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01.14.2012

Reflections on 8 Years of Wine Blogging

bigstock_Slice_Of_Eighth_Birthday_Cake_6637877.jpgEight years ago, I decided that instead of giving my friends the same advice over and over again about my favorite wines and restaurants, I would start a blog -- both so that I would have someplace to send them, and so that I could learn about what a blog was and how it worked.

And that, as they say, was the first day of the rest of my life. I've been writing about wine almost every day since then, pausing only to go on my honeymoon, hang out with my new baby girl, and go fishing in Alaska this past August.

It's been quite a ride.

I'm not in a position to offer significant insights into the overall growth of blogging as a practice or as a medium, but I've watched essentially the entire lifetime of wine blogs on the internet. From the intrepid few who joined me in 2004, experimenting with personal wine writing and amateur criticism, to the era of intercontinental Wine Blogger Conferences and the professional wine blog.

Here are my thoughts on what's happened over the last eight years.

The early days of wine blogging felt like strangers meeting on a desert island. We were delighted for the company, and bolstered by the idea that there were others just as passionate and equally insane to spend hours and hours writing about wine for free, not really knowing or caring who would read what we had written.

Dozens became scores, and scores became hundreds, and then we really felt like something was going on. You could almost feel the throbbing pulses of hundreds of little wine magazines, our little streams of content churning out to fill the servers of Google with wine keywords bit by bit. Most were in English to start, but then gradually wine blogs in Italian, French, German, Swedish, and more began to pop up. The vast majority of the blogs in the first two years were written by enthusiasts -- passionate consumers like me --that felt like we had something to say about wine, never mind who was listening.

Eventually some regional wine journalists and wine writers started their own blogs, suggesting that it was only a matter of time before major, nationally read wine writers got into the game. Eric Asimov of the New York Times dove into the pool in 2006, followed by several other well-known names in the year or two that followed.

By the time Eric joined us, wine blogs had begun to sort themselves out into what I see as several categories, which continue to persist today.

The first category I will call the Deliberates. These folks, myself included, eventually decided that wine blogging wasn't just something we did for fun, like updating our Facebook page. Instead we were trying to produce good content, regularly, that met some standard we each invented for ourselves. We self-consciously wrote for an audience, and took our roles as writers and/or critics seriously, opining, reviewing, and commenting on wine and the wine world. There was a significant mix, as there is today, of quality, literary merit, and specific areas of focus.

The second category of bloggers were the Passionate Journalers. These folks continue to make up a large portion of the wine blogging community. These wine bloggers perhaps lack the depth of journalistic aspirations possessed by the Deliberates, but nonetheless cultivate an audience of readers who read their writings as for personal stories as well as for wine recommendations. These folks are often highly engaged in the wine blogging community, and take their blogging seriously.

Thousands, even tens of thousands of Casuals have started wine blogs. Some continue to post, while many tire of the experiment and abandon their efforts to the dusty corners of the interwebs. Most of these bloggers do not cultivate an audience beyond their immediate friends and family, and use their blogs often as a personal record of what they ate and drank. These folks don't and never will think of themselves as journalists.

Morphers generally came later to the wine blogging game, since they were publishing online already, just not in blog form. Several wine writers had web sites where they did some or all of their writing, and as the blog form demonstrated both its power and popularity, these writers smartly got into the game, bringing with them their audiences, and adapting with varying ease to the format.

Then there were the Bizzers -- the folks "in the biz" who understood the blogging medium (or didn't, as the case may be) and dove in to see what they might find. PR wonks, winemakers, wine marketers and more started to write blogs, some for personal reasons, others as an extension of their jobs.

And finally came the Professionals. The wine writers who made their living writing about wine for newspapers, magazines, or other print outlets and eventually got into the blog world. Most professional blogs were and still are under the aegis of the writer's primary outlet, some even restricted to viewing by paid subscribers only. In the past year or two, however, several career wine writers, often after leaving their bylines, have begun blogs that are maintained assiduously.

Any attempt to produce a limited taxonomy of something as dynamic as a constantly growing niche of the blogosphere must be taken with a grain of salt. I'm sure there are those who either object to or believe they defy the categorization I've offered. But that's the landscape as I see it.

I think several key changes have taken place across this landscape over time. Some, especially in the Deliberates category, have settled into more specific niches of either editorial writing or wine criticism, while others, like myself, have deliberately attempted to span across these concerns.

Wine bloggers in all categories, especially the savvy, newer bloggers often focus on niches. While it was enough in 2004 to have something called a "wine blog" to gather readers from across the Internet, these days any new blog is instantly lost in a sea of thousands. As a result many wine bloggers are beginning to specialize.

The relationship between the wine blogging community, especially the Deliberates, and the world of traditional wine media has shifted. In the early days, bloggers and those we labeled "old school" journalists were rather equally suspicious of each other. Many bloggers saw themselves as deliberately countering the values and traditions of mainstream wine writing, while for their part, many mainstream journalists saw bloggers as rank amateurs or even poseurs. With a few notable exceptions (in particular the Wine Spectator which to my knowledge is the only major wine publication in the world that has never actually mentioned the name of any independent wine blog in its pages) the gap between wine blogger and wine writer has closed significantly. With so many "mainstream" wine journalists now blogging, and several prominent wine bloggers writing regularly in magazines, books, and other traditional media, it's clear that a convergence is well underway.

And so we find ourselves in a new era of wine blogging. What it will hold, I am not sure, but one of the trends appears to be a sorting out. More than one of the long-standing Deliberates have decided to stop blogging all together. Keeping this up for years on end, often with little more renumeration than accolades from readers, a few wine samples to review, and an award or two requires a level of dedication that not everyone can muster or maintain.

Eight years and tens of thousands of blogs later, it's also clear that cream rises to the top. The blogs that gain and hold public attention are generally of higher quality, and this will always be the case, as the bar raises ever higher. With professional writers getting into the wine blogging arena, those of us who aren't career wine writers will find ourselves competing for readers, for stories, and for attention, inasmuch as writers ever really compete.

For me, writing Vinography continues to be what it has always been -- both a discipline and an aesthetic pursuit. When people ask me why or how I manage to do it, I tell them the truth: some people knit, I write about wine. Sitting here in front of my blog is an aesthetic pursuit as much as it is anything else. I enjoy it infinitely more than watching television (or, sadly, exercise) or any of the other things that we all find to fill the interstices between work and other obligations.

While the core of my enjoyment remains the pursuit itself -- expressing my opinions and judgments about everything vinous -- one of the greatest pleasures of what I do here comes from my readers. The gift you give when you read, and especially when you comment, keeps me coming back to the keyboard so regularly. I love interacting with you, and deeply appreciate how your thoughts add so much to whatever value or entertainment my own might provide everyone.

So let me conclude this, my 2415th entry on the 8th anniversary of this little endeavor, with my thanks for reading Vinography and for your support over the years. I hope we continue this relationship for many more. I know I'll certainly keep doing this as long as it remains fun, and I don't see any end to that in sight.

Eighth birthday cake image courtesy of BigStock.

Comments (41)

BR wrote:
01.15.12 at 12:19 AM

Hi Alder! Congratulation your blog's 8 years anniversary. I've began blogging just about a few weeks ago. When I read this article I felt more enthusiastic, thanks for this. Looked through your articles, enjoyed reading them and got many interesting info. You gained one more blog reader.

Ben wrote:
01.15.12 at 12:56 AM

I've only recently found your site and I enjoy it muchly. Your categories are interesting, but after eight years, surly "blogger" does not sufice. May I recommend "blogguer?"

TWP wrote:
01.15.12 at 4:09 AM

8 years is a long time, thanks for sharing your perspective of the evolution of blogging over the years. Very keen to see what the next 8 have in store! I look forward to reading your posts for many years to come.

Ben, love the term Blogguer BTW.

Jim Budd wrote:
01.15.12 at 4:20 AM

Alder. Many thanks for yoiur thoughtful analysis and congratulations on the first eight years.

J. Boyce wrote:
01.15.12 at 4:45 AM

Hi Alder,

This comment struck me in particular:

"With so many "mainstream" wine journalists now blogging, and several prominent wine bloggers writing regularly in magazines, books, and other traditional media, it's clear that a convergence is well underway."

Agreed. So thank you for doing this thing you do.

And I'm happy, to take your example above, that you aren't into knitting instead.

Cheers, Boyce

Andrew wrote:
01.15.12 at 5:40 AM

It has certainly been a fascinating if roller-coaster ride since those fun days of 2004; my hasnt the wine blogging world changed in that time! My interest in wine has led to a growing interest in photography; deep friendships with people met 'over the internet', my writing appearing in books and regular writing gigs elsewhere. And its still as fun as it was right at the beginning.

Marcel wrote:
01.15.12 at 6:11 AM

Congratulation from Germany !

01.15.12 at 6:41 AM

Congratulations on your 8th anniversary! Job well done. Please keep up the good work.

Alisa wrote:
01.15.12 at 7:20 AM

Congratulations for the eight (8) wonderful years you have kept us entertained, thirsty, and well-informed.Cheers to the next eight years to come.

Karen wrote:
01.16.12 at 5:43 AM

I think folks,like myself, continue to read your blog because it's the right balance of informative and entertaining. Most times when I read through Vinography I pick up a bit of "entertaining info", or just someone's wacked opinion, to use as a conversation starter at the next gathering.

Richard wrote:
01.16.12 at 6:15 AM

Happy 8th Anniversary and I'll raise a glass to another 8!

01.16.12 at 7:41 AM

Congrats on 8 years. 8 years....? Wow. It should make everyone else feel like an amateur!
The one thing I have to emphasize in wine blogging, and indeed any form of blogging is that it MUST be fun! As soon as it stops being fun, and feels like work, you'll see a blogger's posts becoming few and far between and eventually cease altogether.
If someone is thinking of starting a blog with the ultimate goal of making money from it, then they must be prepared for lots of long nights, tons of rejection, and a certain amount of self-reflection.

Jeff wrote:
01.16.12 at 7:58 AM

Great post, Alder. The taxonomy you created strikes a note that is pitch-perfect.

And, you have to be a little bit crazy to blog with a quality orientation for even six months. Your eight years of leadership in the niche is the best kind of crazy.

Congrats on the milestone, your accomplishments and the erudite education you provide to readers!

Jeff

Doug wrote:
01.16.12 at 8:54 AM

Alder, Cheers to another eight! And thank you for support of Toucan Wines.

lori wrote:
01.16.12 at 9:07 AM

Happy Anniversary, Alder! I can't imagine a world of wine blogs without you.

Alan Baker wrote:
01.16.12 at 9:22 AM

Cheers Alder. I'm thrilled that you get such enjoyment out of a pursuit that I know takes an immense amount of time, and gives so much insight and pleasure to a very big crowd. The landscape is soooo different than it was back in the old days. You truly had a great vision for how to build something with lasting value.

Ami Ibarra wrote:
01.16.12 at 10:13 AM

Congrats Alder! Your blog has given me a great appreciation for wine! Thanks for the solid writing and insight.

Cameron wrote:
01.16.12 at 11:09 AM

Happy Anniversary and Cheers! Man, I really don't know how you do it...

Roger Beery wrote:
01.16.12 at 1:58 PM

Alder... You've been and continue to be an inspiration to many of us... Well done!

Anonymous wrote:
01.16.12 at 3:27 PM

Congratulations Alder on the anniversary of expressing your opinions and judgments about everything vinous! I can only speak for me, but thanks for your contribution to the wacky world of wine! Cheers and on to year 9!

01.16.12 at 3:40 PM

Congrats, Alder! It's been fun being on the blogging wagon, so to speak, with you. Hope you open something good to celebrate tonight! - CC

Warren wrote:
01.16.12 at 5:12 PM

Many happy returns Alder. I enjoy your site.

01.16.12 at 6:32 PM

Where did the time go? ;) I've enjoyed reading your articles over the past eight years Alder--wishing you many more years of awesome blogging!

01.17.12 at 12:00 AM

Alder, thanks for keeping me connected to views from california and the US - I really enjoy your perspective on the world of wine

Blake Gray wrote:
01.17.12 at 9:48 AM

I remember the first time I read your blog. I thought (and probably asked you): "You do all this for free?"

Eight years in and you still deliver more value than many, many people who are paid to produce content.

Thanks for that.

Adam Japko wrote:
01.17.12 at 9:58 AM

Alder,

congrats and great chronicle...interesting observations especially about going forward trend towards specializing. Do you think a consistent point of view and voice is specialization enough to build and hold the attention of a community? Or is it about a region or style of wine? How do you define specialization? Thanks for the great historical interpretation!

CJ wrote:
01.17.12 at 11:10 AM

Great post! As a "casual" I enjoy your bog immensely and I'm learning a lot.
Thanks!

Ed Thralls wrote:
01.17.12 at 11:11 AM

Great job, Alder... keep up the great work. Your passion and dedication are evident in every post... thanks for all that you do.

Cheers!

Ed

Alder wrote:
01.17.12 at 11:39 AM

Adam,

I don't think the issue these days is so much about holding the interest of a community as much as attracting it. There's a lot of noise to cut through before you can even be noticed by the community of wine readers, which is why specialization is the angle to go. Specialization can be about your angle/voice, or about a specific region / style, etc. Infinite options. One day soon we'll see the blog that only covers pink wine.

Alder

Bert wrote:
01.17.12 at 2:17 PM

Great anniversary, Alder, we've been on the road for quite a long time; it's been fun, as you say, and many of us improvised wine writers wouldn't have thought it would change us so much. For my part, I learnt much through this activity, which allowed me to meet great people too...

Mark wrote:
01.17.12 at 2:58 PM

Bizzers huh? Are there that many really good industry blogs? The problem, for us at least is finding the right line between sharing information and betraying confidences etc. I don't think we've found the first truly great industry level blog.

Oh well, its amazing the whole wine blogging thing is really less than a decade old.

Andrea wrote:
01.17.12 at 3:05 PM

Love the distinctions of the types of wine bloggers. Love the entire post. Thank you for inspiring me to write my literary blog more often. Next time I plan to take a yoga class, I'll blog instead. ;)

Laura wrote:
01.17.12 at 7:43 PM

Congrats on making it to 8! Inspiring to read as another blogger, and the distinctions are great, cheers to the future

Kai wrote:
01.18.12 at 11:18 AM

Congrats for 8 good years !

Jamie Goode wrote:
01.19.12 at 4:38 PM

Alder, I respect what you have done over these last years. However, I must point out that the phrase 'From the intrepid few who joined me in 2004' does smack of revisionist history - my wine blog started in July 2001, and I wasn't the first - as far as I know that honour goes to the late Joe Dressner. Just trying to keep the record straight!

Alder wrote:
01.19.12 at 10:34 PM

Jamie,

I believe even before Joe was a gentleman named Jack Keller, who had a "home winemaking journal" on the web, that, like your web site and Joe Dressner's, we now describe as blogs. 2004 marked an explosion of people setting up sites that they described as "wine blogs" and that used modern blogging software that has defined the format that we think of blogs in today, with comments, etc. Forgive me if I use that year as the true beginning of the "phenomenon" of wine blogging as we know it today. I take some credit for being "a pioneer", not "the pioneer" or the inventor of the idea.

Alder

01.23.12 at 4:13 AM

Best wine post I've ever read; you have a new avid reader!

TVL wrote:
01.26.12 at 9:53 PM

8 years of change in the media. Blogs is 2004 were looked at as kind of weird and certainty not looked at by profession peers. Now blogs are used as guides to the latest and greatest that the media players use to guide them. Congrats for being on the forefront of the blogging world, now I wonder what blogging will be like in the next 8 years?

Mary wrote:
03.14.12 at 2:49 PM

Alder, congrats on the 8th birthday!

Keeping the joy in the pursuit is half of the battle! This is one of the blogs I recommend to people who walk in the door.

juliemarg wrote:
07.05.12 at 10:03 AM

Great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Alecia wrote:
04.22.14 at 3:48 PM

Audio commentary by DP David Eggby, art director Jon Dowding, special effects supervisor Chris
Murray, and film historian Tim Ridge is included on the "Mad Max" disc.
It will best to discontinue the actual consumption of the acquire and seek medical suggestions.
Look for about a supplement with either GCA (green coffee antioxidant) or Svetol.

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