The phone call two years ago caught me completely by surprise. The Star-Telegram newspaper in Fort Worth, where I had written a weekly wine column called The Wine Curmudgeon, was cutting back. My four articles a month would become one or two, and there was no guarantee of even that.
In other words, I had become a wine writer without a place to write.
I was worried. How was I going to continue writing about wine? My world view, shaped by 20-some years in the newspaper business and freelancing for newspapers and magazines, said writers needed to be published by companies that had printing presses, offices, and editors.
My world view, of course, was quite wrong. The world doesn't work that way anymore, and what I thought was a move in desperation turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to my wine writing career. That was starting this blog, and my only regret is that I didn't do it sooner.
My wine writing has flourished on-line in a way it never could have if I had stuck to the print side of the business. My work is better known, my audience is wider, and I can write about things that are important but that wouldn't necessarily appeal to newspaper editors. What this means, both to wine writing and to wine drinkers, after the jump:
It's ironic that I'm having so much success with the blog, because the great issue in the wine writing business these days is whether bloggers are legitimate wine writers. The subject turns up in countless (and mostly boring) posts on the major wine blogs and Web sites, and was even a topic at a big-deal conference that featured the two giants of the business, Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson. The hand-wringing revolves around the idea that blogs allow people who don't know anything about wine to write about wine.
Which is as funny as it is offensive. If someone has an opinion about wine, why shouldn't they be allowed to give it? Why should wine wisdom only be dispensed from "approved" sources like the Mainstream Wine Media (or, as I like to call it, the Winestream Media)?
The Winestream Media, for years all but worshiped as the arbiters of what to drink, is terrified that this is changing. And they're right -- it is. Wine blogging is more democratic and more inclusive than the Winestream Media, and it includes writers who don't care about scores, cult cabernets, and toasty oakiness. They write about what they like to drink, and not about what they want us to drink.
The best example of this is the growth in the popularity of regional wine. It would not have happened without wine bloggers, who are writing about regional wines that the Winestream Media has passionately ignored over the past decade. Don't kid yourself. If you see a review of a regional wine in a Wine Magazine (and they're starting to do more of them), it's because they hear footsteps.
The winner in all of this, of course, is the wine drinker. Want to find out what's the best wine in Indiana? Do a Google search, and you'll find a blog that discusses that. Want to find some quality, cheap wine to give as holiday gifts? Do a Google search, and you'll get your answer. And if the answer is white zinfandel or Two Buck Chuck, who cares? Just do another Google search. You're not stuck wading through some Winestream Media 100-best list of $40 wines that aren't available to ordinary people.
This does not mean that wine blogging is without its woes. The money stinks; I'll be lucky to make a couple of hundred dollars doing it this year. Even the newspaper business pays more than that. We need to find a way to make blogging more profitable that doesn't use the same economic model that is failing elsewhere.
And wine bloggers need to be more professional in their approach -- which is not the same as being Winestream Media snotty. Professionalism means blogging consistently, being up front about who paid for the wine that one is writing about, and treating one's readers, visitors, and commenters with respect.
But it's still a fine way to write about wine -- even for a curmudgeon.
The photo is from Billy Alexander of Charlotte, N.C., via stock.xchng, using a Creative Commons license.