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.