Vetting those Wine Bloggers is NOT like taking care of your dog or cat

Guest Article by Alan Goldfarb, wine journalist and media consultant

With apologies to Lettie Teague’s recent column of March 29, Wall Street Journal

I must be blogger No. 1451, according to Lettie Teague’s latest count of the number of wine bloggers out there. I attended the Wine Blogger’s Conference last year in Portland, Oregon. Given my media credentials, they put me all the way in the back of the conference hall which was inconvenient, but not as scary or difficult as it was getting to my hotel room in Gresham.

Anyway, I got there, I got to taste a lot of wine (some of which I stuffed into my computer bag), and got to meet a lot of you folks, the movers and shakers of the wine industry. I never had so much attention paid to me, at least not since December 2012, when I began writing my blog which I call “Freeloading in Wine Country”.

People. You’ve gotta pay more attention to vetting these bloggos; and by that I don’t mean making a special trip to your veterinarian. If you want to get your name out there in the blogosphere, you’ve got to quality online writers (just not me). To ignore them is to miss out – big time – to what’s happening out there, apropos the media. That’s not to say you should overlook the traditional guys (and you already know who they are. They’re the ones who make the big bucks whilst I struggle making about $15.75 a week writing Freeloading).

When you do vett us, look at the content of our writing. How often do we post? And most important, how many followers, hits, and readers we have. Me? I have two people who even bother to open their computers to look at site every so often – my mom and dad – and they have one machine between them, a Commodore Pet. But maybe since I’ve been to the Bloggers Conference, you’ll begin to read me now, too; and even send me samples. Thanks for the invite to the conference and all that free food and wine. Ergo, the name of my blog.

Part 2: Why Online Wine Writers Matter

Traditional wine writers and online wine bloggers marked the passage of time together at the 5th annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland. Like a multi-generational wedding event with families and friends on both sides of the aisle, these professionals shared their expertise and co-existed in respect. Too much? Well, that’s how it felt to me as a first time participant.

So I attended and survived #WBC12. This included attending all sessions, field trips, wine tastings and extracurricular after hours activities; and doing PR work and event organization for 3 clients, tweeting for one AVA, guiding 2 bus trips, promoting a winery association and myself. The ramp up to completing all of this was almost 2 intense months of 6-7 days per week. I came out of the conference with immense enthusiasm and respect for the writers I met. I developed some new friendships, and observed how ‘online’ can bring people together ‘offline’ or face to face (it often works the other way in wine marketing!).

I believe I also got some answers to questions I posed in Part 1 of this article, thanks to sessions led by Tom Wark, Joe Roberts, other industry services professionals, and keynotes by Randall Grahm and even Rex Pickett. Here are a few things I learned:

  • Why do Online wine writers matter? They matter because they exist, and many bloggers are great writers and create quality content. It’s as simple as that. Not to mention that small wineries need exposure wherever they can get it, and potentially have more access to online wine writers than traditional journalists.
  • What about their survivability? The transition to an online advertizing focus continues for businesses, and consumers are now more comfortable transacting online and willing to pay for quality content on the internet.
  • How will they monetize their writing? Joe Roberts (#1WineDude) held forth on the principle of not giving anything away. Monetization options include selling advertizing on blog sites, affiliate ads and links, publishing eBooks or hard copy publications (i.e. Rick Bakas), repurposing blog posts to paid publications, and consulting to support online writing and also as a lead in to other projects and positions.
  • Can they organize in an effective way? WBC12 was sold out for the 5th year in a row with a wait list of over 100 hopefuls. Conversations and commitments to attend WBC13 have already started. Discussions about promoting wine writing online and debates as to its viability are continuing. Social groups have been setup to continue the conversation.
  • What assures their continuation and relevance in the wine industry? The internet has democratized wine writing and many more writers now have a voice. Also, blogging is very cost effective. Tom Wark pointed out that the owner of the blog writes, edits, publishes, curates content, sells advertizing and promotes their own publication. I’m a sales and marketing guy, not a writer, and even I have a wine industry blog!
  • What are the pressing and ongoing issues facing bloggers? Monetization, need for integrity and editorial responsibility, establishing ethical and educational standards, providing ongoing training to improve wine knowledge, etc.

Online wine writers matter because writers are storytellers regardless of the medium they choose (offline or online). Selling your brand and telling your story is what wineries must do to compete in a vast sea of floating bottles.

Why Online Wine Writers Matter!

The message is the same, the medium has changed.

We’re slowly moving from print to digital media, and online writers aka ‘bloggers’ are driving this trend. My journalist and media consultant friend Alan Goldfarb (a modern-day McLuhan) advises that quality wine writing is what matters, whether online or traditional print media. Quality wine writers should be treated the same regardless of the medium. I measure this by evaluating their investigative and analytic skills, writing ability, and frequency of articles.

It is my belief that small production wineries should target wine bloggers to build mindshare, exposure to their brand stories, generate interest in sampling their wines. And do so in the hope of connecting with them and the potential for reviews, mentions, and feature articles. This is no different than wine industry PR/media relations strategies and applies equally to blogger relations. This seems practical as many smaller wineries don’t hire PR firms and must attempt to publicize their brands in a cost-effective way.

Although wine blog subscription bases are smaller (1,000-10,000+ readers) than their print publication competitors (whose magazines and newsletters are only distributed by hand to a few friends and acquaintances), blog posts are shared, tweeted and disseminated via the Internet bringing more potential reach, and therefore greater actual viewership than can be documented.

Wine Bloggers Conference 2012, otherwise known as WBC12 or #WBC12 in Twitter parlance, is coming soon to Portland, Oregon (otherwise known as #PDX). The big question for me is not whether quality wine writing and reviews will result. I am quite confident that they will, having followed the tweets and blog posts of the top 100 wine writers attending. My pressing issue is will the genre survive and continue to influence the wine industry? How will these talented writers monetize their craft? How will they coalesce and collaborate to become a meaningful collective? Which writers will still be plying their trade by next year’s conference in Canada, and with whom to follow and invest energy and mindshare?

And what does all this mean for wineries as they re-position themselves in this fast, ever-changing mediasphere?