Wow! I’ve had some time to reflect on Thursday’s panel “Virtual Vino” at the Italian Trade Commission’s Vino 2010 event. It was standing room only and great to see so many familiar faces in the audience. The feedback we got was extremely positive and clearly reinforced just how important…and controversial…social media is in the U.S. wine market.

vino10 on Broadcast Live Free

With only two hours for presentations and discussions, it was a pretty big subject to cover, so we were really able to only touch on some of the more “sensitive” issues. The overriding theme centered around the implications of the democratization of information created by this thing known World Wide Web or informally as the Wild Wild West.

Fred Plotkin asked the first audience question which led us right into the conundrum of how blogging is impacting traditional journalism and where the line demarcating fact from opinion lies.

I’ve been thinking about all the ramifications of Fred’s question which initially centered on the idea that “authenticity” was a critical issue to Millennials. He asked how I defined the word. And as I’ve had the chance to cogitate on it I realize there are two definitions that need to be addressed individually. One is in regard to authenticity as “honesty”, and that is more a function of voice of the writer/blogger. The second relates to authenticity as “truth”: facts and disclosure about the source of the content.

As to the writer’s voice, the conversation at the seminar revolved around the subjectivity of wine criticism and review. Your “notes of tobacco, tar and leather” may be someone else’s “bold, assertive and ripe fruit.” No one is “right” and a numerical rating scale is inherently flawed in that it presupposes the reviewer is comparing all wines against the same set of criteria. There’s been a lot of discussion on wine blogs about evaluations focusing more on a scale of “I like it” to “I hate it”. It’s perhaps more of a useful way to rank (not rate) the personal appeal of all wines against what is inherently a complex of personal opinions. At the end of the day, a Parker 94 and a 1WineDude “I really liked Wine A better than Wine B” are equally useful. The former more so from a commercial perspective and the retail price elite wines can command in the marketplace, the latter because I’ve found from personal experience that Joe Roberts and I share similar preferences in wine. (but Joe’s opinion is free, Parker’s you have to pay for)

Regarding facts and disclosure, the operative word is transparency. The FTC has mandated that bloggers must disclose the source of samples. (Interestingly, traditional journalists are not held to the same standards.) Many if not most bloggers have been doing this routinely anyway. But it came to a head with Tyler Colman’s (aka Dr. Vino) outing of Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate’s inconsistency in enforcing its own policies on samples and trips. The original post thread begins here and there is also a good summary published on Slate by Mike Steinberger. My personal opinion is that we will look back on Tyler’s post as being the point at which the influence of established wine critics and journalists crossed with the influence of the online world. And let me be perfectly clear here. It may have seemed that the whole seminar was saying that Andy Blue’s self-described dinosaurs are going extinct, but that’s not what we were saying at all. The point was the internet has created a new medium that enables regular folks to weigh in, and an audience that respects those opinions more highly than the traditional journalists. The very real problem faced by many traditional writers is how to get compensated for those skills and services they’ve honed over the years when arriviste bloggers don’t expect to make money at all.

I’ll be writing more on this in my next post, but wanted to get this up in response to requests for access to the video archive of the session. For those who want to see the slides I presented, they can be found here: The Vintank report on Social Media in the Wine Industry, Tyler’s original post on the Robert Parker Kerfuffle and Mike Steinberger’s summary of the hoo-haw Dr. Vino created at