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Friday Fishwrap
Intolerance in the Wine Blogosphere

By Charles Olken

There has always been a fair bit of argy-bargy in the wine blogosphere. Newbies attack the old boys. Story tellers attack tasting note writers. Everyone attacks the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker. People with some sort of certificate from one of the several credentialing agencies attack those who have learned their wine knowledge through study and tasting and years of experience. Bloggers who have no ties to the established Print journals attack those esteemed publications as being dead but not knowing it.

Hey, it’s a free country, and the Internet knows no bounds. Perhaps this week is no different from any other week; it just seems that way because somehow CGCW is at the center of some of the bitching. And sad to say, it has gone both ways. I’ll get to my sins in a minute, but a comment over on from one professional writer and strong internet presence to Heimoff who is also a strong presence on the Internet as well as in print has got me to thinking that perhaps there is a full moon out and we just don’t know it.

Heimoff reported on a luncheon he had with Corie Brown, who was a speaker at the Wine Writers Symposium. Ms. Brown, who served for years as winewriter for the Los Angeles Times and now is a driving force (perhaps the driving force) behind the well-regarded online journal, Zester Daily, spoke about her techniques for conducting an interview. Mr. Heimoff felt that she did not go far enough and seems to have said so to her face over lunch. But according to Ms. Brown, he got some of his facts wrong in reporting the conversation in his blog yesterday. Ms. Brown left the following comment, “Steve, you are misrepresenting what I said to you over lunch as well as misquoting me. Very poor professional standards. Is this the way you treat your interview subjects? I have to say I’m disappointed in you.”

Now, my point here is not to judge what happened. I know Steve Heimoff to be a consummate professional, but maybe his memory was faulty or he just misunderstood what was said. I have no way of knowing. But, I wonder why Ms. Brown could not have found a way to express her disappointment without using terms like “poor professional standards”.

It happened to CGCW this week as well, and I was both on the receiving end and on the intolerant end. I will say here and now, it should not have happened. That it did happen is at least partly caused by someone trying to capture an issue in 140 characters on Twitter. In the end, it was all my misunderstanding, which is exactly what seems to have happened to Ms. Brown and Mr. Heimoff.

Last Thursday, CGCW ran a column called: Can Wine Blogging Survive? The details of the column can be found in the Blog archives for Thursdays. It was not an appraisal of blogs good and bad or of established writers versus newcomers. It simply said, among other things, that some of the new entrants will make it and some will not. Some will stay around because they love blogging and others will eventually find it too much work for the little rewards they are getting and go back to their day jobs.

On Friday, I ran into a mention of the column on Twitter in which the tweet suggested that a food fight had broken out between me and the wine blogosphere, and the tweet used the word “naysayer”. My dander got up, and I sent a not entirely kind message to the tweetster, who happens to be a professional colleague. I complained about his categorization. It now turns out that he was simply “re tweeting” the comments from elsewhere. My bad. But . . . . .

In the meantime, I went over to the blog in question. It is called Wine For Normal People and found that its maker had categorized the column about blog survival as being filled with “blog hatred”. It took a couple of exchanges, in civil tones, thank you, between me and Normal People to set the matter straight. But, here again, something went wrong in the communication. I get that the blogger felt offended, but she did not need to be, and I wish she had done something softer like asking me a direct question in the CGCW comments column.

I noted above that I am not without sin in the area of bitchiness, and so I am casting stones at myself in equal measure as I am to anyone else. It seems to me that we all need to be able to speak our minds, and it further seems to me that when someone gets his or her nose out of joint, the proper response is to try find out why rather than to go on the attack. Words not spoken face to face can too often be misinterpreted, and it might do us all a lot of good if we could make the blogosphere less bitchy.

End of today’s sob story.


Blog Hatred
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:2/25/2011 1:25:19 PM

Hey Charlie,

You sound like every Democrat in the country after Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head. Civil discourse has its place, but so does naysaying and jumping to wrong conclusions. There's very little else lively going on amongst wine bloggers, professional or not. It's only wine.

Corie Brown disappointed in STEVE!? Wow, it's like Ehrlichman condemning Haldemann.

God knows, in my blogging days I certainly spent most of my time in uncivil discourse and have the hate mail and scorn to prove it. It was fun. Corie Brown has the right idea. What she wrote wasn't uncivil. It was engaging and, perhaps, called for. But even if STEVE! should get the benefit of the doubt, why shouldn't she express her consternation and unhappiness with a peer being so sloppy?

It seems to me the wine blogosphere ought to go after each other more vehemently, not less. It's enough of a circle jerk as it is. STEVE! certainly understands that it's not what they say about you just as long as they talk about you. Corie understands that too.

However, I'm guessing that never came up at the Napa Valley Wine Writers Symposium.

by John
Posted on:2/25/2011 1:52:26 PM

Misunderstandings happen all the time. Just last week I sent out an email to my staff urging them to think of ways to present a unified front for the brand in their individual interactions on social media - just an invitation to brainstorm ways to stay on message. What I got back was one them freaking out: "I think you are criticizing a post one of us made to Facebook." When that was not the case at all. They would have thought the same if I had made my comment in a face to face meeting. People are wired to misunderstand each other.

What I found interesting about the interaction on Steve's blog was the broad assumption that somehow he got it wrong. Any chance that he got it exactly right, and Corrie was just engaging in a little damage control?

The Friday Fishwrap
by Tom Taylor
Posted on:2/26/2011 3:22:56 PM

I can't believe I'm doing this, but have to chime in on a twofer of hot button issues - the predilection to take offense over something written rather than spoken, and the pleasure some take in giving offense.

It's clear from years of emaiing, before blogging was a word, that the written word can be a more limiting form of casual, i.e. less thought out, communication. When the same words are spoken, the human interaction adds understanding, or the opportunity for instant clarification, before the listener can get firmly ticked off. So there's the unintentional potential for honest misunderstanding that you spoke of, Charlie.  

But I guess what's bothering me is the over the top comments some bloggers seem thrilled to make, and my lack of understanding of why some enjoy jerking others around. In the blogosphere it's sport. From this seat, what Ron sees as just clean fun says to me he has poor eyesight. The practice sure doesn't enable better understanding of other points of view. it's apparently the action, not the intent to communicate, that's the game for him. While for me practicing the freedom to be deliberately offensive without consequence speaks more loudly and sadly of the writers low opinion of homo sapien.  

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/27/2011 12:02:00 PM


Do you know if Heimoff's blog comments about Brown were based on an off-the-record conversation at a luncheon or a bona fide on-the-record interview?

I understand that blogs are not edited and that they are mostly the opinions of the people doing the blogging, but I also understand journalism; the latter requires that the interviewer at the very least make notes so as to recreate a convresationa s close to what it was as is possible from notes plus memory.

I haven't read the post, and likely won't, but if Ms. Brown is spaekign about professionalism, I have to assume that she either does not consider what took place an interview or she was unaware that it was an interview.

If I am wrong about that, well then, she is wrong for what she commented. Do you know what's really behind the issue?

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/27/2011 12:13:33 PM

I can't type, but I can read; alas, only after I hit submit!

"...the latter requires that the interviewer at the very least make notes so as to recreate a conversation as close to what it was as is possible from notes plus memory."

"...but if Ms. Brown is speaking about professionalism..."


Brown vs. The Education of Heimoff
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/27/2011 12:48:40 PM

Mr. P--

Tom, I dont know because the Heimoff post is unclear. They had lunch together and it sounds like Steve intentionally raised the issue. Whether he took notes or not is even less clear.

I am even willing to believe that he misunderstood or simply has no sympathy for Ms. Brown's dilemma and that she took offense.

But I don't really care about the details so much as the mechanism of interaction. And I know because I did exactly that to a professional acquaintance that it is easy to get in a huff and lash out. My point, and it applies to me in equal parts, is that one can avoid angry first responses with a bit of discussion and questioning.

I did not reference it in the blog but I experience a private communication from a blogger who got out of sorts over a compliment. The argument was that complimenting what I saw as a good thing was an insult to all that had come before. It gets a little absurd when we get to that point, and while that private conversation was civil, it was still the product of the "lash out first and ask question later" syndrome that seems to exist in the blogosphere.

by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/27/2011 2:05:54 PM


You get no argument from me on the position you take.

Unless you want to argue and I want to get bent out of shape ;)

One of the things I find a big issue is that rather than have a debate, many people have an argument, and then they get personal. Shows a true lack of maturity--in my humble opinion, of course!

Civil Discourse
by Ron Washam, HMW
Posted on:2/28/2011 9:51:33 AM

Mr. Taylor,

Being deliberately offensive has its usefulness, and can even encourage communication. It brought you out of the lurkosphere, which I view as a healthy thing. And it is in the grand tradition of buffoonery and farce to insult those in power; and in the blog world, Steve Heimoff has power and Corrie Brown imagines she does.

I actually have enormous affection for homo sapiens. Some of my best friends are homo sapiens. If I have fun at the expense of others, I like to think those others are well-chosen and richly deserve some mocking. Do I take pleasure in giving offense? I take more pleasure in making people laugh, though it is certainly questionable whether I've ever actually done that.

You did make me reread my earlier comment, and I found it rambling and nonsensical. Not sure what the hell I was trying to say, but at least I said it awkwardly. No points for brilliant satire there.

Civil discourse has its place, absolutely, and we could always use more of it. But adding a satirical perspective on what amount to meaningless debates has equal, if not greater, value.


Irrational and Irreverent--Or Else
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:2/28/2011 10:01:01 AM

My dear Mr. Washam. If you are going post here, you must be both irrational and irreverent. You give civil discourse a bad name when you engage in it so elegantly. What the hell have you done with Jose?

Fightin' words
by Thomas Pellechia
Posted on:2/28/2011 12:29:46 PM

Did some SOB call me a homo sapien? I don't like name calling.

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