Last week I spoke at the University of Tampa about wine blogging and wine itself. The audience was entirely undergraduates. Fortunately for all concerned, rather than me just yakking for 90 minutes, I took plenty of questions. I had been looking forward to this for weeks. What would a group of college students want to know about wine and wine blogging? Here are some of their questions and the better answers I wish I had given.

What’s your favorite wine?

It’s a cliche, but I love the wine I’m with. I rarely if ever buy the same bottle twice. I like drinking something different every day. But a few types of wine I like drinking over and over are sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, cool-climate Syrah and dry Riesling.

dsc02225How do you get readers for your wine blog?

I announce everything I post on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of wine bloggers get readers by posting about other bloggers but I don’t like to do that because it becomes a very closed circle of readership. I want outside readers, and the only way to do that is with good original content. For that, original reporting is the key.

How do I get started writing a wine blog?

When I started, I spent a year writing a wine blog anonymously so I could master the format. I used to tell students to do that, so you can make your mistakes privately. I’m no longer sure that’s important. Especially for a young writer, readers will relate to your mistakes and you can learn as you go along. So what I’m saying is go to an easy blog platform (I use Google’s Blogger) and you can set up a blog tonight. However, I wouldn’t make it live right away. It’s important to have some consistency of posting early on, so you should probably write 5 or 6 posts ahead of time so you have them to post, because you really need to post something just about every week. You also need a good About Me page; that’s important.

What kinds of posts can I write?

For any blog, it’s important to stick to a single topic. I like wine and baseball, but people don’t come to my blog to read about baseball. Within wine, you can write about related topics: spirits, cocktails, beer, and food. I write a lot about media coverage of wine as well as movies and TV shows about wine. But anything further afield really needs its own blog. Now, within the very broad topic of wine, you do want variety. The classic wine blog post is, “I had this wine and I like it.” And that’s fine, especially when you’re starting out. But you need to vary the type of post. Interview somebody about wine: a local sommelier, a wine shop owner, or if you’re lucky a visiting winemaker. Write an opinion post about why you love a certain type of wine. Take a position on some law about wine.

The author, drinking wine in Santorini

The author, drinking wine in Santorini

Do you make a lot of money?

I used to feel poor but I have learned that like most Americans, I have greater net income than Donald Trump. So no, I don’t make a lot of money, but I drink and eat well. For all of us bloggers, not just wine bloggers, blogging is an advertisement for oneself. The blog announces who you are and what you can do. I write about wine for Palate Press, Wine Searcher, San Francisco magazine and a lot of other places that know who I am because I blog. A lot of bloggers are hired to write for money, either in the dying profession of journalism or in PR. Some very successful bloggers have used it as a platform to do something else entirely. Cathy Huyghe used writing about wine for Forbes as a platform to sell data services to wineries, something they don’t have enough of. She wrote about wine so people would know who she is.

Do you read other wine critics?

I follow wine news closely and I like to read wine feature stories and the opinions of my fellow wine bloggers about wine trends, laws, etc. But I don’t really look at reviews of wines, no. It’s funny because we all write so many reviews, but it’s often the least helpful kind of post.

What countries make the best wine?

Everywhere! That’s the ongoing theme of the 21st century: finding great wines from places we haven’t sampled before. I’ve had terrific wines from Slovenia, Georgia (the country), Uruguay, South Africa — the list is endless. But that doesn’t mean I neglect the great wines of California, Oregon or France. Everybody makes great wine now. Try something new!

What wine do you recommend that I try?

If you’re looking for a good wine, it’s much more useful to find a local shop where they can give you good advice, rather than have me tell you “Assyrtiko from Santorini” (though that is terrific). In Tampa I am impressed by Cru Cellars. I wish for this Palate Press column I could recommend a shop in every town. Instead, I will tell you why I like Cru Cellars: they have a curated selection, rather than 2000 labels. They have wines in all price ranges, but especially in the sweet spot of $15-$25. And every time I walk in there, somebody comes over and offers assistance in a polite, non-aggressive way. See if you can find a store like that in your town. It’s better to discuss wine with someone right in front of you than to search for some holy grail wine that a wine critic likes.

About The Author

W. Blake Gray
Staff Writer

Wine writer W. Blake Gray is Chairman of the Electoral College of the Vintners Hall of Fame. Previously wine writer/editor for the San Francisco Chronicle, he has contributed articles on wine and sake to The Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, Wine & Spirits, Wine Review Online, and a variety of other publications. He travels frequently to wine regions and enjoys coming home to San Francisco.

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  • Bob Henry

    I would add just one elaboration to Blake’s recommendation to seek out a local wine shop: find one that has a wine bar so you can participate in low cost, frequent (weekly?) wine tastings. A single 2-ounce pour (rather than buying and exploring at home the entire bottle) is a great way to s-t-r-e-t-c-h your “starving student” wine education budget. The wine enthusiasts you meet at wine bars are eager to share their own discoveries with you. And perhaps even become your new best friends.

  • Carlos Sunga

    About the countries that produce fine wine nowadays, Uruguay is definetely on the rise, and I wouldn’t be surprised they will be the next big thing from South America…