Do consumers trust wine bloggers?

Not much, if a report from the United Kingdom's Wine Intelligence consultancy is to be believed. The catch? The man whose company did the report said the results may be flawed.

Wine Intelligence reported at the end of January that independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the United Kingdom, United States, and France. Its study found that only one in five regular wine drinkers in the U.K. trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with more than 50 percent who trust their wine merchant. In the U.S., the numbers were 20 percent and 80 percent, while only 10 percent of the French trusted bloggers.

Which would seem to point out that this wine blogging thing is a waste of time. But Richard Halstead, Wine Intelligence's chief operating officer, told Harpers Wine & Spirit that the study's methodology had some problems. Which didn't seem to placate wine bloggers here or in Europe, who have spent the past couple of weeks using the cyber-ether to take Wine Intelligence to task, with many high-profile wine blogs on both sides of the Atlantic discrediting the report.

Yet the report, once one gets past the headlines, did offer some insight. What that was, after the jump:

Most obviously, as Halstead admitted, it's not so much that wine consumers don't trust wine blogs. It's that they don't know what wine blogs are — 84 percent of the respondents in the U.K. said they didn't read them. Of those who did, 44 percent said they trusted what they read. That's not a great number, but it's not much worse than those who trust U.K. retailers. Which is the most important number in the entire study, that half of the shoppers in a U.K. wine retailer think someone is going to lie to them. Kind of hard to stay in business that way, isn't it?

Most importantly, there's another way to look at that 20 percent number. Which is that it's pretty damned impressive. How long have wine blogs been around? Not long. How long have outlets like the Wine Spectator and the New York Times been around? A lot longer. (And it's not a coincidence that the study found that newspapers were the second most trusted source of wine information in the U.S. after retailers.) It takes years — decades even — to build trust with consumers, as any first-year marketing student knows. That wine blogs have come this far this quickly says a lot about the blogs that do quality work.

In fact, it's not the 20 percent number that bloggers should be worried about. It's the 84 percent number — that so many wine consumers still don't know we're out here doing this. At this stage of the 21st century, most wine drinkers have access to the Internet and are well educated and Web savvy enough so that they can read any wine blog that's out there. But that this affluent and sophisticated demographic doesn't even know to look speaks to a serious problem with wine blogging. And it's a problem that we perpetuate.

We're too parochial, focusing on too much on the inside baseball kind of stuff that we like and that most consumers could care less about. I enjoy writing posts like this, and I think it's important that I do it. But they are usually among the least well read posts on the blog. Wine drinkers want wine reviews.

We don't do enough quality work. Too many wine blogs are poorly written, don't contain the information that consumers want, and focus too much on ourselves and not the story that we're trying to tell. How many times does a consumer click on a blog, looking for a wine review, only to find a lament about someone's spouse or boss and why they need a glass of wine, or 250 words about whether the label was pretty? I have little use for the Winestream Media, but the one thing it does well is to provide lots of information in a tightly written, easy to use format. We can learn a lot from that.

So the next time someone does a study like this, we need to take a deep breath, ignore the chip on our shoulder, and read the thing. Maybe we'll learn something.