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02.01.2011

Why Trust a Wine Blogger?

This is the first blog entry (of thousands) in the seven years I've been writing, where I am actually writing an article about a press release that was sent to me. I mention that simply because it's worth noting how generally worthless most press releases are to me, and how little inspiration they provide to write anything.

This press release wasn't from a winery, however, it was from an organization called Wine Intelligence, that conducts surveys and analyzes trends in the wine industry. They recently conducted a survey that purports to examine the level of trust that wine drinkers have in the various sources of information available to them.

The main headline of the report? "Independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the UK, USA and France."

I don't know about you, but this doesn't surprise me in the slightest, even though I suspect the numbers being reported suffer from a few flaws. Now I haven't gotten the details of the findings -- I'm just going off the press release here -- but any study that examines the use of the Internet for gathering wine information that includes the French population has got to be suspect. Up until recently putting any information about alcohol online was practically illegal in France, so it's no wonder they don't go looking online for wine information.

And the study, or at least the results portrayed in this press release, don't seem to segment respondents by demographic. If blogs were relevant at all, I would expect them to be relevant almost exclusively to the Millennial demographic.

But those are quibbles, and not disagreements with what I believe is probably a general truth. Most people are most certainly going to trust their local wine merchant, an established critic, or a sommelier in a restaurant more than a blogger. And frankly as a rule, they should.

Why? Because a lot of wine bloggers don't really know what they're talking about.

That's not something I've written much here on Vinography, though some of you who have cornered me in social situations have heard me say it in person. There's a lot of crap out there when it comes to wine blogs (or any kind of blog, for that matter), and there isn't enough really great writing to have produced a situation where it's easy for average consumers to find trustworthy, reliable, and informed wine recommendations from blogs.

Of course, that isn't to say that many bloggers know a lot more about wine than, say, your average employee at BevMo or a local supermarket. And of course there are a dedicated group of people out there who very deliberately look to wine blogs for recommendations, as my recent reader survey showed:

ChartExport-16.png

A full 64% of my readers looked to wine blogs as a source for wine recommendations, more than any other single source.

Of course, my readership is about as far removed from a general cross section of wine drinkers as you can get.

But that's the point of course. Blogs are highly relevant to the people that care about blogs (who also happen to be the people who know where to find the good ones) and completely useless to most people.

At least, that's what you would expect people to say on a survey.

The final point to be made here, however, is that there's a difference between what people might say on a survey ("on a scale of one to ten, rate how much you trust each of these different sources of wine information") and their actual behavior on the Internet.

A full 60% of my traffic is organic search traffic to individual interior pages of my site. This means that the majority of my readers aren't coming to my home page to peruse what this blogger has to offer. They are random people searching for random things (wines, concepts, phrases) that end up on an individual random page of my web site.

The vast majority of the search terms that bring people to my pages include phrases like "prisoner wine review" "2009 Burgundy review" "Napa Cabernet Scores." And of course, all of these mean that people are out there searching for specific bits of information. Which they then come and find on my web site. And presumably go away with. Do these people know that they've gotten their questions answered by a blog? Probably not. Do they care? Probably not.

Now multiply that phenomenon by thousands of wine blogs and chances are that people looking for wine information are going to end up on blogs, and I'm betting that what they're finding is answering their questions. Even if they're likely to say that those wine bloggers can't be trusted.

Take a look at the press release and let me know what you think.

Quite a clever tactic to publish a study finding about wine bloggers that would likely prompt a lot of them to write about it, no?

Comments (29)

02.02.11 at 5:36 AM

Clever indeed Alder. One sure way to get wine bloggers talking and commenting to each other is to make the subject wine bloggers.
If you threw in a juicy (wink) bit about "wine bloggers vs traditional media", you would create a fire-storm of activity.

EVO

Jim McCusker wrote:
02.02.11 at 6:54 AM

Now I need to know the story behind alcohol information online in France. Anyone have any pointers?

02.02.11 at 6:56 AM

I chuckled a bit when I read that release. I'm suspect of any "survey" that doesn't show me all of the back-end methodology. And for that matter, one can make survey results support any idea desired. But what I find even more interesting is that a consumer would trust the person who is at that exact point trying to sell him something more than a "blogger" who is writing, for the most part, without being paid. In my experience, I've found the retailer to be the LEAST trustworthy of any source of information, because, as they say in Texas, he "has a dog in the hunt."

Wine Harlots wrote:
02.02.11 at 8:24 AM

My favorite part of the press release was the cost of reading the full report -- £1300 or just under $2100 USD. Seriously? I’ll take two!

Sam D wrote:
02.02.11 at 10:46 AM

These are excellent points...Besides having well written content and a professional website design (which both add credibility) I think bloggers need to find ways to raise the stakes behind what they write. A wine store owner or personal friend has a strong interest in passing on good advice because their reputation/relationship is on the line. This is also true with bloggers and their subscribers, but not with the average media consumer who stumbles onto a wine blog. These types of readers are so far removed that there essentially is no consequence for a blogger who posts an uninformed recommendation.

02.02.11 at 11:34 AM

Jeez, when I said 2 years ago that most wine bloggers didn't know Shiites from Shinola, I was hunted down like an animal by pitchfork carrying bloggers who wanted my scalp! Now here's Alder saying "a lot of wine bloggers don't really know what they're talking about" and I bet this will be met with a collective yawn. Shows how times have changed.

02.02.11 at 11:39 AM

All that glitters is not gold - like a wine merchant last month while traveling who was an expert on wine regions, mentioning the Russian River Valley in NAPA ;)

"Quite a clever tactic to publish a study finding about wine bloggers that would likely prompt a lot of them to write about it, no?"

And indeed they are - WineCast already has, this should be a full week of reference articles, counter articles and general blogger drama and b.s. instead of content. Pass. Lets ALL pass, and not play into your point above eh?

Tai-Ran Niew wrote:
02.02.11 at 12:34 PM

Wonderful post again. Thank you. Some random thoughts:

If you are not a trained musician, are you not allowed to say whether you like a piece of music?

If you are not a writer, are you not allowed to be moved by a poem? Or are emotional responses only valid "if you know what you are talking about"?

From the mightiest critics to the most humble bloggers, for most people, they serve a pretty utilitarian function of giving a tumbs-up or tumbs-down on a bottle of wine.

Given the sheer volume of material out there, people resort to the two simplest filter: institutions and friends.

Even if all 100,000 wine bloggers in the world are incredibly knowledgeable (and I suspect quite a few typing away without even one follower are already pretty switched on) there is no way that the average consumer can or even want to process the mountain of information.

Btw - I find it very amusing when some of the established wine writers get quite self-righteous about their knowledge and "wine-ability". Talk to the winemakers privately and you'll get a pretty good sense of where they think these writers are on the evolutionary scale....

Mark wrote:
02.02.11 at 12:44 PM

To start, I think bloggers are an important part of the industry and will continue to gain in both stature and importance as time goes by. We need more truly independent reviews of wines, not less.

That being said, as long as most reviews are coming from free samples and you can go back years without seeing a single negative review (as hard as those are to write) it's hard for the general public to give a lot of respect to the group. I understand what goes on behind the scenes and the thought process, but if we take a step back....only positive reviews do not show a side of the industry willing to think critically.

Tai-Ran....I think that's a good point, there is definitely a ladder of respect in the industry, no matter what side you're on. Bloggers fit in a certain place, big distributors, wine clubs and even winemakers. Heck, I thin Alder would tell you that he's not a big fan of my business model.

Frankly, I think our ability as an industry to have the discussion at all speaks well of the industry as a whole, despite having a long way to go.

lori wrote:
02.02.11 at 1:16 PM

Ironically, I believe that you grow to trust bloggers in the same way you trust retailers--by trial. When you realize you have similar opinions and tastes it doesn't matter if your source is in printed form or an independent retailer as long as you trust them. As for some offering more reliable reviews than others, that's subjective. As a friend used to say, "there's a lid for every pot."

Elizabeth wrote:
02.02.11 at 1:23 PM

Yikes -- I guess I have no credibility because I'm a wine blogger, but I'll voice my opinions on this anyway (and expect no one to trust them, I suppose!).

I totally agree with everyone here. I have a blog and also a wine education/mobile sommelier business in Atlanta (Alder -- I actually met a good friend of yours at one of my events at the Ritz and I don't think he thinks I'm a sham!) and one of the biggest challenges that I have is trying to correct some of the misinformation people have that they collect from wine distributor reps, wine shops, the Internet (I won't just blame blogs), and sometimes personal friends.

The real upside of the Internet is that people are really interested in wine and they are searching for stuff on it -- we can't lose sight of that! The downside is that anyone can be a blogger and can manufacture BS and post it as they wish. The thing this study shows is that people aren't buying most of the BS out there, which is good and should eventually weed out the blogs that aren't great.

I think with any complex subject (like medical stuff -- have you ever searched on a symptom you had and become convinced that its some rare flesh-eating bacteria, only to find it's a mosquito bite?) the Internet is caveat emptor. But unlike going to your MD, as Amy said, in the world of wine, there are lots of people you could interact with in the "real world" doling out info with "a dog in the hunt" and you can't trust them either.

Like everything, I think the blogosphere will separate with time and the sham bloggers won't get purchase for long...let's hope so for the sake of those of us who know about wine, are credentialed, and have spent time and tears studying the stuff for years!

I'd like to see a study on other industries and the trust level of info sites there too...tech, food, design, etc. I bet the results are similar.

Jason Cohen wrote:
02.02.11 at 4:32 PM

I think you hit the nail on the head by mentioning the failure of this study to segment their respondents by age. Wine blogs are still a pretty new phenomenon, generationally speaking.

It should come as no surprise that people who have trusted magazines or retailers their whole lives are, on the whole, going to be a lot slower to warm up to a new medium for wine info than younger people, who are just now beginning to drink wine, but who are already comfortable enough with blogs that many (myself included) will undoubtedly turn to them rather than delving into the uncertain-and sometimes unpleasant-realm of the snobby sommelier or surly store clerk.

Bruce Schoenfeld wrote:
02.02.11 at 7:21 PM

The difference, Tai-Ran, is that wine writers for mainstream publications have at least been vetted by somebody (the people who hired them), while bloggers are totally self-nominated and have been vetted by nobody. That doesn't preclude a blogger knowing more than anyone else out there, but it does make it likely that there are a larger percentage of them who either don't have the knowledge to say anything worth communicating or don't have the communications skills to say it well.

1winedude wrote:
02.03.11 at 5:08 AM

Not sure why my previous comment didn't make it here, so trying again.

What I find almost unbelievable is that the findings actually support growing influence of wine blogs in the UK but this fact is being ignored and/or twisted by the report and by its subsequent coverage (harpers.co.uk has a piece on it online, on which I've commented saying the same thing but so far my comment hasn't been approved, which is also a bit strange).

Essentially, 1 in 5 people in te UK trust wine blogs for info. according to this report. So instead of saying that ONLY 20% of the UK market in potentially influenced by bloggers, why are they ignoring the storyline that bloggers have "captured" 20% of the UK wine market in terms of influence, in what amounts to record time (probably less than 5 years)?

I don't get it, apart from sensationalism trying to draw eyeballs and GBP. But if that's the case, then anyone spending $2K on that report is wasting their money (my advice: invest it in blog, twitter, and FB page design!).

Phil wrote:
02.03.11 at 7:10 AM

I think best practices in the digital age (if you're going to do a survey that is for public consumption, i.e. not internal use or for a client) is to publish the instrument online in full so everyone can see question wording, publish the exact methodology used to gather the data (including if any respondents were excluded for any reason), and publish anything you did to the data (like create new variables out of old ones, etc.). The last part does not need to give away your trade secrets, but simply state if you used any weighting or combined variables or rebinned stuff. Most people won't care about all of this, but it's important to be able to see under the hood to understand if you should trust the reported outcome. There's a lot of sloppy work done out there in all fields, perhaps this study was done perfectly but there's no way to know without being able to look under the hood. And that should be independent of buying the study by the way.

Dana Shaw wrote:
02.03.11 at 10:46 AM

I agree that you really can't trust what you read on blogs, whether it's wine blogs or any other for that matter. There are just too many people trying to make a buck and it taints their information. Unfortunately, we can't vote the bad blogs off the internet island and it's left up to the visitor to decide if the information is trust-worthy or not.

Larry Chandler wrote:
02.03.11 at 11:29 AM

Amy, I totally disagree with you on the value of retailers. If you can establish a trusted relationship with an honest merchant, the "dog in the hunt" they have will not be any particular sale, but you as a customer. True you can't just go blindly into any store and ask any clerk for a recommendation, but once the salesperson understands your palate(and this may take time), he'd be a fool to suggest anything other than what is right for your palate and pocketbook.

Smart retailers know this and will not try to sell you crap. They make far more money from repeat sales than from any single transaction.

Chris Lopez wrote:
02.03.11 at 10:28 PM

Currently watching "Blood into Wine" and wanted to say "hi."

Rock on!

1winedude wrote:
02.04.11 at 10:40 AM

Dana - "I agree that you really can't trust what you read on blogs, whether it's wine blogs or any other for that matter. There are just too many people trying to make a buck and it taints their information."

I think your case might be overstated - the vast majority of blogs in any field are personal journals with no advertising or any other revenue streams.

"Unfortunately, we can't vote the bad blogs off the internet island and it's left up to the visitor to decide if the information is trust-worthy or not."

We can, actually, and we do - those people don't get eyeballs / website traffic. They don't make names for themselves or build active communities online. We vote with our attention and contributions.

Larry Chandler wrote:
02.04.11 at 11:07 AM

That's a little optimistic. Bad blogs (i.e., those blogs I personally don't like) will continue to thrive if other people like them. Some wine bloggers may get eyeballs and web traffic even if they don't know much about wine, just as some wineries sell their product even if the wines they produce all came out of the same tire and rubber factory.

What difference does it make anyway? Bad movies are made and do well, bad books make the best-seller list, and bad restaurants will continue to tell you that you're family. If you don't like what someone says, you move on.

As long as each person can find the wines they enjoy, it's all good.

Mike Sterling wrote:
02.06.11 at 1:52 PM

There really is no reason to trust a wine blogger. We have no idea if they're doing a favor for a friend, received a free bottle or even knows the first thing about wine. Information from a blogger is really no different from information from a complete stranger. Perhaps someday there will be "star" wine bloggers who have established credbility. The "vinography" survey is a case in point. It's not scientific .. but merely the opinion of those who chose to take the survey ... which apparently, were people who read the blog. The results are obviously skewed because the sample is skewed. As much as people like to trash the mainstream media .. there's a reason people continue to read it.

Jason Cohen wrote:
02.06.11 at 4:34 PM

Correction: there's no reason to trust a wine blogger UNTIL you've read his or her blog. If you agree with what he has to say - or even if you don't, but find it interesting - then that's enough reason to keep reading, wouldn't you say?

Let's not forget that wine's subjective. If a blogger seems to like the wines I like more often than not, I don't care how much credibility he has; I'll be taking his recommendations.

The times, they are a'changin.

Steve Raye wrote:
02.08.11 at 4:09 AM

Just because it's labeled research doesn't mean it's true.

I think there's an interesting parallel between this dust-up and the self-analytical agony about the credibility of wine blogging vs.the integrity of traditional media and specifically wine writing and criticism.

The reality is each issue is really a continuum. In the case of blogging from entertaining and thought provoking to downright wrong and poorly written; in traditional media, from the ethics and standards we were taught in journalism school to the realities of commercial publishing.

In this particular case, Wine Intelligence is a highly respected research provider whose methodologies generally stand up to rigorous scrutiny (even to Amy Corron Powers standards!) But nobody’s perfect, and at the end of the day I’m guessing the research was not a study commissioned by one client, but a general question the answer to which Wine Intelligence hoped to make some money on by selling the reports.

Is that wrong? No, it’s business. Could they have done a better job? You bet. Perhaps this will be the stimulation for them to do so…and maybe seek counsel from those of who were bothered enough to criticize it.

Ray wrote:
02.08.11 at 1:10 PM

I treat wine blogs the same way I treat any other subjective commentary. Their are good and bad examples but lets face it, at the end of the day they are doing a service to the wine industry by getting more people involved in wine and I think that's a good thing. When you do find a reviewer/blogger that has similar tastes to yours, it tends to add more value regardless if they have the skill or training to speak intelligently on the subject. As far as trust though, who can one really trust on the Internet? The big well known writers are just as likely to lie to readers as the less popular one.

Annie wrote:
02.08.11 at 5:17 PM

Hi Alder. I'm a student at UCSD and as an assignment for my class, we are to write blogs. It's my first blog ever and ever since my studying abroad experience in Italy, along with the influence of y father, I've grown very fond of wines. I've been exploring wines and issues circulating around wine in my blog entries and my latest blog is in response to yours. I definitely agree with what you say, especially on the common myths that people view as not credible. I came up with three hypotheses as to why people still go on blogs to look up information. I hope you can follow my recent post and comment on what you think because I would really like to hear your input. I think no matter what, wine is subjective and bloggers can know just as much as well as share their personal experiences with wine rather be duped by big wine corporations that tell you otherwise.

02.10.11 at 7:40 AM

Good points Alder! But its not the first time they did a survey on how onsumers inform themselves on wine. Commenting their press release the Wine Intelligence people wrote on their website "Arguably we took the sensationalist approach:“Bloggers are one of the least trusted source of wine recommendations”...in part because it was true...partly because we wanted to generate some debate (and sell some reports." I think this is a very open and above board statement.

Tom Powers wrote:
02.13.11 at 4:02 PM

Of course they don't. A blogger per se, has no credibility. Indeed, for many, they are looking for a space where they can have a voice. I am curious how many bloggers have professional wine experience in the industry for more than 10 years. There is nothing to keep them from blogging. Fortunately, common sense is keeping them from being heard.

02.14.11 at 12:18 PM

Interesting Tom, in that many (most?) of what are considered the top 10 wine blogs on the net today, including this one, are written by people who have zero professional experience in the business.

EVO

09.26.14 at 5:10 PM

I'm not sure where you are getting your info, but great topic.
I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
Thanks for magnificent information I was looking for this info for my mission.

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