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“Preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers”

The joke in the wine blogging business is that the easiest and best way to goose your numbers is to write about wine blogging. And it works, actually, which says something about wine blogging that many of us probably don’t want to know.

That’s mainly why I stopped writing about wine writing. The people I want to come to the blog don’t care. They want to know about cheap wine, and anything else is a reason not to come back. If you’re any good, you write for your audience – not to please yourself.

That’s why I was so intrigued by Richard Thomas’ piece in the July issue of North Bay Biz, and not just because he said very nice things about me. That Thomas, an icon of Sonoma Country agriculture and wine, wrote the following means something:

I’m not sure how many of you read the multitude of wine blogs, Twitter feeds and so forth regarding wine. Some make a few good points, but in general, it sounds like they’re preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers.

In other words, sloppy and boring criticism. That’s because too many of us reinforce the conventional wisdom, and we don’t ask the most important question a critic should ask: Why? Why is the business this way? Why does this wine taste this way? Why does this wine cost this much, and this wine this much? Why does this matter to our readers?

This style of criticism exists almost nowhere else, not in film and literature,  certainly, and not even in cars or electronics. Can you imagine a wine-style review in The New York Times Book Review: “87. Offers a hint of savory adjectives balanced by unctuous characters and a zesty finish.”

The Italian Wine Guy (who wrote knowingly about this in May) wonders if we are becoming as irrelevant as Pilates. The Hosemaster of Wine, never one to mince words, went even further last fall: “What amazes me is how wonderful and entertaining and fascinating wine itself is, whereas wine writing is, with few exceptions, dreary, pedantic, insipid and repetitive.”

The best critics are conduits, placing their subject in perspective and facilitating discussion, understanding that they are not the final arbiter but one voice among many. In this, they should be an intelligent, well-versed, and thoughtful voice that their readers can trust. The point is not whether someone reading the blog disagrees with me; the point is whether I have helped them understand enough about so that they are able to disagree with me.

3 Responses to “Preaching to the choir and looking for agreeing nods from readers”

  1. acevola@swbell.net' Alfonso says:

    that has been one of my top read blogs, ever. Go figure…

  2. wblakegray@gmail.com' Blake Gray says:

    I’ll be honest.
    There are plenty of times I put a lot of effort and thought into an originally reported piece, and while the pageview numbers might be decent, nobody will say anything.
    Comments are a poor proxy for readership. But that’s how a lot of the outside world views readership. I don’t want my blog to look like nobody reads it. So when I get a bunch of posts in a row with few comments, I know it’s time to post something that people will talk about. Like today.
    We all know what the hot-button topics are. Personally I’m not interested in being one of those wine bloggers who are always blogging about wine blogging. But if it works for you, go for it. Just please be honest about what you’re doing.

  3. Rich Thomas, a great guy, and certainly one of the most interesting characters in Sonoma County, has it only slightly wrong. Wine bloggers aren’t looking for agreeing nods, they’re looking for any kind of nod at all. Some acknowledgment that the hits on their stats page aren’t all generated by relatives, friends and other spammers.
    Wine blogs are about the blogger, and only barely about wine. We all want to be heard, and not just heard, but admired. It’s what makes us all seem pathetic an awful lot of the time (myself included, of course).
    There isn’t anything new to say about wine. There is only a chance you might write about it in an interesting or original fashion. That’s what the successful bloggers do–whether it’s you, Jeff, or Alfonso. Folks with less talent come off as foolish and pandering. But no one reads them. Except Rich Thomas apparently.

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