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Blog fatigue and thoughts on wine online

I am sure there are many out there that will recognise this feeling:

When you start your blog you think you might, just, find the time to keep it going. Then you start to get into your topic, especially after a few encouraging comments and your first few subscribers. The excitement starts to build when you make new contacts, new friends, new connections. All of a sudden the blog has created a new network to interact with. You read your comments and reply, read others’ blogs, comment on them, discuss ways of working together on facebook, join other forums, …

Finally you get to a point where that interaction, that new network based on having started a blog, is taking up the time you have available to write it and in fact you no longer blog at all. I am beginning to wonder whether I should be entitled to comment on wine blogging and the future of wine on the web (as I am doing on facebook and elsewhere) when my own blog has been given so little attention?

So what might this imply for online wine culture?

This is an important lesson for those contemplating the future of wine on the internet. Where will consumers find the time to interact on the web as much as these business models demand? There is only so much time one can spend in front of the computer – checking email, reading, posting and commenting on blogs, facebook, mySpace, twitter, etc.

Somehow, the wine ‘communities’ need to get their members to buy, drink, rate and write about their wines as well as all this. I love wine and I even earn my money from it, but even I cannot be bothered to write tasting notes on these sites and spend too long discussing it in forums. I know these are just my own preferences, but surely this applies to the vast majority of wine drinkers? The Wine Conversation is not just about online forums, it is about making part of everyday life.

I wonder whether the future for wine is not more individualistic. Rather than creating online social interaction around wine, maybe the most important job is to deliver information to buyers at the point of purchase. After all, this is where the money is anyway, and it is also where the average consumer is looking for advice.

The solution is not obvious, but time really is the rare commodity around here, and the job of wine sites should be to give us back time to enjoy better wines, not to use it up in endless data entry.

One to think about in more detail.

Bloggers in competition

Over on facebook, Richard Auffrey asks a pertinent question:

Are wine bloggers in competition with each other? If so, how does that affect our interaction?

As it happens, this links in to things I was considering myself. As I posted a few days ago, Wine 2.0 is about interaction, and this interaction creates (in my mind) … The Wine Conversation (see how I managed to link it back to my own subject?).

“The Wine Conversation” is about the many discussions that happen about wine because enjoying it is a common, shared experience. As the experience of wine increases in our country, hopefully so does the Conversation.

In this view of the world, bloggers are very much collaborators rather than competitors, involved in sharing information about wine and getting others involved. You can see this quite clearly in the facebook universe. Although very few, if any, of the wine bloggers have met, there is a very strong bond between them. Many have linked to each other, becoming “friends” in facebook terminology simply because of the shared interest in wine and blogging.

Before blogs, the only way to discuss wine was face-to-face, or by reading others’ words in magazines and books. The former is limited and quite daunting for some people, particularly those just learning to enjoy wine, while the latter is potentially very dry (excuse the pun), so generally reserved for the real enthusiast. How were everyday drinkers supposed to get involved with the Wine Conversation?

Blogging allows individuals to put forward their thoughts not as pronouncements (as per the magazines), but as points for discussion. Everyone can get involved as much or as little as they wish by reading, commenting, or even starting their own blog. This is the interaction that makes it different from what has come before, and bloggers are as much consumers of others’ blogs as they are publishers, so the Conversation metaphor is particularly apt.

By their nature blogs are limited in scope so we NEED more blogs and bloggers, and we need to read, share and converse on them, otherwise we either fall back on the old publishing models, or we become an irrelevance.

So what about the alternative view, that we might be in competition? What would bloggers be competing over?

  • Limited numbers of readers? I guess that the potential readership is unlimited for bloggers prepared to do something new (check out what Chateau Petrogasm are doing)
  • Limited advertising dollars? This is possible, but the vast majority of bloggers do not try and make money from the blogs, so this is currently irrelevant
  • Stories? Well, there might be some truth here, but in most cases this is not relevant to those blogging about wine as opposed to news
  • Ratings? On the contrary, as ratings are based on the numbers of links to your blog as much as readers, networking and cooperation are more important
  • Prizes? They do exist, but there aren’t many of these yet, and in theory they are based on quality rather than content, so getting help is a winning strategy

In short, wine bloggers have a shared goal and mission, to spread the love of wine and support the Wine Conversation in their country/region/business/community, and this is done by supporting others, linking to their sites, reading their stories, sharing views and, eventually, sitting down to drink a nice bottle of wine together.

Wine and facebook; all very two point oh

Web2.0, Wine2.0, Life2.0

I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that just as anything and everything became eAnything, then iAnything, we now have Anything2.0.

The simplest way to make your product sound ‘hip and with-it’ (unlike that phrase) is to add that 2.0 at the end, but what does it really mean? Wine2.0 is something that is being quoted more and more often, especially by bloggers who see themselves as those leading the new revolution in wine. I have recently joined various groups of fellow wine bloggers on facebook, and this is one of the topics for discussion.

Well, actually it isn’t. It is apparently assumed we know what this all means, and this is what lets such developments down. If we don’t know what we are doing, how can we do it together?

Some of the leaders of this group, and organisers of an event actually entitled Wine2.0, have described the reasons for it as follows:

“We set Wine 2.0 up to draw a line in the sand that divided the first batch of wine companies founded during the dotcom boom (most died a horrible death, some several times over), from a new generation of entrepreneurs rejuvenated by their love of wine and the prospects of fresh, new and creative thinking.”

I find that uninspiring, as it would seem to boil down to “we are doing the same as before, just better”.

What is it that characterises truly “new” developments in wine, worthy of a “next generation” label such as Wine 2.0?


Most of the past developments, even on the web, were really just new forms of retail. They may have included more information than before and new ways to select preferences (e.g. Virgin Wines as was), but essentially they did the same job as before the world wide web arrived in the wine world.

The real differences are emerging in the areas of wine blogs, community tasting note sites, interactive cellar management, and even collaborative wine making schemes.

The difference is the involvement of the consumer in many more aspects of the business of making, branding, tasting and selling wines. It is very difficult to actually make your own wine (well) so the vast majority of consumers have absolutely no understanding of this process. It is magic. As long as wine retains its mystique, this might be a positive thing, but it also helps to keep pressure on prices.

Now, anyone can read the thoughts and about the daily routines of winemakers on their blogs, and even ask them questions. There are videos to watch about viticulture and the harvest, sites to read, watch and share tasting notes, and even schemes to allow you to make your own wines. I suspect that this will transform wine in a much more fundamental manner than the wine trade currently expect; it is ever thus with revolutions.

The missing link is how to make this a seamless part of everyday life (not a chore), AND KEEP IT FUN. Also, any site that wants to build on trends and links needs to reach a critical mass, fast.

This is where facebook comes in. Whatever brings you to facebook (scrabble, finding old school friends, searching for a date, political activism, …) the power of the site is its ability to build communities from shared interests. If you want to find someone else who likes music by Imogen Heap, simply click on her name in your profile (I got over 500 matches in my London network). The application even logs all the music I play and builds a “neighbourhood” of people that have similar tastes to me which I can share through facebook.

It is quite easy to see how this could, in theory, translate to wine. Wine has not got there yet, but it will. Those who establish themselves early are likely to become highly influential and it will be very interesting to watch it happen.

One tip, look out for a certain Mr Vaynerchuk as he is likely to be a player.

Next, some thoughts on how wine bloggers are using facebook.

What is a wine blogger?

I have been well and truly bitten by the facebook bug, and there are lots of things I still need to explore there. However, one of the groups I came across recently was brand new and it was specifically set up to gather together wine bloggers from around the world.

[If you are wine blogger, I encourage you to join us in the Wine Bloggers group as the more we gather, the greater expertise we access and the more we can do to build the profile of wine in the blogosphere.]

“Wine bloggers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your isolation.”
[hat-tip to Karl Marx]

One interesting result was that I have made contact with some very interesting bloggers I had not explored before. One of these is Ryan Opaz whose wine blog is and focuses on Spanish and Portuguese wines. Ryan is also a budding community builder though and one of his sites is trying to define what we mean by a “wine blogger“.

Most wineries are, quite rightly, primarily focused on making great wines, so posting on the web does not feature highly in their daily routine. However, this is changing (I think of Pinotblogger for example), and trying to explain what it is we do and how we might be useful, and more importantly how it might help them, is not an easy thing.

Most wine bloggers are not trying to replace ‘proper’ journalists, but do we have an influence over what people buy or drink? I’d like to think so, but maybe others have a different view. Are we really only talking to ourselves?

Alcohol Monopoly

I have been visiting Nova Scotia in Canada for a number of years (it is absolutely beautiful by the way) and usually I am critical of the concept of the Canadian state (well, the Provincial governments) having a monopoly on the sale of alcohol. You can check out the range here.

For those of us living in the UK or most of Europe, the idea that the state should control what wines or spirits should be available, where, and for how much is extraordinary (if you live or visit Sweden this is probably not such a shock for you).

[Some might argue of course that this is exactly where we are heading in the UK because of the retail strength of the supermarkets like Tesco - but even here we at least have a number of alternative ranges to choose from]

My reaction is usually – “How could one organisation tell us what wines we can drink?”, especially when the result, at least in Canada, is a pretty limited range of branded wines?

The reason for this structure is most likely still a hang-over (!) from Prohibition (yes, they had it here too), and there is a sort of puritanical streak to the management of this ‘vice’ which I personally disagree with. It also means that there is a form of “lowest common denominator” effect at work which determines that all wine have to be available in minimum quantities to supply all stores, have to be consistent and also be able to comply with the kinds of red-tape only government departments are able to create. This often results in a pretty bland range.

However, there is one small silver lining to this was pointed out to me which I had not considered. In the UK we have such a high density of population that we can pretty well guarantee access to supermarkets or shops wherever we are, with a few exceptions of course. This means that the market can operate quite freely and there will be someone who can sell you what you are looking for within a reasonable distance.

When you take a country like Canada, this is definitely not the case outside of most large cities. So much of the infrastructure here depends on government support to reach tiny communities in distant areas, that if the government did not step in, certain items (especially luxury items such as wine) would either be impossible to get, or prohibitively expensive.

OK, so wine is probably not the main justification for this type of system, and I’m sure they make a pretty penny or two in tax from selling and taxing all that alcohol, but at least they can get it. Hopefully in time, and with a little popular pressure, the range will improve further.

I’m sure the local “liquor commission” would tell you that a monopoly also means that there are clear & limited channels for reaching consumers, giving the opportunity for ‘managing’ consumer alcohol consumption. I still think that in the longer term education works better than restricting access. However, thinking positively, it does mean there are obvious places to start reaching consumers with information on wine to educate and inform them and improve their experience.

Still, I’ll take Tesco’s range over the NSLC one any day!

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