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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.

Comments (24)

05.30.10 at 5:36 PM

Hello Alder
Nice article. Here in Brazil we are facing a quite good scene, where the number of wine blogs are growing with quality. You should take a look. You will like!
Best regards
Daniel Perches

05.30.10 at 5:40 PM

Alder, I also think a major difference is that we have many, many more interesting, affordable wines to drink. We get most of the very good wines of the world here (in our major cities). I do not believe this is the case anywhere else.

Bob Rossi wrote:
05.30.10 at 5:42 PM

Needless to say, your "unscientific" analysis is right on the money, at least in my opinion. In Europe, wine is something to be drunk with meals, not something to be analyzed to death. On a recent trip to France, I had the father of a young winemaker, and a grape grower in his own right, tell a fellow grape grower how impressed he was with my knowledge of French wine. He said I knew far more than he did. That's because wine has been part of his daily life for 60 years, and something he just accepts for what it is and enjoys every day, whereas for me wine drinking came later in life, and I wanted to learn all I could.

Benito wrote:
05.30.10 at 6:06 PM

"Here in the USA, we have what on a bad day I'd call a stunted wine culture."

To build upon this point, internet communities tend to thrive and prosper when the participants are geographically removed from each other. For instance, there might only be a thousand collectors of M*A*S*H memorabilia but they surely don't all live in the same town. What once might have been viewed as an eccentricity gets validated online. It can lead to a mistaken belief in the power of said group (cf. Internet enthusiasm for Howard Dean and Ron Paul), or it can go in weird directions (people who dress as cartoon animals). None of my neighbors are into wine, many don't even drink at all. One guy is into model trains--we can be polite to each other, but there's not much to discuss about each others hobbies.

I live in a city of a million people, and there are just two other wine bloggers and a handful of wine fanatics I know. We're all different ages, live in different parts of town, and have different areas of interest within the subject. I don't really have a lot to talk about with collectors and those who go to auctions. Nothing against it, just not my thing. I'm also not interested in writing about local wines, which sort of alienates me from the locavore food bloggers. So when I get the desire to talk about wine, I'm much more likely to go online rather than bug one of the few local wine fans, who probably wouldn't want to talk about Greek wine at midnight anyway. :)

ryan wrote:
05.31.10 at 4:05 AM

A few points. Number one: "France, Spain, and Italy all have less than 200 wine bloggers each as far as I know."

This is wrong. There are more out there, many more, but they do not participate or care about English definition of wineblogging and therefore don't interact or care to dig into English based blogging culture. Not to mention many are writing about a broader swath of subjects that include wine, sometimes quite well.

True though that numbers are lower, but i have to say it has to do with one thing. Here in Wine centric countries, we approach wine very differently. While in the US and other non-wine cultures they tend to pick up a bottle of wine and say "I wonder what I will pair this wine with, or how I will consume it" Here they tend to sit down to dinner, and ask "where is the wine?"

Wine is. No need to discuss. The irony of this is that living in a wine country like Spain I have come to realize that Spaniards know VERY little about wine in general. It's rare to find a Spaniard that can discuss wine on a global scale let alone a scale outside their own neighborhoods wine production.

Wine is not a mystery here to explore, as we also do not demonize it. Wine is a beverage that kids will sip with their parents, mixed with juices to create other drinks and rarely stored in a personal cellar. It's a beverage here, same as water, beer, and any other liquid.

05.31.10 at 4:33 AM

I think there could also be a difference in "internet culture" as well as, if not more then, a difference in "wine culture".

Could it be that it's because the US is so much more far advanced when it comes to the internet? Living in London (an expat American) and an avid wineblogger, I am constantly shocked by how little is known about the net and what little interest there is in utilizing it. I think that Europeans are just a bit slow on the uptake vis-a-vis the internet,blogs, social media, etc., but surely the explosion will come. It's not called the "Old World" for nothing!

Londoners, I will base my assumptions on them, on more likely to read a newspaper or even listen to the radio then go online for wine advice. Things are changing but not near as quickly as they are in America.

The English may drink a lot of wine but they know very little about it. And there is just as much " class connotations, self-esteem problems, and intimidation..." here if not more so. As much as the English like to downplay it, the class system is still alive and well kicking and even more prevalent then in the States. The majority of wine drunk by consumers here in the UK is in the under £5 category. Sure there are plenty of wine connoisseurs who buy their vintage port and the latest Bordeaux and Burgundy en primeur but they are still restricted pretty much to the upper classes and aspirational white collar workers in this country.

As for France and Spain, from what I've heard from Spanish and French in the wine trade there, it seems that young people view wine as something that old people drink, they'd much prefer spirits or some other alcoholic drink so that might also account for the lack of winebloggers, seeing as their elders barely know what this newfangled "internet" thing is, let alone a blog.

These are just my observations from the trade here in London.

Per-BKWine wrote:
05.31.10 at 5:24 AM

Oh, I'm not so sure. First, I'm not so sure what the hypothesis in the originally post really is. To me it is a bit unclear. Perhaps my mind is obscured by too much European wine.

Second, not so sure about many of the things said in the article or comments.

For example:

That there are so few wine blogs out there. How do you really know? the French (or Italian) blogosphere is really very, very separate from the English language blogosphere. Search on subject in English, from the US and hits from French or Italian sites won't show up. And, Italians/French/Spanish .... couldn't care less about appearing in some American (!) blog ranking list. Actually, they would probably not care about appearing in any list at all.

And what Ryan (et al.: "My thinking on this is that it's simply a smaller percentage of the population are passionate about wine.") says about Spaniards (or other "Europeans") really knowing very little or being particularly passionate about wine. Well, yes, if you ask the average person. But if you ask the average American, they'd know nothing about wine at all. And you do find people passionate about wine, and very knowledgeable about wine, all over Europe. Percentage-wise I think the Europeans would rank well in a comparison. (BTW, did you know that the world's largest, it is said, wine tasting club (not wine buying club) is Swedish, with 20,000 members?)

The only argument that is really convincing in the above is that the internet, and in particular blogs, are much less mainstream. Not used so much (for wine or any other subject) as in the US.

Then you also perhaps have the tendency of Americans to be very exhibitionist and very verbose. Both factors playing in favour of splaying your wine views all over the internet.

Another thing is that many blogs are of the type "I drank this, and this is what I think". That works fine if:

a) people are keen to get advice from 'gurus' or people in the know so that they won't make a 'wrong' choice (less the case in Europe perhaps),

and

b) you have a reasonable chance of buying/drinking that same wine (less so in Europe perhaps where, for example, only in Bordeaux you have some 10,000 producers. How many of those will you find in the US?)

(Another interesting question on this is perhaps - Why has no other European commented on this post?)

05.31.10 at 5:42 AM

Another real difference between the US an the Uk anyway, I cannot speak for the rest of Europe, might seem strange to an American, even critical - it is not meant to be.

In the US I have noticed a tendency to praise people and things to the skies, almost to the point of worship. So, if a winery gains a reputation people talk about that wine, blog about it and seek it out - it enters the fan culture, albeit at an exalted level and it becomes accepted as good either on its own definition or that of 1 or 2 critics.

I was astonished by the number of winemakers and sommeliers who were described to me as being 'famous' while I was in California. We do not have 'famous' sommeliers - they are just wine waiters in posh restaurants here!

What is more we tend to knock down rather than respect, even if we like something or someone we only say it 'isn't bad'. Over here there is a trend to object to having other people's views forced upon us.

Now, of course this isn't entirely true - Rupert Murdoch makes sure of that - but how we like to think of ourselves.

Therefore wine critics - how I hate that phrase - are much less important here. That is one reason why in my blog I attempt to educate about wine and just to expand people's horizons rather than to be a 'wine critic'.

Iris wrote:
05.31.10 at 5:50 AM

I agree very much with what the winesleuth has written about England, when I think about our French wineblogging-scene.

Wine is something, you either drink as normal part of the meal (much less than 30 or 50 years ago - the consumption has come down from around 90L to about 55L in 2009, which have already decreased de 8% since 2003... so it's not an expanding market and specially the younger generations don't no longer consider wine as a normal of an ordinary daily meal.. They consider it as a beverage for special occasions.

The average bottle is bought like nearly everywhere in Europe by women, who bring it back from a supermarket or discounter, the average price is

Perhaps they will do it, when it comes to the wine for a special occasion, but this will be only a very few times a year.

The percentage of the genuine wine lover (geek, freak, connaisseur, organic bobo, all in one category here)must be around 5% of all winedrinkers. Those are the people, who buy the 3 or 4 monthly magazines left on the market, the multiple wine-guides, like Gault et Millau, Bettane/Dessauve and so on, the sdame, that you willfind on the 2 active wine-forums (discussion boards), where Bordeaux wines and special offers of more expensive wines at the yearly FAV (wine actions in big supermarkets), where they try to "make a bargain", are the most solicited subjects.

Some of them turn over to wine-blogging, to communicate their tasting notes and vineyard visits, as anywhere, some are a bit boaring, some really interesting, if you want to find information about less well known producers all around France.

Most of them were men. But there is an increasing tendency for female-wine-bloggers since two years to be noted. Most of them are somehow in and around marketing - as the industry discovered, that the biggest party of its clients are women, they try to give them a special treatment, thus not only labels turned more "pink", but also the more casual language of female blogs can be found in women-wine-blogs today, often more digest the the old-style specialist blog-notes and turned to food accompaniment.

A recent wine blog award (I think, Alder, you got it some years ago), consecrated two women newcomers (one a young and nice Canadian importer with her video-blog).

There are more wine-merchants (cavistes, on or off-line) and consultants or start ups of wine marketing societies in the groupe of the new winebloggers, than genuine "wine-journalists", who tend still to see blogging in term of concurrency, especially for it's cost-free aspects.

So it's - like always, less simple as its seems, to standardize the growth and tendencies (without talking about influence and importance) of wine-blogging in France.

On the production side, there are around a good hundred of blogging winemakers - more and more small wineries, for whom it's a good way to communicate, facebook is also of growing interest.

When I decided all on my own, to re-lance the Vendredis du Vin - the French version of WinebloggingWednesdays a month ago (it had fallen to sleep after 24 editions in the French blog-world last year), I choose to create a group on facebook, and it gathered nearly 300 "fans" in one month - with the result, that the second edition on these VdV (wine with friends) some days ago showed a number participants with published blog-posts and facebook notes, never reached before.

People interested in wine-blogs - as people interested in more than ordinary wine, are only a few, but internet with blogs, facebook and even twitter in the meantime, helps them, to communicate, to exchange, become networkers, feel less isolated (like Benito further up) and perhaps, change the image of wine-drinking by more convivial and open communication style and ways and inocculate into the younger generations, before the annual consumption goes down to 0 in a few years:-).

05.31.10 at 6:00 AM

I have been studying in France for 2 years, I am an American wine blogger ;P. I have had this discussion a few times with some french folk and one of the most frequent responses I get from them is that they feel they don't have enough of an 'education/training/knowledge' in wine to constitute having a wineblog. In the US we see it as a way to just talk about an interest, regardless of our background in the matter. I think it is safe to say that both the french and the americans can be considered rather verbose (americans just speak at much higher decibels ;P) I think the difference is that the french are verbose when they feel they are well versed in a topic, we americans chime in even if we have the most basic knowledge. Thoughts?

vinosambiz wrote:
05.31.10 at 6:18 AM

Hi, very interesting post. I think that between your post and ryan's comment, the nail has been hit on the head. Here in Spain and in Italy (the two wine countries I know well) it's just boring and pointless to blog about wine (unless you're in the business). Wine is just a standard product in everyone's kitchen. It would be like blogging about the traffic or the weather!!! In the USA (I imagine) and in the UK (the 1 non-wine country I know well) wine is a middle-class thing, riddled (as you say above) with all sorts of baggage.

05.31.10 at 6:22 AM

On another note, to King Krak, I can't really think of another city that has a more diverse selection of wines (at price points that run the gamut) then London. From Japanese wine to Georgian,Croatian,Uruguayan,Oregonian,as well as the usual suspects,I don't know of anywhere else in the world where you can find all these wines in one city, let alone attend tastings which showcase wines from each of these particular countries (or in one case, state). We are very lucky to have access to such a wide ranging variety of wines here in London. Come and visit!

ps. Quentin, I think you are right about the English tendency to "knock down" rather then praise. I wonder why?

05.31.10 at 6:32 AM

First, I'm trying my best to get spread the word to Europeans to comment, and hopefully, it's working :)

Second, I think a good point has been made that there isn't data available as to the number of blogs currently active in Europe. I can tell you that the number of blogs is growing, tremendously in some countries, but that we're lacking research on the topic. Additionally, I'm curious why we're not chatting about the quality of blogs in Europe versus the quantity? Does number matter?

Third, although your question was geared towards wine blogs in Europe, I think it's important recognize that wine conversations are being had in other areas. There are loads of wine/food networks across Europe, many of which are directed to the language, or country, of origin. For example, Verema is one of the largest wine social media networks in the world, and it's based here in Spain. Hence, wine blogs are just one of many places online to gauge the level of interest a culture or community has about wine.

Alder Yarrow wrote:
05.31.10 at 9:27 AM

Ryan,thanks for the comments. There are really more than 200 wine bloggers in Spain? Can you send me or point me to the list?

Alder Yarrow wrote:
05.31.10 at 9:39 AM

Gabriella,

Thanks for the comments, and I'm sure your broadcast is having an effect. Most of my estimations of the blogs out there come from visiting top blogs in those countries and checking out their blogrolls, which is an unscientific but reasonably accurate way of sussing out at least the order of magnitude.

We're talking about the number of blogs simply because that's really just the major difference as far as I can tell. My language skills are not good enough to comment on the relative quality of European blogs versus English-language blogs, so I'm staying well away from that. Quality, is of course, as Jamie points out tongue-and-cheek above, much more important.

And thanks for the mention of other social media. My main interest was specifically around the phenomena of blogs, and I deliberately left out other social media. It may be that some of the conversation around wine that in America happens on and around blogs may have other outlets in Europe.

Per-BKWine wrote:
05.31.10 at 11:22 AM

Alder,

Interesting way to estimate the number of blogs. I guess it assumes that the traditions around listing blogs in blog rolls are similar.

It would be interesting to know which you consider "top blogs" in the countries you looked at, as well as which "top blogs"'s blog rolls you compared to in the US.

Rob Wade wrote:
05.31.10 at 12:07 PM

This is a great article, very thought-provoking. To throw in my 10 pence/cents worth: I think that the point regarding the lack of tanning salons in Tahiti is probably on the money. France, Italy and Spain are the worlds three largest wine producer’s, (Bordeaux alone produces around 850 million bottles per annum). They also produce the vast majority of the world’s fine wines.

I would guess that in a culture saturated by wine, reaching back to pre-Roman times, wine lovers in these countries didn't feel the need to rush to start a blog as soon as the technology became available.

I don't know what the excuse is in England. We produce hardly any wine (around 3 million bottles a year), and yet we're a global hub of the wine trade, and have been for centuries. Surely this makes the British prime candidates for wine blogging - as our business is dealing in wine, not making it?

Perhaps it is down to lower internet use and perhaps not. Within a ten minute walk of my flat in London I could source several thousand different wines, and attend a multitude of restaurants with wines from £15 - £30,000. There are merchants, tasting rooms, the head office of Decanter magazine...etc, so perhaps – at least in London – there isn’t a need for a wine lover to look online to find a kindred spirit.

And yet I do.

Lizzy wrote:
05.31.10 at 2:47 PM

Well,
very interesting post, and comments here. My 2 cents: it's true, Italian culture for wine is different. France, Spain, Italy, Portugal...we are producers of wine, first of all. Then consumers. Italian was an agricultural nation agricultural nation until half a century ago, and Italians ate what they produced their grounds. The wine was part of the daily diet. On the one hand, this fact has prevented the emergence and development of a real culture of wine, and a curiosity about the others wines. Even today, farmers who live near me say they do not need to drink other wines, because their wine is the best in the world! The other hand, the strong, unbreakable bond with the food often has protected us from some absolutely deleterious behaviors, which unfortunately are appearing today in our young people, such as binge drinking. This fashion absurd, crazy, removing the food and wine from pleasure of eating doesn't belong to authentic Italian culture. Of course, I'm not saying that in Italy does not exist (or have existed) people with alcohol problems, but now this occurs more often than before, because customs and fashions are becoming hazardous to health.

Why are there so few wine bloggers in Italy? I believe for three reasons, mainly:
1) because almost nobody likes to talk about wine and not talk about food together (me, and few others are exceptions!)
2) because Italians love to talk and write only in Italian (hardly anyone writes in other languages, including English)
3) because there are still very few people who know how to use computers and know how to handle a blog!
Thanks for your attention and sorry for the length of the comment (and my broken English).

Lizzy

Nina Caplan wrote:
06.01.10 at 12:53 AM

I think whether a country has a wine industry of its own is relevant. America does, of course, but its high international standing is relatively recent. England barely makes any wine, and that means that we have the most incredibly diversity of wines available to buy (no home industry to protect). I think this is what encourages an awareness of the variety of wine out there, and so discussion on the subject. In France, you drink French (in fact, in Languedoc you drink Languedoc and so on, with Bordeaux or Burgundy available for special occasions). So there's much less to talk about. There needn't be, but I think that's how it works.
America is closer to England: there's still great awareness of and respect for other countries' wines, and therefore the desire to talk, and learn, about them.

Tom Fiorina wrote:
06.01.10 at 2:17 AM

Alder, an interesting post that has obviously, viewing the comments, struck a nerve. As an American blogging in France (in English), about French wine, I think that much of what you say about Americans being more prone to be wine geeks or to blog about wine (in general) is correct. The few French wine blogs that I follow are written by winegrowers or journalists seeking another medium for their writing. There are other French wine blogs about wine-related topics such as marketing or wine appellations or particular grapes, but you don't find many (or at least I haven't) on global wine issues, and Jean-Pierre doesn't decide one day to begin a "blog de vin". I think that primarily it's because, as you pointed out, the French look at wine as part of their culture, or as a food, or as simply a beverage to enjoy with a meal. Having lived in Italy, as well, I can make the same comment about the Italians.

06.02.10 at 7:35 PM

Part of my passion for the wine lifestyle involves the deep rooted culture that Europe brings to wine. Europeans, I assume, are not necessarily unappreciative but it is more of the "duh" factor. They already have it, so they don't look for it. I may be entirely off track and have only been to Paris once, Switzerland 3x for short visits.

06.04.10 at 9:39 AM

My view as a wine producer from a old-world country is that wine is part of our meal, part of our culture and education. We grew up in the middle of vineyards and any kid recognizes a vine and a olive tree since early age. And this relation we have with the wine makes wine another beverage, as water, that is always part of our menu.

But more important is the fact that in the south of Europe we prefer to share our experiences with our friends in offline events, rather than online.

06.04.10 at 10:54 PM

Eloquently said (online)

Paul wrote:
07.19.10 at 9:10 PM

I'm coming in extremely late here, but I think Nina's point about the country having its own wine industry is an excellent one. Im sure with Americans, it's partially national pride in the industry and also about having ready access to a wide range of wines and wineries.
I'm Australian and while I have no idea how many Australian wine blogs there are, a brief search indicates that there are more than a few.I suspect I'd find a simllar story if if did a seach on NZ or South African wine blogs. If I wanted to write a wine blog, I've got plenty of places to vist with half a dozen wine regions within 1 and 1/2 hours of my home. I'd expect that most people already have the interest and the idea to turn that interest into a blog comes later.

In the UK, they have to leave the country to do that sort of thing, so I think they don't have the opportunity to do enough stuff to generate the content

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