The internet, and more specifically the recent social media revolution, has changed wine writing.
A lot, and fast.
It’s the wine writing equivalent of the meteor impact 65 million years ago on the Cretacious–Tertiary boundary, and it has left many traditional wine writers wandering around like confused dinosaurs, wondering what happened.
I’m not sure any of us understand fully the implications. But what I see here is a lot of opportunity. There’s the chance for many new voices to have their say. The notion of a full-time wine writer, paid a decent salary by a newspaper to write a weekly column on wine, is now confined to history. A few still exist, but it’s not an option for new entrants.
I was lucky when I started wineanorak.com, in that my timing was good (being one of the first helps a great deal), and I could do it alongside a day job which took the financial pressure off me. The need to earn money can end up causing writers to compromise themselves by taking too many gigs that leave them beholden to too many people. It’s this taint of commerce that afflicts many of the mainstream wine media outlets, where advertising money brings coverage, and content isn’t primarily determined by interest, but by commercial relevance.
The wonderful thing about the social media revolution is the authenticity of much of the content. Instead of the old fashioned expert dishing out advice to readers in a vertical, one-way transmission, we now find ourselves as participants in a conversation – a horizontal relationship where it is important to listen and respond, as well as speak.
This conversation is self-correcting, in that there are enough smart participants that when commercial interests try to push things in their direction, people sniff this taint out a mile away. Self-promotion and ego is also immediately obvious, and clumsy attempts to pull rank simply fail.
My hope is that this new way of communicating will result in a new egalitarianism. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if real talent had a clear route to success? So much of modern retailing results in wineries with distribution succeeding at the expense of those with better wines, but less commercial clout. In the wine writing field, there are still some handsomely rewarded ‘experts’ getting the best gigs, often the expense of those with better palates, more open minds, and a truer love of wine.
One final point. I think it’s interesting that new forms of communication have opened up wine writing not just to writers, but also those in the trade – people who make and sell wine. Many of these are gifted communicators. It’s great that the self-correcting nature of social media (frauds are easily spotted) means that people who are gifted communicators, but who would previously be considered compromised, can find their own voice and following. Isn’t it great that consumers can now drink a bottle of wine while tweeting the person who made it, or who sold it to them?