An ether/or situation

No one needs a brief respite from the ongoing (and no-end-in-sight) assault of the living barberas more than me, so why not dive headfirst into the current cri de courriel * of the oenosphere? It’ll be a nice change of pace.

*I know email doesn’t have anything to do with blogs, but the multilingual wordplay was too enticing, and I’m very weak in this regard. Very, very weak.

…wait, hang on. I’m supposed to write about why no one reads wine blogs? A title that comes very, very close to begging it’s own implied question, but instead merely leads to one: for whom am I supposed to write a response, given that we’ve concluded that no one is reading this?

I suppose it’s worth dispensing with a little typically bloggish nitpicking right from the start, since some of the comments there and elsewhere are casting a jaundiced peeper at the data. Tom Johnson (whose autograph is on the cannon that fired this broadside) writes:

[…] the top 100 wine blogs combined would be the 280th most popular blog in the country. […] There are 40 million regular wine drinkers in the United States, and the aggregate audience for wine blogs is maybe a couple hundred thousand people. […] Assuming that people who visit wine blogs visit more than one, even within our self-declared niche, we’re reaching less than 0.5% of our target audience.

OK. So in a general interest newspaper (remember them?), one that might have a wine column (remember those?), what percentage of the total subscriber base is actually reading that column? I’ve been the byline on a fair assortment of same, and my recollection is that the numbers were always pretty discouraging…something that may have come up once or twice during negotiations over freelance rates. As bad as a mere half percent? No, maybe not. But not a whole lot better, either.

Without this keystone, the statistical foundation for Johnson’s argument is showing signs of substandard contracting. Presumably, more people read Andrew Sullivan than Cory Cartwright for the same reasons that more people read Maureen Dowd (shudder) than Eric Asimov…whatever those reasons might be.

But I call this a “nitpick” because, numerical justifications aside, I actually agree with the crux of Johnson’s column.

Let’s first move away from a dull milieu of twisty little tasting notes, all the same? (No one under 40 or who has ever had a girlfriend is going to get that reference.) Yes, indeed. There’s a reason I shuffle the reportage on my weekly glass recycling to another blog, after all. Tasting notes have a utility, and they can be an essential staging ground for insight, but they’re neither the most interesting thing to read nor a facet of wine communication at which blogs or their descendants are ever going to be particularly good, for reasons that Johnson identifies.

More linking to one another? Sure. I don’t think this is a very important problem, though. Wine is not the same sort of collaborative pursuit that the really popular blog topics – politics, parenting, semi-literate cats, sneezing fetishes – are, and while a conversation is more suited to an increasingly social media universe than an endless series of Riedel lecterns, the future isn’t mere linking. It’s actual collaboration, which is going to require all of us to come out of our mothers’ basements for a spell. Hopefully we’ll put on fresh pajamas. GrapeStories is one form that this necessary collaboration will take, but there are other possibilities.

More stories, more insight, more writing? Yes, please. But I’ve already been heard (though apparently by almost no one) on this point.

Significantly, this call n’allez pas aux barricades also happens to dovetail neatly with the other recent snittery of the wine bloggers, Stephen Tanzer’s allegedly inflammatory suggestion that some people have more expertise than others. Yes, Tanzer could have put that a good measure more elegantly, though if his purpose was rabble-rousing-as-free-publicity, I congratulate him on a hand well-played. But I just don’t see that what he said (rather than how he said it) is particularly controversial.

It stands to reason that fewer, but better, voices help focus attention in any field one would like to identify. It’s also completely obvious that enthusiasm is no substitute for experience. (Though: the reverse is both true and worth considering.) That said, I don’t think a proactive culling is necessary, nor is it likely to be effective. Darwin will, eventually, point his Beagle at the survivors, and this will require no help from bloggers or their external critics.

Also, there’s this. The greater percentage of consumers are not yet ready to listen to “us” (meaning blogs), because even the most obsessive cannot possibly keep up with the current torrent of information, and the non-obsessive would neither wish to try nor know where to begin. Until such time as natural selection works its winnowy magic, we are and almost inherently must be a niche talking to a niche. And that’s OK. That is, after all, what this whole public internet thing has been best at since long before there was a web, and the overstuffed toolbox with which the modern publisher must go to work has not changed this truism.

There will be a time when the apes – that’s us in this odd little primate analogy, you know – rise up and take over. Though hopefully with not quite so much violence or overwrought speechifying as Caesar employed in the just-linked movie:

Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall. The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind. The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you NOW!

(Yeah, that reads like an enraged wine blogger, alright.)

But that day is probably not today. Wine blogs will find their audience, in their time. Or they won’t, and they’ll die out, and some post-Twitter content stream entitled “S%$# My Dad Drinks” will rise above the fields of the fallen. And maybe even get read by more than a half-dozen people.


  • The Wine Mule

    March 22, 2010

    So maybe two dozen people read my blog. If I can entertain a handful of friends and customers, that's plenty. Not having ambition in this instance is liberating: I mostly write tasting notes, not necessarily insightful ones, and most of the people who read them are people who see me in person with some regularity, and we get to have pleasant conversations about what I've posted. It's enjoyable. It has to be, otherwise I wouldn't do it.

  • thor iverson

    March 22, 2010

    I've always said: the only reason to write tasting notes or blog is for one's own self-satisfaction. Any other reason is going to end badly.

    I'm often pleased to note that I have a fairly shocking number of readers given the general lack of responses, from which I can only conclude that no normal human being can maintain consciousness to the end of one of my posts. Sometimes, not even me.

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