The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Does Anyone Read Wine Blogs?

Posted on | March 22, 2010 | Written by Janice Cable | 2 Comments

Last week, self-proclaimed “unsuccessful political blogger” turned wine blogger Tom Johnson wrote a piece entitled “There’s a Reason No One Reads Wine Blogs.” It was, irony aside, published on Palate Press, an on-line wine magazine; Johnson also pens a wine blog, Louisville Juice, a name that Johnson mysteriously notes will soon be changing. The issue, Johnson contends, is this:

There’s no way to sugar coat this: wine blogging is failing its readers.

The evidence for that failure: with very few exceptions, wine blogs don’t even have readers.

Johnson looks at several blog analytics in order to support his claim that no one reads wine blogs, including Cellarer and Truth Laid Bear. Using a combination of Cellarer and Google page results, Johnson suggests that wine blogs are reaching less than 5% of the prospective 40 million wine drinkers in the United States. The problem is, as Cellarer observes in its own valuation disclaimer, that for a combination of reasons, it’s really difficult to figure out exactly how many readers follow wine blogs—even wicked popular wine blogs like Vinography and Dr. Vino, and one commentator takes Johnson to task over his approach. It’s an inexact science complicated by Google’s own corporate interests and its own programmers’ hobbyhorses.

And yet there’s no evidence like personal evidence, and personal evidence suggests that wine blogs, even a wine blog like this one that is attached to a trusted corporate entity like Italian Wine Merchants, have a hard time gathering readers.

In spite of what his article’s title suggests, Johnson argues that in fact there are two reasons why blogs don’t have readers. One reason is that too many blogs concentrate on providing wine reviews, and the other is that not enough wine blogs link to other wine blogs. (This last point glimmers with irony, an astute commentator notes, because Johnson foregoes adding a single link to any wine blogs in his piece.) To Johnson’s thinking, wine reviews are unhelpful because while everyone seems to want to be Robert Parker, only Robert Parker is Robert Parker, and because wine reviews are boring.

In these points I tend to agree with Johnson. Rarely am I provoked to want to drink a wine because I know it will taste of dark berries, roses, licorice, tar, and cat butt (or whatever descriptors are in vogue that season). I’m provoked to drink a wine because I’ve been given a lively description of the person who made the wine, because I’ve been provided with a beautiful evocation of the land where the wine was made, or, occasionally, because the wine has a really pretty label. (I am a girl and a design nerd, and at least I’m being honest.)

Johnson argues that people’s stories are what make wine conversation interesting—whether in person, in print, or on the web. If writing doesn’t make people connect, it’s not good writing, and I think this point may be at the bottom of Johnson’s screed. If sheep were writers, we’d have stories filled with really good grass and watch out for that coyote and oh god, oh god, where did my little lamb go? But we are not sheep, and so we like to read about good meals and bad romances and that time we scored a really good bottle of Champagne for a ridiculously low price. We like stories about people, and the wine is almost secondary. Almost.

Which brings me to Johnson’s second point—linking. In blogging, to link is to create conversation. The ability to link is, in fact, the thing that defines Web writing, and it is something that began with bloggers. Links do a few really important things: they provide a launching pad for the writer’s thoughts, they show the reader support for the writer’s claim, they create instant attribution, they give the reader a path for reading, and they create a sense of community. Without links, the Web is a great digital wasteland, an abyss dotted by invisible ones and zeros; with links, it’s a cocktail party.

As editor of this wine blog, I urge the writers of IWM to read other wine blogs, to respond to other wine writers, and to link to wine bloggers. As a reader myself, however, I must admit my own prejudices. I have a tight schedule not given to as much free-range roaming through the Web as I’d like. That’s one reason why I appreciate other blogger’s links and their blog rolls and why I really like thoughtful blog aggregates like Alltop. It’s pretty easy to find The Pour by myself, but it’s less easy to find In Absinthia, my new favorite blog name (though I remain fond of my own apocryphal Absinthe blog, Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder).

So I’m curious. What makes you read—and return to read again—wine bloggers? And where have you found your good bloggers? Whom should we have on our blog roll and whom should we read regularly?


2 Responses to “Does Anyone Read Wine Blogs?”

  1. Dominic
    March 23rd, 2010 @ 11:10 am

    I think that there is something to your observation, and I agree that a wine review does not typically make me want to go out and buy wine. However, a description of the maker, the foods it goes with, and the passions of the maker, history of the vines, etc. make an impression. That impression will remind me of itself when I’m shopping and that is when I will buy a wine. It’s what I remember about it in general terms. Let’s not forget how much these wines will all change in the bottle by aging alone, never mind the changes due to transportation and storage. And my taste is different than yours, so tell me about the romance and the passion and the wine maker, and I’ll buy and read.
    Thanks for the perspective on this one. You’re right on!

  2. Janice
    March 23rd, 2010 @ 2:18 pm

    Thanks, Dominic!

    I’m always thrilled by the personal, while I kind of want to point and make fun of ratings systems. On the other hand, I’m fundamentally irreverant and don’t care much about critics. It’s nice to know that even in my wine-writing recalcitrance I’m spot on.


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