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08.10.2006

Is it a Wine Blog? Or Not.

I've been called a lot of things. The grandfather of wine blogging. The uber wine blogger. The Numero Uno Wine Blogger. Most of them just make me feel old and tired, but it's true that I've been doing this long enough to remember a world where the phrase "wine blog" brought up less than three or four hits on Google. In the last 12 months the wine blogosphere has exploded. We now have several hundred wine blogs in English and many more in other languages -- I'm sure way more than I've managed to find out about.

I've seen the landscape change from purely vanity-driven, amateurish sites, to many more sites like Vinography that have made an earnest attempt to be a serious outlet for writing about the subject. Now of course, many established wine journalists are writing blogs, both on their own as well as in the context of their newspapers, magazines, or other media outlets.

Each of these changes has, to a certain extent, marked a new era of wine blogging, and without trying to make too big a deal of it, I'd like to point out that we've crossed the threshold of a new one.

We've entered the age of commercial wine blogging.

This new period of wine blogging history was started by the small retailers and wine marketing professionals. Then the wineries got involved, mostly small scrappy ones that had something to prove, or nothing to lose. And that was status quo for a while.

But now the big guns are out and the game has changed. A few days ago Sub Zero (you know, the folks who make those really expensive but drool-worthy refrigerators) launched a wine blog that by the looks of it is costing them tens of thousands of dollars. And who is "doing" the blogging? Only some of the most recognizable names in wine journalism: Andrea Robinson, Anthony Dias Blue, Eddie Osterland, and more.

The blog, however, is embedded in an even more expensive site that is essentially one big Flash-based brochure for Sub Zero wine refrigerators. Which begs the question -- is this really a wine blog?

On the surface, the answer has to undoubtedly be yes. There's real content there, some of which is actually interesting. It's well written, updated frequently and the public can comment (no sign yet of any interaction -- or even acknowledgement -- between the "bloggers" and those that have commented).

Beyond the surface, however, it gets muddier. Are we supposed to trust this content. When Andy Blue writes an article about the proper serving temperature for wine, isn't that just one big veiled advertisement for the folks who are paying his salary here? Heck, he even talks about his own Sub Zero fridge. I wouldn't think twice about it if he had his own site, but in this context, it feels a bit....smarmy.

Of course, everyone has to make a living, so I can't fault him, or any of the others that have their professional head shots and bylines on the site. But I wonder what most of you readers think of it, and more importantly, what effect will it ultimately have on Sub Zero's sales?

The corporate world is all abuzz about blogging, but any commercial blogging expert (or any of the countless books that have been written on the subject) will tell you that what you want to do with a corporate blog is let it show the human face of what most people see as a monolithic corporation. Blogs are about building personal relationships with your customers through less-than-polished, human narratives. But this latest effort from the freezer people is hardly that. Mostly it seems to be one big ad campaign dressed up in a blogging costume.

Comments (15)

Alfonso wrote:
08.11.06 at 5:30 AM

This really send shivers down my spine!
I donÂ’t know why it should be any different than what you or I'm doing on our blog-o-phones but this really blurs the lines in an Orwellian way. What some folks won't do for a buck...and what it might do is raise the concerns of a regular Joe or Joan, looking to find some little truth to clarify their quest about wine though the blogs, and challenge the veracity of this new area of information medium. I'm dismayed but not surprised by some of those folks on that sight. There is probably more of this to come. Wait till the mainstream adult beverage industry giants embed their way into this game in a big way! Thanks for the heads up, Alder.

David wrote:
08.11.06 at 6:13 AM

I understand the concern. Blogs are seen, in the financial world, as a compliment to push advertising models. Even a small blog with a few thousand regular readers gives the same or better results than the existing models.

Thus, the corps think they can build the 6 million dollar man, better, stronger, faster, and they do not have to pay the middleman fees.

I think the question is whether or not corporations can overcome their desire to control this new medium. If blogging gets the label of being "just another advertising ploy" it will no longer have the same appeal.

Great insight!

Rob Cole wrote:
08.11.06 at 10:20 AM

Mike Duffy of the Winery Website Report highly suggests that wineries, especially smaller ones, start up blogs in order to have more of a personal connection with their customers. However, I believe he feels that this is what it should be - a personal connection with the customers - not thinly veiled ads for their product.

ali wrote:
08.12.06 at 6:06 AM

Great thoughts Alder. I encounter wine consumers on a daily basis that still ask "what is a blog" around here. My own interpretation of a good wine blog is one with personal thoughts and twists throughout ones wine experiences. My little blog indeed has become an incredible marketing tool for wineries I represent, but more folks are interested in learning what MY take is and what my personal wine journey is all about. I hope as more and more commercial blogs spring up that you and I as blogging pioneers in our own right keep pushing innovation forward..just my 2 cents! Ali

Alfonso wrote:
08.12.06 at 8:48 AM

Ali is right on!
we're all trying to get folks to see out point of view, sell our stuff, etc..but the big corporate steamroller mentality wont work in this environment.Folks crave the personal, the intimate, the stories....
Fight the power, Homer!

David wrote:
08.12.06 at 12:17 PM

Hey guys - I am not selling anything "commercial" just ideas. I feel left out...

Alder wrote:
08.12.06 at 12:26 PM

David,

Yes. I feel that way too sometimes. Most wine bloggers arenÂ’t selling anything except their point of view, but we cannot avoid the fact that blogging has shifted from being a tool of self expression to now being a tool for business purposes.

Peter wrote:
08.12.06 at 10:30 PM

Considering the number of comments the "pro" Sub-Zero bloggers have following their posts, it doesn't look like its changing the landscape. Consumers can smell faux commercialism a mile away, even after they bought the fridge...

The Corkdork wrote:
08.15.06 at 7:10 AM

Scary thoughts indeed, Alder. You know how marketing people can be sometimes...if someone at the top of SubZero wants to associate the Subzero brand with wine, they try to buy eyes. I can't imagine any of our readers actively going to the Subzero site first for wine information, but what will absolutely happen, is if they have lots of postings on specific wines, they will get big time Google hits, which most of us know constitute a major source of the hits on our Blogs. - John

Tyler T wrote:
08.16.06 at 12:37 PM

Shouldn't we be more surprised that it took our capitalist society (no judgement in that phrase) so long to see this as a marketing opportunity? Good points Alder, it is unfortunate, but as yet also fairly obvious who's commercial and who isn't. Don't you think?

anissa wrote:
08.16.06 at 9:23 PM

what an embarrassing ramble. someone feeling territorial and insecure? just like people can get news from daily kos, cnn or fox, people can make their own decisions. your come off elitist and petty -- like many wine "experts." until you pull all banner ads and ads from your site, don't be such a jerk...

Alder wrote:
08.16.06 at 10:32 PM

Anissa,

I'm not embarassed in the slightest, so please don't be on my behalf. Though I am surprised that you read insecure, elitist, and petty in what I've written, especially when I am even complimentary of some of the content on the site. Heck, I've even put a link to the site on mine (along with all three hundred other wine blogs in the universe). Hardly territorial, I would think?

But no matter. You're entitled to your opinion, and I thank you for your comments and for reading Vinography. I hope you continue to do so.

Jason wrote:
08.23.06 at 8:31 PM

Alder,

Sorry for the delay in posting this comment, but hopefully it is not too late to join in on the conversation.

It seems to me that the notion of 'professionals' writing posts for corporate branded blogs will be seen for what it is... advertising. Nothing wrong with it, but it lacks one thing that makes blogs effective: "Realness".

If I read a Sub Zero blog (which I have not yet visited) and it was written by engineers who designed the units, guys who actually sold it and real users that collectively demonstrated why it was better, then they would have a shot at influencing me. I cannot think of something less compelling than reading pieces by 'wine experts' on why I should have a sub zero wine thingamajig.

As a blogger and marketer, I believe that social media generally provides the ability to do a long list of thing that no other form of media provides, including: 1) An opportunity to have a voice and be heard. 2) Engage potentially large groups of people in conversation and 3) Having a platform for telling your brand story.

We (at Stormhoek) have a much different view of the wine world than most producers. We think, for example, that one of the most touted cliches in wine: "It gets better with age", is a fraud on the public and most wines (like 95%) get less good with much age. So, if not for blogs, how else could we talk about things that might sound odd to most consumers, like 'freshness matters'.

We have many other beliefs that run counter to many of the prevailing views of the market and we can see no other way to communicate these somewhat unconventional views, economically and effectively.

One thing that producers seem not to understand is that their routes for communcating with the trade and consumers are controlled by just a few companies. Not to utilize the web 2.0 space is missing one of the most powerful tools that we have available to us as marketers.

We've been blogging and interacting with bloggers for nearly a year and a half. In that time, it has had a profound impact on our business and the impact is far more interesting than it appears. It is not necessarily about readers going in and buying the wine.

Keeping it real, talking about things that interest people (and it may not be about the wine) and yourself is fundamental. Blogging is not advertising and any blogger who approaches it as an ad will not get their intended benefit.

Sorry for the length of this comment, (and I could go on) but it is nice to finally engage and thanks for your support over the last year.

vme wrote:
08.10.07 at 2:48 PM

Wonderful and informative web site.I used information from that site its great.

Stanley wrote:
10.23.14 at 3:03 PM

I'm really loving the theme/design of your blog. Do you ever run into any web browser compatibility problems?
A handful of my blog visitors have complained about my website not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome.
Do you have any suggestions to help fix this
issue?

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