Blogging for Dollars

bikevig01I’m finding myself nostalgic once again for the Rockwellian days of my youth, you know those golden times when the average 10-year old had to pay for the things they wanted out of their paper route money, or more amazingly that many ten year old’s like me were actually working…

Today, it’s hardly simple.  I cannot even get my kids to keep their own rooms clean for more than four days at a time, even for compensation.  Presumably, they’re conserving their energy for their stated trip(s) to the NHL by 18 – my offspring of modest goals.  Never mind the fact that neither can skate yet…

We’ve long since become a nation (world?) of convenience seekers, those for whom corners need to be cut, the least amount of work put in, all though with the expectations of large gain.

Case in point, another excellent post by Steve Heimoff – consistently in my opinion the best wine blogger out there.  If content is king in this internet age, the guy needs a crown and velvet cape – who wrote today about a WSJ story unearthing the fact that some bloggers out there are basically paid shills in the guise of simple, stay at home moms, et. al,  just looking to dispense some maternal wisdom for those who can’t figure things out for themselves.

This prompted Steve to ponder the idea of a wine blogger’s seal of authenticity, some public declaration that the wine they receive to review  comes unencumbered with something akin to a few $20’s affixed to the bottle with a rubber band.  And it’s hard to disagree with this logic.

But one point missed in Steve’s piece is that I think the onus most importantly falls upon the winery who might send out their wine to a blogger (with or without bribe), knowing full well that anything said may be used against them in the court of public opinion.  For if it’s one thing the blogosphere has taught us is that there is no transparency – at least in the same way we all hope/wish it still exists for print journalism.

I think we can all agree that paying someone to write nice things about your product is something for The Ethicist to tackle from a moralistic standpoint.  But again, the blogger who accepts that wine, car, trip, etc, with strings attached is only being enabled by those companies willing to take the chance at having their practices exposed.  If no one finds out, well, no one finds out.

Conversely, the whole nature of criticism also allows for the opposite effect, for some movie reviewer blown off by a big director at Cannes, to trash the filmmaker’s latest work, whether he paid for a ticket or was invited to a screening.   And surely we must realize that a movie reviewer who writes glowing things about some Hollywood crap will eventually find all his expenses covered for that press junket in St. Lucia to promote Lost: The (Inevitable) Movie.

The same holds true for the many, many wine bloggers out there.  In fact there was a debate amongst them several months back, those who will write bad reviews and those that won’t – even though the wine is sent free.  So what’s my point, exactly?

To fall on a cliche – you can’t please everyone – but by this same token, nor will you disappoint everyone.

I suppose the point, for those of us that make consumer goods, is to simply make the best product you can and let the chips fall where they may…

Your cliches may vary.

Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Power of the (Wine) Press

I’ve long held the belief (maybe it’s not even that groundbreaking a concept), that anyone with an opinion can comment on a subject and be just as much an authority as the next guy/gal.  That’s not the meaningful part.  That person must then find a way to connect with others who hold the same beliefs and thus an “expert” is born.  And yet, real world experience has confounded me as I try to decipher what it means to have influence over others, or is personal experience really the only thing that matters?

We were recently lucky to find ourselves mentioned in the blog of Steve Heimoff, the West Coast Editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine, under the heading, “Six Winemakers to Watch.”  Steve had really nice things to say about Ryan Waugh, our winemaker and one of our brands, Six Degrees.

To be mentioned anywhere in that context is huge for a small winery like us, even in a blog, which by its nature probably does not reach as many people as the magazine itself does.  Still, Steve is an expert in his field, reviews literally hundreds of wines a month (my guesstimate)  and unlike this blog, actually has people not only reading it, but commenting on his entries.

Well, the write up was posted on August 17th and based on my rudimentary grasp of Goggle Analytics, we received thirty-nine web visits since then and zero signups to our mailing list.  I was not able to decipher if any of these were a direct result of Steve’s piece (most of our sign-ups come after someone has tried the wine at one of the restaurants the wine is sold at) but even so, not one person, after reading that Ryan, among thousands of winemakers, is one of six to watch, signed up on the Six Degrees mailing list.

This is obviously no reflection on Steve.  He’s been doing this a long time and is very fair in his critiques and thus well respected.  My question is what statement it makes, if any, about us as consumers?  Put another way, any review will only get you and I so far.

The Washington Post – hardly Star Magazine –  had this to say about What Happens in Vega$ (dollar sign courtesy of the brilliant marketing geniuses at 20th Century Fox):

“Hits the Jackpot”

And yet, one look at the movie poster, with Ashton Kutcher looking all smiley and Cameron Diaz looking all I just had sex, could not get me into the theatre.  Could I be missing the funniest Vega$ movie since Honeymoon in (which really was great)?  Maybe.  But I’ll never know because, well, I just won’t.

Did some of the 39 visitors in the last ten days come from Steve’s blog, look around and see a bad Ashton Kutcher film?  Again, maybe.  More likely, until some of these folks actually try the wine for themselves, do they really want to voluntarily ask for another piece of mail to show up in their mail/in box?

I’ve said this to many people before.  We’ve had some wonderfully high scores on our wines and some that I wish were higher.  Neither has affected sales.  The great scores did not cause the phone to ring off the hook, nor the reverse cause them to stop ringing.

I suppose this just proves that nothing and no one can replace ones own experience.  Do I wish more people were wowed by Steve’s generous inclusion in his piece.  Yes!  But I can’t dwell on such things.  I’m headed to Blockbuster to rent, What Happens in Vega$ – just in case.

Published in: on August 28, 2008 at 1:45 pm  Comments (1)  

Blogging the Bloggers

Back in the day (circa 1980-something) I might have been called an average student.  If you looked at my report cards or saw my overall class standing, I could be labeled an underachiever.

Or if I’m not censoring my own writing, lets just brand me as a cheater.  Sadder still, it’s made all the more pathetic by the fact that I cheated *and* was still mediocre.  L-O-S-E-R.

My academic espionage was not even carefully thought out.  There was no coded test answers written in the palm of my hand that could only be deciphered by holding it against a small mirror I hid in my red Puma Clyde’s.  I did not break into the school the night before a big test and tape my cheat sheet to the bottom the desk.  No, I just sat close enough to another student (who coincidentally I may be seeing for the first time in 25 years come November) and simply watched as he held up the appropriate number of fingers to correspond to the multiple choice test answer.

Looking back on it now I realize my accomplice must have sometimes given me the wrong answer because he was one of the best students in our class and clearly I was not.  Shouldn’t we both have went Ivy League? I’ll have to ask him about that…

My point is, my initial concept of blogging was someone who takes another’s hard work, adds a few comments and suddenly they too, by proxy, are working hard and coming up with interesting content.  By this token I’ve failed yet again, preferring to start ideas from scratch to blog about, when someone else’s great talent was waiting for me to use it as my own.

So until Frank Rich starts writing about wine I figured I’d go to the next best source, Alder Yarrow, who writes the award winning wine blog Vinography and added a great piece last week regarding wine competitions.

The story was of particular interest to me on two levels.  One, in a former life I started and ran a screenplay competition at my old company, Final Draft and two as a small winery owner now, the chore of getting people to notice you, like Hollywood, is harder than ever.

Are there people out there looking to cheat the artist, be it winemaker or writer, like I cheated the Seaford School District from roughly 1979-1983?  You know there are.  And yet, there is something special in taking someone previously unknown and well, making them known.

There’s an old adage that during the gold rush days, the only people who actually made money were the one’s selling picks and shovels, and we used this phrase a lot at Final Draft.  But not in a condescending way.  Yes, we were selling the picks and shovels to Hollywood for those hoping for gold.  But you’re not going to take away the dreams of those who want it anyway.

This too I think holds true for wine.  There have been many adages about getting into the wine biz as well, most of them snarkily (if humorously) worded.  And I suspect that some who’ve written them held just a little bit of envy that they were not participating in such a passionate way to express themselves.  For no one can possibly get into wine with the thought of making money.

And thus, let the dreamers dream, for if a competition medal keeps someone who might otherwise quit making wine, stay in it with the hope that they can make it their life’s work, then who wants to quibble with that?

Published in: on August 14, 2008 at 11:23 am  Leave a Comment