:

    In other words, what ANY reviewer says, be it Parker, Enthusiast, Spectator, Tasting Panel of blogger. The publicsist’s job is to make a shelftalker or case card that gets into the distributor’s hands, and eventually, the storekeepers hands. The storekeeper or restaurateuer is more likely to bring the wine in if it has Point Of Sale (be it shelftalkers, case cards, sell sheets with accolades, etc.)

    A bottle shop owner is only influenced by the sales reps that come to see him. I want the sales reps that sell our brands to be well-armed with accolades.

    We aren’t all Screamin’ Eagle. Other than that, it’s a brutal world out there in the wholesale wine biz. I want my wholesale guys armed with accolades on every wine we produce.

    Storekeepers are looking for any reason to bring in a wine they can turn over. Point of Sale – shelftalkers – from bloggers get it done.

    Steve, you asked “who cares?” My answer: Me, my company, our national brokers and distributors, storekeepers, restaurateuers, waiters, media personalities and most importantly, END CONSUMERS.

    A good review from a responsible reviewer is worth money to a winery.

    I am surprised you missed that after all these years.

  9. Bradley Grey, your operative phrase is “responsible reviewer.” How do you define that? I think that things are so bad out there, publicists will take any good review they can get, even from the most primitive of bloggers. That is a problem…

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