Oct 312008
 

In Texas we call it….“Circling the Wagons”

According to Steve Heimoff of the Wine Enthusiast, “By now, just about everybody who went to the Wine Bloggers Conference  – a three day symposium for wine bloggers, media innovators and wine industry leaders held Nov 26-28, 2008 in Sonoma, California - has blogged on it.”

It was held at the Flamingo Hotel in Santa Rosa, California. For more information, go to: http://winebloggersconference.org/

Steve, I admit that I did attend and blog from the conference. There, I admitted it and, if I am correct, admission is the first step toward recovery. My blog conference blogging was intended to document the live blog tasting event that was held on the opening afternoon of the conference.

I also admit that the blog tasting did get a little crazy, particularly when I had two representatives from two wineries talking in my opposing ears and trying to pour their wines into my glass at the same time. But, it was an exciting wine tasting experience with a buzz that I had not experienced before. Interestingly, I did discover two really good new wines at this event, as well.

It was particularly interesting to catch the aftermath of the whole Rodney Strong – Rockaway Vineyard blog incident. The long and short of it was this winery’s innovative approach to an important new wine release/launch.

Details:  Rodney Strong Winery completely bypassed the mainstream wine media (Aka…The Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast etc.) and sent their new wine offering ‘Rockaway Cabernet Sauvignon’ directly to wine bloggers to taste, evaluate and to communicate their ratings (good or bad) to consumers through the Blogosphere (a collective term encompassing blogs and their interconnections and their community of readers). More Rockaway release information at:

http://winecast.net/2008/08/28/blogger-ethics-and-disclosure/

The aftershocks of this marketing decision can still be felt. One of the most active critics of this approach has been Steve Heimoff, the West Coast Editor of The Wine Enthusiast. He has participated in a longwinded tit-for-tat on a variety of wine blogs since the Roackaway release earlier this year, much of which appears to me to be best described as “sour grapes”. Check it out for yourself ON HIS BLOG at: http://steveheimoff.com/?p=244

In my opinion, Heimoff has continuously appeared to display a pompous “how could they” mood, making the bloggers out to be either “not as worthy” or “not as qualified” as he.

The point that Heimoff misses is that the bloggers, simply put, are a new force to be reckoned with.

Steve, in Texas we call what you are doing ….Circling the wagons.

This was just the first salvo…. the initial broadside shot to the established wine media’s slow going, hot-wind-powered vessel of yore. It is only going to continue and will likely include other forms of electronic media as well…..like Twitter.

If you are not up on Twitter, you can get more information at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter).

As one attendee at the bloggers conference mentioned to me, “The Rockaway incident is just the start of the democratization of the wine media”. In the future, rather than relying solely on the words of the major wine publications to make or break a wine, the blogs have the potential to provide a collective and more expansive voice to consumers. Additionally, the consumers can also participate in these discussions and make their opinions known, as well. The medium of blogging also fast tracks the time required to get a new wine into the marketplace (the dream of every wine marketeer) by shortcutting around the conventional printed media.

I believe that, in fact, we are simply witnessing the continuation of the paradigm shift from the “pony express” print media to the age of instant messaging.

I recently read a most interesting comment from Heimoff. He claims that one of his friends (who did not even go to the conference but knew all about it) said it reminded him of a Star Trek convention. It sounds as if Heimoff and his friend feel threatened and do not want to accept today’s technological reality or as we say here in Texas, he’s circling his wagons.

I can remember back to the same kind of antediluvian logic about personal computers from the main-frame computer geeks that eventually led to their own demise. The typical argument was…. “What would people actually do with a computer on their desk?”. History teaches us one thing….Embrace change, particularly when it: (a) Makes for an easier and faster flow of information, and (b) Breaks down barriers between producers and consumers.

The most interesting (and somewhat surreal) part of the wine bloggers conference last week was the Heimoff-chaired session which was supposed to discuss the impact and credibility of wine bloggers. In actuality, it appeared to paint a picture of bloggers as hackers, worried mainly with getting eyeballs on the screen, monetizing their sites and not worrying about their own credibility.

The simple point that Heimoff appears to miss is that many of these blogs (money making or not) have developed a community based on a significant degree of trust with their readership.

Personally, I am an accidental blogger. I started VintageTexas.com as a means of getting into a regular writing habit again after a two year sabbatical and as a means to prepare my thoughts for an upcoming book on Texas wines. However, a remarkable thing happened….I built it and they came! Far more readers came than I expected. Within less than three months from the start-up of my “accidental” Texas wine blog, it has exceeded a rate of 6,000 readers and about 24,000 page views per month and growing, and this with me blogging on average of only two to three times a week.

The lesson that this blog has taught me was the there are actually a lot of people online that were searching for information on Texas wine. Furthermore, there are also likely readers that want information on wines from Virginia, Missouri and other states as well.

The subject of regional wines in the USA is largely ignored by the mainstream wine media that is fixated on the major producing regions. Why? Well, in the case of Texas, about 95 percent of our wine is consumed within Texas. Therefore, it does not profit the Wine Spectator or Enthusiast to cover Texas wine when their readership is mostly outside of Texas where they cannot purchase Texas wines (not a bad reason for the time being).

VintageTexas.com has hit on an “informational niche” addressing topics related to a new wine region that is coming in under the radar of the major wine publications. The topics it addresses relate to the evolving local wine scene, coverage of Texas wines, wineries and events, and the people making it happen. But even more importantly, it documents our developing wine culture in Texas, comparing and contrasting Texas with other more established wine producing areas, and the relationship between our wines and local cuisine. Our topics include warm weather grape varieties that love the Texas sun, discovery of our Texas terroir, and education of our consumer palate.

Would a Rockaway-style release work for Texas wine? You betcha! But only if it was a wine worthy of big time media release. As mentioned above, the comments may be good or bad depending on the character of the wine. The communities of Texas food and wine bloggers would support this approach and bring the message to the marketplace in a much more direct and factual way than Texas wines are currently being covered by the mainstream wine media.

Obviously, anyone that is seriously involved in blogging and who spends many hours a week writing a blog is asking the question…How do I make money? But, this is generally true for anyone going down a new path of business. What is a business model that will work for my blog?


http://vintagetexas.com/blog

Will all of these bloggers and their blogs survive? I can say from many years of business experience….definitely not! But, those most likely to survive will exploit their creativity and draw on their ethics of hard work. They will also work to establish their credentials as being wine knowledgeable and develop a bond of community with their readers.

Despite what Heimoff may think, do not expect wine bloggers to don a pair of pointed ears and raise the Vulcan salute any time soon. But, they may raise a glass of wine with their fellow bloggers and readers, and chant a resounding….“Live long and prosper!”

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