Tag Archives: wine blogging

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

The Wine Curmudgeon’s most popular posts 2014

most popular postsThe most popular posts from the past 12 months are almost completely different from what they’ve always been. Stories that been top-ranked every year that they’ve been on the blog, like The six things you probably don’t know about wine and $10 pinot noirs, aren’t any more.

Chalk these changes up to the new website, which debuted last fall; Google’s ever-demanding search algorithms and how they penalize sites like this one (and more on that Thursday); and who knows what else. In some ways, I’m no closer to figuring out the Internet and how people get to the site than I was when I started seven years ago (though the fine fellows at Reap Marketing have done their best to help me, as has Cindy Causey at the Dallas Media Center).

What I do know is that the blog’s reason for being hasn’t changed. The most popular posts continue to reflect what I’m trying to do here — cheap wine reviews, wine education, and criticism and analysis of how the wine business works. The most popular posts from 2014, plus a few other notes, are after the jump: Continue reading

Computer-generated wine reviews

10 things a wine writer doesn’t do when he can’t write about wine

Perspective is all. Wine writing doesn’t seem as important when there is an ice storm and the wine writer is without electricity for four days. So what doesn’t he do?

1. Doesn’t worry about what wine to drink with dinner, since it’s so cold everything tastes the same anyway.

2. Doesn’t take into account wine and food pairings, since he can’t see what he’s eating anyway. And it comes out of a can. And is cold.

3. Doesn’t think about chilling wine, since it’s already chilled. From being in the house. And leaving a bottle outside to chill it more quickly results in chunky, almost frozen wine.

4. Doesn’t panic when wine refrigerator shuts off, since the expensive wine in the refrigerator is actually colder than it is when the refrigerator is on.

5. Doesn’t check Amazon to see where cheap wine book ranks among category best sellers, since he can’t get an Internet connection. And if he could, he would be checking power company site to see if there is an update on when electricity will be restored.

6. Doesn’t have any idea what the latest controversy is in the wine world (which, actually, is perhaps the only good thing about all of this).

7. Doesn’t panic, after a day or so, about red wine in red glasses and white wine in white glasses. Because it’s too dark to see anyway, and he can’t clean the glasses after using them, since there isn’t any hot water.

8. Doesn’t get worked up about scores, though he is obsessed with power company website and number of homes in his ZIP code still without electricity, and why that number is higher than almost anywhere else in the city.

9. Doesn’t get scared that website traffic will collapse if he doesn’t post on social media, and finally admits to himself that he doesn’t understand the purpose of Google+ at all.

10. Doesn’t care if pizza delivery guy (who is surprised to hear power is off) sees him wearing two pairs of sweatpants, two pairs of socks, three shirts and a sweater, a scarf, and knit watch cap. Let Robert Parker worry about fashion.

Cartoon courtesy of Benson Marketing Group

“Preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers”

The joke in the wine blogging business is that the easiest and best way to goose your numbers is to write about wine blogging. And it works, actually, which says something about wine blogging that many of us probably don ?t want to know.

That’s mainly why I stopped writing about wine writing. The people I want to come to the blog don’t care. They want to know about cheap wine, and anything else is a reason not to come back. If you’re any good, you write for your audience — not to please yourself.

That’s why I was so intrigued by Richard Thomas’ piece in the July issue of North Bay Biz, and not just because he said very nice things about me. That Thomas, an icon of Sonoma Country agriculture and wine, wrote the following means something:

I’m not sure how many of you read the multitude of wine blogs, Twitter feeds and so forth regarding wine. Some make a few good points, but in general, it sounds like they’re preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers.

In other words, sloppy and boring criticism. That’s because too many of us reinforce the conventional wisdom, and we don’t ask the most important question a critic should ask: Why? Why is the business this way? Why does this wine taste this way? Why does this wine cost this much, and this wine this much? Why does this matter to our readers?

This style of criticism exists almost nowhere else, not in film and literature,  certainly, and not even in cars or electronics. Can you imagine a wine-style review in The New York Times Book Review: “87. Offers a hint of savory adjectives balanced by unctuous characters and a zesty finish.”

The Italian Wine Guy (who wrote knowingly about this in May) wonders if we are becoming as irrelevant as Pilates. The Hosemaster of Wine, never one to mince words, went even further last fall: “What amazes me is how wonderful and entertaining and fascinating wine itself is, whereas wine writing is, with few exceptions, dreary, pedantic, insipid and repetitive.”

The best critics are conduits, placing their subject in perspective and facilitating discussion, understanding that they are not the final arbiter but one voice among many. In this, they should be an intelligent, well-versed, and thoughtful voice that their readers can trust. The point is not whether someone reading the blog disagrees with me; the point is whether I have helped them understand enough about so that they are able to disagree with me.

Winebits 286: Aussie wine, French bloggers, leftover wine

? Hope down under? All that gloom and doom seems less gloomy and doomy in Australia, thanks to a rapid and significant decline in the Australian dollar. Australian winemakers big and small have been getting hammered for the past couple of years, ever since their dollar was worth as much as the U.S. dollar. Over the last couple of weeks, though, the Aussie dollar has dropped to US$.90 and could get as low as 85 cents ? still not the heyday of a decade ago, when it was worth 50 cents, but 15 percent is 15 percent. Why does that matter? Because a cheaper Aussie dollar makes Australian wines cheaper in the U.S.. Hence, they ?ll sell more at higher margins.

? No more French wine blogging? A group of experts says one way to cut alcoholism in France is to outlaw wine blogging, a novel approach that assumes wine bloggers actually influence drinking habits. The French are so quaint, aren ?t they? This is an amazing proposal, not only because wine is part of the French national identity, but because the French fought a particularly bloody revolution to guarantee liberty, equality and fraternity. Also, though I ?m cutting myself in the throat here (pun sort of intended), it ?s worth noting that general interest web sites that feature wine probably have more influence than wine blogs. Research for the cheap wine book found that the Wine Spectator ?s site gets about one-third fewer visitors a month than TheHairpin, aimed at 20-something women, that does regular posts about wine.

? Best way to preserve open wine? And, in fact, this demonstrates the reach of non-wine blogs. There is a reasonably accurate article and great discussion on Lifehacker, another more or less general interest blog, about a subject wine blogs mostly ignore. Because, as I wrote in a comment to the post, we drink our wine after we open it and there isn ?t usually any left over. I wonder how the French would regulate something like this. 

Birthday Week 2012: The blog keeps growing

And still in double-digit numbers, too. I ?m beginning to think there may be something to this wine blogging business.

The always popular colored chart, which is after the jump this year, shows just how well we've done since I started tracking visitors in January 2008. The first post went up in November 2007, but I didn't keep stats for the first six weeks. Who knew I would still be here?

All told, the number of average daily visitors has increased 3,230 percent from that first January through the end of October. Plus, not only is the blog up 21 percent through October, but this year saw best day ever (when this Costco post ran), as well as its third best day ever (when the winery shell game past ran).

Continue reading

Winebits 246: Alcohol laws, wine blogging, moscato

? Think it ?s bad here? Andrew Jefford in Decanter talks about wine laws in Europe, where there seems to be a more civilized approach than what we manage in the U.S. with the three-tier system. At least, writes Jefford, it ?s more civilized most of the time: ?The European scene doesn ?t smell quite so strongly of market control, but the dream of direct shipment from producers to consumers within the European Union remains precisely that: a dream. ? In fact, the state-controlled retailing system in Sweden and Finland doesn ?t sound all that different from the infamous Pennsylvania state stores.

? Must-read wine blogs: And, of course, the Wine Curmudgeon is not among them. Fortunately, the compiler has the wisdom to mention the award-winning Italian Wine Guy. It ?s a good thing that I have such high self-esteem; otherwise, all this being ignored would send me to a dark room, where I would lie on the bed and whimper. And, as long we ?re talking about being ignored, there ?s a long story in the Northwestern University alumni magazine about NU types in the wine business ? which also doesn ?t include me, Medill class of '79. There are some really important people, though, like Stephanie Gallo (yes, of those Gallos) and Dr. Vino.

? Mixing moscato and cognac: Am I the only one who doesn ?t understand what ?s going on with moscato? Or big booze companies? Shanken News Daily reports that Beam, the multi-national drinks company, is introducing Courvoisier Gold, a blend of Cognac and moscato  — yes, moscato, the sweet white wine. And they expect consumers to pay $25 for it, too. Here ?s what ?s confusing: If consumers won ?t pay $25 for a bottle sweet wine, and the story notes that consumers aren't buying as much Courvoisier as before, why would anyone buy a blend of the two?