Monday, June 16, 2014

Wine Blog Awards 2014: Analysis and endorsements

Earlier this year I, and at least one other former winner, got a phone call from Tom Wark, who created the Wine Blog Awards. His main question was, what would it take for people to take them more seriously?

This week the public votes on the awards, so I'm going to do Tom a favor, perhaps: I'm going to take the nominations seriously, with analysis and endorsements. I visited every nominated site, except in one category. Let's start with the good news first: the categories that the unknown judges got right.

Best new wine blog:

This is a stacked category and speaks well for the immediate future of wine blogs. Three of these sites -- Sherry Notes, La Dolce Vino and Italian Wine Central -- will probably be nominated in the near future as single-subject blogs. I'll vote for Italian Wine Central because of its ambition. The blog design encourages you to use it as an encyclopedia.

Best single subject wine blog:

Very strong category. I really enjoy Alfonso Cevola's writing On the wine trail in Italy; he beautifully captures both the romance and the reality of wine. But clicking through them, it's impossible for me to vote for any site but the Washington Wine Report, which seems to give links to any story anywhere about Washington wine. Comprehensiveness in an easily navigated format puts it ahead.

Best industry wine blog:

I won this award two years ago and it stunned me, both because I didn't expect to win anything from what I saw as a very insular system, and because I don't think I write an industry blog. The award made a difference in the way I view my blog. I don't go out of my way to cover new advances in bottling lines, but I am more aware of how many industry readers I have.

That self-serving paragraph was not purely a digression, because this is a strong group of blogs that mostly aren't industry blogs either. How Texas Wine and Trail and Lodi Wine didn't end up in Single Subject blogs, I'm not sure. Terroirist's David White, like me, probably sees himself as writing for anybody who's interested in wine. I'm less sure of who to vote for here than in any other category. But I think I'll vote for Fermentation, because it is the most clearly planned to be for members of the wine industry.

Best original photography or video on a wine blog:

This is a silly category, because photography and video are completely different. It's like saying "Best orginal writing or graphic design on a wine blog." It's not like the organizers are saving money by combining categories, because all the winner gets is a Trojan prize, a badge for their site that leads  readers back to the organizers' site. (That's why I don't display badges.) So come on, Zephyr, how about separate categories next year?

For photos, I was knocked out by The Lynmar Life. Go look at them, they're both beautiful and illustrative. The Journey of Jordan Winery manages to make me laugh with its racy videos a few times a year. It's a tough call, but Jordan has badges all over its site already (suckers -- or is that why they keep winning?) So I'm voting for Lynmar.

Best winery blog:

The battle between Lynmar and Jordan is rejoined: both are very strong blogs, enjoyable whether or not you care about that particular winery. I think I'll split my vote and go for The Journey of Jordan in this category.

Best writing on a wine blog:

I'm nominated in this category so I won't comment on it.

Best wine reviews on a wine blog:

Wine reviews are the focus of too many wine blogs. It is the best way to break into the wine critic business and make real money: Antonio Galloni and Jeb Dunnuck had newsletters, basically blogs with reviews, before getting hired by Wine Advocate. But both Galloni and Dunnuck understood something that few bloggers do -- to be useful to readers, you need to have comprehensive reviews of something, not a Chardonnay you like here and a Madeira you like there.

The Reverse Wine Snob does a great service for Trader Joe's shoppers by reviewing that chain's cheap, faceless wines, going through a lot of dreck to find a few gems that he describes in traditional aroma-and-flavor ways. One could argue for reviews that give more background information and context, but in this group I vote for utility.

Best blog post:

I'm sorry that I'm going to hurt some feelings here. The nominated posts are all nice posts that the authors can take pride in. But are these really the best the wine blog world had to offer in an entire year? If so, it's easy to understand why most people don't read wine blogs.

What makes a great blog post? Clearly not brevity in the eyes of the judges. Not news, either. Or explanatory posts about wine science. Or colorful personality profiles.

The absence of provocative posts is also noticeable. This might not be a bad thing, as many of the most-commented-on blog posts tend to be about the same few issues. But if one purpose of a blog is to spark conversation, none of these posts did it. Go look at the comments on them. In wine terms, this is a low-acid category.

In the only truly compact nominee, Lauren Mowery writes an excellent version of the common "I tasted two wines and wrote about them" post. But I'm voting for Richard Jennings' loooong post because he provides a resource online to anyone interested in Santa Barbara County wine history.

Best overall wine blog:

Before I hurt everybody's feelings here, it's time to consider how the nominees came to be decided.

People nominate themselves or their friends: there might be 100 entries for "best blog post" and "best overall wine blog." Then a group of judges winnows them into five finalists.

Last year that group of judges was impressive. But the Wine Blog Awards site has not been updated, so we don't know who judged this year.

Once that winnowing has been done, the public votes on the awards, which I encourage you to do after reading this. The public's vote counts half and the judges' vote counts half.

I was a little cynical about the quality of blog posts in the previous category, but nowhere near as cynical as the judges for this category.

Been Doon So Long is nominated. Randall Grahm is one of the best wine writers in the world, but he has produced exactly 2 posts in the last 8 months. That means that judges got together and said, "There are not 5 wine blogs anywhere in the world that are better than reading Randall Grahm once every four months." Maybe they're right, but you have to really hate wine blogs to think so.

That's not the only problem with this category. I don't know how to say this without giving offense. After looking at all the nominated blogs in all the categories, I can't understand the criteria the judges used for this award, which should be the highest of all. There are runners-up in several other categories that would easily win my vote in this.

I put it to you, dear reader: Go look at all the Best Industry Blog nominees, or all the Best Single Subject nominees, and then come back and look at these. And tell me which you think is the strongest group of blogs, overall.

I have to vote for somebody and now that I've hurt everyone's feelings, I guess I'll make a statement and vote for Randall.

What I would do differently:

What's the purpose of the Wine Blog Awards? When Tom Wark started them, it was to recognize excellence in wine blogging. Now that they're run by the people behind the Wine Bloggers' Conference, perhaps they're mostly to encourage people to pay to attend. That would explain the "share the wealth" approach, in which many of the big names in wine blogging are not nominated.

Whichever the purpose, I think the awards would benefit from expanding to include the professional sites that all of us bloggers should be reading. Have a category for Best Magazine/Newspaper Wine Coverage, and Best Overall Wine Website. Have a category for Best Site with a Paywall: Advocate vs. Jancis vs. Spectator would be interesting.

From personal experience I can say that Best Industry Blog isn't an accurate category, and it's unfair to sites actually for the industry like SVB on Wine that people like me can win it. There are a few sites like Señorita Vino that are written for wine novices, and that's a different audience than most blogs target. Perhaps there could be awards by intended audience: Best Blog for Novices, Best Blog for Wine Lovers, Best Blog for Industry Readers. I'd feel happier about winning an award with that wording.

And name the judges again. I don't know who decided the Best Overall Blog and Best Post finalists. But I'd like to.

Vote in the Wine Blog Awards here. Public voting ends June 19.

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Unknown said...

Thanks for the endorsement Blake, it means a lot to me.

And I too wish I could add more context and info...I try to on many reviews but as this is still just a hobby for me time doesn't always allow for it! Perhaps someday...


Joe Roberts said...

I won't get into the omissions and inconsistencies among the list of finalists, but I do want to point out something that the awards desperately need: sponsorship. Without it, they are unlikely to rise above junior varsity status from an event/seriousness standpoint.

Anonymous said...

To make people to take Wine Blog Awards more seriously, the key factors are organization and clarity. We don't know who the judges are. The nomination period opened for the brief four days or so, all out of blue, without much announcement. None of the promised deadlines (we will announce finalists by XYZ date and so on) are ever met. At this level of organization, it is really hard to look at the WBA seriously. And the whole WBA process is definitely not encouraging for more and better bloggers to appear.

Jamie Goode said...

Thanks for the endorsement Blake... Oh, wait, I've just read what you said about the category I was shortlisted in. Er.....

W. Blake Gray said...

Hey Jamie! Don't worry, when you lift the virtual trophy over your head my commentary will be equally weightless.