Wine: The final frontier
These are the voyages of the Wine Brat, Thea.
Its 5 year mission (yep, it’s true. I’ve been blogging for five years!)
To explore strange new wines
To seek out new bottles and new producers
To boldly go where no wine blogger has gone before.
These are the voyages of a wine bloggers writer and lover, trying to discover more about herself and her passion for the grape.
Recently back from a weekend in Virginia at the Wine Bloggers Conference, where both New York Times wine critfc Eric Asimov and London Financial Times wine writer Jancis Robinson gave a key note speeches, my thoughts are jumbled and varied as I think about how to be a better blogger.
Both Jancis Robinson and Eric Asimov challenge the word, and somewhat the concept – of blogger. Is "blogger" still really a valid term? Bloggers are wine writers who chose to publish on line. Traditional print media authors choose to publish on paper. Writing is what brings us all together, today. Love, true love (of the vine). I am still getting used to this idea. I am a proud blogger and I like to refer to myself that way, because if I call myself a wine writer, the mass public naturally assumes that I write for a publication. Perhaps we should be called "online wine writers".
As wine writers, Jancis challenged us to do more investigative research before we blog. Er write. While the core value of this makes sense, I question the validity of her challenge; I am not a journalist, nor do i wish to be one. While the most successful wine bloggers (not in terms of making money but in readership) have similar core writing styles, none of them assume or claim to be journalists. Nor do I. I try to be accurate and truthful in my writing, but in the end – my blog is just my blog, and musings of what I feel like talking about. one of the major reasons that I decided not to pursue writing with an online wine magazine was because I didn’t want to be subject to the editorial rules that come with being a professional writer. I write this blog so I can express my thoughts in a meaningful way, and I hope that you enjoy reading it, and share with others.
One vital point that Jancis made during her speech was that writers, print or otherwise, need to sit up and take notice that while the book is not dead, the delivery method of the written word is changing. Online, kindle, ebook readers, print, newspapers, magazine. Essentially, they are all the same thing – but the delivery method is different. I have an ipad, but most of my books are just that – books. That said, the Kindle / iPad / Nook market allows you to give readers the option of how they will choose to accept delivery of your material. I read blogs primary via an RSS reader. Some people read blogs via the web or on their phone. The point here, is that you must make your material available and readable for all sorts of platforms, as well as an international audience. Don’t localize too much or you are putting yourself in a box; I write primarily about American wines, but just one click on Google Analytics, and I know that I have international readers. The balance is maintaining my wit and style, while limiting colloquialism that would be lost on an international readership.
A key point that both Robinson and Asimov were keen to make is that if you are an online writer, you are also your own editor and publisher, and you need to understand what this means. My task is to digest these nuggets with a blogger’s mindset, and interpreted to suit your needs. Jancis further implored us, as wine writers in an online world, to hone our writing skills. I work at this every day and in every post; but there are, sadly, too many blogs that use poor grammar or just don’t make sense. If you are a
blogger online wine writer, you should ensure that you are taking the time to digest your thoughts, and work & rework your written words. Writers of all sorts go through multiple iterations before their words are put to print. I think we should do the same. Posting things that are not well thought out just add ot the misconception that bloggers online wine writers are hacks that don’t know what they are talking about. While I don’t think I need an editor to write a blog, I DO think I need to self edit – even if it’s at the most basic level of spelling. I believe I need to understand how to structure a sentence so that it makes sense and expresses my thought coherently; I also believe that to write a piece for a n audience that won’t hear my inflection and comedic wit, that i need to think about how it looks on the page, and not how I sound when I say it out loud.
Occasionally, writers suffer from a thought block or an uninspired lull. I am not immune to this but I have found that reading other blogs and using tools like Creative Whack Packs can help blast me out of lull. Another key trait of a good writer is admitting that you don’t know something. I hope that you see that in my writing; I don’t know a lot of things, and I’d rather admit that, than make something up. There shouldn’t be any fear in admitting the unknown. One of the keys in being to be open an honest in this is fostering a community, both of readers, and other writers, who you can uses as a resource. Encourage new readers to be engaged. Wine can be a scary subject for someone just starting to enjoy it, and when you get too esoterica and off on tangents, you will alienate some readers.
The following day, Eric Asimov, author of the New York Times column formerly known as The Pour (now incorporated in the Diner’s Journal), shook up the room my telling us that we shouldn’t write tasting notes. I emphatically disagree with this statement -0 and even though I think it was really meant rather flippantly, I think many in attendance are taking it too literally. I am spinning this with my bloggers mindset, and ensuring that my tasting notes have a place within the story of the wine at the focus of the post. We are, after all, wine bloggers (wine writers wine writers wine writers. I will get this down eventually!). To not write a wine review or tasting note for a year, if I take Asimov at his word, would cut out a large amount of wine blogs who are talking about the wine.
In fact, in a simple poll that I did on Facebook, I asked my blog readers if I should write more reviews, less reviews, or something entirely different. While the majority of respondents said they wanted me to write more about the winery, location, or the STORY, they also indicated that they wanted the tasting notes in context. So, for my part, I will try to make sure I write about why I like or dislike a wine, what emotions it evokes in me, and why I think you should try it, and try to stay away from triple berry crunch descriptors. After all, my schnozzberry might be your razzleberry.
The key takeaway I have from Eric’s speech (which I might add, I read on twitter, and watched online after the event – since I was suffering the creeping crud at the time) is that in order to write about wine, you need to learn about wine. Tasting wine is not enough. You need to experience wine. How do you do that? You drink a lot of wine, you explore wine, you read about wine, you learn about wine, you experiment with pairing wine with food. Why this is important is that it can give you the perspective to be able to think about situations in a new light. I knew, before going to Virginia, that the VA wines that I had tasted were probably not the best examples of what the state has to offer. I didn’t like VA wine. But, I went to VA with an open mind. I decided, before I went, that I was going to taste VA wines and yes, they might suck, but, then again – they might not. And, I’m happy to report, I was pleasantly surprised by some of the wines I tried. This changed my pre-concived notion about wines from the area, and I’m more apt to try a wine from someone off beat as a result.
So go forth, and learn. I am my own worst critic and I often question if I write well, or if I know anything about wine, so I am ever striving to learn more and do better. The secret to success in most things is to be on a continuous journey of education. I know what I like, and I chose to write about that because that’s what I know. The unconformable challenge, is to learn about what I don’t know, and to share that journey with you.
Wine blogging has evolved. Even if you write your blog out of passion, as I do, writing with professionalism and knowledge is key to being heard. That doesn’t mean your blog shouldn’t express your voice, but it does mean:
- Learn your subject matter
- Dive in to your material, and don’t be afraid to dig deeper
- Be honest
- Ask questions
- Be inquisitive
- Be welcoming and gracious