Robert Parker should be ashamed of himself…

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So there apparently was some information floating out there about the Wine Bloggers Conference that I find very interesting.  Mostly because of the source and because while he should be ashamed of himself, I ultimately agree with him.

It was Robert Parker himself that seems to take issue with bloggers.  The thread on eRobertParker.com centers around bloggers and the fact that they are changing the industry.  Good, bad, whatever your take they at least admit that its changing the industry.

I don’t take issue with that.  What I do take issue with, and I take it directly with Mr. Parker, is his mis-representation of the conference, his lack of understanding of the community, and is unwillingness to even attempt to correct either one of those two mistakes.

First, let me say that the thread calls into question the motivation behind not only the Wine Bloggers’ Conference but the OpenWine Consortium.  The original poster says:

“I believe you and many of the top wine critics are under fire today not by chance but a systematic effort of the wine industry to change the paradigm of the relationship between consumer of wine and producers of wine….”

and then goes on further to say:

“With regard to whether this is an industry planned movement or just a shift in buying habits enabled by technology, I think could be up for debate. But when I look at things like the Open Wine Consortium or I look at www.winebloggerconference.com and examine the participants, sponsors, etc., I think there has to be a strategy for change? The technology industry has made shifts in market conditions through consortiums and conferences for years. It’s not wrong or right. It is an industry doing what is best for the producers.”

Joe (thread originator) – My name is Joel Vincent.  You can read my background here – JoelVincent.com.  I created the OpenWine Consortium and I produce the Wine Bloggers’ Conference. I am not someone deep in the California wine industry.  I am fascinated by technology and wine is a serious passion/love.  I created the OpenWine Consortium as a consortium of wine companies all over the world to learn about and drive Web2.0 technologies’ adoption because its GOOD FOR WINE.  I believe that now and always have believed it.  It started as a consortium because that is how I understood how to create a movement like that – I’ve been active in the IEEE and the WiFi Alliance as well as efforts in creating standards for Ethernet and Internet Protocols.  When I saw that the wine industry needed a way to learn about these technologies I created the OWC to try to organize the more knowledgeable companies and have them efficiently proliferate their understanding of Web2.0 to other wine industry people who don’t.  Also, its a Web2.0 community because I believe the best way to learn is by doing.  So just by using the OWC the industry is learning the power of Web2.0.  It has since grown into a much broader business networking platform for the wine industry than I ever imagined attracting people from every continent and every facet of the wine business.

The Wine Bloggers’ Conference was a decision I made to organize the community of wine writers that are blogging and give them a forum to learn from one another.  It wasn’t an original idea – the European organizers and I discussed it for a while then did independent conferences last year and combined them this year.

Since most citizen bloggers are exactly that – citizen bloggers – I figured they didn’t have the funds to attend something like the Professional Wine Writers’ Symposium ($500 admission I think?).  So I asked wine companies to sponsor to subsidize the costs and make it reasonable.  They came in droves.  I’m sure they have their agenda, but I don’t care what their agenda is as long as the goal of getting the community together to learn from each other is met and the prerequisite to that is to make it affordable.  Mission accomplished there.

I hardly think that I am the “industry” but yes, its an astute observation that I have created a platform the for the movement of Web2.0 into the wine industry.  Thanks for the props (FYI to eRob folks – “Props” is short for “propers” and is a slang term commonly used by those under 40 to recognize that one has been afforded the proper credit for their efforts).

Third, to Joe AND Mr. Parker, the Wine Bloggers Conference is held in CA and Europe with affiliated events cropping up in New York now as well.  So this movement is even more widespread than you understand, more pervasive than you’ll every know, and DEFINITELY not confined to California.

Its late and I have two young tots.  So let me get to why Mr. Parker should be ashamed of himself.  I’m personally annoyed because I (and every blogger I know) would never, EVER take anything away from Parker’s importance to this industry or his achievements.  But let me address some of the word, written directly from Mr Parker, about the Wine Bloggers Conference.

“looking at that Bloggers Conference, it does look like a big and free sloppy kiss and then some from the California wine industry…with much more than minimal hospitality offered…love to see some transparency from the bloggers(how many of them are paying for travel,car rental,hotels and meals?)…”

For someone who continues to make wine blogging synonymous with the Wine Spectator Award debacle, this is one of the most uninformed mischaracterizations I’ve seen in the Inter-webs’ series of tubes.  The WBC is a community organization effort.  Driven in the US by myself and Allan Wright of Zephyr Adventures (niether of us are part of the “CA wine industry”) and in Europe by Catavino Marketing and Robert McIntosh – again, no CA there.  Bloggers are paying for everything but a couple of dinners.  It even says that on the site.  Did you read the site?

Next, and this is directly from Mr. Parker:

“or should I say blobbers since they are the source of much of the misinformation,distortion,and egegious falsehoods spread with reckless abandon on the internet…”

Is “big and free sloppy wet kiss and then some from the CA wine industry” not misinformation, distortion, and egegious falsehood?  I’m just an electrical engineer from MIT but I think “egegious” is a misspelling or I’m just worse at this writing stuff than I thought.  I think those two statement are ironic though…unless I don’t get that concept either.

Moving on:

“no doubt I miss some very fine producers as do others,but their trade associations may have had it with the independent press in search of just the best….and need to garner support from somewhere…by targeting the independent and more established press..it may help bloggers’ readership…the public sucks down anything perceived as “scandal’…even if the story is totally bereft of any investigation or fact checking…”

Mr Parker you need to understand something.  Last year, Alice Feiring gave a keynote speech to bloggers and it was inspiring.  In that speech she said that wine bloggers represent something unique in the entire history of wine writing and that is a community of wine writers.  The one dude who entrapped Wine Spectator is not enough of a sample set to make conclusions on the entirety of the wine blogging.  Again, note the irony of your “blobbers” statement.

More?  Sure thing:

“and of course,and bloggers can’t continue to exist without wine-related advertising(we do and will continue to do so)…”

Now there you are showing again a fundamental lack of understanding of not only wine bloggers, but Web2.0 in general.  People participate because they want to contribute to a community.  I can tell you that no one in wine blogging that I’ve met sees blogging as something that they will do as a business.  And the speakers (who include businesses that are not wineries, Alder Yarrow of Vinography, Steve Hiemoff of Wine Enthusiast, and many others) preach to everyone that comes to the WBC that if this is their intentions then they need to get off the bus right now.

And he continues…

“but that conference sounds like a California wine trade junket to further the interests of the vast California wine industry that feels slighted by coverage from the more established press….as always there is a simple solution for wineries feeling ignored….make better wine…it will get attention faster than you ever dreamed….fascinating list of sponsors under-writing all the costs for that event…not one of them pro-consumer….all of them pro wine-selling business….”

This may be true of the sponsors, but the content of the event is driven by the community.  Topics are discussed in the US conference and expanded upon in the European conference and vice versa.  There are ad-hoc events to discuss topics that weren’t explored at the main WBC.  This movement is much much bigger than you understand, clearly.

For the reasons I stated above, you should be ashamed of yourself.  But now, let me agree with you in a HUGE HUGE way:

“Vinography comes to mind immediately…so it is not so much an anti-blogging position… just anti irresponsible bloggers…”

Yes, Alder is a clear leader.  And we are ALL “anti-irresponsible” bloggers.  Bloggers are a very very new community.  They are trying to understand themselves as much as people are trying to understand them.  The topics that people want to discuss at the conference include:

  • Blogging and the future wine writing and wine reporting
  • Beyond Words: How Video Content is Changing the Wine Biz
  • Create a panel on Unified standards for ethics and disclosure
  • Legalities of Blogging

Wine bloggers are voting to discuss these topics.  They want, collectively as a community, to understand how to be responsible wine bloggers and what that means.  Many don’t have the distinguished career that you have in wine writing.  Blogging is still very young by many standards and absolutely in its infancy in the wine industry.  There are many things yet to be determines and at least the community wants to take responsibility for what is happening.

You and your voice can be a leader to a new generation of wine writers and lead the change that is happening to the wine writing industry.  This change is going to happen.  I’m not forcing it, just giving it a platform.  I’m not the CA wine industry as Joe seems to thing, I’m just a nerd from MIT that loves wine.  If you came to the conference and started to discuss with the community what you believed should be deemed as “responsible” blogging you’d have 200 very enthusiastic bloggers doing their best to live up to the standards set by thought leaders like yourself.

But rather than being the center of the inevitable change, the beacon that guides that change in a responsible direction, you seem to be disparaging what you don’t seem to understand.  Rather than attending, understanding, and helping, you are pointing at the problems with blogging and offering no solutions.

If thats going to be your stance going forward you should refrain from commenting on what you and your Web2.0 advisors don’t understand and stick to tasting wine.