Saturday, September 29, 2007

Delicious Irony

I just can't help seeing the ironic side of this.

Here I was, quietly blogging away in relative obscurity about bits and pieces that came to mind about wine and slowly realising that this blogging lark is just as intense and time-consuming as people had warned me it would be. So, I gamely wrote about how tough it is to keep it all going.

Then what happens? One of the top wine blogs in the US, and therefore the world, gives me a very encouraging write-up. Tom Wark, over at Fermentation in California knows a thing or two about blogging. Not only does he have one of the most widely read wine blogs and probably consults for wineries about Wine2.0, but he also hosts the American Wine Blog Awards (more on this name in a future post - yes, you knew I wouldn't let it lie, didn't you Tom!?) and regularly interviews some of the top names in this field

[I would like to stress I am not in that category, my mention was much more charitable].

The result, as you would expect, is that I had as much traffic on the blog in the last three days as I had seen for the last 3 months. Not bad, but of course, ooooh little irony, is that I now feel even more pressure to say something interesting and spend time making sure it is well written.

As you can tell, I failed!

Actually, I have a few thoughts already in my drafts folder, but getting them finished and sending them on their way into the world to fend for themselves is still just as difficult.

In order to give you an idea of what I am working on so that you might give me the benefit of the doubt and keep on checking out this site in anticipation, here are some of those topics:

- Buying better wine, and the "Cost per Pop" calculation
- Appellations as Brands
- Is wine simply a commodity?
- "Glass of sherry? No? Thought not!" (but you should)
- Wine & Photography
- The Growth Imperative
- "Why are you in the wine trade, Daddy?" (This was my first topic and I still have not got around to publishing it)

If any of these tickle your fancy, then keep scratching for a little bit longer and I'll get them posted soon.

If there are any wine bloggers out there looking for ideas for their own blogs, please feel free to steal any of the above topics so we might start the discussion (remember this is about the Wine Conversation and building the culture of wine), but please do link back to this blog. If anyone at all wants to post any thoughts on these topics, or anything else, in my comments box below, I would be most indecorously grateful.

p.s. Tom, despite this I don't seem to appear in your blog roll :)

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Am I qualified to give advice?

Yesterday I was asked THE inevitable wine blogger question.

Wulf (real name), is a friend of mine who happens to have an eclectic mix of subjects on his blog Down in the Den (!), from his jazz band & compositions, to gardening, programming, photography and religion. His latest theme is wine, so I thought I'd chip in, and quite naturally he responded by asking:

"...any advice about developing my palate for tasting and evaluating wine?"

Thoroughly reasonable question, but it fills me with dread. Whilst I like wine and know what interests me, I have no idea where to recommend others should start. I feel like I ought to ask hundreds of questions about his tastes in food & travel, his mood, his knowledge of history, what he had for lunch, ... all those things that in one way or another influence my own choices.

Of course, I did what any sensible blogger would do, and sent him to read someone else's blog (in this case a relatively new blog to me, called Wine Ministry where Rev. Jeff writes about wine with "a theological slant". Perfect!)

Why do I feel unable to respond to perfectly valid requests for advice like this? I guess it is that as you get realy deep into a subject, you become immersed in the nuances, things that for most people don't matter but make you "the expert". They don't care whether the white wine was barrel fermented. They just want to know if it will it taste nice. Will they like it?

But this is precisely the issue. I know that it makes a difference to the taste, but feel supremely unqualified to tell them whether they will like it or not. I know that I like it.

Do any other wine bloggers out there feel this?

The best wine bloggers, or wine educators for that matter, are not necessarily those who know the most, but are those who know how to communicate with those wanting to learn, without putting them off. Maybe this is why I prefer not to post tasting notes - I can't make myself believe it matters what I think about the wine. I'd rather tell you about the winery, the region or the country and if it appeals to you, let you choose to try it.

The great thing about blogging, in any subject but wine in this case, is that there are a vast range of blogs, and one or more are certain to have the sort of information that a reader, whether novice or expert, is looking for.

Now the only problem is finding them.

Of course, the simple answer, as I believe Alder Yarrow over at Vinography points out, is "Try lots of them".

Monday, September 24, 2007

Blog fatigue and thoughts on wine online

I am sure there are many out there that will recognise this feeling:

When you start your blog you think you might, just, find the time to keep it going. Then you start to get into your topic, especially after a few encouraging comments and your first few subscribers. The excitement starts to build when you make new contacts, new friends, new connections. All of a sudden the blog has created a new network to interact with. You read your comments and reply, read others' blogs, comment on them, discuss ways of working together on facebook, join other forums, ...

Finally you get to a point where that interaction, that new network based on having started a blog, is taking up the time you have available to write it and in fact you no longer blog at all. I am beginning to wonder whether I should be entitled to comment on wine blogging and the future of wine on the web (as I am doing on facebook and elsewhere) when my own blog has been given so little attention?

So what might this imply for online wine culture?

This is an important lesson for those contemplating the future of wine on the internet. Where will consumers find the time to interact on the web as much as these business models demand? There is only so much time one can spend in front of the computer - checking email, reading, posting and commenting on blogs, facebook, mySpace, twitter, etc.

Somehow, the wine 'communities' need to get their members to buy, drink, rate and write about their wines as well as all this. I love wine and I even earn my money from it, but even I cannot be bothered to write tasting notes on these sites and spend too long discussing it in forums. I know these are just my own preferences, but surely this applies to the vast majority of wine drinkers? The Wine Conversation is not just about online forums, it is about making part of everyday life.

I wonder whether the future for wine is not more individualistic. Rather than creating online social interaction around wine, maybe the most important job is to deliver information to buyers at the point of purchase. After all, this is where the money is anyway, and it is also where the average consumer is looking for advice.

The solution is not obvious, but time really is the rare commodity around here, and the job of wine sites should be to give us back time to enjoy better wines, not to use it up in endless data entry.

One to think about in more detail.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Bloggers in competition

Over on facebook, Richard Auffrey asks a pertinent question:
Are wine bloggers in competition with each other? If so, how does that affect our interaction?
As it happens, this links in to things I was considering myself. As I posted a few days ago, Wine 2.0 is about interaction, and this interaction creates (in my mind) ... The Wine Conversation (see how I managed to link it back to my own subject?).

"The Wine Conversation" is about the many discussions that happen about wine because enjoying it is a common, shared experience. As the experience of wine increases in our country, hopefully so does the Conversation.

In this view of the world, bloggers are very much collaborators rather than competitors, involved in sharing information about wine and getting others involved. You can see this quite clearly in the facebook universe. Although very few, if any, of the wine bloggers have met, there is a very strong bond between them. Many have linked to each other, becoming "friends" in facebook terminology simply because of the shared interest in wine and blogging.

Before blogs, the only way to discuss wine was face-to-face, or by reading others' words in magazines and books. The former is limited and quite daunting for some people, particularly those just learning to enjoy wine, while the latter is potentially very dry (excuse the pun), so generally reserved for the real enthusiast. How were everyday drinkers supposed to get involved with the Wine Conversation?

Blogging allows individuals to put forward their thoughts not as pronouncements (as per the magazines), but as points for discussion. Everyone can get involved as much or as little as they wish by reading, commenting, or even starting their own blog. This is the interaction that makes it different from what has come before, and bloggers are as much consumers of others' blogs as they are publishers, so the Conversation metaphor is particularly apt.

By their nature blogs are limited in scope so we NEED more blogs and bloggers, and we need to read, share and converse on them, otherwise we either fall back on the old publishing models, or we become an irrelevance.

So what about the alternative view, that we might be in competition? What would bloggers be competing over?
  • Limited numbers of readers? I guess that the potential readership is unlimited for bloggers prepared to do something new (check out what Chateau Petrogasm are doing)
  • Limited advertising dollars? This is possible, but the vast majority of bloggers do not try and make money from the blogs, so this is currently irrelevant
  • Stories? Well, there might be some truth here, but in most cases this is not relevant to those blogging about wine as opposed to news
  • Ratings? On the contrary, as ratings are based on the numbers of links to your blog as much as readers, networking and cooperation are more important
  • Prizes? They do exist, but there aren't many of these yet, and in theory they are based on quality rather than content, so getting help is a winning strategy
In short, wine bloggers have a shared goal and mission, to spread the love of wine and support the Wine Conversation in their country/region/business/community, and this is done by supporting others, linking to their sites, reading their stories, sharing views and, eventually, sitting down to drink a nice bottle of wine together.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wine and facebook; all very two point oh

Web2.0, Wine2.0, Life2.0

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that just as anything and everything became eAnything, then iAnything, we now have Anything2.0.

The simplest way to make your product sound 'hip and with-it' (unlike that phrase) is to add that 2.0 at the end, but what does it really mean? Wine2.0 is something that is being quoted more and more often, especially by bloggers who see themselves as those leading the new revolution in wine. I have recently joined various groups of fellow wine bloggers on facebook, and this is one of the topics for discussion.

Well, actually it isn't. It is apparently assumed we know what this all means, and this is what lets such developments down. If we don't know what we are doing, how can we do it together?

Some of the leaders of this group, and organisers of an event actually entitled Wine2.0, have described the reasons for it as follows:

"We set Wine 2.0 up to draw a line in the sand that divided the first batch of wine companies founded during the dotcom boom (most died a horrible death, some several times over), from a new generation of entrepreneurs rejuvenated by their love of wine and the prospects of fresh, new and creative thinking."

I find that uninspiring, as it would seem to boil down to "we are doing the same as before, just better".

What is it that characterises truly "new" developments in wine, worthy of a "next generation" label such as Wine 2.0?


Most of the past developments, even on the web, were really just new forms of retail. They may have included more information than before and new ways to select preferences (e.g. Virgin Wines as was), but essentially they did the same job as before the world wide web arrived in the wine world.

The real differences are emerging in the areas of wine blogs, community tasting note sites, interactive cellar management, and even collaborative wine making schemes.

The difference is the involvement of the consumer in many more aspects of the business of making, branding, tasting and selling wines. It is very difficult to actually make your own wine (well) so the vast majority of consumers have absolutely no understanding of this process. It is magic. As long as wine retains its mystique, this might be a positive thing, but it also helps to keep pressure on prices.

Now, anyone can read the thoughts and about the daily routines of winemakers on their blogs, and even ask them questions. There are videos to watch about viticulture and the harvest, sites to read, watch and share tasting notes, and even schemes to allow you to make your own wines. I suspect that this will transform wine in a much more fundamental manner than the wine trade currently expect; it is ever thus with revolutions.

The missing link is how to make this a seamless part of everyday life (not a chore), AND KEEP IT FUN. Also, any site that wants to build on trends and links needs to reach a critical mass, fast.

This is where facebook comes in. Whatever brings you to facebook (scrabble, finding old school friends, searching for a date, political activism, ...) the power of the site is its ability to build communities from shared interests. If you want to find someone else who likes music by Imogen Heap, simply click on her name in your profile (I got over 500 matches in my London network). The application even logs all the music I play and builds a "neighbourhood" of people that have similar tastes to me which I can share through facebook.

It is quite easy to see how this could, in theory, translate to wine. Wine has not got there yet, but it will. Those who establish themselves early are likely to become highly influential and it will be very interesting to watch it happen.

One tip, look out for a certain Mr Vaynerchuk as he is likely to be a player.

Next, some thoughts on how wine bloggers are using facebook.