Call it digital: Wine writing in the 21st century

Graduate students at the Institut du Management du Vin in Burgundy are trying to find out just how much blogging and the Internet have changed wine writing. And if their study hits the mark, we could well learn a lot about how wine writing is making the transition from print to digital.

“I’m absolutely sure this is the future,” says Evelyne Resnick, PhD, an associate professor at the institute who is overseeing the study. “More and more, the question is not whether there are wine blogs, but the role they play in the wine industry.”

So Resnick’s students are surveying 450 wine blogs (300 or so in the U.S. and the rest in China and South Korea) to get an idea of what’s going on: Who writes them, what they write about, how they manage their blog, and so forth. The results, she says, will help the wine business begin to figure out how blogs work and how they affect the wine industry — something that isn’t very clear right now. How do consumers interact with blogs? How do bloggers make a living? How do blogs and bloggers interact with each other and the wine business?

More, after the jump:

Full disclosure: I filled out a survey for the study, which is how I found about it. And Resnick, when I talked to her (via Skype, the unofficial Internet telephone service of the Wine Curmudgeon), said she was familiar with what I do here and appreciated how I did it. Which made me blush, actually. This woman has a doctorate from the Sorbonne.

The study revolves around a simple premise. Traditional wine writing is a one-way conversation between the writer, who pronounces judgment, and the reader, who acts on the judgment. Often, the reader accepts the judgment even though he or she has no reason to do so other than the perceived knowledge of the writer.

Contrast that with how wine blogging works. It’s not just a conversation between the writer and the reader, which is a significant difference from traditional wine writing, but between the writer and many readers. Or even just between readers, where the writer is little more than a referee. Sometimes, it almost doesn’t matter what the writer thinks — something that could never, ever happen with the Winestream Media.

In addition, the writer can bring in as many outside experts as he or she wants by adding a link to the blog post. For example, I do this with my wine reviews, linking to the producer’s web site, to information about the grapes used to make the wine, and even to recipes for food pairings. This, says Resnick, is a key difference. The blogger can offer more information and use less time and space to do it.

Finally, not all wine blogs are created equal. There are cultural and geographical differences, says Rensick; wine blogging is more common in the U.S. than in Europe, and the Italians seem to be the least interested among Europeans in wine blogging. Wine blogging in China is even more fascinating. Resnick says the blogs focus on education, and very basic education at that. How little do the Chinese know about wine? Ordering a bottle in a restaurant can almost panic the waiter or waitress, she says.

Also, many of the leading Chinese blogs are written in English, which limits their audience to the best educated and most affluent Chinese wine drinkers. The preeminent bloggers include Jeannie Cho Lee, a master of wine who writes in English (and also writes for a variety of traditional media), and Li Meiyu, La Sommeli re, a sommelier who works at the Park Hyatt in Beijing and writes in Chinese.

The other important thing to note, says Resnick, is that the wine blogs that will make the most difference will not be about the blogger who writes to please himself or herself. Rather, they will add to the discussion of wine and will try to create a sense of community about wine.

The survey, which will continue over the next several years, will eventually include European and Indian blogs. By then, says Resnick, she and her students should have a decent idea about what’s going on with digital wine writing. The next step, then, will be to use that information to understand how blogging affects — and will affect — the wine business. There are theories, of course, ranging from the death of the Winestream Media to the withering of wine blogging. It will be good to have data to base the theories on.

3 thoughts on “Call it digital: Wine writing in the 21st century

  • By Alfonso Cevola - Reply

    wow – very cool.
    Odd about the Italian wine blogging scene. It’s pretty active from my perspective. Almost like political blogs.

  • By bburnsey - Reply

    The links to the Chinese blogs were interesting. The English blog leaned towards high dollar wines, the other, looked as if it may have been as much about everyday wines.
    readers will find blogs that match their wine buying habits, but with the multitude of blogs, I no longer need to read about wines I will never be able to afford.
    The wine print reminds me of car magazines, Ferrari’s, Porsche’s, etc,, dream cars for the majority.

  • By Zoe Geddes-Soltess - Reply

    What an interesting project! Out of curiosity, do you happen to know why Resnick and her students included South Korean blogs in the initial study? I look forward to learning more on how social media is being used in China by wine consumers and brands, and hope you can give us an update or two on this project down the road.
    Zoe Geddes-Soltess
    Community Engagement, Radian6

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