Wine Bloggers Conference—In Defense of Old White Men?

Before I get started, let me say that I had the reporting of my escapades at this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference more or less plotted out: I was going to start from the beginning (yes, a rather novel approach) and write about 3-4 posts in sequential order. I was even contemplating covering my two attempts at sabering a bottle of sparkling wine (the first highly successful, the second, well, not so much) and a brief, but apparently memorable dance involving a pole.

James Conway (from Amazon.com)

James Conway (from Amazon.com)

I had planned to eventually write about my experience meeting a few of the more renowned professional wine writers, but others beat me to the punch this past week and there has been a bit of a crap storm over Saturday’s “Panel of Professional Wine Writers” and the subsequent “Writing Workshop” Sunday morning. Much of the criticism centers on the fact that the three professional wine writers on the panels, James Conaway (author of several books),  Mike Dunne (former wine writer for the Sacramento Bee), and Steve Heimoff (former writer for Wine Enthusiast), were all (short) old white men. While I am certainly not short, I am male, on the verge of “old”, and tragically white (just ask the members of the basketball teams that I coached in another life).

Mike Dunne (from his Google+ Bio)

Mike Dunne (from his Google+ Bio)

I guess I feel the need to come to the defense of my brittle pasty brethren (I like to think that I am not a member of the age group that the three share, but truth be told, I am likely within a few standard deviations), since they can do little to change these characteristics. Most of the offense that I have seen thus far was taken by wine bloggers who happen to be female (Amy Corron Power of Another Wine Blog,  Pamela P [she does not use her last name on her blog, so I won’t either] of Señorita Vino, Mary Cressler of Vindulge, and Marcy Gordon of Come for the Wine). I spent a bit of time with each of the dissenters (except Amy—we were apparently on many of the same excursions, but she evidently avoided me like the plague, which was a wise move on her part), and not only did I like each of them, but I largely shared their opinion: Wine writers are far too white, male, and short (OK, the last one I added since, at 6’4”, it is very difficult for me to see “eye-to-eye” with any of these professionals who barely approach my armpit—if the measure of a wine writer was how well he or she played basketball, I doubt I would have many peers).

The fact that the three chosen were “experienced” white men was certainly not the fault of those on the panels, nor was it entirely the fault of the organizers of the event, since the unfortunate fact is that the vast majority of “professional wine writers” are white men (and a lot of them seem to be old and short).

Steve Heimoff

Steve Heimoff (from Facebook)

In a comment to her article, Mary Cressler cites several women that would have been wonderful additions to the panel: “Lettie Teague, Linda Murphy, Jancis Robinson, Katherine Cole, and Andrea Robinson” (the last of which was instrumental in my nascent wine appreciation some 20 years ago, and as a result, I have had a secret crush on her for nearly as long, but that is another story). I would add a couple to that list: Mary Ewing-Muligan and Marnie Old, and there are no doubt more (depending on the criteria), but the fact that I can cite only a half-dozen or so widely acknowledged female wine writers speaks to the much larger conundrum. Add to this that each and every one of the women mentioned is white and I think we are getting to the real issue here: Wine appreciation (and therefore wine writing) has been the bailiwick of the wealthy for centuries, and although that has certainly been changing over the last 50 odd years, white men have a significant head start. And given that many of these positions appear to be de facto life-long appointments, well, there has not been many opportunities for different genders or colors to claw their way in.

My problem with the trio of panels (the third was “How to Taste Like a Pro” which included, Joe Roberts and Patrick Cominsky, two more old-ish [sorry Joe] white men [although Patrick is rather tall]) was not their gender, their race, or their lack of vertical acumen, but rather that there was nary an attempt by the panelists to assume the position of the majority of their audience.

I certainly respect all the panelists and I truly appreciate them for being a part of the conference. They offered several valuable pointers (including the need for rigorous self-editing), and I believe when I left I had a few tools that would enable me to become a better writer.

But I wanted more.

Rarely (ever?) did they attempt to put themselves in our (the blogger’s) place. The wine world has changed drastically since they carved their niche, but none among them acknowledged the “new reality”. Their pointers and advice were largely centered around their withering versions of wine writing: Newspapers are close to extinction and glossy magazines are not far behind.

What I want, what I need, is advice based on the current state of wine writing and more importantly, where it might be headed. I had hoped that those currently (or at least relatively recently) in that arena would be better able to answer the “What’s Next?” question that underlies most of what I do.

Corbett-Barr

Corbett Barr

The collective lack of effort to see “wine writing” from the perspective of their audience instead of the way it was when they started was in stark contrast to the keynote speaker, Corbett Barr, who, although not a wine blogger, clearly conducted considerable research about the genre before getting up before a presenting at the Wine Bloggers Conference..

While one day I hope to have the scoop on breaking news, write a tell-all book on an iconic region, or, perhaps, be a paid wine critic for an online “newspaper” or “magazine”, until then, my readers are looking to me to help them negotiate the morass of wineries all vying for their consumer dollars. I aim at providing a portion of that information with a well-written and hopefully clever story. Perhaps that is not as glamorous or as noble as the role that the writers on the panels have played, but had they taken a moment or two to do a bit of research or even a modicum of reflection, they may have arrived at that reality.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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53 Responses to Wine Bloggers Conference—In Defense of Old White Men?

  1. Nice writing. If not for my quite STELLAR previous post on the sabering of Champagne (with a sword), I would not have given you so much grief for your attempt to do so in front of a group of astute but tipsy onlookers, albeit with the edge of a flute on a less-than-optimum-cold bottle of bubbly. Cheers!

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  2. Nice post, Jeff. Where I think you hit the mark was in the idea that the panels should lead the way to the future – not necessarily be a reflection of the past, by which a mean the world in which established writers fit a single demographic. That certainly isn’t to say that the panelists all hold the same views and styles (I’ve only personally met Joe, and I know his viewpoint is different and, in my view, “modern”), nor do I believe that sex (or age or whatever) should be one of the criteria for selection on such panels. Nonetheless, there are, obviously, plenty of women wine-writers worth their salt whose observations as panelists would be quite interesting; one you didn’t mention is Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews (one of my faves). Largely because women were not part of the “establishment” of wine writing (and thus you can only think of a handful), their writing and style can be quite refreshing.

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    • Thanks Amy. While the “historical perspective” about how they got into the wine writing business was interesting from an academic standpoint, it was in no way germane to today. They also focused on their own method of writing and while one could certainly argue that “good writing is good writing” there was no attempt to put any of it into a modern context. As I said, I was grateful they were there, and appreciative of their comments, but other than “edit, edit, edit” and a prolonged conversation about comma usage, there was not a lot of useful information.

      Elaine is great, and it would have been wonderful to hear her perspective, particularly about what you mentioned: “the establishment”. One of the many questions I have: In order to become “more respected” (which would need to be defined), which is the better path–to try and fit in to the established hierarchy or to blaze a trail? And the follow-up (no matter which you choose): How would you advise one to do that?

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  3. I’m supposed to help my readers? And if next years conference features panels of young tall white women, I’m SO there.

    Seriously, good points here. I often think about future direction and how out readers consume our info. The problem is I’ve seen some commonalities amongst successful bloggers and it’s just not for me. Granted they have more time and energy…

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    • All I know is people contact me all the time, about what to do. Some want to know what wineries to visit in (fill in a region), others want to know if a certain flash sale item is a good deal. Still more call me from the wine store, wanting me to walk them through their purchase. If I could ever monetize that….

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  4. This comment comes from Joe Roberts through email:

    While I think you’re lumping me into the old category a bit prematurely, I do agree that diversity would be welcome at these panels and is long overdue. And that in s short and can’t play basketball too well. As for pointing a way forward, my understanding is that wasn’t the point of any of those panels, so expecting it was probably an expectation misalignment. It’s a good idea, though, so I’d encourage you to flesh it out and propose it to the wbc advisory board. I sit on that board so we have some hope for this happening 🙂

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    • I don’t think that anyone today, in their right mind, would come out as “against” diversity. Steve said on numerous occasions that he thought that it would be a good thing. My point is that there really is not that much diversity (other than gender) in wine writing in general or wine blogging in particular and that is something that should be examined.

      My other point is that other than for reminiscing about “the good old days” looking back does not really help. If I followed all the steps that each one of those on the panel took at the beginning of their career (with the possible exception of you), I would be no further along than I am now (I am not saying that I am looking for a gig in the industry, per se, this is but a hypothetical). I had hoped that those already on the “inside” would have a different perspective for those on the “outside” which was the vast majority of the attendees.

      Perhaps they do not have those answers, but I am disappointed that they did not seem, at least, to anticipate the questions.

      Oh, and you’re old. Just ask your back (or mine).

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    • Alison says:

      Joe, I did say (behind your back, to a woman of color, under the ago of 40- GASP!) that I didn’t think you should’ve been lumped in with this group. Just thought I’d say it “to your face”, as it were;) Wonderful to see you again- I hope to catch up over wine again sometime soon!

      The title of this post had me riled up (nicely done), but I’m happy to see distinctions of content and perspective highlighted. I completely agree with your sentiments about wanting to see more on where the industry is headed.

      Cheers,

      Alison

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      • Joe Roberts says:

        Thanks, Alison!

        Jeff – some of his still doesn’t totally compute logically. The panelists did what they were supposed to do, from what I can discern, which was to give their perspectives. If those perspectives were not relevant, it’s not the fault of those panelists, it’s an issue with the organization of that panel in meeting the needs of the conference-goers.

        The odd thing about the critiquing session (I was not present at that) is that it seems the reactions are negative but that again the panelists were doing what they were asked to do, which was to edit and critique the writing, in editor type modes. That’s always going to be negative, by definition, isn’t it? We shouldn’t fault them for doing the job they were asked to do (though we can let Zephyr know if the result was/wasn’t valuable, etc.).

        And yes, my back IS old!

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      • Joe, your underlying premise is precise: I have no idea what was the charge of the three panelists. Perhaps the WBC told them to act and react precisely as they did. Their perspectives are certainly valid and I really appreciate the work they did and the information they provided. I agree that given the presumed directives (that you suggested) the panelists were directed to limit their comments and responses to a finite spectrum, they did an admirable job. But, and this is a fairly large but (no tall white guy jokes, please), they should have anticipated the perspective(s) of their audience. Had they done that, it might have resulted in a different experience.

        As an addendum–I desperately need an editor, but that is an extravagance that I can not afford at this point (how much do you charge?). I am not adverse to negative feedback from an editor (I did have a bit of a tough dissertation advisor), but for me, a “writer’s workshop” is more than an intense editorial critique. I would not say that the result was not “valuable” but it was perhaps a bit lacking….

        And my back is old as well (but you knew that).

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  5. Hey, I never mentioned the height of the panelists! And very little of my argument focused on the demographic of the speakers, but more to the content of which they spoke. I totally agree with you, there needs to be more talk of where writing is headed, and less “rules” to how they worked in the past. Acknowledgement to how wine writing is changing, and an acceptance of that. Though I’m not sure the specific panelists actually accept that wine writing is indeed changing, nor that they are okay with that.

    I appreciated Corbett Barr’s keynote a lot, for that reason. He spoke to us, bloggers. I also agree with the commenter above that Elaine Brown from Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews would have also been a great addition to the panel. She has managed to bridge the gap of blogging and professional print writing, and has a unique style. In a Facebook discussion I also added Talia Baiocchi. Yeah, yeah, she’s also a woman, but from a younger generation, and also writes professionally for both online and print.

    The bottom line, however, is that wine writing is changing, and we need to embrace that!

    Ps, I was bummed to have missed your sabering attempt. Though I did see a video of it 😉

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    • I will completely own the height thing, but it is surprising (to me at least) how many “established” wine writers are a bit, um, diminutive.

      You raise a great point that I really did not touch on at all–perhaps those in the establishment either do not see that wine writing is changing, or, if they do see it, they do not welcome the change (and therefore ignore it).

      Perhaps the key to it all is as you imply–women who seemed to “have bridged the gap” and have been able to “make it” despite being “one of the boys.”

      Thanks for stopping by and you really did not miss much in the way of “sabering”. Here is my first ever attempt with a flute:

      Liked by 1 person

    • Joe Roberts says:

      “Attempt” is the right word… 🙂

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  6. Old white men – in England, we call them “Pale, Male and Stale”.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well written, Jeff. Appreciate your perspective on this subject. While I appreciate the time and insights Messrs. Conaway, Dunne, and Heimoff shared, I’m with you about wanting/needing more current/future-state discussion.

    I would like to see a panel of (short) women wine writers at WBC15 — especially including Elaine Brown, Lettie Teague, and Katherine Cole — that focused on the ‘tomorrow’ of online wine writing. I suspect this would be one of the most popular WBC panels ever.

    This, and the other related posts, make for interesting navel gazing for the wineblogger crowd, but I look forward to your future writings that return to your stated purpose of helping readers ‘negotiate the morass of wineries all vying for their consumer dollars.’

    And… just for the record, a ‘short’ person could have sabered that bottle (warm, not fizzy or otherwise)… 😉

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    • It will be interesting to see where this goes at #WBC15. There is a big difference between those that blog and become accepted and those that are first accepted and then start to blog. An all-woman panel would be great, but I fear the focus would become gender and not “innovation” or “progress” in wine blogging. With few exceptions, I think successful women wine writers have risen to where they are not because of their gender, but due to their intelligence, creativity, and ability to circumnavigate a milieu that is dominated by people with different backgrounds. THOSE are the people that I think we can all learn from, be they female or male.

      Oh, and short people are not good saberers. There was a study. Swear.

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  8. Pamela says:

    Great post, Jeff. I agree that diversity is important, however it was not an issue for me personally. To clarify, my blog post was not written to complain or sound off about the three writers, rather, I was attempting to parody some of the pointers they gave us during the panel and the Sunday workshop. Perhaps my sarcasm went overboard.

    My primary issue was that I thought Sunday’s session would be a true writers’ workshop, in which each submission was critiqued in a smaller breakaway session, and that a writing exercise or two would be assigned on the spot and peer-reviewed. I think the more global issue behind the flurry of posts and comments is that there is still some debate (confusion?) about the difference between blogging and journalism.

    In addition to blogging, I am a contributing writer for the food and wine website of a national women’s magazine. While my blog has a more personal (and often irreverent) voice, I try to maintain a certain degree of objectivity and I fact-check and proofread everything before I post, in the same way I would an article for submission to a magazine. I realize, however, that not every wine blogger wants to write for a print or online publication.

    I don’t fault Steve, Mike or James for the tips and advice they gave. In fact, I agree wholeheartedly that we as bloggers should adhere to the basic principles of good writing: use proper grammar; show, don’t tell; maintain objectivity; don’t bury the lede, etc. I disagree with their advice not to write wine reviews unless you have decades of tasting/reviewing experience, and I completely disagree with the comment about not using humor. It’s the backbone of my blog and it’s the vehicle by which I fulfill my mission of taking the fear and intimidation out of wine.

    If anything, I think the Sunday workshop could have been organized better. The panel should have received our submissions at least a week in advance (as opposed to three days), and more time should have been allotted to the small-group critiques. If a future session cannot go beyond two hours, then limit the number of participants. As for the critiques delivered by the three writers, sure, criticism stings, but in my opinion the critiques were constructive. I’ve taken numerous writing classes and workshops, and I’ve been flattened by an instructor’s evaluation of my submissions, but it made me a better writer.

    The Wine Bloggers Conference is the perfect (I know we’re not supposed to use that word) forum for a discussion about the evolving state of the media, where bloggers fit in the equation, and how to prepare for a future in which bloggers are fully embraced as members of the media.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Well stated, Pamela – and everything you say makes sense. Let’s hope that the WBC organizers are seeing these blog posts as well and can take points into account moving forward.

      Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pamela says:

        ¡Salud, Larry! I share your hope that the WBC organizers are monitoring the pulse of the conference-related dialogue on the blogosphere, in particular, the conversation about the writing panel and workshop. I applaud Jeff (and all of the other wine bloggers) who have posted on the topic. There’s a lot of good material to consider for making future Wine Bloggers Conferences even more helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for reading and taking the time to make such a well-thought out comment. First, I know that the fact that the gender (and race) of the three panelists were perhaps a secondary (or even tertiary) point by you, Mary, Amy, and Tracy. I decided to write this precisely because I felt the same way as you about the content. From reading the comments on all of your posts, it seemed as though most of the attention there was on gender, not the actual content. So I thought, being a (non-)short white male, I could perhaps refocus the discussion on the content of the panel and subsequent workshop. I hope you did not see my post as a misrepresentation of yours–I needed a jumping off point and the fact that almost all of the criticism was coming from women seemed like a natural starting point for me.

      I agree that I took away a lot from the sessions, but they were more reminders than actually “new”–it has been a few years since my dissertation defense and I have tried very hard to erase it from my memory. I expected (even welcomed) the criticism, since for me, that is an essential part of the writing process.

      But for me, there were so many (sometimes conflicting) absolutes being thrown out during the panel, I actually left before it was over. I did not feel that they were talking to me at all.

      During the workshop, I felt as though it was no more than an editing exercise–there was little talk about content, structure, etc. In the piece that I had submitted, I had missed an errant word that remained from a previous draft and Steve spent a good bit of my three minutes that I had with him drilling home the need to self-edit. OK, I got it, can we move on?

      I am with you on the humor (and for that matter, sarcasm) thing. If I can’t (try and) be funny or clever, then my blogging days are over. Perhaps the number one goal of my blog is to make someone smile (or at least think about smiling). If I am not “allowed” to do that, what is the point?

      I think no one has really figured out the “writing vs. blogging” dichotomy so I, like you it seems, hope that we can use the WBC to try and start figuring it out (if, indeed, there is an answer).

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pamela says:

        Thanks so much for your reply, Jeff. I completely get it as far as you using our posts as a starting point, so no worries there. I just wanted it to be clear that my post was not a complaint, but more of a (misguided?) attempt to have fun with some of the useful (and not-so-useful) advice we heard from the panel of writers.

        I should have opened my comment by thanking you (and Mary, Amy and Tracy) for so eloquently sharing your opinions about the writing panel and workshops.

        It seems we’re all on the same page. Writing is a medium in which absolutes simply don’t work. Of course, there’s no getting around the mechanics of proper grammar (nor should we try!). Blanket statements advising against writing wine reviews or using humor are misguided at best, insulting at worst.

        But you are absolutely right – the writing workshop was simply an editing exercise, and it left out some of the more essential elements of the workshopping experience, including structure, style, voice and in-depth content evaluation.

        As Larry noted, I hope the WBC organizers are listening. And kudos to you for starting this constructive conversation.

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      • It is interesting that Steve Heimoff, on his blog today, said this in a post about natural wines:

        “ideology is never a good thing, is it, because it insists that one way, and one way only, is the approved way, and everything else is false.”

        I would be the first to admit that there are certainly some absolutes when it comes to writing, but above the most basic tenets of spelling and grammar, are there really any absolutes in writing?

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  9. A very well written piece by a very tall, white dude who is so darned entertaining, especially on video!

    I did not attend the two workshops at the center of this ‘controversy’ but have been following the other blog posts you’ve mentioned here that have covered them, and it seems that you’ve done a great job navigating the issue and covering the salient points.

    There is no doubt that ‘traditional’ writers will not see the writing world in the same light as bloggers do – or that very few will. It is interesting that Steve Heimoff is not singled out as someone who truly should have been able to, knowing that he himself has had a blog for quite some time and should be ‘sensitive’ to the needs of bloggers.

    It might have been interesting, and perhaps this can be done in the future, for the WBC organizers to get IMMEDIATE feedback on the sessions that they offer by having something like ‘real time’ survey monkey surveys up immediately after the sessions so that folks can comment right then. Without that, what happens oftentimes is that one person comments after the fact and others may jump on board – but those who feel differently may be intimidated to speak up. Just a thought.

    As you and others have pointed out, there are very few ‘non-male’ professional wine writers who seem to fit what many are looking for, In addition, I hope everyone understands how costly it might be to bring a Jancis Robinson or Karen McNeil to the table, and though the Blogger’s Conference certainly is important, it most likely does not have the deepest pockets available to make this happen.

    And this brings up a whole other point – would ‘citizen bloggers’ be willing to pay more to attend to enable more interaction with local wineries and/or allow for larger funds to be available to be able to attract other names to come speak? I’m gonna write my own blog post on the topic, but thought I would throw it out here as well – as the organizers may be somewhat ‘handcuffed’ in terms of the talent they can bring based on monies available. Also, how would wine bloggers feel about a ‘professional bloggers panel’ of non-wine writers?!?!

    Keep on writing – and keep on practicing sabering, my friend 🙂

    Cheers!

    Liked by 3 people

    • I prefer to think of myself as of “average” height and that the rest of the world is below average.

      I like your thought about instant feedback–but I would say that should be used in conjunction with “later” feedback. I am in the researching business (at least for another 8 days) and there is no easy answer as to how to get people to provide feedback. Usually, it is only those who feel passionately about the subject that will respond (unless you are a geek like me that fills out just about every survey since I know how important it is to the researcher).

      As for your other suggestion–increasing costs to bring in “bigger” names, I would retort with my favorite question of all time: “What is your goal?” Is the goal to make a big splash? Is it to provide great content? I know my favorite question is a bit obvious, but it is not all that easy to answer and there might be different responses based on the panoply of personal paradigms (how’s that for some alliteration?).

      Would Jancis Robinson (who was a keynote, I believe a few years ago) provide “better” information than Elaine Brown? It depends on how you define “better” and “information” and no doubt there will be a segment of the crowd that would prefer the “other”.

      I do think that a panel of professional writers could be very interesting as long as they approach it similar to Corbett Barr–they research and reflect on what it means to be a wine blogger….

      And the sabering incident at the Clos was but an aberration, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Here’s where I have an issue with getting male OR female print writers — they are PRINT writers. I want to hear from successful BLOGGERS (and I don’t count Heimoff among bloggers — yes he has a blog, but he didn’t have to start a blog from scratch — he already had a platform and created a place for himself and simply moved that on-line.) The problem I have, and continue to have is that from the very first conference in 2008, rather than celebrating blogging for the antithesis of traditional print writing that it is — there has been this need to corral bloggers into a little sandbox to school us on how we might achieve greatness as print writers, while at the same time adding “and by the way, you will never be anything until you write for some local daily in print.” THAT’S the issue here.

        Imagine going to a conference billed the Rhone Rangers Conference, where your keynote speakers and panel experts every year told you .. the Syrah maker:

        Here’s how I make Cabernet Sauvignon,
        Here’s how you could make your Syrah taste more like Cabernet Sauvignon.
        Unless you make Cabernet Sauvignon no one is really going to pay attention to you. And by the way, you’ll never really make good Cabernet Sauvignon because the competition is too fierce and we have taken all the top spots.

        And you say, but I don’t want to make Cabernet Sauvignon — I make Syrah, and pretty damned good Syrah at that!

        If people are interested in print writing, then have a separate paid pre-conference workshop on how to get into print writing. Don’t have PRINT writers telling us how to blog. Don’t make the keynote speakers or dinner speakers print writers who spend most of their keynote disdaining bloggers. Don’t Award blogs whose writing just appears to be copied from a print page and put on-line. If we are going to continue to call this annual event the Wine BLOGGERS’ Conference for GAWD’s sake can we make it entirely about the celebration of WINE BLOGGING? Is that too much to ask?

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      • I agree with you to a certain extent. I agree that I want information that is going to help me make my blog better, plain and simple. That information can come from a variety of sources, not just from successful bloggers (although I imagine that would be perhaps the most valuable source). Just as I was able to mine a few nuggets from successful bloggers who were not WINE bloggers, I should be able to do the same from successful wine writers that are not bloggers (I agree with you 100% that Steve Heimoff is not a blogger—he is a print guy who publishes some of his thoughts online). The key? Those “outsiders” need to at least attempt to understand the differences between their position and that of the wine blogger. I think Corbett Barr did an admirable job. The twins who spoke about monetizing blogs, and Messrs. Heimoff, Dunne, and Conway, not so much.

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  10. Great post! I definitely agree that any panel should be made up of diverse opinions and perspectives…. and sounds like it would have been far more interesting to talk about how to engage wine readers of the future instead of the past.

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  11. Beth says:

    I thought your sabering at the Jordan/J party was excellent, for what it’s worth. I also love your writing style here. Funny, yet you make a good point. As a single, white, taller (than most of the panel guys) female, I’d like to know where wine blogging/writing is headed, too. Sometimes I wonder why I write and if there’s something I should be doing differently. Cheers!

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  12. Hmmm…the topic of male wine writers AND sabering in the same place…seriously, a gutsy break-away. As a somewhat tall (though no where near 6′ 4″), white woman who writes about wine, I was slated to attend the Writer’s Roundtable…sadly, I missed it, so this helps bring me up to speed…Provocative, thoughtful piece. Thanks, Jeff.

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  13. talkavino says:

    I personally miss the connection with the race and color (or height for that matter), unless you are aiming at the cheap publicity. I had my issues with both Pros tasting and wine writing sessions. Nevertheless, talking about wine writing workshop, good writing is a good writing, and I think the advice of the people who made it professionally still worth something. Without any doubts, I would gladly listen to Jancis Robinson, Hugh Johnson, Matt Kramer and many others, but I would still repeat what I said – good writing is a good writing…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was not aiming at “cheap” publicity, but stating a rather glaring fact. Some have been calling for “more diversity” on the panels at WBC, but they are really only asking for more women. The fact that there is little to none racial diversity in wine is never really talked about nor addressed, I was just pointing that out.

      As for your axiom that “good writing is good writing” I agree, to an extent. The panelists were, for the most part, talking about a certain type of writing, journalism, and stated somewhat unequivocally that blogs should adhere to the tenets of journalistic writing. While there is certainly a lot to be learned from that style of writing, and much can be applied to blogging, it is by no means the same type of writing. Some of the best blog writing would never even be considered as journalism (nor should it be—look at the winner of the last two wine Blog Awards for Best Writing—is that journalism?). For example, I do not know if it was Mr. Dunne or Mr. Conway, but one of them stated that one should avoid humor.

      Huh?

      Perhaps when writing about wine for the Sacramento Bee or the Washington Post, but if bloggers should avoid humor than Mr. Hosemaster should return his two awards.

      Like

      • As an old white male satirist, I’d like to ask exactly what it would be that I should return? The virtual shield? I keep getting nominated for Poodles, and I win now and then. There’s not a thing to return. I don’t even post the shields on my site.

        I’ve never considered myself a wine blogger or a wine writer. Nor should anyone here. Become a writer first, learn the craft, and then you’ll succeed no matter what you write about. I’m a comedy writer, a satirist, who’s subject happens to be the wine business. I write for fun, for the creative exercise. That anyone reads my crapola astonishes me. Those who dream of making a living at wine blogging, well, you have only to ask how profitable it has been for the top bloggers. Not very.

        There is a very good reason to avoid humor in your wine writing. Most people are terrible at it, and they simply embarrass themselves trying to be funny in print. That was probably the point being made by Mr. Dunne or Mr. Conaway.

        OK, this is what I get for doing a Google Search for HoseMaster. Sorry to intrude.

        Like

  14. Alana Gentry says:

    Does anyone else besides me believe that diversity IS very important at a conference about wine? Wine is global, the Internet is global (therefore our audience is global) — it’s so odd to me that WBC doesn’t integrate this fact into all the panel topics. PS. I find counting the number of well-known wine writers who are male/female/transgender really avoids the larger issue. Couldn’t find 3+ people with diverse backgrounds/audiences with equal chops as these guys? No way, I believe the organizers thought they had a hot panel, it was not an oversight,

    Like

    • Alana, you may certainly be right about the formation of the panel—three well-known entities could have been viewed as a complete “score” by the organizers. I have no idea what their motives or thought processes were. But over the course of the weekend, I would barely need both hands to count the number of non-white people attending the conference. So, if by “diversity” you mean something other than “gender” I think you would be hard-pressed to find any in the wine blogging sphere. Does it exist? Sure, but it is hard to find. Perhaps that is something for a future WBC (although in my experience, talking about the need for racial diversity to a bunch of white people is generally not all that well attended).

      My real point was the message—talking about journalistic standards to a bunch of bloggers just did not make all that much sense to me….

      Like

  15. Theresa says:

    Probably my single biggest pet peeve in life is when women (or men) play the gender card. Having been the youngest person to ever make management in two Fortune 100 companies in my corporate career, I have always ever found that if you do your best work and give your best effort, you will get your reward.

    That being said, I find all the ranting about these two sessions to be a bit ludicrous. In my experience, the purpose of a conference is to learn something. It isn’t to learn what you expected to learn or to learn what you wanted to learn but simply to take away a few pearls a wisdom. If you are after a specific syllabus then go to a classroom, not a conference. The key difference being that you need to go into every session with an open mind and take away something from what is offered.

    While it is true that I didn’t learn what I expected to learn from the ‘Pros’ session, I did take away a valuable insight into what it is like to be a ‘pro’ and what some of the criteria are for the pros at various publications. Great pearls.

    It is also true that I came out of the Print Writers session a bit disheartened about my writing BUT I recognized that the panel was speaking about THEIR points of view as it relates to wine writing which was in print, not in blog form. So, again, take it for what it was worth…which I saw as an incredibly valuable insight into why the print industry. The world has moved on to a more agile and less staid approach.

    I guess this comment is ‘in defense of conference-style learning’. I think it is all about expectations and what baggage we all bring when we walk through the doors. THANK YOU to all the gentlemen who took the time to participate in the panels and give me their valuable time and insight…all for a conference fee that was practically free!

    Like

    • Theresa, I agree with most of what you say—conferences are different than classrooms (although the word comes from “confer” which requires interaction between interlocutors, but that is another discussion, perhaps), and you need to approach them with an open mind and glean what you can.

      But.

      I underscore my point—I am not sure what the presenters were paid to be at the conference, but in my mind, when you take the money, part of your responsibility is to adapt your talk to the people in the audience (as Mr. Barr did fairly well).

      Had Mr. Barr simply talked about the entrepreneurial aspect of his blogging, I am fairly certain he would have been far less well received (I assume he was well-received based on several anecdotal conversations with people whose pinion I respect).

      I, too, very much appreciate all the people who presented, but as conference goers we do not have to blindly accept the content. I think had they adapted their respective presentations to the audience, it would have enhanced the entire program—no matter how much or little they charge those to attend (I do not know about you, but it cost me about $1500 to attend, which is not practically free to me at all).

      Like

      • Theresa says:

        Absolutely agree that these two sessions were the weaker sessions of all those I attended and, with a bit of presenter preparation, could have been much improved. For the $300 that I spent for lodging, conference fee and a tank of gas, I more than got my money’s worth (in food and wine alone) as well as everything else I gleaned from the conference.

        Now having one WBC under my belt, will I go to the conference in a destination that will cost me much more? Not likely. I’ll wait until it comes back to a locale where I don’t have to risk so much and can go in without high expectations. I guess that’s how I avoid disappointment and keep my glass half full. 😉

        Like

      • Certainly a great approach!

        Like

  16. SAHMmelier says:

    Joe’s comment about “expectation misalignment” is a great point and one that can be addressed easily. I thoroughly enjoyed each part of the conference but did feel this was a theme in responses from myself and others. Another comment I heard frequently was “targeting the audience.” Both issues could be easily resolved with a syllabus of sorts that fleshes out topics, focus, and level of engagement. As a former educator, I have plenty of opinions on how this could be done successfully. It simply requires more communication between the promoters and the presenters ahead of time and a final course description, provided by presenters, when the format is decided upon. Courses designed for beginner, advanced etc. would help everyone. Targeting an audience this diverse is nearly impossible unless you do so. As for the other portions of this post, I’m not touching as I am on vacation and a notorious conflict avoider. Unless it is in person and can end with a hug :). And btw I too am sorry I missed your now infamous performance. Cheers!

    Like

    • I think you hit the nail on the head: “It simply requires more communication between the promoters and the presenters ahead of time.” It seems reasonable that there was not as much communication as there could have been, but who knows? As Joe pointed out, we have no idea what their charge was in re the panel.

      Also a good idea for some “tracking” based on experience to funnel people into sessions that would be most advantageous.

      Not sure what other portions you mean, but I hope you are having a great vaycay and it was great to meet you. Hopefully our paths will cross again at some point!

      Like

  17. Pingback: Not your Grandfather’s Wine Blog | Another Wine Blog

  18. marcygordon says:

    I’d like to point out that I never mention race or height in my posts, and refer to age in response to another bloggers comment.

    http://tinyurl.com/nfrrvno

    But reading comprehension is apparently very low these days.

    Like

    • You are correct. By grouping you with the others, one could have certainly inferred that all of your criticisms were similar. That was not my intention, so I apologize. The fact that you took the opportunity to issue an ad hominem, well….

      Like

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