Monday, January 2, 2012

Rant: Wine Bloggers, I Call You Out Once Again

Last year at this time, I threw down a gauntlet and issued a challenge to all wine bloggers. In the comments, in emails, and on Twitter, some wine bloggers stepped forward to accept the challenge. Others remained silent, so it is unknown whether they also took on this challenge or simply chose to ignore it.

So, during the past year, have those who accepted my challenge lived up to it, or did they fail? And what about the silent majority?

Let me preface this with a few comments, echoing the words I wrote last year. I repeat that "There is not a single wine blog out there that cannot be improved."  If you look back over the past year and find that your blog has not really changed, then you are doing something wrong. You are mired in stagnation, a swamp of the mundane and boring. Blogs should be dynamic, ever changing, ever improving. Hopefully you have been learning about wine over the past year, and your blog should reflect your greater knowledge, and maybe even wisdom. You should be honing your writing skills, getting better all the time. You should be constantly hunting for new topics to cover, rather than rehashing the same tired old issues time and time again.

As I peruse over numerous wine blogs, I an saddened to see some excellent ones which no longer exist, or are on hiatus. I also see far too many which dismay me. My thoughts from last year remain relevant and bear repeating. "Face the truth, the majority of wine blogs are not worth reading. They offer little, if anything, of unique value so there is nothing to differentiate them from the mass of other wine blogs out there. Others are just damn boring, like watching infomercials about toilet bowl cleaners all day. Some repulse through their mercenary motivation, their obvious desire to write simply to gain free wine. Others amaze you with their ignorance of the very subjects they write about."

These are harsh words which might offend some but they are nothing that numerous others have not said during the past year. If you are truly honest and objective in your heart, you will know my words are true. There is no need to specifically out any individual blogger as I don't want to get mired in personal battles which will only cloud the greater issues that need to be addressed. There is also no need to provide a gladiatorial arena of accusations and personal attacks for the enjoyment of others, further clouding the general points I am trying to make.

Since last January, I have implored bloggers to improve themselves and their writing. I am not asking them to become professionals, merely to accept the personal challenge to better themselves and their blogs. That is a worthy goal and I fail to understand why someone would not want to rise to that challenge. Previously, I have asked wine bloggers to take risks, and not be a fucking wallflower. I also suggested they follow the advice of Jancis Robinson and embrace the acronym AHOO (accuracy, humility, opinionated and original). Posts such as these seemed to be well received but was anyone really listening? Did anyone actually take action based on these suggestions?

I took on my own challenge, and believe I succeeded in changing and improving my blog over the past year. I think I took more risks, tried to write more original, unique posts, as well as continued to learn more about wine. I have tried to cover more uncommon and unusual wines, rather than the same old California Cabernet and Chardonnays. I have written far fewer lone tasting notes, instead finding ways to integrate such reviews into more informative and entertaining posts. I am prouder of my blog this past year than previous ones. But, I fully understand that there is still plenty of room for improvement and I will take on the challenge once again this year.

So, all those who accepted my challenge last year, did you succeed? Or if not, why not?

My challenge does not end now that 2011 is over, but rather is something that I am issuing once again for 2012. I am throwing the gauntlet back down and daring all wine bloggers to step up and accept my challenge.  Change and improvement should never end. I know some bloggers will ignore me once again, and that is fine as they do so at their peril. Do you really want to be left behind, when your peers are improving their blogs? Do you really want to do the same exact thing you did last year? Don't you want to better yourself?

So will you accept my challenge and truly try to improve your wine blog? Or will you take the easy path, remaining stagnant and stale?

I know that I am not alone in my feelings, and I am glad to see others taking up the mantle, asking fellow wine bloggers to step up to the plate and improve. Check out The Wine Blogger Dilemma by Evil Bottle, whose words may be harsh, but his passion is undeniable. Sometimes, someone has to tell the Emperor that he is not wearing any clothes.


Jason Phelps said...


Good play on re-upping the challenge. I definitely changed in 2011, my first full year in the format I finished the year with, and agree that it is always a work in progress.

What am I going to do in 2012 in this regard? Spend less time on my blog and focus on the doing of the things I might have at one time wrote about. I realized after all my time spent in 2011 that I needed to change how I spent my time to get the most out of it. I'd say that is a pretty radical implementation of your ideas.


1winedude said...

Much of what you write here rings true, I think. But it also rings true for the majority of blogs on the majority of topics about which those blogs are written. So while I certainly hope the wine blog world can live up to the higher standard to which you call them, I don't see the issue as particular to the topic of wine in any way. And I sincerely hope other bloggers use you as an example in seeking to improve their own blogs (and not just in the wine and food worlds!).

The one thing with which I take issue (and this is not just here, it's something I see/read/hear quite a bit) is that there are too many blogs that are obviously shilling for free stuff - wine samples, products, etc.

WHO are these bloggers, exactly?

Seriously, I want someone, ANYONE, to name five wine blogs that are shilling obviously for free sh*t - and to provide links to pertinent examples next to the names.

A lot of people raise that criticism against wine bloggers (and food bloggers, and mommy bloggers, and...), but to date I know of no one who has provided any real evidence. There was but there hasn't been much activity there for several months (and I think he changed his policy on reviews even further back?).

More credible weight needs to be given to that charge, or it needs to get dropped outright - because in my experience, the vast majority of bloggers do not receive free samples for anything.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jason,
Thanks for the comment and I wish you the best in 2012. Just keeping living your passion.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Joe:
Thanks for your comments. My comments definitely are applicable to all types of bloggers, and I also hope others up their game too.

I believe the case that some bloggers, in all areas, shill for free products is already very solid. And there is plenty of evidence out there you can find thru Google. To believe that no wine bloggers are doing it seems naive. If you look carefully, you will find those bloggers engaging in such a practice.

But I am not going to name names, for a number of reasons, including the ones I mentioned in my post. I am satisified the accusation is valid, and know others who agree with me. I see no overwhelming reason why I need to name names.

When you make accusations in your blog posts, do you always name names? If you don't always name names, why don't you?

Lenn Thompson | said...

Richard, we've talked about this topic at length -- it's great that you're publishing this, but honestly -- why even have a blog if you're not going to push it forward and improve as you go?

Shouldn't need to be said, honestly.

As for the shills... I dunno. I'm not sure that I'd call what i see 'shilling' per say. I don't think anyone is openly saying "send me wine and I'll give you good reviews"

But, over time, there is certainly and underlying vein of "I want to keep the free wine coming, so I'm not going to say negative things about samples."

I'm not sure there is any way to actually prove it -- maybe some people just like bad wine or aren't confident enough in their skills as tasters to go against the tide of "This wine is delicious..."

But I can say one thing for sure -- some of the Twitter-based tastings have changed quite a bit. There was a time when honest, critical discussion about the wines was possible. Now, most of the writers willing to offer such feedback are no longer invited to participate.

That all said -- of course it happens in other fields. It certainly isn't just wine.

It's just not overt and obvious. Tough to prove, but easy to see.

Lenn Thompson | said...

I should add that, in most cases, the people who do what they can to keep the freebies coming tend to be bloggers not worth reading anyway.

The top tier of bloggers operate with integrity and confidence.

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Lenn:
Thanks for your comments. Sometimes the obvious does need to be restated, as people sometimes do forget such things. In addition,this post is a follow-up to last year's post, a reminder to those who did choose to accept the challenge then.

My use of "shill" in my comment may not have been the best choice of a term. But there certainly seem to be wine bloggers who write very positive things about every free wine they receive. The Twitter tastings do seem to be the most apparent evidence of that. When very ordinary wines receive glowing praise, usually reserved for superb wines, that again is more evidence.

Lenn Thompson | said...

That's how I feel too, but we need to be careful -- unless we are tasting the sames wines from the same bottles, we can never really know what they are tasting.

And of course not everyone will have the same palates we do.

Some people have shitty palates too ;)

1winedude said...

Thanks, Richard - to answer your questions, most of the time I do name names, or provide specific examples (not if based on private correspondences usually, but if the examples are already in the public domain and freely available). It does need to be done (very) carefully, of course!

I understand your reasoning, and appreciate the argument behind it, though I don't entirely agree with it. And that's okay :-).

Unknown said...

I accept your Challenge.

Thank you for your inspiration.