Vinography and the American Wine Blog Awards

Yesterday Vinography won Best Writing on a Wine Blog, and Best Overall Wine Blog for the second year in a row in the 2009 American Wine Blog Awards, and I want to thank you all for making it happen, especially those of you who took the time to vote for me in the process.

But regardless of whether or not you voted for me, or even voted at all, your readership remains the primary reason that I continue to write, and I want to thank you for that from the bottom of my heart. And since this already sounds like some sort of awkward award acceptance speech, I’d also like to thank my wife, without whose love and patience I most certainly wouldn’t be able to spend the time I do in front of the computer instead of with her.

A hearty congratulations to the other award winners: Jeff at The Good Grape, Lenn at Lenndevours, Steve at The Wine Collector, the folks at Michel-Schlumberger, and Frederic at Bigger Than Your Head.

The other person I’d like to thank is Tom Wark, who organized these awards for the first time three years ago, and who is a tireless advocate for wine blogs and their increasing role as a meaningful alternative source for high quality wine journalism.

Tom recently announced that the American Wine Blog Awards were being handed off to new owners next year, and I can’t think of a better home for them than the Open Wine Consortium, who will be shepherding them from this point forward.

Since the awards are in transition, and will no doubt have a permanent and long lived home at the Open Wine Consortium, I would like to take the opportunity to make some suggestions on how they can be improved. I do so without any attempt to criticize how they have been run so far. But there’s always room for improvement.

So here’s what I would change:

1. Get rid of the word American.
While wine blogs were initially an American phenomenon, they are now a global reality. While it might not be realistically feasible to open the contest to blogs in all other languages besides English (who will judge the blogs written in Czech?) certainly the use of American in the title is alienating to everyone else in the world. Concurrent with eliminating American from the title, a serious outreach effort should be made to make non American, English-language bloggers a part of the awards.

2. Make the awards primarily decided by the judges.
The current calculation of winners is based 70% on public vote, 30% on the judges’ picks. That proportion should be reversed or at least equalized. It is important to allow the reading public to influence these awards, and for those blogs with more fans to be able to leverage their popularity, but it is also important to make sure that these awards can never be dismissed as a popularity contest.

3. Get rock star judges.
With the greatest respect and appreciation for those folks who have judged the awards so far, here’s my suggested makeup for a panel of judges:

A veteran, top-tier blogger — someone who has run one of the world’s top blogs — like Cory Doctorow, Nick Denton, Seth Godin, or Arianna Huffington.

One or more professional wine writers of the highest caliber — people who get paid regularly (and ideally, a lot) for writing about wine, and knows good wine writing when they see it. Ideally, at least one of them would be based outside the U.S.

One or more professional food writers of the highest caliber.

A wine importer or producer that understands the relationship between writing and wine — think Kermit Lynch, Terry Theise, Neal Rosenthal, Randall Grahm, etc.

A veteran winemaker/winery owner who has been around the block.

A wine industry marketing giant who runs a successful wine marketing or P.R. firm.

Tom Wark, if he so chooses.

Some board member or executive of the Open Wine Consortium or Wine 2.0

4. Continue to require a weekly posting frequency for at least a year in order to qualify for an award.
For some reason there’s always a lot of carping about this requirement. Here are two facts: the top blogs on the Internet post 30, 40, or even 50 times a day, 7 days a week. Most blogs started by individuals are abandoned after a couple months. Anyone who thinks they should be considered for an award after only 30 or 40 posts needs to get another hobby.

5. Make some changes to the categories of awards as follows:

a. Create a category for non-English-language blogs.
This may be difficult, but I’m willing to bet that we can find Spanish, Italian, German, and French speaking judges who would be willing to evaluate nominees from those regions (who make up the bulk of non-English-language blogs).

b. Get rid of the best graphics category
Most blogs are remarkably similar in structure because of their content. In the same way that most newspapers are similar because of the constraints of their structure. As a result this category then becomes basically “who has the best header and footer graphics” which is a pretty useless contest. As someone who runs a firm that gets paid a lot of money to design web sites, the ability for blogs to truly distinguish themselves through design is pretty limited, and the pickings are quite slim.

c. Bring back the video blog / podcast category.
It’s not just Gary Vaynerchuk out there anymore. Giving an award in this category would help bring recognition to a category of wine media that is exploding.

d. Create a “best post of the year” category.
If this is about writing, then let’s feature the writing! The awards should recognize a single piece of writing (and the comments that follow) that stands out as a fantastic example of the form.

6. Get more sponsors to actually kick in money and services.
The money should be used to do three things: pay the judges for their time, and fund a major PR blitz for the winners. The question has been asked in the past whether the winners should get prizes of some sort. I don’t believe they should, but what they should get is recognition for their efforts in a major way. Get a major PR firm to donate time to really promote the winners — get them interviews, speaking engagements, who knows what else. But get the wine drinking world aware of them in a major way. Some of the money should be used to buy large advertisements in all the major wine magazines, especially those that continue to write as if the world of wine blogs do not exist.

7. Automate the nomination process with good technology.
Create a simple form for nomination that prevents re-nomination of people who have already been nominated, and clearly lists all of the nominees so that people don’t waste time, breath, or energy nominating folks that have already been.

But most importantly, keep the awards going. Thanks again for your support.

Comments (31):

  1. Enobytes

    March 6, 2009 at 11:04 PM

    Congratulations on the award Alder, and the recommended changes you propose are great. I’m proposing that the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference (OWC) support a ½ day seminar to discuss improvements to the award requirements, categories and processes. If we could get various stakeholders in the room to discuss objectives and ideas, I think we have an opportunity to improve upon our current award system.

  2. Brett

    March 6, 2009 at 11:15 PM

    Congratulations! Your passion for what you do comes through.

  3. Sarah Newton

    March 7, 2009 at 4:05 AM

    Well done vinography and a well deserved double header.

  4. Michael

    March 7, 2009 at 6:11 AM

    Congrats Alder! And further, I feel that all of your suggestions are good. The only thing I would suggest with that is that the posting frequency requirement of a year could be augmented with a best new blog or something of the like.
    Keep up the good work!

  5. Randy Watson

    March 7, 2009 at 6:40 AM

    Congratulations! Definitely well deserved accolades!
    I completely agree with your suggestions.

  6. The Corkdork

    March 7, 2009 at 6:55 AM

    Congrats, Alder and lots of great suggestions all around. It’s time to bring more attention to International Blogs out there, for sure. Rock-star judges would be good, even just wine writers that are in the mainstream.

  7. Gary Vaynerchuk

    March 7, 2009 at 7:21 AM

    congrats ALder u deserve it an u are right bring back video …;)

  8. Alfonso

    March 7, 2009 at 8:19 AM

    Auguri Alder:
    Good ideas, all. Instead of a Graphics category, perhaps Most Interesting use of Visual Content? Being not just a word person, I like to use images and look at sites that employ visually interesting content. I’m just saying.

  9. Clinton Stark

    March 7, 2009 at 9:02 AM

    Nice work Alder.
    Like the suggestions. I agree on blog posting frequency requirement. It does raise the quality vs. quantity argument. But no doubt you can have both, and the biggest and best blogs do just that.
    It never ceases to amuse me how folks start blogs with big aspirations and good intentions. Then like you describe, give up after only a few months, after they discover the amount of effort required.
    We constantly have guest bloggers tell us how excited they are to post some content, and then we never hear back again. So, yes, perseverance is a must-have in the blog world, especially when it comes to wine!

  10. Jeff

    March 7, 2009 at 4:11 PM

    With all due respect, Alder, I can’t think of a single reason why having a traditional wine writer judge blogs as an arbiter of “good writing when they see it” is sensible. Two very different animals.
    From my POV, that’s like having my wife come to work and try and manage me. I get enough of that at home, you know what I mean? By that, I mean wine bloggers already swim upstream against the current of mainstream press.
    I think a little more info. on your perspective may be illuminating, particularly because of your participation with the Writer’s Symposium. I’m certain this interaction has greatly shaped your work and your perspective.
    Additional thoughts?

  11. Uzi Cohen

    March 7, 2009 at 4:54 PM

    Congratulations, well deserved. Good suggestion with Kermit Lynch as a judge, you got my vote on that one.

  12. Jack Everitt

    March 7, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    And then there’s my thought: End the Wine Blogging Awards.
    Are they really needed?
    Why should they be bigger?
    Are they serving the community in a way that really benefits it? (It’s not like the winners are suddenly getting more advertising, for example.)
    Except for the few who win, does anyone really care?
    I say this, as, and I may be wrong, but it seemed to me that the number of nominations was way down compared to last year. This indicates a lack of interest by wine blog readers.

  13. Georgia

    March 7, 2009 at 6:17 PM

    Agreed: “Create a ‘best post of the year” category.'”

  14. Alder

    March 7, 2009 at 8:31 PM

    I’m sort of surprised at your comment. Good writing is good writing, period. There are some structural differences between blogs and other mediums for wine journalism, and maybe some attitudinal ones, but really good writers and editors are good judges of writing no matter what the medium. If you’re worried that somehow mainstream journalists would judge blogs harshly for not having the inverted pyramid structure of a newspaper column or nut graphs or other vestiges of traditional journalistic style, you’re not giving those folks enough credit — they know that blogs have some different rules.
    I’m not quite sure how to interpret your “swimming against the current” metaphor, but it’s a bit too adversarial for my tastes. Blogs do not suffer or succeed at the expense or detriment of the mainstream forms of wine journalism.
    And hell, by the time the next Awards come around there will be ten more mainstream journalists that have their own blogs, too. Why make this an us vs. them situation?

  15. Alder

    March 7, 2009 at 8:51 PM

    With the imminent collapse of the Chronicle, the layoffs at Food & Wine, the layoffs at the LA times, the layoffs (rumored) at the Wine Spectator, we’re about to see a lot fewer sources of traditional wine journalism, and a lot more unemployed… er… freelance wine writers out there who will be joining the ranks of the wine bloggers. Wine blogs continue to be created at a steady clip, and the latest industry stats show that they are increasingly a valued source of wine information for Millenials (see wine market council surveys). That’s why they should continue, and should be bigger.
    Yes, they serve the community. People do notice. Not as much as they could, per my comments about using sponsors to amp up the publicity.
    You’re quite wrong about the nominations this year, but I know why you have that perception. I had that perception too, until I noticed that the nominations left on Tom’s blog were _paginated_. I checked back on his blog frequently to see how the nomination process was going for each of the categories and was quite disappointed to see so few there. But on my fourth time there, I noticed a very non-visible link labeled “next” at the top of the comment listing, and realized that there were PAGES AND PAGES of nominations for each category (and lots of comments saying “hey I just put in a nomination, but it didn’t show up here” — clearly we weren’t the only ones with usability issues). All of which leads me to that recommendation about finding a better technological solution for the nomination process than simple comments at the bottom of a blog post.
    Of course, if the Webby awards added a “Wine Blog” category then we might not need these awards. But until that happens, they serve a valuable purpose, even if that purpose is to psychologically reward some of the folks that spend way too much of their time for way too little money writing about something they’re passionate about.

  16. Franco Ziliani

    March 8, 2009 at 1:07 AM

    Bravo Alder, congratulations for your Awards. I agree with your proposal to open American Wine Blog Awards to wine blogs of other countries
    kindest regards

  17. 1WineDude

    March 8, 2009 at 9:38 AM

    Might be going a bit too hard on Jeff and Jack here, Alder.
    It’s fundamentally a good thing to question these awards, if they indeed “belong” somehow to the community of wine bloggers and those who read their work.
    If they don’t belong to that community, then we can all back off, but I’d question even more strongly if they are actually valuable in that case.
    The fact that many are questioning the AWBA at all is healthy – and suggests that the awards and related process need some work in order to be fully representative of the wine blogging community.
    The healthy debate is not if they need work, but how much and in what areas.

  18. Alfonso

    March 8, 2009 at 9:46 AM

    The medium of blogging seems to be very democratic in that anyone can put up a blog. Lately I have sensed that mainstream journalists entering into this arena are given fast-track access to a higher visibility than someone who didn’t earn their stripes in the traditional media channels. Inotherwords, blog-pioneers, such as you, really had to go it alone for quite some time. I went back and read your very first posts and it seems that, from the git-go, you had a sense of what (and how) you wanted to communicate. It looks like you had a plan. Maybe that is just the way you are (duh, knowing you well enough to make that observation), methodical and purposeful.
    So a recognized journalist can come to the party, and welcome to any and all. They will still need to climb the hill you and many others have, still need to make their way up in this medium. That they have skills is an asset, but not a gimme. It won’t be commandeered by mainstream journalists. There ain’t enough money in it anyway.

  19. Philip James

    March 8, 2009 at 10:05 AM

    Alder – congratulations. I’m looking forward to seeing how the awards grow under the banner of the OWC (and of course great kudos to Tom for starting and nurturing them all this time).

  20. Alder's Mom

    March 8, 2009 at 3:30 PM

    Congratulations to a wonderful hard-working son, who deserves some verbal accolades for your passion and talent.

  21. Weston

    March 8, 2009 at 10:42 PM

    I voted for you in both the category’s you won, I like your writing has a bit of a crabby old grandpa feel In a good way hah. Dr Vino is just too nice hah

  22. J.?.

    March 9, 2009 at 12:58 AM

    Who will judge the blogs written in Czech? Good and funny question :o) But we don’t need to choose “best wine blog” in our country yet, wine fans are still able to read all of them :o)

  23. BaroloDude

    March 9, 2009 at 3:01 PM

    Well deserved Alder!
    I used to track many online wine site blogs… many went long periods of time without new entries… so I agree with your posting requirement. You are the only real wineblog still standing on my RSS feeds on MyYahoo.. i have nuked the rest of them over time for not staying current. Keep on blogging!

  24. Dylan

    March 10, 2009 at 5:56 PM

    That is so sweet that your Mom reads your blog. My parents couldn’t be bothered with reading what I write about–mostly out of forgetfulness. In any case, congratulations on the awards, Alder. I believe they are well-deserved and will continue to be a reader of your postings.

  25. Ryan

    March 11, 2009 at 5:56 AM

    Agree: With Jack – Do we really need these? How about Wine writing awards and just include bloggers(who are writers) in the possible winners. Quit singleing out bloggers, as apart from wine writers.
    Also multiple languages are easy to do, and should be done. Just look at the page to see the amount of people that are being left out just because they write in another language.
    New Category: Best New Wine Blog – Truth is a newbie has a hard time getting noticed and can become frustrated and give up, let’s support them.
    Also take regionality into account. Perfect example: Tons of great wine blogs in America have 0 relevance to myself living in Europe. There needs to be regional consideration, since wine is bought regionally. A good wine writer is one who writes for his/her audience, and in the end audiences around the globe demand different styles of writing and information.
    My two cents

  26. Maureen

    March 11, 2009 at 1:04 PM

    Congratulations on a well deserved win Alder! I personally think that we need to find a way to support bloggers, because as Alder pointed out, traditional print media is dying, as scary the implications of its demise is to quality writing and democracy. Awards, and the resulting publicity is very important, and I hope a financial model emerges that allows bloggers to make a decent living pursuing the subjects they are passionate about. As a marketing type person myself, getting good copy is always a headache! Good writing is valuable. Period.

  27. David Vergari

    March 12, 2009 at 10:43 PM

    I just learned about the recognition you’ve received and am not surprised in the least. Good for you.

  28. US Winery Gal

    March 13, 2009 at 7:04 PM

    Congrats on your award. You actually have the best of both worlds. You get to blog about wine, which means you have to drink it in order to know what you are talking about. It looks like you’ll have to keep drinking and visiting wineries because you have a reputation to keep up now! Oh the job you must have ahead of you!

  29. Iris

    March 14, 2009 at 10:06 AM

    Congratulations, Alder, you really deserve “la gloire”:-). I’ve been reading your blog for some years now – some of your posts stay in my memory as excellent – and I often link to them in my French and German winery-blogs, because I think it’s important, to stay in contact with “another point of view”
    I agree that the “regional” aspects are very important – it makes already a difference, whether I write for my German or my French public, so you imagine the ocean-gap…
    It would be interesting, to have a international category for the awards – and if it were only to get closer into contact. It’s a bit difficult for most of us Europeans (at least for those, who are not British) to write fluently in English – at least in an elegant way… But we have interesting and lively wine-blogger communities in France and Germany, for example (and probably in Spain and Italy too – no idea about the Czechs, sorry!).
    And for the “remarkable piece of writing”: I still remember your story about “srewcaps and the war of the worlds”:-)…

  30. Rob

    April 2, 2009 at 12:14 PM

    Congratulations on your well deserved award! I truly enjoy visiting your site and continue to find more and more to learn about wine, the industry and most importantly the value of wine blogs today. I’ve started my own wine blog and all be it not as elaborate as your site, I welcome any support, comments or advise to help me grow. I’ll keep posting and hopefully worthy of a mention from you soon!

Comments are closed.