Best Winery Produced Content - Born Digital Wine Awards

I’m really proud to have been awarded the Born Digital Wine Award for Best Winery Produced Content for my post about who visits vineyards. This is my favorite category because I love when wine-producers tell their own stories. And it’s a huge honor to hear that people think I’m doing a good job. The judges all do work I admire and it’s great to think that wineries can be rewarded for writing casual content for everyday wine drinkers.

Thanks for all your support. ūüôā

News about Born Digital:

Live feed of the awards:


There’s an ongoing conversation about wine blogger ethics which is regularly brought up at conferences like VinoCamp or every time a government enacts new policies about blogging.¬† And I just saw some people tweeting about it recently.

Ignore this debate

My very short answer to this issue is that if you are thinking about starting or reviving a blog, I strongly recommend you ignore this debate.¬† Unless you are so big and important that people will scrutinize your every move and question your ethical standards, this debate will only hinder your natural voice.¬† Do what comes naturally.¬† Assuming you’re a good person, you will naturally tend to make good ethical decisions.

There shouldn’t be blogger ethics or wine blogger ethics.¬† There should just be ethics.¬† And the particular medium of blogging has very little to differentiate its ethics from the medium of pen and paper or idle chit chat.

Now, if you don’t like ignoring things, then here’s my long answer!¬†¬† ūüėÄ

The importance of blogger ethics / journalistic standards

I hear a lot of people say that wine bloggers should be as objective and transparent as journalists. A lot of people say that the key to a blogger’s success is authenticity or transparency or honesty or a big list of other similar words.

Here’s a recent tweet from Jamie Goode on blogger and journalistic standards. “Bloggers should hold to the same standards that all journalists hold to, or they risk losing their readers’ trust #blogdebate”¬† I’m not picking Jamie for any particular reason.¬† I’ve been meaning to write about this and the tweet reminded me.¬† I just don’t like saying “people say” and “they say” without offering some sort of proof.

Ethics or Practicality

Anyway, PEOPLE SAY, hold yourself to journalistic standards or risk losing your readers’ trust.¬† This is a recurring teleological argument that says one primary reason for bloggers to be ethical is that unethical bloggers lose their readers’ trust.

It’s interesting to note that Jamie’s not using the word ethics.¬† Instead, he talks about journalistic “standards” and he makes this very pragmatic argument.¬† If you don’t mind your standards, you’ll lose your readership.¬† He’s right of course that a blog that earns a large following through charming honesty could lose that following if it suddenly changes its tone.¬† But this assumes the blog already has readers to lose. And what’s the big deal with losing readers anyway?¬† He asserts that bloggers want more readers.¬† And now we’re getting to the real point.

It’s important to note that a lot of these discussions unfold in a room full of people trying to monetize their blogs.¬† If you don’t believe me, listen to the full conversation at VinoCamp Languedoc.¬† A recurring theme in this debate is “how do bloggers make money without compromising their ethics”.¬† I think this is where the conversation takes a bad turn.

In my opinion, the debate has very little to do with ethics as soon as you’re thinking about monetization.¬† I think ethics are based on moral absolutes that have little to do with practical consequences.¬† Once you start talking about money, you want to get pragmatic.

And it’s not bad to think about money.¬† But there’s a fine line between “How do bloggers make money without compromising their ethics” and “Defining blogger ethics to allow them to make money”.¬† So as soon as somebody in this conversation starts to talk about practicality, money, or pragmatism, you should make a mental note that you’re getting farther away from a debate about ethics. (That’s why I like Jamie’s tweet which specifically uses the word standards instead of ethics).¬† All that said, many people disagree with me.

Comparative ethics

I’m also very wary of people who rely excessively on comparisons between how journalists behave and how bloggers behave.¬† I know this is a useful comparison in some ways.¬† For example, think of your reasoning about whether it’s moral for an investigative journalist to protect a source even if the source might be a bad person.¬† This is a complex moral issue, but you can almost definitely apply your reasoning about journalists to bloggers.¬† Of course, there aren’t many investigative wine bloggers, and most of the comparisons tend to be much much cattier.

People tend to suggest that wine journalists are corrupt or opaque or that their editorial content is heavily influenced by their advertisers.¬† There’s an implication (somtimes unstated, other times quite explicit) that wine bloggers are purer because the medium is so cheap, and bloggers don’t feel the pressing need to let sponsor dictate or influence editorial content.¬† This is a distracting debate.¬† In my opinion, being better than somebody else does not make you ethical.¬† Any argument that relies too heavily on comparisons of this nature is probably a distraction from the true ethical issues.

The true ethical issues

What exactly are the issues of blogger ethics?¬† Earlier, I alluded to the notion that investigative journalists protect their sources.¬† This is a real issue in journalism and if you’re blogging about insider trading or blood diamonds, I think you face the same sort of issues.¬† But if you’re blogging about how wine tastes, the chances are you won’t confront these sorts of ethical issues.¬† What are potential issues then?¬† Here’s a list of arguments that get brought up regularly.

  • Lies are bad; truth is good
  • If you make money, you cannot be independent or objective
  • Good writing is an end in itself
  • Irresponsible writing promotes alcohol abuse
  • Good writing promotes wine consumption

Lies are bad; truth is good.
I think this falls into the category of things that matter even if you’re not a blogger.

If you make money, you cannot be independent or objective
I always get a bit fed up by this argument.¬† The simple answer is that I am a winemaker blogger.¬† And most wine bloggers are totally cool with winemakers blogging.¬† They even like it.¬† And a winemaker blog is automatically dependent on the fact that the winemaker makes wine (and sells it).¬† So a winemaker blog cannot generally be independent.¬† And some of you know that I actually embrace the subjectivity of writing winemakers.¬† That’s why I wrote a totally subjective book about the Cabardes where I can gush about how much I love my region and how cool it is.¬† So what’s so great about pretending to be objective when talking about a subject like wine that is generally about subjective experience.

Good writing is an end in itself
I wish this came up more.¬† I like this argument.¬† People often make sillier arguments like “We should write well because…. ” and then they say something that sounds important.¬† But you know what?¬† I think we should write well just because.¬† Like we should make wine well just because good wine is awesome.¬† We don’t need to come up with any other justifications!

Good writing promotes wine consumption
Again, I think good writing needs no justification.¬† But a lot of people still cling to this consequential reasoning.¬† I do like the idea that good wine writing can allow wine to reach a greater audience.¬† And I try to do this.¬† But I don’t think it’s an ethical/moral issue.

Irresponsible writing promotes alcohol abuse
I think this is actually sort of preposterous, but it can’t hurt to keep it in mind.¬† I mean nobody is reading my blog and then thinking I SHOULD GO OUT AND GET PLASTERED ON FINE WINE.¬† But who knows?¬† I would feel TERRIBLE if I ever found out that I contributed to a drunk driving accident or domestic abuse.¬† So don’t write things that could promote the abuse of alcohol.

Just blog already

If I actually paid attention to any of these arguments, I might never have started blogging.¬† The fact is that I’m a pretty decent person and when I sit down to blog, I can apply my normal ethical standards to my blogging and that’s just perfect.¬† If you’re Snidely Whiplash
or a Captain Planet villain, maybe you shouldn’t blog.¬† But otherwise, you can probably just use your normal standards and you’ll turn out fine.

I just realized that my long post about how to build the perfect winery website is really very very derivative of a post on the Top 10 Winery Website Mistakes from Catavino dating all the way back to 2007.

Catavino’s Top 10 Winery Website Mistakes:

  1. Hard to find email address
  2. Flash
  3. No information about wines
  4. No logos
  5. No RSS
  6. No physical address
  7. Incomplete bio section
  8. No images/videos
  9. No English
  10. Inconsistent posting

So ya.¬† On the one hand, my recent post was informed mostly by Never Said About Restaurant Websites, Jefford’s recent Decanter article on Missed Opportunities, and The Oatmeal’s recent comic about crappy restaurant websites.¬† On the other hand, I obviously read Ryan Opaz’s post back in 2007 and it’s been floating around in my head since then.

While his top ten list has a few items focused on winery blogs (5 No RSS, 10 inconsistent posting), the majority can be applied to all winery websites.

What we have in common

And I agree a lot with him apparently.

My list of things every winery website needs:

  1. Contact information
  2. Location
  3. A list of wines (with photos of bottles or labels)
  4. History

Strangely, our number 1’s and our number 3’s are actually identical.¬† The most crucial thing is contact information.¬† A simple email address.¬† And not a jpg of an email address that is impossible to copy and paste.¬† SPAM filters are really good, so there’s not a lot of risk in putting your email address online.¬† And also make your physical address and location in the world available.¬† Wine is extremely related to place and terroir.¬† People who visit your website will usually want to know where you make your wine.

My number two is his number six. My number four is his number seven.¬† But ultimately, Catavino said everything I said, and they did it like 4 years ago.¬† Which goes a long way to explaining why they’re in such agreement with me. ūüėÄ

Again, it’s very safe to assume that I read this post in 2007 and forgot about it until now.¬† So thanks for being ahead Catavino and Vrazon!

Where we differ

Use of logos – I basically forgot about this.¬† I mostly agree with them.¬† If you have a nice logo, you should feature it prominently on your website.¬† How have I gone so long without featuring the O’Vineyards logo on our website?¬† It used to be really prominent.¬† But ever since the last major redesign in 2009, it’s almost nowhere on the site.¬† What I did in that redesign though was put my face on every page of the site.¬† One could argue that I’m more recognizable than the O’Vineyards logo.¬† I’ll think on this.¬† Will adding a logo make the site feel too commercial?¬† Is it more effective to have people recognize my face or a logo?¬† Good questions.¬† Will consider more.

No English -While I personally choose to blog in English (and regularly receive flak for it), I think it’s more important to get people blogging at all than it is to make them blog in a specific language.¬† There are advantages and disadvantages to blogging in English.¬† But the most important thing I think I can do is get more people in the Languedoc Roussillon to blog at all.¬† If they do that in English, French, Occitan, Catalan, or whatever is entirely up to them.¬† But writing nothing is worse than writing in a rare language.¬† To an extent, I actually encourage people to blog in more obscure languages.¬† While the Vietnamese wine blog market seems pretty inconsequential today, if you really love writing about wine in Vietnamese, you will have very little competition and you’ll be able to create a community around your passion.¬† If you force yourself to write in English, you might just struggle to post simple, forgettable stuff that can get lost in the mass of other english language content out there.

Inconsistent posting – I agree partially here.¬† It’s better to post regularly.¬† And it’s good to warn your audience if you’re taking a hiatus.¬† But these are just good suggestions to improve your blog.¬† What’s primordial is that you blog at all.¬† Don’t get worried about posting too frequently.¬† Don’t get caught up in the inertia of a dry spell.¬† Sometimes you go two weeks or a month without posting and you think you have to make a really good post to do a comeback.¬† Or draft an apology.¬† Don’t.¬† Just post something. Anything.¬† Don’t worry if it’s too short, or not that good, or in a weird language.¬† This is the Internet.¬† People know that your winery blog is not a polished, edited magazine.¬† They will forgive you.¬† It is not your day job to post on a blog.¬† So just do your best to post anything and get out of the rut.¬† Don’t get too hung up on intermittent posting or you’ll psych yourself out all the time.

No RSS – I agree that every blog should have RSS tech.¬† It’s just really useful, free, and unobtrusive.¬† But whatever.¬† It’s not a huge deal. And I don’t bring this up anymore because RSS confuses the hell out of farmers.¬† And most Internet users for that matter.

I am going to do a phone interview with Olivier B before publishing an update on the Olivier B story with my personal perspective.

After reading Dr. Vino’s post about Olivier B, it has come to my attention that I’d be one of the first to talk about him in English.¬† That’s pretty weird.¬† I forget that I’m reading French blogs.¬† And it’s also weird to see how insular the French blogosphere really is.¬† Intriguing.¬† Well, I assume I won’t be amongst the first now that the Doctor has posted about it.¬† But whatever.

Anyway, know that I will post a little something about Olivier B once I’ve had time to talk to him and settle some questions in my own mind.¬† In the meantime, read Dr Vino’s excellent recap of the situation so far.

The Born Digital Wine Awards have officially announced their submission guidelines and criteria.

This is a very exciting award, and I’m so happy to see it moving forward at a healthy pace. One of the coolest parts of the BDWA is that it recognizes individual videos and pieces of writing. That means that the awards can go to busy winemakers who have time to do one cool video or post but who don’t have time to run a blog with great content year round.¬† Furthermore this inaugural year is free.¬† You can submit entries at no charge.¬† And there’s a prize.

born digital wine awards logowine

Now, I was planning on flooding them with submissions from other Languedoc Roussillon producers, but it turns out you have to submit your own work.  So I will have to settle for strongly encouraging you to enter your own work.

I STRONGLY recommend you enter some work.  I would absolutely love to see the Languedoc Roussillon take over the shortlist of finalists and even win one of these categories!

You might be thinking it’s weird that I’m encouraging people to compete against me.¬† Well.. on the one hand, I’m weird.¬† On the other hand, through a rather unexpected turn of events, most of my web work doesn’t meet the criteria of eligibility.¬† Most of the Love That Languedoc videos are longer than 10 minutes.¬† My book (Wines of Carcassonne: The Cabardes AOC) is longer than 3000 words. Some of my work like the Complete Map of AOC Cabardes aren’t really text or video, and there’s no category for apps or maps this year. And some of my more popular videos were first released before 2010.¬† So most of what I do can’t even compete.

Despite my initial disappointment about this discovery, it’s probably a good thing. I honestly don’t know how I would have narrowed down my body of work to choose a submission. These criteria actually narrow it down for me to the dirt tasting and the fruit thief. Which are some of the most visited articles posted on this site in 2010 anyway. I should probably take a hint from that!

People like videos under 10 minutes that have almost nothing to do with wine. ūüėÄ

So to summarize, please consider entering your own writing and video!¬† Let’s get some Languedoc Roussillon in the Born Digital Wine Awards.

For the Francophones out there, this is my presentation at Le Vin 2.0 where I spoke about developing commerce through social networks.  They wanted me to be sort of living proof that independent winemakers could use Internet tools to develop their commerce.

I took the approach that the Internet allows us to publish on any topic and allows us to communicate about things more interesting than our own wines… and if you use the Internet in the way that I describe, you get to make lots of buddies and extend your commercial network.¬†¬† I think it went pretty well although I had to cut a lot out because of time constraints… hopefully it still packs a punch.

Let me know your thoughts.

I’ll share my thoughts on the entire conference soon and I hope to get more video up… also a big thanks to Vinternet for organizing it and for my fellow panelists for being super-interesting.


–This is part of an ongoing series about the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference

I don’t know why I spent so much time talking about wine, keynote speakers and workshops.¬† What we all want to see is evidence of wildly debaucherous EWBC parties (drinking wine in moderation all the while) and video montages of Michael Cox getting his boogey on.

Well, without further ado:

And some photo albums from the attendees of the EWBC conference:

Feel free to add your photo albums in the comments or by mailing them to me.

Today is a surprise party for BourgogneLive, an exceptionally dynamic web blog that runs on hopes and dreams in the Bourgogne region of France.¬† If you think I’m insane to spend so much time on the web, you need to meet Aur√©lien Ibanez and Fran√ßois Desperrier.¬† They’re not even winemakers.¬† They’re not even wine merchants.¬† They just really like wine.¬†¬† And so they blog.¬† And boy, do they blog.

It’s great for the Bourgogne.¬† They bring a breath of fresh air and a very contemporary understanding of online communication.¬† They know the value of exchange.¬† Bourgogne Live is an asset to their region. (Sound familiar?)

I think they’re appropriate representatives of the region, and I’ve long promised to write a sort of essay on the similarities between regional wine bloggers and their respective regions, and this seems like a perfect place to start it.¬† It’s actually probably one of the hardest for me to do because I know much less about Bourgogne than other wine regions, and what I do have to convey is sort of a gestalt feeling …. but stick with me.

Bourgogne is one of France’s great old wine regions.¬† And despite my profound love of the Languedoc and Roussillon, I concede that we are not nearly as prominent in the public imagination as Burgundy and Bordeaux.¬† Those two poles of France defined French wine for a long time.¬† And they also sit at odds in many ways.

The most obvious difference to prove is that Bordeaux is characterized by much larger estates.  Bourgogne is famous for tiny clos with very small cuvees.  In this respect, the Bourgogne is more human-scaled and feels more artisanal.  Think of the word clos versus the word chateau.

Somebody once told me that Bordeaux winemakers historically eat at long rectangular tables where one person sits at the head and presides.¬† And that in older tables, there is a drawer at the end where the head of table keeps the bread and .. I don’t know.. other goodies.¬† There are two seats directly to the president’s side, and they have the best access to the head of the table.¬† Then as you move down the table, you get farther and farther from the head.¬† It’s all very stratified.¬† But Burgundian winemakers sit at round tables.¬† This could be totally made up for all I know, but the image stayed with me.

Bourgogne, a region for the democratic and egalitarian wine drinker. Or the egalitarian and democratic wine blogger!¬† BougogneLive comes with the same spirit of open, human-scale interaction.¬† They are approachable.¬† They are many.¬† They are not WSET certified, seventh generation winemakers with doctorates in oenology.¬† They are dudes who like wine.¬† And they try to open as many doors as possible for as many people as possible.¬† It’s also appropriate that they don’t limit themselves to writing about Bourgogne.¬† They write about silly wine videos, wine merchandise, gastronomy, elephant winemakers, and just about anything they feel like.

I’ll admit my knowledge of Burgundy is lacking.¬† But my image of the Bourgogne is that it is small, human, artisanal, and open.¬† And that is how BourgogneLive feels to me too.¬† So, kudos to those boys.¬† May they keep blogging.¬† And may somebody in their region have the good sense to start paying them for it.¬† Because the day they quit (heaven forbid) there will be an enormous vacuum.¬† And Bourgogne will lose a really golden opportunity.

So three cheers! And may they KEEP BLOGGING.

–This is part of an ongoing series about the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference

Evan Schnittman spoke to us at the EWBC, sharing a really deep knowledge of the contemporary publishing scene.  I think he gave a really good, succint history of digital publishing and highlighted some of the bigger differences between digital publishing and conventionally printed books.

For now, let’s talk about some of my personal highlights.

The iPod moment

Schnittman suggests that the Amazon Kindle was a revolutionary moment for ebooks and self publishing.  For once, the hardware was awesome and competitive with books for long reading sessions.  For once, the selection of what you could read was massive and mainstream enough to make the e-reader competitive with books.  He compares it to the iPod which was a piece of hardware that offered a large selection of mp3s at the iTunes store.

And Evan didn’t mention it, but the Kindle and iPod both made it easy to enjoy pirated content.¬† Any stolen mp3 could be played on an iPod.¬† Any document can be converted to a txt and added to a Kindle.¬† We also talked a bit about the development of “the cloud” and how important that was to making an approachable and usable ebook reader.

To Print or Not to Print?

Schnittman made an interesting distinction between different types of text.  He explained the differences between books that you read front to back and reference books where you consult an index and then go to a very specific part to just read one entry (e.g. dictionaries, directories).

Then, within those groups, there were a few more interesting distinctions.¬† For example, some printed editions of directories will be replaced entirely by digital versions while others will benefit in increased sales thanks to their digitalization. ¬†He specifically mentioned the Princeton Reveiw’s Complete Book of Colleges and the OED.

When the Princeton Review’s college directory was first put online, publishers worried that it would hurt sales.¬† Why would anybody buy the book when it was totally searchable online?¬† Well, the reputation of the book grew thanks to its online incarnation and sales of the printed version increased consistently over time!¬† Other books like the Oxford English Dictionary are so cumbersome that it really makes a lot more sense for them to be digitized and they will probably go entirely digital.


Another key part of Schnittman’s talk was about the possibility of self-publishing.¬† And this is probably the part that affects O’Vineyards the most.¬† Almost nothing can stop individuals like me from self-publishing now.¬† Amazon’s new self-publishing model that allows you to sell infinite ebooks and even real world books made out of paper and everything.¬† They’re printed on demand and they look and feel just like books at the library.¬† Pretty snazzy world we live in.

I feel like I’m not doing Schnittman justice but you’ll see the videos when they’re all posted.¬† And in the time being, you can check out the huge number of articles on Schnittman’s blog which is full of insight about the brave new publishing world we live in.

‚ÄďThis is part of an ongoing series about the European Wine Bloggers‚Äô Conference‚Äď
-David Schildknecht from the Wine Advocate responded to this post here

At the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Vienna, Elin McCoy spoke to us all about the future of the Ivory Tower wine critic. It was a keynote so we all got to sit in for the speech which addressed the rising number of voices in wine journalism and the effect that has on the old guard. Robert Parker got named specifically. (edit: I should mention that Elin knows her stuff. She literally wrote the book on Robert Parker.)

And Jim Budd uncovered an interview that Parker was doing just a week or so before where he shares his own views on the “white noise” generated by Internet wine writers. So this is a topical question being pondered around the world and it’s not limited to 200 wine geeks in Austria.

“”Taste a little less; think a little more.””
–Elin McCoy

Obviously, there was a lot of content to Elin’s speech, but I’ll focus on one key point that I think is getting overlooked in some of the recaps. Elin specifically defines the Ivory Tower critic as somebody who stays far away from production. They sit in a tower and taste. Now, she picks Robert Parker as a sort of icon of this style, but Bob still does travel to wineries (and he did this a TON when he first started). But she harps on him because his style is sort of characterized by focusing on tasting notes and points.

I feel torn because I wholeheartedly agree that the wine world is overly focused on the retail/consumer end of things. But does my opinion actually matter?¬† I left my life in the states, bought a vineyard, and live and breathe wine all day (as fanatical a wine nerd as it gets) so what I like in wine writing doesn’t necessarily correspond to your average consumer.¬† Aren’t publications that focus on tasting notes more useful to the average wine drinker?

Most people who enjoy an episode or two of Love That Languedoc aren’t always going to be able to go out and buy the bottles I’m tasting on the show. They might go out and try another Languedoc-Roussillon wine that is available, but my website cannot be considered a useful consumer guide. Instead it’s more of a regionally themed travel rag. Something that gives behind the scenes access and can make them dream a bit. Is this useful? Does this model even compete with the Ivory tower critic or consumer advocate?

Hell, is the Wine Advocate even an ivory tower publication? I understand David Schildknecht (who tastes Languedoc Roussillon for the Wine Advocate) is coming to the Languedoc this December [edit: he’s not coming til spring], as he does every couple of years. So if there is an ivory tower, he’s obviously not in it all the time. It remains to be seen if he’ll come all the way out to Carcassonne to visit me, but the point is he’s visiting somebody.

Elin McCoy got us all thinking when she proposed that the Internet’s many voices will usher in a new era of wine journalism focused on getting dirty and really getting involved in every part of wine. I hope this is true, because I’m like the exact opposite of an ivory tower critic (using her definition). I live in the mud with the winemakers, making the stuff. My writing and videos are unpolished and barely edited. So I hope to god she’s right–that people really want this uninhibited sort of wine story-telling. But I don’t know that I’m in direct competition with more practical published tasting notes and consumer guides. I bet there’s a place for everybody in this world.

And a lot of people will enjoy looking up to whatever towers are erected.¬† If you don’t believe me, check out Suckling’s new teaser which is literally just a montage of him scoring wines.

But then maybe his “I’m Here” video montage is an attempt to tear down the ivory tower stereotype. ūüėÄ

Anyway, there’s room for all styles of story-telling in wine.¬† And it’s silly to argue over who will be the most popular. Ultimately, the most viewed wine videos will always be of people performing party tricks or getting hit in the face and/or crotch, or sometimes all of the above!

How to find us

Domaine O’Vineyards, located in the North Arrondissement of Carcassonne, is just minutes from the Carcassonne train station, the Medieval City, and the Carcassonne Airport.
GPS coordinates: 43.259622, 2.340387

Wine, Dine, Relax at our Boutique Vineyard
Unique thing to do in Carcassonne
Wine Cellar. Winery Visits. Wine Tasting.
Wine & Food Pairing

North Arrondissement of Carcassonne
885 Avenue de la Montagne Noire
11620 Villemoustaussou, France
Tel: +33(0) 630 189 910

  1. Best by GPS.
    Follow the signs to Mazamet/ Villemoustaussou using the D118. At the end of the last straight part of D118, you will come to a roundabout with the Dyneff gas station.
  2. Take the exit towards Pennautier. Continue 500m to a small roundabout and go straight over.
  3. Look out for the second road on your right, Avenue des Cévennes which curves up hill (about 1km) to Avenue de la Montagne Noire on the left.
  4. At the last juction, bear left.¬†the road sign ‚ÄúAve de la Montagne Noire‚ÄĚ (confusing as it seems to show a right turn)
  5. After another 500m you will see our red brick color building in the middle of the vines.