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05.30.2010

The Cultural Origins of Wine Blogging?

Yesterday I wrote a post in which I remarked on the relative few numbers of wine bloggers in the UK compared with the US (even considering the differences in size of our two nations). One of the comments left by a reader got me thinking a lot about the differences in wine culture between our two nations, and the degree to which those differences might be responsible for the much lower ratio of wine bloggers to wine drinkers in the UK. Moreover, there are a lot of countries in Europe that also have far fewer wine bloggers than might be expected: France, Spain, and Italy all have less than 200 wine bloggers each as far as I know.

Commenter King Krak, suggested that "My thinking on this is that it's simply a smaller percentage of the population are passionate about wine."

My first reaction to this idea was dismissive, but the more I thought about it, the more I wondered if it really might be true. I also started wondering if there might be an inverse relationship between what I will call the strength and homogeneity of the wine culture in a country and the tendency for people to blog about wine.

Let's get the following disclaimer right up front: except for the consumption numbers below, I have no data to back up the following line of conjecture. It's 100% pure speculation, and I welcome any corrections or damning evidence to the contrary.

There are definite differences between the US and nearly every European country when it comes to wine. The biggest one can be captured in a single statistic: annual per-capita consumption of wine. In the US, we drink on average 9.68 liters of wine per year. In the UK, they drink 19.14 liters per year. In France they drink 53.22 liters of wine per year.

I believe a significant cultural difference accompanies this variance in consumption. Or perhaps more accurately, I believe a significant cultural difference drives this difference in consumption. The cliché of wine as food in Europe comes from somewhere.

Here in the USA, we have what on a bad day I'd call a stunted wine culture. Being more optimistic in general, a better characterization might be fledgling. But in either case, the relationship Americans have with wine feels at best slightly dysfunctional. As I have written before, our relationship with wine is riddled with class connotations, self-esteem problems, and intimidation. Wine in America is not commonplace enough to be treated like any other beverage. Instead it gets a vaunted status that carries with it a lot of oppressive baggage.

Could one of the consequences of this situation be the existence of the demographic called the wine geek? It certainly seems somewhat plausible that the desire to immerse oneself in the passion of wine, and then turn around and evangelize it to the world (or at least your closest friends) seems much more likely in a culture where most people only drink wine on special occasions, as opposed to a culture where wine is part of every meal. Add to that situation the deep penetration of internet technologies and a dash of American ego, and perhaps you have the ingredients for the wine blog explosion in the US.

I wonder if America has more wine writers per capita than the UK, France, Italy, or Spain? Does a country with a relatively constrained wine culture produce a stronger market for writing about it? Note that I'm not just talking about the proclivity to drink wine, as there's obviously not a correlation between low per-capita wine consumption and the number of wine geeks in a country. Just ask the folks in Burundi, whose annual wine consumption hovers around .1 liters per capita.

But even absent this correlation, the converse of the American situation seems equally plausible to me. "Why write or talk about wine when you can just drink it," the average Italian might say. Sure, there are wine critics, writers, and magazines in most European countries, but I wonder if, like wine bloggers, they may be fewer in number for that reason? Your average European might be less inclined to pick up a wine magazine (or more to the point, start a wine blog) for the same reason that there aren't a lot of tanning salons in Tahiti.

This is obviously not a well researched thesis, and probably won't stand up to even the most cursory of analytical inquiries, but there's something to be said, I think for the aspects of American wine culture, versus the rest of Europe, and the reason why there might be more wine bloggers in the US than everywhere else.

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