Inspired at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference
I was recently at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara, California, on a scholarship. During the conference, I attended a number of intensely interesting seminars, in addition to having some serious talks with industry folks about wine. I spoke with fellow bloggers, PR reps, wine writers, winery owners, and even winemakers. Throughout the conversations and seminars, I kept pondering on the relationship between wineries and wine bloggers, and that this relationship needs to be developed and intensified.
Now, before you jump on this, read with an open mind. This post is not being written to complain about wineries intentionally disrespecting wine bloggers. The whole point is to create awareness and dialogue of where wine blogging stands, how wine bloggers are helping wineries, and illuminate the not-entirely-functioning relationship between wineries and wine bloggers. I am writing in an attempt to change perspective, not to cause a ruckus.
Corbett Barr – “Superstars & Tastemakers”
The keynote speech, conducted by Corbett Barr, entitled, “Superstars & Tastemakers” was an eye-opener for many. Barr’s entire message was centered on the fact that there is a bright future for wine bloggers. How could I not agree? The dawn is already here.
In North America alone, there are more than 740 wine bloggers who are passionately sharing their stories, experiences, favorite wines, interviews, photos, education, passion, connection, and opportunities. Wine bloggers are writing about what they love: wine.
Now, before I continue my thoughts, I must take the time to note that I fully understand Corbett Barr’s message that:
Drinking wine + blogging ≠ Wine blogging
There are wine blogs focused on merely reviewing weekend party wines, or those that fail to do their research. I get it. However, for those wine bloggers who are actually dedicated and maintaining a blog (it is hard work), I think that these writers should be more intensely supported by wineries.
Barr highlighted that most dedicated wine bloggers have various struggles including: motivation, audience, design & technology, respect & recognition, finding opportunities, earning a living from their writing, and reaching their full potential. Why? Writing for ourselves is fine and dandy, but we are passionately trying to share our stories and knowledge with others. Gaining an audience from the ground-up is a difficult mission. Wine bloggers spend countless hours attempting to build audience in one way or another. Did I mention they do it for free? Additionally, wine bloggers crave to share their experiences with the world, and that sharing includes material on wineries & their wines. There is more opportunity for a wine bloggers’ voice to be heard if wineries put in more effort to support them.
Being in the Trenches
One thing is for certain: wine blogging can be very powerful, and it can also be like being in “the trenches”, as Barr noted.
When good wine bloggers are not recognized as “wine writers”, we are left in the dust of those who are fortunate enough to host local newspaper wine columns or write general articles in government liquor store magazines about Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir. The truth of the matter is that wine bloggers are also driving forces for the wine community whether or not people will admit it. Wine bloggers do not get paid to publish their ideas, thoughts, and knowledge about wine. Additionally, when it comes to writers getting paid for writing, the writing world is in a downward spiral. Generally speaking, writers are financially compensated less and less as the years pass; more people are writing for free or for very little. These writers are almost at blogger status. So, what is the real difference?
Not all established writers are critics or have their MW (Master of Wine) or MS (Master Sommelier) titles. I appreciate that those who have these certifications are deemed as the “experts”, and that they could talk lovingly about wine for hours. They painstakingly worked to get where they are; I will never deny this for one split second. I only have my WSET Advanced Certification, but I will tell you one thing: I could talk your ear off for hours as well. I also intensely enjoy educating others about wine and its elegant delicacy. Words are powerful to everyone in any context. Again, what is the real difference?
Wine Bloggers Are the New Wave of Wine Writers: Give More Respect
Wine bloggers are the new wave of wine writers. Our voices are gaining strength, and we are increasing in number. However, readers of anything published should still be critical about distinguishing what is considered good and this-needs-improvement material. I subscribe to this.
That being said, I am finding a reservoir of courage within me to speak up for a group of dedicated writers, who are trying hard in their own authentic ways to be heard and to communicate their passions about wine and the industry. We are doing it amongst the well-established writers.
As such, I need to reiterate a comment that Barr mentioned in his keynote speech: that the “wine community is not as tight” as it could be. This signifies that change needs to happen; there are many relationships (of various types) that have the opportunity to be strengthened.
Bridge the Gap Between Wineries and Wine Bloggers
I want to encourage wineries to help bridge the gap between themselves and wine bloggers. If a wine blogger spends his/her time researching, interviewing, questioning, deconstructing, writing, and educating his/her readers and the social media world about your winery, show them some love. To my knowledge, although I am sure it happens somewhere in the world, wineries are not paying wine bloggers to publish stories on them or reviews about their wines. Wine bloggers want to tell these stories. We are purveyors of biographies, history, and narratives much in the same way that paid professional writers are. Bloggers of wine are essentially, through their blog posts, showing enthusiasm for wineries and what they are offering. Why not share this?
If I can also bring in social media to this argument, then I should not leave out the fact that customer relationships are now in “Likes” and in “+1s”. This is how people share, show appreciation for something, and communicate interests. It could be argued that a winery has been advertised (for free) for every read wine blog post that gets a “Like” or a “+1”. Paul Mabray (@Pmabray), who spoke at “The Business of Wine” seminar, said:
There is an average of 1.5 million organic conversations about wine [on the internet] each day. Wineries get 2-20 organic messages a week, and over 80% go unanswered.
If we deny that social media is fostering organic conversations, we have a problem. Wine bloggers are utilizing social platforms in a way that has never been seen before to communicate their messages and interests about wines, wineries, and the industry. Mabray also added that, “Bloggers are the people who help consumers find wine, discover it, and buy it”. In essence, wineries need wine bloggers, and bloggers need wineries.
Thus, Wineries, there is an unstated relationship between you and those who blog about you. Wine bloggers create opportunities for your winery whether or not you realize how deep that may go. Please, be picky; it is a right. I am not suggesting you give respect to every Joe-Blow that writes about a bottle of your wine. However, do not ignore those who are fostering education in others about your wine and winery practices, who do their research, who want to engage and share.
Bloggers, if you are writing about wineries, this unstated relationship exists between you and the wineries you write about. You provide a number of things for wineries including your time and free advertising (which, we all know, everyone pays a lot of money for).
I want to create dialogue about how this relationship is being fostered.
If you are a winery:
What are you doing to help support wine bloggers? Are you doing more than just retweeting the bloggers link one time? Do you thank them? Do you consider a solidly-written write-up just as good as an accolade? Why or why not?
If you are a wine blogger:
How have wineries responded to your posts about them? How have they shown support for your work? Do you feel they could be doing more? How so?
I hope that you agree and disagree with some of these things. It means that I am doing my job of helping you think critically about this topic. I encourage both wine bloggers, winery folks, and others, to think about this.
Thank you kindly in advance for reading.
Note: unless stated, the opinions written are my own and do not represent the Wine Bloggers Conference.