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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Fermented Thoughts: Can Wine Blogs be trusted?


Today, I am veering away from the slate of reviews sitting on my stack of stuff, here at the CCWB a place I like to refer to as Chez Vino.

I came across this article on a friends Facebook wall and I thought I needed to tackle this issue head on. So I'm just going to dive in and it's my hope that we can have a conversation about this apparently contrived issue. I don't even know why it was posed in the first place, other than to dredge up some controversy.


But that is fine, I don't mind getting hands dirty now and then or taking on some bilge-water study, that supposedly supports their theory. Am I just taking the bait, giving these folks some my precious content space? Perhaps, we will see. Let's dive in.

Just Saying: Remember often times "pseudo-science" is used to make political book. I think it is a great practice to question or consider the source of the information, to find out why and for what purpose it [said study] was gathered in the first place. So unlike others that have rushed in making snap-decisions and knee-jerk comments about a study, that they have not seen. Step back and take in some perspective would ya?

So c'mon, really? Are you going to take Johnny-Pimpleface's rock-solid wine advice over at the local juice-joint, who just started working there and cares [or knows] little about why wine and food can be so much more together than on their own, but whose real mission it's to get rid of that old vintage hanging around the wine shop, versus that of a dedicated wine blogger who has most likely tasted through thousands of different wines in a year and has nothing to gain except the fun of sharing, their thoughts? Does that make sense? That would like taking the advice of the kid filling an over-sized bucket of popcorn about the plot points of the movie you are about to watch versus some of the insightful movie reviews I find on a film blogs [but, omg how you trust them, they never went to film school]. Thus, the premise of this supposed study that questions the credibility of folks that write wine-blogs is highly questionable and completely unfair.

The Upshot: The study heartily implies that most folks would rather trust a wine store clerk over a wine blogger for recommendations on wine, thus wine blogs are irrelevant or at the worst dead. According to the study they site; Independent bloggers are one of the least trusted sources for wine information in the UK, USA and France, according to research published by the Wine Intelligence and reported by Harper's Wine and Spirits online Wine Magazine. This part just doesn't make any sense at all, if you just think about it for a moment. I mean the whole story is silly, most [95%] wine bloggers have ZERO to gain from making a recommendation on a certain wine, while the guy/gal at the local wine shops recommendation is at best suspect.

The Wine Intelligence study supposedly supports the idea that, "50% of wine consumers [they polled] trust the advice given over the counter by a wine merchant, compared to one in five who trust what independent bloggers have to say about a wine" Read More. So my question to you Mr and Mrs.Wine Shopper, why would you take the recommendation of some wine guy/gal in the wine store over that of a wine blogger? What would make you think that the recommendation given over the counter [think Bevmo] is more sincere or straight forward than the guy/gal behind the keyboard passionately writing their heart out for next to nothing in compensation?

This part of the report is some of the most discouraging information that I've read about the state of Wine Blogging in the US market. The report cites that, "the US, wine merchants are even more revered, with 80% of consumers surveyed saying they trust wine merchants." Read More That is an really interesting statistic especially in the light of the fact that 90% of the folks that represent my audience are from the US and that this wine-blog is in the Top 10% of all US websites. I know that does not dispute the claims of the Wine Intelligence study, but if wine-bloggers were so mis-trusted than why, oh why are there so many folks reading blogs like this one? Hmmm, I would love to know the answer to that question. In fact I see many folks in wine-shops these days, shopping using their phone, scanning the UPC to evaluate price and perhaps consulting a wine blog whose review was pulled up in a google search.

Here's what I think is going on; I mean anyone can cork-off and say this or that about wine-blogs and the folks who write those blogs and pretty much get away it. We don't have teams of lawyers, willing to fight the man [major wine pubs], who I suspect may have perhaps sponsored this so-called "study" in an effort to deflect the fact that many wine bloggers are starting to erode away their audiences and potentially taking some their advertising revenue. The use of flagrantly flimsy studies to make the point that wine-bloggers are irrelevant, this is what I call sour grapes.

Thrown Under the Bus: In writing this article today I came across another wine-blogs take on the issue, who took a decidedly different tact and approach, like completely agreeing with the gist of the study. Yep, one of our own has thrown the majority of us [other wine blogs] "under the bus" and backed up a few times just for good measure. Mr. Alder Yarrow over at Vinography gave credence to the Wine Intelligence study by saying this, "Most people are most certainly going to trust their local wine merchant, an established critic, or a sommelier in a restaurant more than a blogger. And frankly as a rule, they should. Why? Because a lot of wine bloggers don't really know what they're talking about." Thanks Alder! In the same breath I could easily say that many folks working in wine stores today, don't taste enough wine to really know what they are talking about to even begin making recommendations outside their own inventory and that is a fact.

Broad Brush: Far too many wine bloggers are summarily dismissed by a wave of the snobby hands of elitist as Scott Rosenberg writes in ‘say everything‘, a concise history of the blogging phenomena, “saying that ninety percent of blogs are crap‘ is way too close to implying that “ninety percent of people are crap.’ John Corcoran  commenting on the Mr. Rosenbergs findings had this to say;  It seems a tad disingenuous to address the tired and the vapid, and then to paint the whole on the failings of the few.

Credibility Gap?: According to article entitled Must-Read Wine Blogs Eric Arnold [Forbes.com] characterized Mike Steinberger [Slate.com] thoughts about wine-blogs [Dr. Vino's specifically] regarding the relevancy of wine blogs "folks no longer need to turn to a magazine or newspaper authority they feel they must trust unquestioningly"  and "when it comes to influence, wine critics are now on a level playing field with the best bloggers."  Mr. Arnold's take on the subject of wine blogs and their creditability do seem to stand in stark contrast the thoughts of fellow wine blogger Mr. Yarrow statement about wine bloggers creditability. Based on the Must-Read Wine Blogs article you could surmise, that wine-blogs are NOT the untrusted sources of information they are made out to be in the Wine Intelligence study.

Wine Bloggers are Wine Writers: Tom Wark, As I've noted before, all wine bloggers are wine writers, but all wine writers are not wine bloggers. The distinction between "mainstream wine media" and wine bloggers is becoming nothing more than a distinction in the capability of the writer to gain an audience. I don't think there is anything substantially different in content, methodology or philosophy between those who write for blogs and those who write for wine magazines or newspapers. Tom Wark of Fermentation: The Daily Wine Blog

Summed Up: I think there are as many bad wine bloggers as there are wine shops folks that give bad advice, by saying this I not throwing them all under the proverbial bus, but I'm just stating the obvious that not everyone will meet or exceed the standards of  the consummate professional. I'm not sure why is there is so much loathing for folks that write wine blogs and I really don't know why folks who write blogs themselves feel compelled to broad brush all other bloggers as being  unprofessional. Those are questions for which I don't have any answers, just suspicions. That said, I have pretty much laid out my case about why I think the whole article [Wine drinkers trust merchants over bloggers] is nothing but a sham and in my opinion, the study is at best questionable [suspicions confirmed]. But I would love to hear what you think about the subject if you would like to contribute to the conversation.  Until next time sip long and prosper, cheers!

Survey Bias Admission: This post was written a few days after my original post on the topic, by the wonderful wine blogging [dynamic] duo over at Another Wine Blog who also decided it was time to take a closer look at the so-called "survey" that none of us are allowed to see, unless you want to cough-up some $2,150 USD.  Here's the headline title; Wine Intelligence admits Bias, Ulterior Motives in “Wine Blogger Distrust” Release. Read More.

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2 comments:

Wine Harlots said...

Nice work, Bill.

This has been the current “issue du jour” in the wine blogosphere the past few days. I want to say it’s “much ado about nothing” it’s ado based on limited information.

First issue, no one has read the Wine Intelligence report. Everyone is spinning on a 400 word piece in Harpers (who doesn’t appear to have had access to the report, either) with the last note advising you can buy the report for £1300 (under $2100 USD). Great. I’ll take two. Harpers didn’t publish my comment that to see the report you need to pay $1300. Perhaps it was an inadvertent mistake (although other writers who were critical of the report also had their comments censored) but it gives pause and raises questions.

Two. No one has been able to scrutinize the methodology. We should take their word for it that they have used rigorous statistical analysis to craft and compile their report. (The report we have to pay a kidney to see.) Trust them. Trust them to tell the world, internet wine writers suffer from a lack of trust. Even though we publish on the web, a few of us have journalistic integrity and critical thinking skills. Trust us? How about you show us.

Three. Another writer has mentioned that few wine blogs are older than five (5) years. To have a base of 20% reader trust from the general public is a huge accomplishment. Because of lack of access to the report, it’s impossible to tell if the report has merit or if the conclusions are limited or flawed in the analysis.

http://www.harpers.co.uk/news/news-headlines/10114-wine-drinkers-trust-merchants-over-bloggers.html

http://www.wineintelligence.com/2011/01/24/internet-and-social-media-reports-new-product-release/

Bill Eyer said...

Nannette, you make some great points. Harpers didn't want to publish my comments either, further illustrating that this whole so-called study is nothing but rubbish.

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