It’s All About the Blog

By Craig Camp

You couldn’t miss her as she glided through the room. Her fire-engine red hair made sure of that. Her electric tresses were lit by the eerie glow of hundreds of laptops that crowded the many large round tables filling the dimly lit hotel ballroom. At each laptop, a 20- or 30-something was studying and sniffing a glass of wine, then furiously attacking the keyboard to “Twit” about it.

The micro-blogging platform Twitter was suddenly swirling with wine “Twits.” Some people at the same table were exchanging their thoughts about each wine over the ether of the Internet instead of debating face to face; it was faster and more communal as they communicated with everyone in the room and hundreds of others around the world, all at once.

The bright red hair belonged to WineDiverGirl ( ), as she’s known on Twitter; she’s a wine blogger like everyone else in the room. This was the first official assemblage of American wine bloggers as almost 200 of them gathered last October at the Flamenco Hotel in Santa Rosa for The 2008 Wine Bloggers Conference ( ).

Just a few months before, their European counterparts held their first conference in Spain. Without a doubt, wine blogging has reached critical mass and is emerging as the new voice of wine writing.

New media is young, fresh and energetic and that well describes the group who descended on Sonoma for the conference. Tuxedos, tastevins and wine-speak were replaced by jeans, Macs, fire-engine red hair and revolution.

Since the early ’80s, wine information has flowed primarily through two gatekeepers: Robert Parker Jr.’s The Wine Advocate and Marvin Shankin’s The Wine Spectator. But sip-by-sip, the rambunctious and free-spirited bloggers are breaking their hold on the wine-buying public. Like most new media types, wine bloggers tend to be much more interested in small independents than slick, PR-driven brands and stories. You’re more likely to find a wine blogger getting excited by a 300-case bottling of Pinot Noir than the latest from Opus One; and more fired up about a great $20 Zin than a $100 Cabernet. That means trouble for the big time wine marketers who have driven the content of traditional wine media, more-or-less, at their whim and pocketbook.

Winery marketing and public relations managers are now rushing to keep up with this polymorphous group of wine bloggers, which is a much more difficult target than the old media. On top of it, wine bloggers recoil from the canned PR copy and cliché-filled winery text that the industry has relied on to get its message out.

Perhaps the hardest thing for wine marketers and public relations people to get used to is that in the new media, your message is not under your control. In the past, they put out carefully controlled copy that was then often regurgitated almost verbatim by the press. But on wine blogs, the readers can talk back and, in fact, become part of the article themselves. Content that seems canned or puff-piece is likely to be very publicly and aggressively challenged. The difference between wine blogs and print is that the readers become active participants in the process because they are able to post their comments (accurate or not) live in real time.

Wine blogging is definitely a new medium; the granddaddy of wine blogs, Alder Yarrow’s Vinography ( ), was first published in 2004. At that time, he was the one and only, but now, just a few years later, there are hundreds, if not thousands.

Individually, these blogs don’t have the readership of The Wine Spectator, but you can’t look at them in quite the same way. The various blogs are intertwined in a complex web that moves information from one to another at the lighting speed of the Internet. You don’t even have to visit a blog to read its content, as most wine bloggers also push their content through social networking sites like Facebook and the Open Wine Consortium. In other words, what they write gets around and it gets around fast.

While there are many wonderful examples of wine bloggers making a difference, I can’t help but pick out Deb Harkness, better known as “Dr. Debs.” She has created a blog called Good Wines Under $20 ( ). For what I hope are obvious reasons, I won’t describe it.

By day she is a college professor, but by night Deb’s a consumer activist seeking out great wines at great prices. Yet, what is even more impressive about her is her deep commitment to a personal standard of ethics. While most mainstream wine writers are mostly concerned about what others will think of them when it comes to ethics, Dr. Debs—and many bloggers like her—are most concerned about what they think of themselves. They’re not in it for the money or glamour tastings, but for a sincere love of food and wine. Deb and many others like her are setting a new standard of wine writing. ◊

Craig Camp is the general manager of Cornerstone Cellars in Napa Valley and publisher of The Wine Camp Blog ( ).

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