Seven years of wine writing on the Internet

wine writingThe Wine Curmudgeon has the best job in the world — I get to drink wine and write about it for a worldwide audience that appreciates what I say and regularly tells me so. I’ve won awards and I’m respected in a way I never was in my previous writing careers, and it’s not like I didn’t have successes then. How about interviewing a talking dog?

The catch? That writing about wine on the Internet is as financially unrewarding as it was when I started, which is the lesson for the blog’s seventh annual birthday week. The Internet isn’t interested in wine writing; rather, it rewards selling and marketing wine.

Mostly, that’s the Winestream Media, which has always been as much cheerleader for the wine business as it has been consumer advocate. But it’s also the biggest wine-related sites, retailers like Amazon and aggregators like Snooth, who benefit. That’s because the Internet values quantity above all; witness this wine site acquisition by another site this week, which is just like the consolidation and “synergies” that go on in other businesses. That the biggest sites may not be impartial or objective doesn’t matter. My review of a wine, no matter how brilliant, will almost never out-Google the largest sites, which may do nothing more than list the wine for sale. In this sense, quality is irrelevant, and what matters is who has the biggest inventory.

In addition, too many wine drinkers who use the Internet want to be told what to drink, which has been as depressing to discover as it has been surprising. Every year, I get a disappointing number of entries when I give away the $50 Wine.com gift card during Birthday Week. It’s as if wine drinkers using the Internet don’t care about free money, because then they have to decide what to do with it, and wine is too complicated for that. These wine drinkers are a perfect fit for the Winestream Media, retailers, aggregators, and the like, and they help reinforce the rewards for sites that sell and market wine.

One of the smartest wine people I know, whose career has been a model of quality and professionalism, makes no pretense about how she writes for the Internet: She has a list of search terms that Google looks for, and she uses as many of them as possible. If her writing is awkward or repetitive, that’s better than not being read at all. Google’s algorithm even takes into account how long a post is, and it penalizes those (like this one) that are too long. Or too short, which is the case for most of my reviews.

In fact, a consultant who parses Google for a living has told me that I may have to face facts: I may never be able to compete with the biggest sites and may have to find something else to do for a living. The best explanation of how this works, and why Google gets away with it, is from computer blogger Dedoimedo (the language gets a little rough): “If you believe in your work, your passion, your words, then I beg you, do not let the corporate morons out there reduce you to the lowest common denominator.”

Unfortunately for my financial future, I have no interest in selling or marketing wine, which is different from carrying advertising on a website. And the day I take writing lessons from a search engine algorithm is the day Robert Parker and I have a sleepover to giggle about inky 98-point shirazes. I’m a writer, not a salesman. And, with no false modesty, I’m one of only a handful of quality, legitimate wine writers on the Internet. You’ll read stuff here that you not only won’t get anywhere else, but that no one else thinks there’s a need for wine drinkers to know. Because, after all, their job is to sell wine.

My goal is just the opposite of what the algorithm says it should be. I don’t want to tell anyone what to drink. I want to teach you how to make up your own mind, so you can drink what you want and pay as much — or as little — as you want. That’s called journalism, and if it makes me quaint and old-fashioned, so be it. I’m not here to become famous or win awards. I’m here to perform a service. There’s no point in doing this, in writing five posts a week, 52 weeks a year, unless I care about the people I’m writing for. And that’s each of you, whether you come here for a Barefoot review, to laugh at one of my rants, or to try to figure out what punk rock has to do with wine.

Hence giving you the best I can — the best writing, the best-informed opinion, the best information about how the wine business works — regardless of what the algorithm wants. Anything less is hypocrisy, and there is already enough of that in the world. And especially in the wine business and wine writing.

So I’m here for the long run, even if I never make enough money to retire to Burgundy. Or if I have to write arcane trade magazine pieces, be polite to annoying editors, or do book signings for people who are too smart to read books. It still beats working for a living.

More about the blog’s history:
Birthday week 2013
Birthday week 2012
Birthday Week 2011
Birthday Week 2010

9 thoughts on “Seven years of wine writing on the Internet

  • By Kelly - Reply

    this may not carry any weight (given what I do for a living…PR), but you are definitely considered one of the good guys in my book. I’ve worked with many wine writers over the years and for the most part they have been good, honest people who write about wine out of a passion for the product. The fact that many of them have day jobs to support their writing career is a sad testament to the system.

    • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

      I take all compliments, and it doesn’t matter who they are from. And I am flattered.

  • By Martin Cody - Reply

    You’ve proven time and again the material you write, information you convey and humor delivered is appreciated by a great many, albeit in rather silent and non-lucrative fashion. Validation that one of the earliest cases ever tried in public opinion, David v. Goliath, is alive and well.

    Keep on writing and writing well for the world will never tire of excellent quality, be it writing or wine.

    Cheers,
    Martin

  • By - Reply

    I look forward to your blog! Thanks for the great information!:)

  • By Heidi Witherspoon - Reply

    “…And the day I take writing lessons from a search engine algorithm is the day Robert Parker and I have a sleepover to giggle about inky 98-point shirazes.”
    Entertaining. You are also that, as great writers are, wine topics or not! Hopefully those sidebar ads on your blog give you some revenue. Keep up the goodness.

  • By Kyle Schlachter - Reply

    Happy Birthday and keep up the good work!

  • By Wine Curmudgeon - Reply

    Thanks to everyone for the very kind words. That’s why I do this — to know that people read it and appreciate it. Plus I get free wine.

  • By Gary millman - Reply

    What everyone else has said: you write about wine with a passion and with an uncommon integrity. Deeply appreciated by many of us.

  • By Alfonso Cevola (@italianwineguy) - Reply

    7 years doesn’t actually qualify you for “silver-back” blogger status but you’ll be there in no time. I’ve learned in the last 9 years of blogging that writing is hard and it pays very little. So you have to love it to keep on doing it. Forget the crocodiles, forget the aggregators, and just keep on trucking, amigo. That’s a lot of free ink, as the dead-tree journalists say.

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