Monday, August 1, 2011

Rant: Jancis, AHOO & Wallflowers

Four weeks ago, my Rant on Wallflowers & Mediocrity seemed to strike a chord with many people. I advised people to: "Take a risk, and then take another." Too many people strive for mediocrity, taking the safe and familiar roads. They need to challenge themselves and be willing to take risks, for you cannot attain great heights unless you are willing to make the perilous climb. Who knew that Jancis Robinson would provide similar advice to the attendees of the Wine Blogger's Conference?

Jancis was the Friday Key Note speaker at the WBC and I felt that she did an excellent job, providing the attendees with some valuable advice and suggestions, as well as some laughs. Jancis has been writing about wine since 1975, has authored a number of print books, yet also was quick to grasp the potential of online tools and social media. It was fascinating to hear her state that "The future is self-publishing." I agree that self-publishing, the surge of e-books, is radically changing the publishing world. As a voracious reader, I have seen the changes over the last few years, and e-books are rapidly moving towards becoming the norm. 

Yet that is a discussion for another time. I want to concentrate on some other advice she presented to the assembled wine bloggers, and I have summarized her recommendations into a more convenient acronym: AHOO (Accurate, Humble, Opinionated & Original). 

Accuracy is obviously important, so bloggers should do the proper research to ensure they are getting their facts right. Innaccuracy is often caused by mere sloppiness, a failure to take the time and effort to check a few resources. And that includes proper spelling.  For example, consider these matters: Eric Asimov writes about wine, not science fiction (that was Isaac Asimov). Grenache is not a Caribbean island that the U.S. once invaded (that was Grenada). Veraison does not provide telephone and Internet service (that is Verizon).  Phylloxera is not a type of dough used to make baklava (that is just Phyllo).        

Humility is also a necessity, and Jancis said "Don't hesitate to admit your ignorance." The world of wine is vast, and no one can hope to know everthing, or even close to it. But that is part of the fun, learning and discovering new things all the time. It helps prevent wine from becoming boring as there are always new roads to follow, new paths to discover. I learned a number of things at the WBC, and I hope that everyone else did as well.  Be wary of anyone calling themselves a wine "expert." I certainly know more about wine than when I first started writing about it, but I also understand how much more I still don't know. And if you have read my blog, you will have seen numerous posts where I freely have admitted my ignorance about certain issues. Be honest with your readers and don't pretend to know more than you do.

Now the Opinionated and Original aspects directly deal with issues I raised in my Wallflowers & Mediocrity rant. Though she did not use the word "risk," the sentiment was there in what she did say.  In essence, Jancis called on wine bloggers to take risks and avoid mediocrity. Did her message resonate with bloggers?  How many will actually heed her call?  How many will stop being a wallflower? 

Being Opinionated means taking a stand on various issues, opening yourself up to discussion and debate. Jancis felt there was little investigative work being done in wine blogs, little exploration of the scandals and issues confronting the wine world. One does not need to write for a major periodical to have the resources to research an investigative piece. Though such efforts can be conducted by anyone, they also entail a certain risk. Some bloggers will be unwilling to rock the boat in that regard, preferring a safer mediocrity. Writing tasting notes is safe and easy, especially when they are always positive, but is it really that satisfying? Do you ever get bored just writing tasting note after tasting note, year after after year? As you can see with my weekly Monday Rants, I am not afraid to be Opinionated.

Being Original is risky too, as the trite, over-exposed topics are the easiest and safest to write about. Do we really need fifty reviews of the same $10 California Chardonnay? Instead, why not review some Croatian wines, aged Sherry or a Norton from Virginia?  Do we really need another post about the evils of the 100 point system? Instead, why not write about wine makers in Islamic countries? Yes, being original is more work, from taking the time to ponder over what topic to cover to researching it, but it is more worthwhile. If you are going to write a post, and you know 50 other people have already written about the same topic before, maybe you should reconsider the topic. Don't be worried that your original post won't be read by a sufficient number of people. In time, that originality will pay off, delivering a quality readership who crave such a unique voice.

Wine bloggers, give heed to AHOO and be willing to take risks. The time for mediocrity is over so let a new dawn begin.

As I said before: Don't be a fucking wallflower.


G.E. Guy said...

Good summation of what's going on, and I was pleasantly surprised by AHOO. Given some of the vitriol and general poo-flinging going on, I had assumed it stood for A-Hole On Overdrive. Shows what I know.

In conversations with other bloggers, many indicated that they wanted to up their game, and a couple were even debating if they should continue blogging about wine. I don't think I heard anyone say "screw this, I'm as good as it gets already." Shows there's some good people there.

Lesley said...

Hi Richard,

Great post and I love the acronym. I'm definitely planning to be less of a wallflower in my wine blogging in future.

Nice to see you at WBC and I've been enjoying your follow-up posts.


JacquelineC said...

I don't think anyone really strives for mediocrity. Some settle for it though. The AHOO mnemonic applies to any sort of food/wine writing, I'd say.

icjamie said...

AHOO. Great post and observations.

Jeff (Good Grape) said...

Great post, Rich. AHOO is a GREAT acronym and can be related to "Ah Choo" -- as in don't sneeze at hard work, which is what good writing boils down to.

Good stuff, here!

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks all for the positive comments. I do hope Jancis' thoughts and suggestions are taken to heart and overall, wine blogs improve.

Certainly, AHOO would apply to all writing/blogging, from wine to food.