The Truth About Wine Writing

Getting to know the people behind the blogs

 


Having just spent a long weekend with some of my peers, I am reminded of those peers with whom I did not spend such a lovely weekend.

A notable portion of which have simply got it wrong when it comes to wine writing. They believe in their own abilities far too much, they are jealous of others far too often, and the goals they set for themselves are unrealistic at best and ridiculous at worst. One changes the wine world by accident, my friends. Blogging, as I think we have seen, is an incidental force.

So where am I going with this? Well, let me just get something on the table before I lose your attention. Some grand percentage of what we do, what I do, is bullshit. That is not a typo. It’s bullshit, I tell you. We ostensibly write about wine, but very few of us manage to do that with any efficacy. What we do do, and generally do well, is write about ourselves.

That’s crazy talk, Dal Piaz has lost it, right? Well, no.

Photo courtesy Mullenkedheim via Flickr/CC
Related video
An interview with Gregory Dal Piaz
Let’s consider the facts here. The facts are that if we are writing tasting notes, we are writing tasting notes about our experiences with each wine. I think that we can agree that to a man, woman and child, there is no definitive tasting note, no definitive palate. We’ve spent an inordinate amount of energy attacking Parker and his ilk over the past decade to backtrack now! Don’t tell me that you are now the sage of the wine world, I’m not going to believe you and I’ll call you on that one.

So you don’t write tasting notes you say, you write stories and essays? So what. That may be an even more personally influenced group of writers. I mean, what subject do you write about? A randomly selected group of representative wineries or, let me guess, your favorite wineries making your favorite wines? Most of us, myself included, go into a project with firm convictions, and most of us choose projects that tend to confirm those prejudices. After all, very few lovers of natural wine are saying good things about industrial wine and bad things about natural wine!

So what, you say, you’re doing what you love and you even have an audience. Congratulations, seriously. Let me be clear here, I am not saying that you are not a wine writer, nor am I saying that our work is not valuable. What I am saying is that we, wine writers as a group, new media, old media and media yet to come, need to stop taking ourselves so damn seriously. I am fortunate to be in the position that I am in, but I am equally fortunate to truly love what I do

One of the facets of my job is that I get to write about wines that I might otherwise not have been introduced to. Being a man of modest age and significant curiosity, I know I have a lot to learn and that I can learn from just about anybody. So I go about my job, sometimes thinking to myself what a drag it is to be at this large industrial complex that claims to make wine! And then something gets said, or a bottle gets poured, or a vista appears that allows me to alter, perhaps imperceptibly at first, the trajectory of my course through wine as I know it.

I have for too long considered myself part of the wine world first and a writer second, but it is the job of the writer to make it interesting, educational, entertaining and amusing. Embellishment can be a tool, though more commonly today that place is filled by the photo and infographic.


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  • Snooth User: tcw
    28346 27

    Greg,

    How can I help....or be involved. I believe I have a great deal of BS and otherwise to sling.

    Tom Wark...

    Oct 28, 2011 at 1:46 PM


  • Snooth User: Craig Corl
    791333 20

    I am full of bullshit...but still write about it. I would be happy to contribute.

    Craig Corl

    Oct 28, 2011 at 2:16 PM


  • Snooth User: cv4wine
    252543 50

    Hooray! Hooray! Having been a part of the Napa and Sonoma wine industry for a number of years I became awfully bored with people I referred to as "cork dorks". People who would bring wine diaries with them and write in terms that would make a winemaker swear he/she was in Purgatory. I whittled wine choices down to four essentials: White; Red; Wine you like: and wines you don"t lie. Wine, like life should be no more complicated.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 2:19 PM


  • Me! Me me me! I'll helpsies!

    Oct 28, 2011 at 2:25 PM


  • Snooth User: wineybrett
    Hand of Snooth
    133259 7

    Oh, I can BS like the best of them, having been in the business of selling wine for a long time. But now, I enjoy blogging, not to talk to and impress my peers, but to show and explain a little about the humanity of wine, its individuality and the people who work so hard to produce it.
    Interestingly I have endured a great deal of BS from consumers who 'know what they like' or they won't drink any wine unless it's made by Fred Bloggs or from a certain region/grape variety etc.
    I'd be delighted to talk to you!

    Oct 28, 2011 at 3:01 PM


  • Snooth User: BobRosie
    129000 3

    It seems to me that one prerequisite for a wine writer is a mind full of images such that connections are made to a fantastic array of animate and inanimate things that for me have the presence of a kind of science fiction or fantasy. Many of the items either individually or in combination will not connect with readers or drinkers and there is absolutely no way that the writer's claims can be judged. This is from one review. A wine has the presence of : "starfruit, butterscotch, toffee, anise and a whisper of campfire smoke." I don't doubt that this is what came into the mind of the writer. but what does one do with this? Or the foods that this appears to support? I would say that the wine is kind of sweet but has darker undertones. And how about this supporting foods that don't require that one be Julia Childs, like a baked chicken breast? Things that many of us eat.

    As I have said before, I wish there were a dedicated language for describing wine, one that did not rely on the artistry and creativity of writers whose comments are in other worlds.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 3:02 PM


  • Yup! Can´t disagree with your core argument, of course it is all personal. I just like to think if someone sees a recommendation and likes the wine....well good, job done. Of course the producers love the free publicity, At the end of the day if you like a wine that is all it is about, whether writer or reader. Bloggers do however have the opportunity to turn their private experiences into a learning curve for those who find old style traditional wine writers unapproachable or pretentious. We as the new writers have a duty to be approachable and unpretentious!

    Oct 28, 2011 at 3:10 PM


  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 18

    "But remember, we’re not writing about wine, we’re writing about our likes and dislikes, prides ands prejudices, experiences and dreams. That is why there is the potential for all of us to succeed."

    Succeed? At what exactly?
    So you talk to this guy for example:

    "Oh, I can BS like the best of them, having been in the business of selling wine for a long time. But now, I enjoy blogging, not to talk to and impress my peers, but to show and explain a little about the humanity of wine, its individuality and the people who work so hard to produce it.
    Interestingly I have endured a great deal of BS from consumers who 'know what they like' or they won't drink any wine unless it's made by Fred Bloggs or from a certain region/grape variety etc."

    The great problem with the wine world is that people selling wine too often "engage in BS." Then ridicule the people to whom they are selling wine. Plain and simple the industry is rife with snobbery!

    Someone else notes their belief that wine writing--really tasting notes--have no connection to consumers because the terms used to describe the wine are beyond his/her comprehension having come "into the mind" of the writer (taster). Their impressions.

    Yet you talk about an incredibly vague concept like the "humanity of wine."
    I think the fact that this entire project is labelled as "BS" says it all. It demeans the seriousness and professionalism in the wine business and wine writing by reducing it to the level of bloggery. It's all good.
    Everyone is a "star" (wine writer, wine critic, whatever).

    We've seen this in the arts where only the reader or listener or viewer counts, the work is whatever the consumer deems it to be. There are no standards. No objective criteria. No subjectivity supported by rational thought. The artist is secondary. No good.No bad. Just people's reactions.
    Sad!


    Oct 28, 2011 at 3:23 PM


  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 18

    By the way, I am not against blogging.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 3:29 PM


  • Snooth User: lanberg
    36063 0

    Greg, I write about wine because I'm trying to learn about wine... If you see my postings, you will notice that I try to express the facts being as objective (literally, uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices) as I can. In some cases, it's not even what I have to say, but rather quotes of people who had their opinions about a certain subject. It doesn't mean that I agree with them... as it doesn't mean that I agree with your "it's all BS" theory. However, I respect you as a wine writer and I would love to have the opportunity to participate in your "who’s who of writers, bloggers and bullshit slingers".
    Luiz Alberto - TheWineHub

    Oct 28, 2011 at 3:29 PM


  • Greg: So is a former professional wine writer (if there such a thing in your view) who now has a website (http://www.tayloreason.com) also a blogger? I've spent my wine writing career mostly educating the public rather than just writing reviews. It seems more helpful to people that way -- trying to demystify a topic so mired in BS that it requires a columnist to explain it. And, I agree, wine reviews are blatently subjective... it's my mouth/tongue/nose that assesses the wines, much like a film reviewer brings his/her past experiences/psychology/education to the page. Just sayin'. I'll help any way I can. - Taylor

    Oct 28, 2011 at 4:02 PM


  • Snooth User: vinomobi
    Hand of Snooth
    929713 2

    Greg,
    Thanks for opening the kimono and telling it like it is. I agree most wine writing is complete BS, at least you have the honesty to address it full frontal!

    Oct 28, 2011 at 4:23 PM


  • Snooth User: BobRosie
    129000 3

    What I don't understand is why we can't have ratings that are like, but more complex, than those for coffee. You learn where the bean (or grape) was grown and some info on the terroir; then you know something about the roast and the acidic level, the strength and so forth. Clearly one would have additional items for wine--but it is the pattern that I suggest.

    As well, for pipe tobacco, it is common for purchasers to be able to put their observations on a site with their recommendations see-- tobaccoreviews.com-- While purchasers reviews on wine are on some websites, maybe theret ought to be an open access space for this to appear. This way our observations in relationship to the professionals can be apparent.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 4:35 PM


  • Snooth User: wineybrett
    Hand of Snooth
    133259 7

    Winemaven, I have a name - I am not just this 'guy'.
    I do not ridicule people to whom I have sold wine, it is an observation that they are using 'BS' because of their particular prejudices and fear of appearing ignorant. The range of wine is huge and it frightens many people. That is why wine writing and blogging about wine is useful for those who want to learn and discover more. We share our experiences and our pleasures. We certainly don't want to belittle anyone.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 4:48 PM


  • A figure of speech comes to mind as I read your words . . . "Takes one to know one!"
    I don't have a problem reading or even enjoying someone’s BS . . . Hey, I'm married to a BS'er! But what I've come to dislike are those who extol the once of virtue they find in a ton of BS, and those who find the speck of excrement in an ocean of majesty, in wine writing and elsewhere. We have enough professional BS'ers in Washington D.C. to fill all or needs for fertilizer; so write to your hearts content and let your readers discern what is worthy of their consideration and what is fodder for the heap.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 5:13 PM


  • i'll try any wine, if it's red and get surprised everyday, that's all that matters

    a wine lover

    Oct 28, 2011 at 6:37 PM


  • I enjoy the BS and take it with a grain of salt. I am just mining for nuggets of knowledge that will find me with a nice wine for my personal enjoyment or snag me a great little wine find for my restaurant. Bring it on!

    Oct 28, 2011 at 6:44 PM


  • I'm in! I have a wine blog (http://www.grape-experiences.com) and can BS with the best of them (I'm a teacher...). Your article was spot on. Let me know when you need my age and demographic:)

    Oct 28, 2011 at 7:22 PM


  • Snooth User: LuBraz
    363181 1

    To write simple is not easy, one needs a lot of expertise to do it well. The snob, complicated approach to wine anyone can make with a bit of training.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 9:24 PM


  • Snooth User: Lucha Vino
    Hand of Snooth
    249612 90,222

    Winemaven - Too many chocolate medals? The Internet has given everybody the opportunity to be a star.

    They might be a star in their own mind (forum genius/expert/hater)

    They might e a star to their Mother (Facebook)

    They might be a star to their friends (Twitter)

    Or, they might have something that more people find meaningful and they are a star in the "blogosphere."

    Whatever.

    We all have the right to free speech and there are way more opportunities to express our opinions than ever before.

    So, count me in. Flame me all you want. I am at http://luchavino.blogspot.com

    Oct 28, 2011 at 10:50 PM


  • Greg-
    You are rambling around like a frustrated school boy. You are a good writer who doesn;t appear to me, at least, to take himself too seriously. You are wholly engaged in your work and you bring new information and perspective to your readership on a daily basis. How can that be bad or disappointing? As a professor and teacher, I have long since learned that you can't teach someone who does want to learn. Your colleagues and peers act and do what they feel is their calling. Do you think they have a handle on ego and elitism? Try my business and you will find truely inflated egos and sense of self-importance. Some are guided by a divine hand in every word they write. I can't change them and neither can you. Just do what you do and people will learn much from your zeal, work ethic, insight and perspective. That's what I think. JAS

    Oct 28, 2011 at 11:14 PM


  • Snooth User: erniex
    634476 60

    Just keep bullshitting if thats what you feel you are doing. As a regular reader of various publications and blogs, one will soon come to learn the characteristics and preferences of each writer, learn how it match, or not, our own palate, and learn how to use it, or not, in relation to what we buy and drink. Reading opinions of others make you question and challenge your own, and this is when we evolve. Nothing worse than reading anything from someone without a personal opinion. Whether we share it is a nother thing.

    Oct 28, 2011 at 11:43 PM


  • I write about a specific region - Rioja - and not only try to turn my readers on to what's happening here but also relate my 30 years of experience in the Rioja wine business. I'd be happy to share with you. You can read my blog at http://insiderioja.wordpress.com and reach me at perry@eniac.es

    Oct 29, 2011 at 4:15 AM


  • I think writing about wine inevitably veers toward an excercise in subjectivity. If you want to get clinical about this, a psychologist might argue that wine is one of those things that elicit conditioned stimulus because it is sensory. Add to that, the passion that many have for wine and, voila, all the issues you aptly raise come out in the plethora of content that gets circulated daily. If you have yet to see either, I recommend going to the Charlie Rose web site to access two separately conducted interviews, the first with Robert Parker and the second with Jancis Robinson. Viewing both should enhance further perspective here.

    Oct 29, 2011 at 5:50 AM


  • Snooth User: gregt
    89564 2,906

    Funny thread. I agree with Greg's comments for the most part. Also with Winemaven's. I don't know squat about wine but I have an interest in learning. So what do I find when I search the internet for information. A lot of people who are "demystifying" or "explaining" or "simplifying" wine. Man, if there's something I can't stand, it's someone who's confused trying to sort out his or her confusion in public as if it's for my benefit.

    Maybe that's unfair. Maybe it's actually pretty cool for people to sort out their lives in public. So maybe it's more accurate to say that I don't want to come across that kind of stuff when I'm looking for information. The problem is that the third-grader who just learned that the world is round is as likely to blog about it as the engineer who designed the navigation system for the space shuttle, and no matter how I structure a search, it's hard to eliminate the former. Because there are no barriers to entry, one can write about a subject without knowing anything at all about it.

    That is also when the "seriousness" Greg talks about is least appreciated. If you don't have a lot of information to share, then at least share what you have with humility and humor. A novice can write about something in a very engaging manner if said novice happens to be a decent writer. There's some guy I ran into at a recent tasting. Not long ago he decided that the way to differentiate himself was to specialize in writing about organic wine. Does he know much about wine in general? Nope. About "organic" production? Nope. Sure has all the buzzwords down though. Very serious about it too. Is there information to be gleaned from his writing? Who knows. I've poured wines for him and he's taken notes. As he lacks any wit and style in person, what's to read in his writings?

    I think in the end, what makes a blog worth reading is what makes anything worth reading - good writing. There's no such thing as objectivity in writing and it's silly to pretend otherwise. But one can be aware of one's biases, address them head-on, and still write with flair. Dull tasting notes, e.g. "notes of garrigue, pain grille, cherry and tobacco. . . " are just that - dull. For me at least, as I've tasted enough wine that I'm not much interested in someone else's ability to pick out flavors. A little information about the winery, the producer, the region, the grapes, the company that makes the labels, whatever, can make a big difference in the interest factor though.

    Oct 29, 2011 at 12:39 PM


  • Snooth User: davidboyer
    208575 26

    Hi Gregory,

    You have very good skills and knowledge when it comes to writing and wine, respectively, so it surprises me that out of the voluminous amount of interesting subjects to focus on, you would choose wine bloggers. It perpetuates the myth that there is actually a wine blogging ‘industry’, yet only a handful of bloggers have managed to monetize their efforts.

    With Wine Blogger Awards, wine blogger conferences, seminars, events, and such nonsense, all of which are subsidized by egos, it just seems disingenuous to me. Here a growing group of people organizes for the purpose of patting themselves on the back on how influential they are. In my opinion, the most ‘successful’ wine bloggers simply design and regurgitate controversial topics to entice readers’ responses (admittedly I have been a responder on more than one occasion), or even worse, post articles about blogging! This type of blog ultimately fails to serve any real purpose or move the wine industry forward by making real connections with wine aficionados. Instead, it’s kind of like a wine version of the Jerry Springer Show.

    I agree with Professor Soderquist’s comments and I think that wine bloggers per se, would have to be at the bottom of the barrel in terms of a subject worthy of attention.

    David Boyer
    classof1855.com
    blog.classof1855.com

    Oct 29, 2011 at 9:24 PM


  • Snooth User: Winemaven
    45331 18

    Like everything else there are good blogs and bad blogs. Eventually, consumers will sort things out for themselves.
    Misinformation is rampant and conventional wisdom spreads much wider and faster these days. There is a lot of self important vanity posting as well.
    Mr Boyer makes some very salient points IMOP. There is too much information out there! One can take a handful of books and a few of the better periodicals/consumer guides--whether accessed on line or in hard copy form and have all the information they really need. There is too much regurgitation of the same information (too often misunderstood and mis stated).
    The rest is as Mr Boyer notes is industry gossip and bad conventional wisdom resembling the Springer show.
    Too few offer any interesting perspective or have much that is original to say. In fact, the best blogs tend to be by those who have already established themselves in other wine mediums. People like Parker, Jancis, Tanzer, Jamie Goode, Steve Heimoff, Tom Wark all run interesting web sites and offer variety of wide ranging perspective.
    Do we need another wine book? Another web site? Another blog?
    The subtitle: "Getting to know the people behind the blogs" is a bit scary IMOP. It should be clear who the bloggers are from their work--the blogs!

    Oct 31, 2011 at 1:24 PM


  • Snooth User: JonDerry
    Hand of Snooth
    680446 3,171

    How's this for getting people's attention?

    This kind of read as a moment of clarity to me, and those are always good.

    Nov 01, 2011 at 3:58 AM


  • completely agree - and tastes will always be different no matter what anyone writes or does not write. so enjoy wines, communicate about them (when you feel like) and most important keep it fun !!!
    thanks for the BS article - us small wineries appreciate it and take everything with a large grain of salt :-)

    Nov 03, 2011 at 5:04 AM


  • Snooth User: palmnut
    Hand of Snooth
    89683 835

    I'm in.

    Nov 06, 2011 at 5:46 PM


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