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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.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud