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A Few Thoughts About Blogging

Photo by: Greg Gorman

Posted: Jun 16, 2008 5:35pm ET

A couple of housecleaning matters for today.

Friday’s blog, about what would-be buyers of Chateau Montelena might consider should they look at the winery and its business prospects, is a perfect example of an imperfect blog.

In collecting my thoughts rather hastily, I didn’t clarify the differences between sales, or case sales, or case volume and revenue as well as some readers would have liked. But the intent was to distinguish volume from bottle price, hence the Two-Buck Chuck reference. It can sell millions of bottles at narrow profit margin and have big revenue.

But I also forgot one more key factor in a winery’s value and that would be inventory. In a Montelena-like scenario, with the 2004 vintage currently on the market (and not a great wine, agreed John), the winery would have the 2005, 2006, 2007 and soon 2008 vintages in inventory, and that’s a lot of potential revenue.

One more thing: There are two movies coming out dealing with the 1976 Paris Tasting, in which the Montelena Chardonnay won. One is a fictionalized account of the event, titled Bottle Shock, and focuses on how stunned the Barretts were to win; the other is based on George M. Taber’s book, Judgment of Paris.

Backing up momentarily to my blog on Dry Creek. I only write about things I care about and my points about Dry Creek are simply mine. It’s not an attempt to put a dent in the area, or its reputation, or hope it suddenly becomes glitzy or trendy. I do hope that as an appellation its wines get better. Who can complain about that?

To blog readers such as Richard, who finds it odd that I don’t reply to general comments, well, I’m not one of those bloggers who updates his blog hourly or replies to every comment. I read most notes but, because I'm usually busy tasting wines or reporting for the magazine, I simply don’t have extensive time to debate blogging opinions.

Most days, I shut down my computer after work. I (and I know many others) found your comments worthwhile to read, and today I had lunch with one of those blog readers who is also a blogger and Dry Creek winery owner: Kim Stare Wallace, of Dry Creek Vineyards. I’m sure some Dry Creek Valley vintners' feathers are ruffled, but not Kim’s.

One of the things we talked about today and in days past is what are the defining wines of Dry Creek. She brought me a selection to taste, which I will soon, in a blind format, with other wines, which will extend the discussion at least one more round.

Fred Brown
June 16, 2008 8:54pm ET

I enjoy your blogs and views. Even if I don't agree at first (or later) blush, I usually learn something from what you have to say. Keep up the great work!

Chris Haag
vancouver, bc —  June 17, 2008 1:24am ET
James, the beautiful thing about the blog is your readers get direct access to you as you do respond on occasion. I appreciate this, whether I agree with your opines or not. Plus, if I lived in Cal wine country, I wouldn't sit in front of my computer all day either. I am a bigger Sonoma fan (hence my comments on DCV) than Napa fan but that does not mean I do not read your blog intently and learn from it. Dissent is good whether its yours or the readers and keeps the site interesting.Keep up the good work!
John B Vlahos
Cupertino Ca. —  June 17, 2008 2:07pm ET
James, your blog on Dry Creek was an overgeneralization. But we readers must give thanks to Wine Spectator for allowing us to respond to it. Thanks
John Wilen
Texas —  June 18, 2008 9:03am ET
Here is a radical blog topic. Stop reviewing CA wines that retail for $10 or less. Since the 2000 vintage, the WS database shows 773 entries. That is ridiculous. There are 1,364 wineries in the State at last count. You cannot review all their wines. In any business, you have to establish limits. Not doing so is irresponsible. If you had infinite resources, sure, taste away. Try a few bottles of furniture polish for all I care. But you do not. There are too many important wines being missed or reviewed late. You have to make choices, hard choices.

Is JL and Co. going to find that diamond in the rough, that ten-dollar 90-point gem? Forget about it. Out of 773 wines, they rated one at 91, and another at 89. That is a big enough sample size.

Am I being too harsh? No. Buying an unreviewed $10 bottle blind is hardly risky. What is the real downside? Reminds me of a friend who wanted us to introduce ultra value wines into our weekly blind group tastings. We told him to roll the dice on his own. When you have 7 people together, it makes more sense to split $70 bottles. That way you share the risk. The same concept applies for where JL and staff should employ their golden palates.

In the past WS sacrificed timeliness for comprehensiveness. JL, the recent changes you have made are to be commended. But they are just a start. When your readers are faced with real world purchasing decisions, especially on a winery-direct allocation, we can¿t have you tied up on some $9 viognier.

Frankly, do we really care whether you rate Smoking Loon an 81 or an 82? That isn't a high-risk purchase decision. If we never find out the answer, does it matter? No, we need your expertise first and foremost when a new release is either going to disappear quickly or requires a significant financial commitment. That is much more important than going to the nth degree to capture every dog-butt cheap wine that has been released in the last 12 months.
Sandy Fitzgerald
Centennial, CO —  June 18, 2008 1:17pm ET
Great comments John! JL does have a tought job in deciding what to review.. Not being a Californian, I believe your logic should also apply to reviewing small case count wines. Why bother, if you don't live in CA near the winery, or your not the first 15 callers to the winery, you'll never see the wine, especially here in the hinterlands (Denver). I recently asked a wholesaler about obtaining a specific wine. He laughed and told me his entire allotment for his 15 state region was six (6) cases. It all went to restuarants. I remember one of B. Sanderson's reviews not long ago. 60 cases produced, 5 imported into US. For who's benefit was that review and expenditure of time?
Matthew Slywka
Seymour, CT —  June 18, 2008 1:18pm ET
I work in a wine shop and we focus on value wines. Not everyone is going to come in and drop $70 into a bottle of wine. A wine that gets 85 points and sells for $8 is actually a great value. These ratings are something we use to sell to our customers by either pointing it out to them or with shelf talkers. I love $70 bottles as much as anyone but retailers and restaurants use these ratings as a guide on what to bring into their establishments. I think Wine Spectator does a very good job of balancing everything.
John Wilen
Texas —  June 18, 2008 4:59pm ET
Matthew, I do not disagree with your point of view. It is just not one that I share because I am not a retailer. And yes I realize that WS has to answer to many constituencies. To me, it simply comes down to the highest value use of a scarce resource. Where do you draw the line?

I know that JL has been laying more and more of the low-end tastings off on MW. I hope they initiate many more ideas for the division-of-labor. I find it noteworthy that for the same vintages, 2000-2007, Robert Parker only published 101 domestic wine reviews at $10 or less

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