Last week, about 250 wine bloggers gathered in Penticton, a small city in British Columbia, Canada, for the sixth annual North American Wine Bloggers’ Conference.
That so many wine enthusiasts would travel to a city five hours east of Vancouver isn’t surprising. Held in a different winemaking region each year, the annual conference brings together bloggers from across the world to meet one another, share tips and tricks, and learn from industry leaders.
What is surprising, though, is just how mature this group has become. What started as a small collection of amateur wine journalists embracing a new form of communication has evolved into a group of writers that’s virtually indistinguishable from the “conventional” wine media.
The blogosphere has been trending in this direction for quite some time.
Tom Wark, a wine industry publicist who helped start the annual bloggers’ conference — and who also runs the popular wine blog Fermentation — wrote about this development two years ago.
“The wine blog is now fully integrated into the world of wine writing,” he explained. “If anything of significance distinguishes wine bloggers from traditional wine publishing, it is [that] wine bloggers publish in a now recognizable and predictable diarist format, and that they are largely unpaid. Beyond these two factors, little separates the blogged wine writing from the traditional or commercial wine writing.”
Indeed, leading wine bloggers now contribute regularly to traditional media outlets and established print critics feel obligated to write online.
Consider Alder Yarrow, the founder and editor of Vinography, an influential wine blog that launched nearly ten years ago. He’s on the editorial board for Sommelier Journal, a popular trade publication, and a columnist for Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages.
Or look at Joe Roberts, who founded 1WineDude.com in 2007 to make clear that “learning to appreciate wine does not have to be daunting, expensive, or reserved for some strange elite with magical noses.” In 2012, he secured a regular writing gig with Playboy.com.
The list goes on. Kyle Schlachter, author of Colorado Wine Press, has contributed to Wine Spectator and Decanter, two of the world’s most popular wine publications. Tyler Colman, a lecturer at New York University who writes Dr. Vino, has been published in Food & Wine, the New York Times, and countless other outlets.
Conversely, established print writers have turned to the web.
Few oenophiles had heard of Steve Heimoff, the West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast, until he launched his eponymous blog in the spring of 2008. This past February, Antonio Galloni, a top critic for Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, left his job to start an online enterprise.
Wine blogs haven’t replaced traditional outlets, of course. Publications like Decanter and The World of Fine Wine remain tremendously important. Hyper-specialized outlets like Allen Meadows’ Burghound and Peter Liem’s Champagne Guide offer material that simply can’t be found for free.
Obviously, wine blogs aren’t created equal. Today, there are more than 1,500 active wine blogs — while many are worth visiting, few have real reach.
But the blogosphere has grown up — and more and more blogs are worth following. Those who take the craft seriously recognize that if they desire relevance, they have to create content that’s interesting, engaging, and frequent.
Just look at Elaine Brown’s Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews, a site that launched in the fall of 2011. Elaine generates a herculean amount of material, and everything she writes is a pleasure to read. Plus, her passion for wine comes through in all her work. This is something every writer strives for, but few actually pull off.
In the newest issue of Sommelier Journal, the editor, David Vogels, surveys the blogosphere in his opening essay. “[Wine] blogging has moved well beyond its formative stage,” he writes. “You have to be particularly good writer . . . or a very funny one . . . to be relevant as a diarist to anyone beyond your immediate friends and family.”
Fortunately, today’s blogosphere has plenty of good writers — and quite a few funny ones, as well.
David White is the founder and editor of Terroirist.com, which was named “Best Overall Wine Blog” at the 2013 Wine Blog Awards. His columns are housed at Palate Press: The Online Wine Magazine.