Above: Alberto Giacometti, “Large Standing Woman I,” 1960 (Houston Museum of Fine Arts).
The world of wine blogging owes an immense debt to Alder Yarrow, whose pioneering blog Vinography offered an early model and roadmap to a generation of wine-focused social media users when it launched in 2004. By 2007, he would become the first wine blogger to be invited to speak at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. And his writing also began to appear in some of the top wine world mastheads, electronic and otherwise. His is a path that so many have followed or aspired to in the meantime.
That was all the more reason that it was disconcerting to read his recent post “Wine Bloggers: An Endangered Species.”
“I think I finally know how my wife’s grandmother felt,” he wrote sorrowfully. “A year or two before she passed at the age of 100, I asked her how she was doing as we sat down together for a meal. She said, ‘I’m just fine, but I’ve been alive too long. All my friends are dead’…”
After his survey of the current field of wine blogging, he pines, “I definitely feel a bit doddering, having just pruned off all that deadwood only to discover what amounts to a stunted little group of branches clinging to life.”
It’s stunning to read that in a time when wine blogging has firmly shifted away from its early “tasting and technical notes” model to a deeply self-aware and socially conscious paradigm.
Just think of blogger sommeliers like Tahiirah Habibi and Liz Dowty. Their courageous posts last year disrupted one of the wine world’s sacrosanct institutions, the Court of Sommeliers. Thanks to them, the lives of wine professionals across the spectrum are safer today.
Some may protest that they are not traditional wine bloggers like the ones Alder references in his post. Yes, their posts appeared on Instagram (and not a WordPress-coded site). And yes, one used videos and live stories instead of written word. Even though they weren’t using the conventional blog post format (that Alder and his contemporaries used), they were regularly updating their readers on an internet platform by means of an online journal — the very definition of blogging.
With the media they shared publicly, they literally reshaped the world they inhabit. That’s some pretty powerful stuff, if you ask me. And it’s an indication that wine blogging, although no longer focused on the latest exclusive (and exclusionary) tasting or sample, is very much alive and kicking harder than it ever has. Tahiirah and Liz don’t get paid for their posts. They do it because they are called to a higher purpose: activism through media. Sounds like blogging to me.
It’s important to underline that Alder’s contribution to the world of wine blogging cannot be overestimated. That’s especially true because one of the other wine blog models of the genre’s early years was authored by an internet troll whose work sadly presaged much of the nastiness that would seep throughout the world of wine media. Alder offered aspiring wine writers a balanced locus amoenus and high quality writing that they could look to as they carved out their own space in the corners of the internets.
And wow, Alder, I’m not sure how you missed this, but there are so many of them out there.
Just think of Cara Rutherford’s wonderful blog Caravino. Based near Albany, New York, she posts traditional tasting and technical notes three to four times a week (the last time I counted).
Or what about Kat René in Houston? She’s a prolific collector and author of one of the most popular wine blogs in the country right now, Corkscrew Concierge.
Cathrine Todd, another highly active and superbly talented wine writer, posts regularly on the multi-author blog hosted by Forbes and her own site, Dame Wine.
(Just think how many wine posts appear on Forbes these days. No, that content isn’t hosted on a traditional, stand-alone, WordPress-fueled site. But it still fits the conventional definition, above, of what blogging is.)
Or what about my former Slow Wine colleague Pam Strayer’s excellent and newly launched blog Organic Wines Uncorked, a site that has disrupted the California wine industry?
I have immense respect for Alder. And I’ll be the first to tell you that he’s a lovely person who has used his status and visibility over the years to make the world of wine a better place — socially and professionally, I’ll add.
But when I look his list of currently active wine blogs, I find that it’s riddled with lacunæ (including some but not all of the writers I mention above). To his list I also add the myriad wine writers and wine trade observers who use social media platforms to host their media. Just because you’re blogging on Instagram, Facebook, or even Forbes or Medium doesn’t mean that you are not a wine blogger. Then add to that mix the countless writers who post on sites and social media for wine shops, importers, distributors, and even wine industry law firms etc.
Pointing to the writers I’ve included in this post on a wine blog, I’d say that the world of wine blogging is more diverse and compelling than ever before. And I’d like to thank Alder for getting this conversation started — on a wine blog.
Jeremy, thanks for joining in the conversation. I have a hard time with your assertion that instagrammers are wine bloggers. That’s like me saying all wine bloggers are podcasters. It’s a different medium, man. There’s a reason why there’s a thing called a blog, a thing called a podcast, and a thing called an instagram account. No value judgment at all on one medium versus another, but there’s value in distinguishing between non-commercial, long-form writing on a web site by an individual, and an instagram post. You know, good ol’ Marshall McLuhan “the medium is the message?” My post was not entitled (nor trying to say in the slightest) “the spirit of grassroots wine communication is dead” but that seems to me to be the way you’re reading it. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot fewer wine blogs than there were 8 years ago. Are there more wine-focused instagram accounts than there ever were wine blogs? Dunno. Wouldn’t surprise me. But that’s not a refutation of my point. Thanks for the suggestions for additions. Pam Strayer’s and Catherine Todd’s blogs have always been on my list (though somehow Dame wine dropped off as part of my latest update, so that was a good catch). If you or anyone else can think of any others I’m missing, I’m always happy to add more. As you know, my list is not the result of exhaustive research on my part.
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Thank you Jeremy for pushing back on this misconception.
I think Alder has some relevant points; however, I think he’s missing 2 very large
elements; audience and education.
From his post, it appears that he didn’t continue to engage in the blogging world and only referenced sources of his past familiarity. He seems rather insular with his perspective, not bothering to look past his own peer group. there is so much attrition in unpaid, and at best, freelance writing within every genre; sports, cooking, travel…etc.
And social media is now just that, media. People access information on multi platforms, Instagram and Twitter are just as instrumental [and an absolute necessary companion to any website]. The modern wine blogger is more interactive, accessible and a resource rather than an authoritative proclamation.
Boomer engagement was extremely dogmatic, tiresome and characterless. Gen Xers, Millennials are much more into making their own decision, being into the why, what and how of understanding what goes into the glass. Think of the multitude of wine books written in the past decade, everything from digging into soil composition to the history of skin contact wines, to a comprehensive examination of hundreds of Italy’s native grapes, to an extensive exploration of the world’s volcanic terroir.
Armed with a year of reading the then slim amount of wine books, I began writing about wine in 2011. I now hold multiple certifications in wine, with no intention of stopping. In 2019, the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) had the largest amount of graduates in its 50 year history. 532 graduates from over 40 countries, compared with 84 from the UK only in 1970.
Wine writers wishing to advance their knowledge beyond their own research can now choose from numerous programs; Wine Scholar Guild [offering certifications in Italian, French and Spanish wines] and Italian Wine Central are just 2 of the instructor led, online certification programs available.
We, the wine writers, know more, and the audience knows more. We continue, along with our readers to learn and explore.
Boomer engagement was charcterless? Dogmatic? Tiresome?
Terry Theise, Gerald Asher, Anne Noble. Some of the most elegant and rich characters in the world of wine. Uncommon thinkers and writers. Not a tiresome one in the bunch.
Age is just a number.
Yes, we all know, the number one rule in marketing campaigns is to not insult or question Boomer knowledge or authority [actually to be fair, it was number 3].
Yes, age is exactly that, a number. A number we all have the ability to move around a bit. Sadly, most choose not to.
Unfortunately, you misinterpreted my point on engagement, which, is really my point.
The fact that every marketing survey out there lists ‘ratings’ as Boomers highest motivating factor in wine purchasing speaks to that dogmatic and characterless approach. Other groups want the story behind the wine, leading to a more open minded and curious approach, resulting in varied engagement on social media platforms. Wine is now more accessible, diverse and inclusive then it ever has been. And hopefully we can all agree that is a fantastic thing.
Somehow my response comment was lost in the ether, so I’m trying again. Jeremy, I appreciate your response.
But you seem to be interpreting my piece that is focused on the shrinking number of wine blogs as a declaration that the spirit of wine blogging is dead. Those are, in fact, two different things.
I don’t consider a wine blog, a podcast, and an Instagram account to be the same thing. There’s a reason we have different words for them. They’re different channels, and you know, ‘ol Marshall McLuhan — the medium is the message.
My sensibility is that someone who posts about wine on their Instagram account is not a wine blogger, they’re a wine Instagrammer, or perhaps more broadly, a wine communicator.
Your “argument” with my piece is a lot like me arguing that, in fact, newspaper wine columns haven’t disappeared. There are more people writing about wine than ever before now, on blogs, etc. So the newspaper wine column is very much alive.
That’s just totally false. The newspaper wine column is dead. There are what… 3 of them in major papers in the US now when there used to be dozens?
Times change, of course, as do our media consumption habits, and the various channels in which people can express themselves. I love following the folks I follow on Twitter and Instagram and the podcasts I listen to. But those aren’t wine blogs any more than my blog is a newspaper wine column.
Your point, I think, is that wine communication is broader and more diverse than its ever been. I wouldn’t argue that. But in point of fact, to someone who doesn’t consider an Instagram account the same as a wine blog, there are a lot fewer active wine blogs than there were 8 years ago.