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What’s Wrong With The Wine Blogosphere?

By Charles Olken

Let’s set the stage. The blogosphere is nothing more than articles published for free on the Internet. It is estimated that there are some 1,000 (no one really knows so this is the number that glibly rolls off people’s tongue/out of their pens, etc, for lack of something better) bloggists out there on the Internet and your trusty editors here at Connoisseurs’ Guide are two of them.

There is a truly minor cost of entry. Anybody with a few bucks, a couple of hour’s time and the interest to write cogently or otherwise about wine can do it. Hey, it’s a free country and the Internet allows us to be all kinds of things. Let’s be clear. I am not talking here about those of you who masquerade in chat rooms as Superman or teen agers. I am talking about living out one’s fantasies that one actually has something to add to the wine discussion. That is why we have thousands of wine bloggers, many of whom get fewer hits on their blogs than hours in the day. But, hey, it is a free country.

It turns out that these bloggists, and their industry supporters get together once a year for a love-in called the Wine Bloggers Convention. And, at this year’s festivities, many of the panelists chosen to tell the swarming masses how to live their lives, write their blogs, taste their wines, earn a few shekels were older white men who had been at wine writing and blogging for many years now. Apparently, the organizers seemed to think that older white men with a certain level of experience and success as writers were worth listening to.

By now, if you have not already guessed, it is time to introduce the angry white women and folks of lesser age and other colors. These folks, who make up a very large share of the wine blogosphere, at least in terms of numbers of them (and who really wants to count things like following, influence, knowledge, writing ability anyhow?) have been clearly underrepresented on panels and are unhappy about it. Believe me, I get it. I am all for diversity. Always have been—ever since the days when I was under-30 and chanted the mantra of “never trust anyone over thirty”.

There is something wrong in the wine blogosphere, and it is this. It exists. And because it exists, its member think they deserve to be treated as a bunch of equals. You are thirty-something and you love wine. You have a computer, some spare time and love to write. And thus you have self-annointed yourself as a writer. No tests to pass, no need to generate any money for your hobby. Just do it. And, in “just doing it”, you have, voila, become the equivalent of folks who have actually succeeded at writing about wine. They have a blog and you have a blog. Instant equals. And thus deserving a place on the podium.

It is that last bit that has caused a bit of rancor in the blogosphere these days. People are spitting words at each other, and only occasionally listening. Those without respect want it. Those who have earned it are suggesting that there is a way to get respect, and that is by earning it. Both are right, of course, and therein lies the dilemma for most of those who blog.

It takes more than a community of bloggers to make the blogosphere into something more than a place for the free expression of one’s thoughts—even when that topic is wine. If any business is totally free to enter, then lots of folks who like that business will enter it. There is a problem in the wine blogosphere, and that is that it exists with no rules, no costs of entry and no way for most of its denizens to find an audience, to make even a few shekels for their efforts and thus to get anything more than grudging acknowledgement that they are out there somewhere.

I have said since the beginning of blogging that some of those folks would make a living, would survive, would move on to bigger and better things—and that all bloggers, regardless of skill or following, were journalists. Many of them are the “next generation” of wine writers waiting in the wings to replace the existing generation who are beginning to age out. But, most of them will replace no one, will influence very few and will either keep blogging because they simply enjoy it regardless of their lack of readership or financial reward or they will eventually fall by the wayside as so many have already done. Those who love the exercise do it because they love it. But so much of what is going on right now feels like the frustrations of the many who thought they would get something beyond personal satisfaction out of the exercise and are not getting those extra rewards.

That’s because the blogosphere is not a place of success for most. Those who are not succeeding want their voices to be heard. Good on them. But they need to ask themselves one simple question: other than diversity, do you have anything to add that would make you a good panelist to sit on front of other bloggists and offer something of value that will lift the quality, the recognition , the rewards of their blogs?


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Stuck in the middle with you...
by Kyle
Posted on:8/6/2014 1:19:58 PM

Well, I don't know why I came here tonight
I got the feeling that something ain't right
I'm so scared in case I fall off my chair
And I'm wondering how I'll get down those stairs

Clowns to left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

Yes, I'm stuck in the middle with you
And I'm wondering what it is I should do
It's so hard to keep this smile from my face
Losing control, yeah I'm all over the place

Clowns to left of me
Jokers to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you

Well, you started off with nothing
And you're proud that you're a self-made man
And your friends they all come crawling
Slap you on the back and say:

Trying to make some sense of it all
But I can see it makes no sense at all


Was Stealers Wheel singing about wine blogging in 1972...

Stuck In The Middle
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/6/2014 2:41:57 PM

Thanks for the trip down memory lane. It has always been thus, and it is more serious in certain real professions like architecture where so many smart, capable people want in that half the kids graduating with architecture degrees from good schools do not find a career in the profession.

Supply and demand applies to bloggers as well. I do wish all bloggers well. They are journalists just like me. I got lucky, I suppose, but at least I paid my dues.

The Internet may be democratizing in some ways but it is also "false currency" in others. And, sadly, it will never be a place that makes all who try their hands there happy.

All true, however...
by 1WineDude
Posted on:8/6/2014 6:19:02 PM

...don't forget the *very* important point that most bloggers are passionate consumers of the topics about which they blog. It's better for the wine biz to have lots of people talking about/sharing thoughts on/discussing stuff about wine. If they are talking to one another, there's no harm and really only benefit to the wine biz, and little harm to consumers (if you're reading blogs and cannot tell the good from the bad, then you've got bigger issues than finding a decent bottle of vino for dinner!).

Truth or Dare
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/6/2014 7:13:13 PM

Hi Joe-

In all of the discussions of bloggers who do not appreciate what they are, no one, not even Ron Washam, who never fails to call them as he sees them, has said that bloggers are a curse to the biz. But, these folks are also mostly cheerleaders.

That is very OK with me.  Let them compete. Let them write. Let them find an audience if they are good enough. Few of them are going to enjoy great success, and what bugs me is that the complaints about having to listen to Steve Heimoff and Mike Dunne is such absolute nonsense coming from folks who simply do not exist for most wine lovers.

As I said, it reminds me of the old "don't trust anyone over thirty" meme that we used to chant. At least we knew it was a joke.

by Ed Masciana
Posted on:8/7/2014 3:10:17 PM

Oh, come on Charlie. Let's face it, at one time YOU were a blogger. They just didn't call it blogging then. They called it publishing.

Who You Calling A Blogger?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/7/2014 3:32:21 PM


I am still a blogger. I publish more words in my blog than most bloggers.

I am also in publishing. What unites all of us is that we are writers. I have never put down bloggers because they do not have paid gigs or are not published in print.

They contribute to the conversation. But, this complaining about not wanting to hear from folks like Heimoff and Dunne on the parts of folks who have been at writing publicly for a few years is just totally out of bounds. Sure, as I said explicitly, there is a need for more diversity--and maybe for a different forum for the expression of ideas. 

But, Ed, just because folks exist does not bestow experience, knowledge, wisdom on them. The newcomers want to be heard, and I am all for that, but not at the expense of throwing out everyone who actually has been there, done that and proven successful at it.

No Subject
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:8/11/2014 9:41:45 AM

Well said, Charlie.  My two cents:

1.  The wine blogosphere has been a huge, healthy boon to the industry because it pushes alternative perspectives on wine.  As someone who's made a living in both the restaurant wine industry and newspaper/magazine wine publishing for over 30 years, I've always felt that the industry was crippled by the fact that just a few publications have had an inordinate, even disasterous, amount of influence on the way wines are grown and made, and the way wine quality has been evaluated.  Well, no more, thanks to this free-for-all known as the blogosphere.

2.  There is a pervasive flaw to the wine blogosphere -- countless bloggers merely aping conventional wine publishing, or just as worse, each other.  There is nothing more boring or disappointing than sameness and copycatting.

The vast majority of bloggers will not find "success" because every medium finds its saturation point.  The blogosphere also invites the inevitable amateurism, hucksterism, and plain ol' stupidity, but it's still a healthy development:  anything that stimulates interest in a wide variety of wine cannot be a bad thing for consumers, producers, and the sales industries alike.

Bloggers vs. "old white guys"
by PaulG
Posted on:8/11/2014 11:11:06 AM

Charlie, the point I believe you are making, and with which I entirely agree, is that we old school print journalists had to prove ourselves as qualified writers in order to get published. We had to impress editors and those who were writing the checks. We didn't just buy a URL and start posting. Entry to the profession was difficult, but once in, your audience was already there. Today entry is open to all, but finding an audience is a real challenge. The bloggers who crab about old white guys are most likely members of a younger generation who grew up with a sense of entitlement. Blame the boomers for that - helicopter parents raise young adults who mistakenly believe that they are God's gift to whatever profession they may stumble into. Good luck with that!

Get off my lawn!
by Blake Gray
Posted on:8/12/2014 10:14:17 AM

I really enjoyed reading this, and there's a lot of truth in it. But I just had to write that headline.


Whose Lawn? Some Old White Guy
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/12/2014 11:32:37 AM

Paul and Blake--

Thanks for visiting.

I hope it is clear that I am 100% in favor of diversity and that I think some of the criticism of WBC is justified. I am not sure a panel discussion by younger folks is the right answer, but maybe some kind of larger roundtable or a series of "meetings" in which everybody brainstorms and comes back and reports.

What I and Steve Eliot (see today's blog entry) find most bothersome is the lack of positive energy, creative ideas, etc. When I suggested that Joe Roberts lead some kind of effort forward, he demured. 

So, I may be bitching about people on my lawn, but they are bitching because they have no lawn and cannot think of a way to get one. Let them pay their dues. Let them find venues to talk to themselves and see what comes of it.

I do know that old white guys like me are not the future of wine writing. But I also know that the future will be won by those with talent, thoughtfulness, inclusive writing styles, knowledge, etc. It has always been thus, and the Internet is not going to change that equation in my humble opinion.

On the subject of lawns...
by Stephen Eliot
Posted on:8/12/2014 1:52:20 PM

As it turns out, I do have a lawn, but it is only one of many on a very long block. The truth of it is that I do not mind at all if someone walks across mine with their poodles in tow, but I do wish they would bring a properly sized scooper and a baggie or two to clean up the messes they leave behind.

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