The role of the wine blogger is something the industry loves to debate. As someone who entered the wine industry late, it’s quite startling to see how much energy is expended on the topic, often by other writers themselves.
The latest misdeed getting everyone’s knickers in a twist (mine included, obviously) is whether bloggers have an obligation to write about wineries who wine and dine them, a response by ex-critic and now blogger Steve Heimoff to an article in trade magazine Harpers accusing bloggers of bad behaviour if they didn’t write anything after visiting a winery who’d paid for their trip.
“In other descriptions of commerce, a one-way transfer of value could also be called ‘theft’,” opined Dr. Damien Wilson, who leads the MSc Wine Business programme at the Burgundy School of Business.
It seems *gasp* that wineries are just like any other client who has spent a bit of money on PR and expects coverage as a result. If you want guaranteed coverage, pay for advertising.
Bloggers have their uses. They’ll often turn up to events that “real” wine writers (i.e. the ones who are paid to do so) are not interested in attending. They’re bums on seats for a PR who needs to show his or her client that they can fill up a dinner table (any PR worth his or her salt will have researched and targeted the appropriate bloggers to invite). And bloggers can create a bit of noise about a launch, event or visit via social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Of course, as it’s been pointed out, not all bloggers are created equal. Some are campaigning, some are more features-led while others are simply logging what they drank and tasted. But I’ve yet to meet a blogger who would invest time to go on a trip and not write anything.
However, this doesn’t mean they write about everything they tasted and everyone they visited. That would be tantamount to sponsored content. The bloggers I know well all look for an angle, a story and use relevant content gathered.
I’m no exception. By way of partial redress, here are the posts I never wrote:
1. The visit to Bodega Trivento last November with Concha Y Toro. I did write three features on the Chile part of the trip, but somehow never got to complete one that involved the Argentinian operation. Perhaps it was because I’d already had a lunch with them in the UK (which I did write up). Perhaps it was because I wasn’t overly fond of the wines we tasted that day. Or perhaps because I’d partied hard the night before and our plane over the Andes was very delayed.
I can tell you this. The asado by the lake in Trivento’s home vineyard was one of the most welcoming sights ever; tasting barrel samples of Trivento’s top end Malbec, Eolo, as it went on its journey from young buck to more measured adult; the tatty, overgrown verge outside the prized vineyard with the old vines growing the grapes for Eolo; the walk in the vineyard as the sun was setting with Eolo winemaker Victoria Prandina.
2. Visits to a number of wineries on a bloggers trip to Western Sicily. For example, tasting Perricone with the engaging Marilena Barbera at the stylishly minimal Cantine Barbera in Menfi.
A fabulous lunch and tasting at Planeta including a trip into the hills to see the ruins of an ancient winery and seeing how well Grecanico can age.
A tasting of older vintages of Mille e Una Notte wine at Donnafugata and realising I preferred the (then) current vintage of Ben Ryé to the 1999 one.
3. Anything from a three-day trip to Friuli apart from the magic of the Carso, which just blew me away. It was just really hard to write anything else. But in this instance, I really, really should have. No excuses. I hope to go back on my own dime.
4. Anything from a trip to the Sevilen winery in Turkey. We’d been promised a vineyard visit at another winery, where we’d pick grapes under the stars. This never transpired (we were taken to an art gallery instead). The masterclass on Turkish wine at the DWCC event I attended were all online. I simply didn’t have enough content to make an interesting piece.
5. Dinner at High Timber with Adrian Vanderspuy of Oldenburg Vineyards in South Africa who was entertainingly less than complimentary about Pinotage. But I knew I had to put my elderly dog down the next day. I should’ve have cancelled, but didn’t want to seem rude and leave an empty chair.
6. A more recent dinner thrown by TerraVin Wines. They wanted to celebrate winning some IWSC trophies. I was interested because the winemaker, Gordon Ritchie, used to work at one of my favourite wineries, Seresin. He wasn’t there. One of the businessmen owners was, and he’d only recently got involved.
Apart from a flabby late harvest Pinot Gris, the wines were very good, especially the whites. The 2011 Chardonnay and the Te Ahu oak-fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2011 were delicious. Beyond that, I found I had nothing more of note to say and began tuning out when I heard that familiar phrase “the passion we have at TerraVin is to make great wines”. I’ll probably now drop off the PR’s list for saying this. I won’t be the first time…
Does not writing the above make me unprofessional or does it make me discerning? I’ve written some seriously dull pieces out of obligation. Isn’t that unprofessional?
Also, as someone with a full time job, I’ve not always had time to write up all the stories that might have been more interesting (see Cantine Barbera). That is the nature of many bloggers. Some in the industry may view this as freeloading. But I see this as part of PR. On most of these trips, or dinners, I was not the only blogger so even if I didn’t write something or make a video about a particular winery, chances are, someone else did.
Having a discussion about the value of bloggers in helping wineries raise their profiles is a valid one. Having been a PR in the tech industry, this was something we did a few years back. But bloggers should be part of the wider PR debate, not THE debate.