The Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine has long been a resource for consumers looking to find great wines from my native state. Founded in 1974, the publication was among the first I purchased when I first got into wine almost 30 years ago. My old green CGCW guidebook has long since been replaced by other wine pubs and I haven’t thought about the Connoisseurs’ Guide for a decade or more. So I was surprised last night as I read a post entitled, “Wine Blogging: Can It Survive?” on their blog, no less. This post was inspired by an earlier musing by Steve Heimoff.
After thinking about both posts for a bit, I wonder why most times wine bloggers are referenced by the wine writing establishment the issue of making money comes up? Most likely because they themselves would not do what they have been doing for free and are mystified why we choose to spend time blogging with little or no monetary reward. The irony, of course, is these same wine writers are using the blogging medium to syndicate their somewhat disparaging views about wine bloggers.
If you look at the wine blogging scene today there are hundreds of entrants chasing the attention of a niche audience who have both a passion for wine and the tech savvy to know what a blog is. The top wine blogs, according to the alawine.com listing, are mixed between pros like New York Times wine writer Eric Asimov, wine blog pioneers like Vinography, New York Cork Report and Tom Wark’s Fermentation. The only “new entrant” is 1WineDude who has been around for 4 years. But for the hundreds – or even thousands – of voices in the wine blogosphere there are really only 25 or 30 who have built online communities of any size.
So that brings me back to monetization. Even the very top trafficked independent wine blogs don’t produce enough clicks to make online advertising a viable source of income. Sure, they could make a few bucks here and there but the volume is just not large enough for anything significant. For the rest of us, the income might cover the server costs and some of our travel expenses but that’s about it. For some, just the access to the wine industry is enough with event passes and wine samples a nice perk. For others, such as the folks at Catavino and myself, outside consulting opportunities in the wine industry help pay the bills. But the vast majority of wine bloggers make little to nothing from blogging. And I don’t see anything wrong with that.
What do you think?
via Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine
No they don’t, according to a study referenced in yesterday’s post over at Vinography that is bound to ripple through the wine blogosphere in a rare meme-like fashion. And I have to agree with Alder’s key point that most mainstream wine consumers do not trust online sources as much as personal recommendations from friends and wine professionals or from established wine critics.
While I’d like to take a look at the source report to analyze their methodology, I don’t have a spare £1,300 handy for the privilege. All I know is that I make buying decisions based upon blogger reviews but it’s almost exclusively from bloggers I know and have tasted the same or similar wines before with over an extended period of time (like on Twitter Taste Live, at a large tasting or the Wine Blogger’s Conference). Since there are so many wine bloggers coming into the medium, I find it difficult to calibrate my palate to most so I can imagine the average consumer casting a wary eye on the lot of us.
Update: Robert and Ryan across the pond at Wine Conversation has taken a closer look at the study press release. This garnered some great comments including one by an author of the report in question. Good stuff.
It’s been interesting watching the reaction to James Suckling’s retirement from the Wine Spectator announced a couple weeks ago (note: I wrote this post 11 days ago but only posting it now due to some issues with my blog software). I first found out about it on Twitter where the discussion was a mix of shock and congratulations to Mr. Suckling directly. And while other wine bloggers don’t see the importance of this event, I think it’s a big deal as it makes the future of wine criticism a bit clearer.
Longtime readers know where I stand about where wine writing and criticism is going. Without rehashing my previous post, let’s just say that the current print model is not a sustainable long-term model for any wine publication. But the rub is that it pays the bills now and makes the transition to the future of online delivery via mobile digital devices a bit of a timing problem for traditional wine pubs. I think the folks at Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate get this but will probably not pick the optimal point to pivot their business models since the point of optimal profits with their current model is difficult to predict. Therein lies opportunity for those without these existing concerns.
And James Suckling is one of just a few people in the wine industry who can take advantage of this transition. Internationally known and respected, he can plant a blog and wine review database in a short period of time and begin to make money through subscriptions. He has the connections and means to start building his non-Wine Spectator owned content immediately. And I’m sure if he just focused on Bordeaux he would probably make more money than being on the Wine Spectator staff.
But this path is open to a handful of professional wine critics who have an existing brand. What about the critics of the future?
Clearly there is opportunity for anyone with the ability and passion to build an online audience. But there is also the issue of access to a reasonable amount of wine to gain credibility and a critical mass of reviews. Although most wine bloggers get a fair amount of samples to review these days, it’s not even close to the amount professional wine critics have the opportunity to taste. Sure, we can attend trade tastings but these conditions are not optimal for serious reviews.
That said, I think there will be another Robert Parker-type story where someone will move from part-time wine reviewer to full-time critic. The only difference is this critic will not build their brand at places like the Wine Spectator. The future of wine criticism is a bit clearer after the events of two weeks ago; at least to me. I wish James Suckling the best of luck in his future endeavors and will no doubt return to this subject in future posts.