Take The Wine Spectator, which has blogs written by its editors, but requires a minimum one-month membership at $7.95 to read them. Charging for all of its online content certainly seems to be an out-of-touch move, if not an overtly exclusive one, in an industry that has so much free information online already—and especially for a magazine with a $75 annual subscription, which could use its online blogs to boost print sales. Erobertparker.com, not surprisingly, does the same. These wine-writing empires, of course, have businesses to run; but they are limiting their readerships by design. The same middle-aged, middle- to upper-class readers—and drinkers—that have been following them for a decade or two will likely continue to do so, but that population will eventually dry up in the years to come. What then?
Other publications, meanwhile, have embraced the Web more openly, with some success. Wine Enthusiast, for example, has free blogs, which, though updated only a couple times a week, are brief, entertaining, and informative—the way a blog should be. And their editors have implemented new media, too, adding 1,000 wine reviews a month and regularly posting videos of interviews and tastings. Wine Enthusiast’s online presence is, as its Web site notes, “fun, fresh, and accessible.” Then there’s Steve Heimoff, the magazine’s West Coast editor, who also runs his own personal blog, where he writes thoughtful, in-depth posts. Such openness will surely attract a larger—and maybe even younger—audience.
It should be noted, though, that blogging, at least in the world of wine, only goes so far—and may, in the future, not be enough. Twitter and Facebook are increasingly becoming online stomping grounds for critics, wineries, and retailers. As Derrick Schneider, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle this February, pointed out: In October 2009, there were close to 864,000 online conversations about wine, according to the social media monitoring site Cruvee, three-fourths of which happened on Twitter and similar sites. With those kinds of numbers—along with the ever-growing world of social-media startups—bloggers and traditional publications, to remain viable, will need to stay on top of emerging trends. “We’ve seen a lot of bulletin boards—forms where people can go and have conversations about wine—and Twitter has exploded where people can talk about wine, too,” says Alder Yarrow, who runs the widely-read blog Vinography.
Still, while these trends are important to consider, traditional critics and bloggers need not be overly concerned. Platforms will continue to change, but the glut of information will remain too widespread and too overwhelming for it to make a real impact. At least for now. Readers will continue to want someone who can entertain and inform them—just as it’s always been—while curating the information in a simple format. Most important, though, will remain the prose itself. The more in-depth and enlivening the writing, the more likely the critic or blogger will get noticed. “What we really need are more thoughtful, lengthy blog posts about wine and the changing landscape and things like natural winemaking,” says Jessica Yadegaran, a wine columnist and blogger for the Bay Area News Group.
Wine is, after all, a complex drink, and it needs to be analyzed in a complex way, usually by someone with a deep understanding of wine or by someone with credentials, such as a WSET advanced degree. Which means that while passionate amateur drinkers can write about their experiences with a Bordeaux, say, they’d ideally be able to do so with as much authority and understanding as a professional—something many talented bloggers already do. In fact, at times, it’s hard to discern who’s a professional and who’s not. The surest sign of a blog’s quality: reading a review of the site. As Joe Roberts puts it, “It’s no different, in a way, than picking up a book. If you see a lot of accolades for the work, you think, ‘Maybe I’ll give this a shot.’”