Blogging Peril? – A Friday Night Ramble

10 Mar

I’ve been communicating to my peeps for over 8 years now and I’ve noticed a subtle change in the wine journalism that I read. Before I ramble further, let me expose my biases.

I write because I love to write. I write about wine because I love wine. I’m an amateur. I identify as a blogger and am proud of it. I reach a fraction of the readers that other bloggers or wine writers do. I get it. I only matter to a few. I love those few!

I like the wine blogging community too. I appreciate their contribution to wine education, wine culture, and wine buddyism. Wine buddyism is the camaraderie that wine people experience when discussing, drinking, and appreciating wine together. FYI, it works best while doing the drinking part.

I like that this community, in an effort to make wine more approachable, are generally inclined to communicate with most wine drinkers; instead of just those that have an elevated understanding of wine. However, I notice a troubling trend.

It seems to me that more and more posts have a connection to a gift of sorts. At the extreme, it could be a trip and tour of a wine region or winery. At the low end, it’s simply a sample or samples. And, in fairness and to be transparent, I am not allowed samples in this Victorian jurisdiction unless I am at the cellar door or one of a few professionals paid by the LCBO. I pay for every drop that I review Goddammit. So, I could just be whiney here and, hell yes, I’d take a free trip and samples too. That’s not the point that I’m going to make.

I read The Emperor of Wine many years ago and was fascinated by the origins of Robert Parker’s influence. In the beginning of wine criticism/review, wine critics were flown to Bordeaux, feted, and sampled to death by the wineries so that they could give an opinion on vintage and individual chateaux, wink, wink. Parker argued that this presented either a true conflict of interest or the appearance of one. His Wine Advocate, on the contrary, took no advertising revenue, received no compensation for travel, etc. Ergo, it presented itself as the true uncompromised, objective source of wine reviews. You could trust it. It relied on the revenue of readers. I subscribed to The Wine Advocate for years regardless that my tastes (aside from Neal Martin and Antonio Galloni when he was there) didn’t line up with those expressed in that publication.  I particularly appreciated the lack of advertising.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not impuning the character of those journalists that report positively on their trips and samples. When I’ve been entertained at wineries, I’ve written about it too. And in fairness, most blog posts don’t involve reviewing stuff or experiences that are free or when they do, there are clear declarations of that fact. I guess what I’m saying is that it is a slippery slope. It seems to be the new normal of wineries/distributors for promoting their wines – get a wine writer to talk about your stuff by providing some swag. I’m just wondering if we are getting sucked in.

But here’s where I get truly scared. The Wine Bloggers Conference this upcoming November. A major session is titled: “What Companies Want From Wine Bloggers.” 

Seriously? How much more compromised can we appear if we start from the premise that we want to understand what ‘companies’ want from us and how we can give that to them. Help me understand this. WTF is a company? If I assume that it’s a winery or wine distributor/negotiant, I get that there is symbiosis here. But, it shouldn’t be a servile relationship. I simply don’t understand why we’d give a shit enough to have a session – and I understand it is a “premium full session spot”, promoted as a highlight on this topic?  Bloggers can’t appear any more collusional or compromised than this.

When I read a review of a wine or a winery, I don’t want the writer to serve a commercial interest of a winery or frigging ‘company’. whatever the hell that means. I want to trust that they are expressing ‘their’ truth about the wine. I believe that most of the people I follow are doing just that (People I follow: please read that last sentence before writing in the comments section). But, if bloggers are reporting on their findings while being subsidized either through samples or trips, and the refinement of their craft is schooled in conferences around how to satisfy wine conglomerates and wineries, it just looks bad. I mean it looks really bad. It can all be explained away but so can Trump Tower speed dials set for Russia. Why would we want to create this suspicion or compromise what we do?

Now it is entirely possible that my (now former) blogging friends may see their role differently than I see mine. Maybe being a purist is insufferable. Wait, if you’ve been reading this blog for long you know that I am always insufferable. I may take wine too seriously, you may say. No I don’t. I take fantasy baseball too seriously. Wine is more recreational. But, let me know if you agree that there’s some cause for worry in the Comments section below. Or, you can just just give me shit for my opinions. I don’t get paid either way.

Cheers

Bill

10 Responses to “Blogging Peril? – A Friday Night Ramble”

  1. Ken Boyle March 11, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    So, at anytime did you or do you, ever have wine discussions with the Russians, the Bulgarians or the Georgians? Just proper vetting you understand.

  2. Wining with Mel March 11, 2017 at 4:40 pm #

    I’m with ya. Only once have I had a wine delivered to my door “for potential review”. That was the peak of my blogging fame 😉 Now I’m back to buying my own wine and blogging about the really yummy ones. It suits me just fine! I appreciate your integrity. Keep it up, my friend.

    • Duff's Wines March 11, 2017 at 7:07 pm #

      Thanks for the support. And, I’m very jealous of your upcoming year away. Hoping that you continue to post once in a while to gloat about your adventures.

  3. talkavino March 12, 2017 at 11:09 am #

    I will really have to make an effort to keep this comment from becoming a whole post 🙂
    The question is valid, large and very difficult one – but you already know that.
    What you are looking at is a general change in the approach to how companies operate and how products are sold. We started from many-to-one times (one master shoemaker, everybody want to get his stuff), went trough one-to-many times (industrialisation, you have to fit into whatever factory produces, or else – same with media message – brand is imposed on you and there nowhere to go), and now we live into many-to-many times – anyone literally can start their own shoe line if they have a vision and the passion – and even with today’s factories, you can create your own style of most anything. For the media, outside of SuperBowl commercials, you don’t get anymore an access to your desired audience – this is why most of the news sources became tabloids – they are pushing whatever scandalous stuff they can invent, just to get your attention.
    So now this fundamentally affects wine industry. Instead of Parker and Wine Spectator, there are thousands of “influencers”, each one with their own unique audience and clout of influence. This is why wineries and PR agencies are all constantly looking for those influencers to advance their brands and products.
    For the record, I’m guilty as charged – I receive free wine (samples), I attend free wine tasting events, I even get free dinners and now looking at my first so called “press trip” (feel free to unfollow me immediately). However, I value tremendously my integrity. I don’t accept all the samples – I ask to be contacted first if someone wants to send me a sample, and if I expect that I will not like the wine, I will not accept the sample. When I accept the sample, I always warn that the review will be posted only if I like the wine – I don’t believe it is my place to speak negatively about the wines, as everyone’s palate is different, so I chose to withhold my opinion. I can give you some very solid examples of the wines I refused to receive and the wines I refused to write about – send me an email and I can tell you more.
    I would most highly recommend that you should attend Wine Bloggers Conference in November. This is really a great event where you get to meet all those people you already know so well from the virtual world, and to see that absolute majority of the people who attends those events are simply super-passionate and they want to share that passion – and they have integrity. And the talks, like the one you are referring to, are necessary, as today, it is a two -way street – bloggers need wineries, and wineries need bloggers. And by the way, if you will attend the WBC you will also meet quite a few people from your home country, Canada.
    I can keep going here, but I hope you can see my point.

    • Duff's Wines March 12, 2017 at 11:26 am #

      Anatoli, I appreciate your take on the issue. I agree that things have changed and companies are trying different avenues to reach and influence people’s purchasing. As I said in the piece, those I follow, I respect. They clearly delineate their relationship to the wineries and wines that they are talking about. But, I’ve always been a bit uncomfortable with the relationship is all. And, when I read the plug for the conference session, I just felt that I had to talk about it. Glad that it’s stirred up some debate.
      And, yes, attendance at the conference would be fun – I’d like to meet my fellow bloggers. And, maybe I could heckle the leader of that session.

      • talkavino March 12, 2017 at 12:36 pm #

        Bill, WBC is open to everyone. Join in – it will be fun. So far, most everyone you know (I’m assuming) are planning to attend. Also, this will be 10th anniversary of WBC, so hopefully it will be quite a special event.

  4. Thabo March 13, 2017 at 2:38 pm #

    Told you I would enjoy kicking back, and sipping on a wine with you (solving the world’s problems in the process). I am a novice at blogging about wine, so sub to you. My first rule was exactly that! I don’t want a conflict of interest, so avoid it. If a winery wants to dictate to me what I experienced and how I must share it, there are many vineyards I can hop along to. Oddly enough, my Blog last week was a gift pack wine, and I declared it on the posting. Luckily it was DeMorgenzon, and I like their wines. They also didn’t ask me to blog about it, it was their thank you gesture as I blogged about one of their wines a couple of weeks back. Which brings me to my second point, bloggers can only tell readers what they liked. Our tastes are all different and sometimes what I enjoyed three weeks ago is an anti to climax today… So I always tell readers to taste for themselves as it might be up their alley when it’s not up mine.

  5. thewineraconteur March 14, 2017 at 9:24 pm #

    What can I say, I have never been offered any samples. Hell I don’t even need a disclaimer, as I have paid for every bottle of wine that I have had since the late ’60’s. Yes, I am older than most vintages that you will ever encounter. I have thought about some of these trips, but we are trying to squirrel a little bit more away for, dare I say, total retirement. I read the articles, some are proclaiming how great they are, because they get freebies, so be it. All I know is that every morning when I shave, I have to look in the mirror and I don’t have to hide from myself.

  6. heidi@romancethecork.com July 5, 2017 at 10:02 pm #

    In order to maintain credability I believe we have to maintain some kind of impartiality and separation from the appearance of being “bought” by the wine industry. Otherwise we become paid PR people and not independent opining bloggers. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: