The Demystified Vine

Taking the mystery out of wine exploration!

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.

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Social web network marketing diagram Brands Rousers Luis Gallardo

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 onandon569number. 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.

Cheers!

Note: unless stated, the opinions written are my own and do not represent the Wine Bloggers Conference.

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26 thoughts on “Wineries Need to Give Wine Bloggers More Respect

  1. tercerowines says:

    Nicely written review of the weekend. And I could not agree with your points more.

    As I mentioned numerous times this past weekend, wines are like stories ready to be written about, and wine bloggers are always in need of stories, correct? Seems like a perfect match to me 😉

    That said, ‘blog’ continues to be a four letter word to many wineries, winemakers, and even consumers out there. It’s not going to be easy overcoming that ‘stigma’, but it doesn’t mean you should not try – and try you are! Wineries need to be more ‘open minded’ about the ‘power’ of bloggers and their ability to tell stories – period.

    And bloggers need to understand that wineries are skeptical and perhaps why they are so – and either find those that are not as skeptical or find ways to overcome that skepticism. Different paths that both hopefully lead to a win-win for both parties . . .

    keep up the great writing!

    Cheers!

    1. Thanks for reading, Larry.

      I think you were able to put something into words that I wasn’t able to fully express – that the word “blog” continues to be a four letter word to many wineries, winemakers, and consumers. There is a stigma attached to blog writing that I think needs to be deconstructed. As such, I think that the perspectives around what “blogging” symbolizes needs to change. While there are countless blogs that come and go, those that remain are steadfast in their goals, and journey to meet those goals. Serious bloggers deserve a lot of respect; this isn’t always ‘just for fun’ (although it is), it is more than just about writing for the love of one’s interests.

  2. tercerowines says:

    Nicely written review of the weekend. And I could not agree with your points more.

    As I mentioned numerous times this past weekend, wines are like stories ready to be written about, and wine bloggers are always in need of stories, correct? Seems like a perfect match to me 😉

    That said, ‘blog’ continues to be a four letter word to many wineries, winemakers, and even consumers out there. It’s not going to be easy overcoming that ‘stigma’, but it doesn’t mean you should not try – and try you are! Wineries need to be more ‘open minded’ about the ‘power’ of bloggers and their ability to tell stories – period.

    And bloggers need to understand that wineries are skeptical and perhaps why they are so – and either find those that are not as skeptical or find ways to overcome that skepticism. Different paths that both hopefully lead to a win-win for both parties . . .

    keep up the great writing!

    Cheers!

  3. Carin Oliver says:

    Wineries and many other industries do not yet understand that bloggers are more trusted by consumers than traditional media. But they will…I’m working on it.

    1. Thanks for reading, Carin. How interesting! I never actually entertained the idea that bloggers are more trusted by consumers than traditional media. However, I can see why, particularly because in any industry, there is corruption. The history of the wine business is no exception. I am also working toward establishing a stronger relationship between bloggers and the industry. Here’s to a brighter wine world!

  4. mkphotomedia says:

    This isn’t just about wine bloggers–it’s about all of us ‘sophisticated consumers’ who go to tasting rooms to learn, find interesting wines, and have a unique experience–not just to go drink. Some wineries (particularly either smaller wineries and/or where the winemaker is also running the tasting room) get that people, particularly those of us who care about what’s in our glass, like to tell stories; and give people a good story and they’re more likely to buy and tell their friends. (Seth Godin argues this point in ‘All Marketers Are Liars’). Others treat everyone as if they’re there to drink, and it’s frustrating. (seemingly common in CA wineries).

    Seems like a bit of training is in order for those working tasting rooms: those of us who are there to find interesting wine ‘out’ ourselves early and often (we’re easy to spot: we’re sipping and swishing our wines, and instinctively swirling and sniffing our water), and that should be a good sign that we should be marketed to and shared with accordingly.

    1. Thanks for reading, Martin! Yes, those unique experiences that we have with our products, or in a wine tasting room for that matter, are what help shape our responses and reactions. I think that bloggers assist with being the voice for those who don’t use this form of technology to spread those stories/experiences/reactions. It does come back to marketing, really. This was one of the points that I was trying to make. I’m still not suggesting that bloggers get financially comped. I am suggesting that wineries help celebrate those experiences by sharing a good story with their followers. Cheers!

  5. Great points, well made! Over here in the UK blogging is most definitely still sneered at by everyone else in the industry. I must say that one or two supermarkets have been amazingly helpful though.

    I’ve had a mixed bag from wineries across France and Italy, the Germans all seem to get it, go to Eastern Europe and they go potty for you.

    1. Hi Mike, thanks for reading. Sneered at! Oh my! I understand. I have had others communicate to me that differing areas of the world respond differently to various types of writers. It might be a good side project for me to poll this! Cheers!

    2. Try having a name like “The Wine Wankers” Mike and see how shunned you really can be by the wineries! 😉

  6. Tom Wark says:

    Valerie:

    Interesting topic and you’ve served it well.

    Let me make a couple comments. I think it needs to be noted that one of the reasons that writers at daily newspapers and in magazines get much more attention from the industry is due to the fact that they have a built in audience that is likely much larger than the vast majority of wine bloggers. Wineries or wine-related companies are interested in the media because coverage of their efforts can increase their exposure and their sales. And this is always their first concern and should be. Without sales, they go away. So, choosing to work with the writers that have an audience is smart.

    Second, there is more too it than loving to educate people and being able to talk someone’s ear off. There are many professional wine writer and longstanding wine writers who have a vast well of experience and contacts and insights that result not merely from their education, but from that long standing experience. Take folks like Dan Berger, Steve Heimoff, Fred Tasker, Peg Melnik, Rebecca Murphy, John Foy. I could go on and on. These people have written about wine for many years…decades in some cases. I’d argue they have vastly more useful resources and authority than most wine bloggers and this is why they get the attention. And in fact, the vast majority of writers that get the attention from the industry not only have been writing for a long time, but they also don’t have degrees.

    In any case, my two cents.

    Best,
    Tom….

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for reading. I appreciate you flipping the coin. Various perspectives are always in order to fully understand something. I get that wineries or wine-related companies will be more interested in media personnel because of exposure reasons. While this is true, a well-established blog could still provide exposure for wineries. Obviously not on the same scale, but free marketing is free marketing, no? I also wholeheartedly believe that serious wine bloggers want to gain a big audience.
      Yes, agreed, that many professional wine writers have more than just the love to educate and talk someone’s ear off about wine. These folks do have long standing experience throughout the industry in addition to authority and resources. I am in the industry myself, so I can grasp that. I suppose what it boils down to post-dedication/education/wine certification/etc., is time. By that, I mean that if a blogger is going to survive the blogging world, he/she needs to keep his/her nose to the grind, network, create good content, and the audience and respect will come. Cheers!

  7. Nice article! Winemakers and publicists have been wonderful to me for the most part. The one really cool additional thing they could do is this: post an excerpt of my blog post on their Web site, with a link to my blog or the post. Win/win — they get a media testimonial, I get more traffic and recognition. Today, my biggest thrill of the day was when I learned that a year or two ago Jancis Robinson had credited my blog regarding a marvelous wine available at around $11 — I’d simply gone to the winemaker’s Web site (or perhaps the tech sheet that had been enclosed with the samples, can’t remember now) and found the components of the blend. Jancis cited my findings in her own report, and had the class to cite my review and blog. SO appreciated.

    1. Thanks for reading, Carolyn. I think you have touched on something that I was trying to communicate. I am by no means upset with wineries, but I have a strong opinion that they should be doing a bit more to support those who are supporting them. Just as you say, posting an excerpt of the decent blog post on their website/Facebook page/tweet it out/etc., would be a good way to help support bloggers. I have also had fairly good response from wineries, but I think from chatting with other bloggers at the conference, it is fair to say that wine bloggers would enjoy having more traffic and recognition on their well-done write-ups. Cheers! PS: Congrats on the Jancis Robinson credit!

  8. As the owner of a small wine estate, I don’t differentiate between bloggers and print journalists all other things being equal. I’ve had a few bloggers come to my winery and will always devote plenty of time and usually give them a couple of samples. I’ve met bloggers at various tasting events and again, am always happy to give them as much time as possible.
    However, one thing concerns me. It’s this term “support”. For some people that means free wine. One of the problems with blogging is that it generally doesn’t generate much money so free wine is a nice perk. A problem that I have seen, and one echoed by Please Bring Me My Wine above is that certain organisations, namely supermarkets, big drinks companies and big online retailers, are perfectly happy to send a blogger 12 bottles of low-priced wine. It’s a tiny part of their advertising budget and all the blogger’s audience has access to the wine. For a small producer, it’s a large expense with a far more unlikely return.
    So what we see are wine blogs which just recommend these quaffers, preferably from obscure grape varieties to make it look interesting, but essentially it just a bit of cheap PR for the big players in the industry. I’ve turned down several people who have basically offered me a brief blog in return for free samples. I just can’t see the point of it. Similarly I don;t answer people who want 24 bottles of free wine to promote my brand at some golf club or school fete because 99.9% of the people who get to drink it will never even try to seek it out, they’ll just carry on buying special offers from Tesco. So we get this vicious circle.
    It would be nice to have better relations between the most interesting people making the most interesting wine and the people most capable of telling their story to the most appropriate audience. I think that relationship is something that bloggers need to target. It would make wineries like me far more keen to give respect.
    I’ll be honest and say that in France many bloggers talk about interesting wines that they have found in a caviste or at a domaine.

    1. Thanks for reading, JonJon! I appreciate you responding as someone who is not a blogger, but the owner of a small wine estate. It is good to hear that you don’t differentiate between bloggers and print journalists. Thank you, as well, for spending time with those bloggers. I get your reservations on the term “suppport”. In fact, I agree that it is a bit of a problem that there are bloggers out there who think they can simply ask a winery for free wine because they are a blogger. No good. I, by no means, was implying to provide free wine to bloggers, as I understand that a bloggers’ audience is limited and unlikely to draw on a huge return for the winery. To be honest, I’m sort of stuck on the fact that you’ve been asked for 24 bottles of free wine. Who is doing that? Personally, I have never asked for a single bottle. If a winery wants to provide me with a bottle, I will accept it, but I will never ask. I can see the loophole that is “supporting” bloggers for you, as a small estate winery owner. I guess part of the “support” for bloggers then revolves around filtering who will be able to best tell the story to the most appropriate audience. That can be difficult considering you never know who is going to walk into your tasting room, and there is unlikely a lot of time to do your background research on that blogger. Maybe, as a thought that just popped into my head, it might be appropriate for established bloggers to be more diligent about contacting wineries ahead of time, so that the winery can decide what level of support to provide the blogger with (in the case of a blogger physically visiting the estate). How do you support bloggers who don’t visit your winery, but do excellent write-ups on your product? Thanks again for responding; there are some interesting points in your reply. Cheers!

  9. Todd Godbout says:

    Valerie, you ask appropriate questions. From my experience, wineries have been extremely engaging and not just during wine bloggers conferences. In Virginia we have a community of bloggers that the wineries proactively contact to share news – either new releases, conditions in the vineyards, new staff. The same holds for many wineries in Maryland and those that I have had contact with in the Finger Lakes.

    Maybe it’s a size issue. Smaller wineries are less likely to have their story told by larger media outlets and thus are looking for other outlets: i.e. bloggers.

    1. Thanks for reading, Todd! I have almost always, as I mentioned to JonJon, been warmly greeted by wineries (with a few exceptions to BC wineries in Kelowna who have failed to respond entirely). I think size is an issue for smaller wineries. All the more reason for smaller wineries to use their variety of social media sources to put out any press given to them by bloggers! Will you be attending the Wine Bloggers Conference next year in the Finger Lakes AVA? Cheers!

  10. Nice to read your take on the keynote; glad you got so much out of it and I appreciate your sharing your insights on it. I was disappointed in it but got more out of it after reading your post.

    1. Hi Gwendolyn, thanks for reading the post. I’m sorry to hear that you were disappointed in the keynote speech. I think it was hopeful, but illuminated a definite “gap” for me between wine bloggers and every other writer. The only way to fix that gap is to raise awareness.

  11. Reblogged this on Wine Country BC and commented:
    I didn’t get to attend this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference but still somehow feel the need to ‘spread the word’ a little and Valerie has done a great job with this article. You should also read the comments below it for some added arguments pro and con as well as alternative viewpoints. Self-reflection and introspection (or navel-gazing) has, for better or worse, always been a significant part of any WBC that I’ve attended (although interestingly less so in Penticton for some reaosn) and apparently this tradition lives on in the recent conference. More than just applicable to wine blogging though, I really think it’s a bigger part of the zeitgeist – musicians have effectively been deprofessionalized slowly over the past 50 years and writers are in that boat now too. Anyone with a big digital camera can be a “professional photographer” or produce videos easily using nothing but an iPad app. People who may have real talent now have a lot of outlets for it but at what cost? I once had a winery tell me, “Thanks for the free publicity!” as I was leaving after recording a podcast and it soured my outlook on blogging and the work I was putting into creating the podcast. Why was I just giving away my skills and working long hours just to tell their story? My online presence changed soon after that as I moved from a “tell their story”-mode to a “tell it like I see it”-mode. As such, I now rarely introduce myself to new wineries anymore preferring to receive a more ‘anonymous’ public experience of the wine shop (which is what most of my readers / listeners will get) instead of getting whatever VIP treatment the winery can offer. I’m not interested in free wine, I’m interested in *wine* and at this time of my blogging / podcasting life, I will say what I want to say. If your winery has a wine that interests me, I will write about it or include it in a podcast. I can only write about my point of view. I think people who read wine blogs do so because of they know that it’s someone’s point of view and not contrived marketing. That’s where I think wine bloggers need to focus – tell your story, not theirs.

    1. Luke — thanks for the share. I think you understand where I was coming from. I’m interested in knowing more about being “anonymous” when you go to a winery. Maybe we should become the secret shoppers of the wine world!! 😉 (I’m going to write to you about _why I’m interested in knowing more about being “anonymous”.) Cheers.

  12. Try having a name like “The Wine Wankers” and see how shunned you really can be! 😉

    A great read Valerie. Up until only recently, while wineries outside of Australia had some interest in following us many Australian wineries just weren’t interested. Our name did play a part in that of course but interestingly that has all changed now and at a recent event in the Mudgee Wine region that Ben attended he was treated extremely well by the local wineries and was even put on a prime table with them all.

    Why all this? Because as Tom mentions above it all has to do with perception of size. I think wineries see blogs as being small and insignificant to their sales, an image that is clearly wrong. In our case we have shown that what might seem insignificant at first may end up being far from it, so they should pay more respect from the outset. Taking an interest in wine blogs (and social media in general) should be one of the key marketing strategies, but like one winery once said to us “we’re really just farmers, we don’t have time for all that”. So there you go.

    Oh, and there’s still Aussie wineries who shun us. Maybe we need a second name when approaching those ones… “The Serious Snobs”. 😉

  13. Valerie excellent post! Personally I have to say my wine blogging cost me a position I had marketing a local wine trail. They felt my blog was a conflict of interest. To this day, when I blog about a winery on this trail, they never post it on their facebook or twitter accounts. It is most unfortunate that when someone has a passion the people they are passionate about don’t give them the time of day. But we chime on as we have our audience and our audience expects to learn from us and we continue to search for the topics to bring to them. I am sorry I didn’t get to meet you at WBC14 as I had to cancel due to a family illness. Hopefully I will see you in the Finger Lakes!

    1. Thanks for posting, Debbie! Yes, sorry we did not get to meet as well. It seems as though you learned a lot from that experience. That must be hard because you love writing about wine, but then those who have the power to share do not want to. Keep working hard though – hard work always pays off. Hopefully I’ll be going to the Finger Lakes!

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