Wine Blogger Ethics

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!   😀

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.

There was an interesting panel at VinoCamp Lisbon where participants discussed the language barriers between different wine blogging communities.

Overall, the round table discussion was very interesting.  I particularly liked Vicky’s idea at the end about designated cultural leaders (which I’ll address in detail below).

Here’s a video of the roundtable:

Language Barriers at Conferences and on the Web

The discussion was divided between how language barriers play out in conference settings and how they affect web communication.  This isn’t really surprising since Gabriella Opaz (who I believe proposed this session) is one of the organizers of the EWBC, and the VinoCamp itself is a very Francophone conference (Lisbon was the first VinoCamp that Gregoire and Vicky organized in English).

In case you don’t think language barriers are relevant, the participants in the discussion bring up a lot of evidence on how divisive language can be.  For example, Gab alludes to the friction between the EWBC and Portuguese wine bloggers in 2009.  Perhaps of greater interest, some of the Portuguese attendees speak up on their comfort level in attending English-language or French-language conferences.  It certainly seems everybody has a lot of hangups when it comes to language.

Most people seemed to find the language barrier equally troubling online.  Do I tweet in English or French or Spanish?  While I understand the frustrations in a conference setting, I think the virtual world is much more liberating.  I realize it’s easy for me to say that since I can write in English and French (which covers most of the wine producing world in one fell swoop)…But I really think that people can get away with any language online.  On the Internet, your audience is not limited to the physical time and place of a conference.  Your words live on in perpetuity and become indexed and searchable to other native speakers of the language you communicate in.  A Catalan-language wine blog does not have the same potential audience as an English-language blog, but it still has an audience.  And even if that niche is only in the thousands, it’s an important audience.  Consider the size of conferences like VinoCamp and the EWBC.  They are awesome gatherings and they generate great ideas and partnerships, but they’re actually sort of tiny.  VinoCamp Carcassonne had like 150ish people.  EWBC Vienna had about 300 people.  Even an obscure language blog can get that traffic in a week.

Getting Wine Producers to Participate

One of the toughest parts of my “job” is getting winemakers to take the plunge and start talking online.  Start showing up at conferences.  Start speaking up and sharing their experiences.  This is probably why I don’t make a big deal about language.  I’d rather see wine producers talking regularly in their native languages than haltingly or not at all in a more popular language.

Again, the Internet allows your words to be archived and searchable for generations.  So there’s really no language too small.

Conferences are a different issue.  It’s true that if you make delicious wines in Croatia and speak absolutely no English, French or Spanish, you’re going to have some trouble attending an International conference.  But if that is the case, you are not reading this blog post. 😀

No I can’t just skirt the issue so easily.  This is a real problem.  Because ultimately, the real life interactions are just as important as the virtual content.  I know for a fact that very few French wine bloggers follow my blog closely.  But they all know who I am, what I do, and my communication style because we’ve met in person.  And even though I tend to write in English these days, they all know I’ll talk to them in French when we meet up.  So it’s tough for the kids who don’t speak one of the big languages.

Although I would also take a moment to say it’s not as bad as it seems.  Even though the conversation at vinocamp really focused on how hard it is to get everybody speaking the same language, the fact is that a huge percentage of winemakers speak some French, English, or Spanish.  Italian is a close fourth.  It feels like I’m snubbing Portugal, but most of the wine producers I’ve met from there can understand Spanish very easily.  Germany and Austria are sort of getting snubbed too, but almost everybody I meet out there has a bit of English or French in their vocab.  And obviously, South American wine producers speak Spanish.  North Americans, Australians, and South Africans that produce wine tend to be native English speakers.

Again, if you’re a rural Croatian wine producer, you might have more trouble.  But for the most part, the wine community speaks three or four languages.  Compare this to cereal producers or other agrarian professions, and you quickly find that our language barrier situation could be much worse off.

Designated Cultural Leaders at the EWBC

Even though there are just a few major languages, there’s still something to be done to ameliorate the conference situation mentioned above.  In the VinoCamp roundtable, Vicky Wine had a cool idea.  What if bigger conferences like the EWBC appointed cultural leaders for certain languages or countries?  The cultural leader would ideally speak the language of their culture, the language of the conference, and a bit of the local language for that year’s location.  This person wouldn’t necessarily have a lot of responsibilities, but they’d be a friendly face for other members of their culture and a go-between if people need help, translation, a friend, etc.

It’s very hard for conference organizers to get Italian wine producers to attend an English language conference.  Even when their English is strong, many producers tend to shy away from the anxiety-ridden experience of a week of English-speaking.  Having a designated Italian leader with a friendly face (Magdalene leaps to mind) might help locals to show up.  Similarly, traveling from far away like Hungary can be pretty imposing and knowing there’s a Hungarian pointman might make it easier to attend.  Same with French, Portuguese, Spanish, etc.   Good idea, Vicky!  VinoCamps generate good ideas!

There’s a slight risk that this sort of designation encourages segregation, but that segregation is already occurring to a great extent.  So I’m mostly in favor.  Then again, it doesn’t have to be super official.  Maybe just a section of the EWBC site that lists the friendly faces / ambassadors / whatever you call them, to encourage people to attend despite the language barrier.

 

This post is about one of the round table discussions from VinoCamp Languedoc in March 2011.  I hesitate to label it as “wine blogger ethics” since that’s a big subject.  Miss Glouglou proposed and led the roundtable topic, and she had a more specific idea about what we’d discuss.  We set out to address the “transmission of information” which sort of bundles up a lot of subjects:

  • Marketing material vs. reference material
  • Credibility
  • Bribery
  • Are blogs any different than traditional media?

A lot of people felt strongly that there were deontological moral issues at stake specific to bloggers while other people focused much more on pragmatic issues (credibility, sales, etc.)

My favorite bit is in part 2 around 1:36 where we start talking about giving journalists free bottles of wine.  Some very earnest revelations.  (FYI: the off screen voice that admits it’s normal wine writers get wine is a professional wine writer.)

There’s also this question about whether bloggers can get into trouble by denouncing or even accidentally insulting people.  In retrospect, we could have talked about my extreme positivity on Love That Languedoc. But we talk so much about my website all day, I’m glad there was a session where it came up less.

There’s this idea that keeps coming up about federating talented bloggers into an edited source of information to rival conventional press.  It might be tangentially related to the topic just because bloggers wouldn’t need to face unique ethical issues if they operated more like a print magazine.  But then there’s also this issue of “why copy print media when it’s on its way downhill?”  They might have the ethics figured out, but if you have questions about monetization, there might be better industries to consult.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll continue to think about this and maybe post more later. For now here are the videos for people who weren’t able to attend.

Beautiful moments (that only come after wine-fueled lunch)

  • French produce wine to be criticized by Americans and sold by the English and bought by the Chinese
  • Traditional press is Tripoli; bloggers are Bengazi
  • Freedom of speech, freedom of regret

VinoCamp Languedoc was full of interesting conversations.  One of the round table discussions, led by ethiquettes.fr, was about sharing success stories and fail stories of winemakers going online.

This session might itself be seen as a success story (or a fail story).  On the success side, I think it’s remarkable how many winemakers were present and spoke up.  I’m super happy about that.  And I think they left with a few really good concrete numbers and ideas that they can enact in their own wine communications strategy.

On the fail side, we see how there’s always a need for more time and more channels of communication.  As the conversation gains momentum toward the end, there are more than a couple people talking. It’s the kind of round table discussion that fares very well in a chatroom where multiple conversations can be going on simultaneously.  But we do see some real world limits.

Also, this session revolved a little too much around me (especially in the first half), but you know how it goes.

Other interesting conversation points include Olivier B, La Gramiere, e-publishing options, Vin de Merde, Gerard Bertrand, Apero Bic (can’t find this), Hervé Bizeul, Matthew Jukes, Domaine Revelh, hotmail’s viral marketing, Naked Wines, and more.  At one point I mention In Roussette We Trust as an example of other regional promotion blogs.  I rather ineptly fail to mention Bourgogne Live, Oenos or Jim’s Loire. My bad.

Common themes:

  • Bypassing normal means
    • Olivier B was promoted without the conventional media
    • Love That Languedoc doesn’t wait for the interprofession
  • Repeatability?
    • Was Olivier B a one shot?
    • Can there be a Love That Loire (Oenos et Jim’s Loire suggest there already are), Love That Bourgogne (Bourgogne Live), etc.
  • Talking about other people
    • Ryan – Don’t talk about yourself
    • Les domaines avec un nom de famille (Bertrands, Chapoutier, Duboeuf)
    • Amy Lillard – Transparent story telling as opposed to artificial sales pitches
  • How much time does it take?

I wish I had more time to tell you all about VinoCamp’s glorious Day 2 celebration at O’Vineyards.  This will come shortly. Naturally, I’ll also be adding my own media to this very soon and people who missed the conferences will get to listen in on two of the workshops that I attended.

For now, I just wanted to provide an index of some of the great media coverage of the event:

Nicolas de Rouyn – Le VinoCamp, sous les remparts

22h43’s documentary –

11 Le Magazine – Carcassonne. Vin et internet, le mélange du Vinocamp

Domaine Revelh – #Vinocamp #Carcassonne (perspectif vigneron)

MidiLibre – Les nouvelles technologies au service du vin (le Samedi)

MidiLibre – De la ‘blogosphère’ au cep de vigne (le Dimanche)

L’Independant – VinoCamp, ou la rencontre des vignerons et des internautes

ObiWine (I think) – Christiane Mortes presente le Clocher de Limoux au Vin d’Honneur

O’Vineyards – My own summary of Day 1

#Vinocamp #Carcassonne

Day 1 of VinoCamp Languedoc is the day where we actually do the round tables that define the barcamp format. Everything went splendidly. We had three rooms at the Chamber of Commerce in downtown Carcassonne and it was really amazing. The CCI were incredibly supportive hosts. From 8 in the morning until 8 at night, a director or representative of the chamber was by our sides helping us with all the little things that need to get done on D-Day.  And we’re already seeing optimistic press coverage of VinoCamp Languedoc roll in.

Lots of winemakers

As people started filing in, we quickly realized that we were going to have a great number of winemakers.  One of the biggest complaints from previous vinocamps is a lack of winemakers.  So we’re very pleased with the turnout. This producer presence creates a diversity of backgrounds and allows a broader exchange to happen in certain sessions.

Lots of techies

As always, we also had a great number of tech people and web people, a crucial factor in informing the conversations we have in each workshop.  These people do lots of different things from ecommerce to tourism to blogging.  But they all stay really up to date on the new advancements that are shaping the fast-changing world of web communication.

Lotcci vinocamps of topics

A wealth of topics were discussed over the course of 9 workshops.

Among others:

  • Engaging consumers as an AOC or region
  • Uniting villages – An EU plan
  • Online presence on third party sites (vinogusto, adegga, etc.)
  • Success stories and Fail stories
  • L’importance de l’identité visuelle sur Internet
  • Bloggers v. journalists, what’s the difference?
  • Community Managing

I was pretty worried that a few of these workshops had predetermined topics (chosen by sponsors).  This is a significant deviation from BarCamp format and ruffles our geeky feathers.  But these turned out to be some of the most interesting workshops (for me).  So things went well!

Some topics are a little more tech-centric, and people sorted themselves out effectively independently. On a topic like “What is the difference between bloggers and journalists?” you’re not gonna get many winemakers.  On topics like “Success stories and fail stories of winemakers on the web” you have a lot of producers present to hear what works and what doesn’t work.

Lots of wine

After the workshops, we had a great tasting of wines from the sponsors and the winemakers who participated during the day.  We were also received by the Mairie to have a wonderful tasting of high end wine from the Toques et Clochers barrel auction.  And then we finally went out for dinner in the Cité and an after hours drink at l’Hotel de la Cité.  Good times to be had by all.

🙂

 

 

VinoCamp Languedoc
March 19th and 20th
Carcassonne
à la CCI

A detailed schedule will come soon. But the important thing is to book your tickets and hotels for this lovely weekend in March.  A hundred wine professionals and Internet people will come together at the Chambre de Commerce et de l’Industrie in Carcassonne.  There will be a series of round table discussions on Saturday on subjects that will be decided the day of the VinoCamp.  Sunday will consist of a visit to the Cité de Carcassonne and at least one vineyard.

Registration and Wiki

VinoCamp registration is free but mandatory as there are a few questions that will help me organize buses, food, etc.

I strongly encourage you to edit the VinoCamp wiki.  This will allow you to add your name, email address, and website to the common list that we will all use for reference when writing about the event.  Participants in the conference will be able to familiarize themselves with your website before they come to the conference.

What is a VinoCamp? What is a BarCamp?

I’ve written about the nature of barcamps before, but to summarize: VinoCamp is an open conference devoted to wine and the Internet. There is no literal camping involved.   Here is a post with some video of a small round table discussion about Oenotourism from VinoCamp Paris

Who comes to a VinoCamp?

Winemakers, wine retailers, wine journalists, and anybody who makes a living online with wine.  VinoCamp is a place where wine professionals and techies come together to share ideas about the future of wine online.  You’ll get to meet a few Z list local celebrities like me. ;D

Here is my list of the people I met at VinoCamp Paris.  The open nature of the VinoCamp allows you to really meet a lot of new people.  And since everybody has a chance to talk, you can tell very quickly whether a person is awesome or not.

Thanks to Pierrick from MySocialWinery who video recorded the conference with Rick Bakas from St. Supery in Napa Valley.

The presentation is a little dry if you’re not in the biz, but I think Rick has some very interesting experience and he shares some truly outstanding numbers. In a time when everybody in California was hurting, St. Supery saw some impressive numbers, retaining their wine club members and increasing direct sales despite the fact that the economy is hurting. And without pitching the wine directly!

Cool insights. Thanks, Rick!  And Rick has a book coming out called QuickBites.

There’s also an interesting moment where Rick talks about catering to a client who didn’t like the bottle (way beyond the call of duty) and then it turns out that she’s a writer for the New York Times.  While the story sort of enforces the idea that a traditional journalist is way more important than a normal consumer and he lucked out, there’s also this theme that you should treat everybody like an important journalist. Customer is king. And sometimes, it turns out they are actually secret journalists or Zeus disguised as a swan.

But beside the risk that every client is Zeus disguised as a swan, you just have to be nice to wine drinkers because they are people and you should be nice to everybody.

There’s another moment of VinoCamp Paris where Vicky Wine said something very nice about my wines (or about me).

She said that it is very important for winemakers to connect with wine drinkers.  Because when she drinks a wine, she makes judgements about the winemaker or the label or other things that float around outside the bottle. And one of the reasons she likes my wine is because she knows all the stuff I’m doing online, and all the tastings I do, and (as somebody in the group quips) because we are buddies.  But there is no shame in being buddies!

😀

And I don’t have video of it, but Emmanuel Delmas said something to the same effect.  It’s unavoidable that once he meets me or sees my videos online, my wine will have a sort of exuberant, energetic feeling.  It’s a happy wine!  And then we’re left wondering if the wine truly resembles the winemaker or if it’s just that we’re influenced by our perceptions of the artist. . . . interesting questions!  And all arguments for the winemaker to make themselves visible online (when time permits).

More coverage of VinoCamp Paris:

VinoCamp Paris:séance sur l’oenotourisme. Je reviendrai d’une manière un peu plus éditoriale avec mes opinions sur ce qui a été dit. Mais pour l’instant, je voulais au moins télécharger l’enregistrement inédit de la discussion qui a eu lieu à VinoCamp Paris sur l’oenotourisme et le tourisme à distance / la réalité augmentée.

Partie 1 de “Oenotourisme, l’Internet et la réalite augmentée”:

Partie 2 de “Oenotourisme, l’Internet et la réalite augmentée”:

Merci à tous les participants, et spécialement à ceux qui m’ont aidé à déplacer la camera pendant toute la séance.

More coverage of VinoCamp Paris:

Voilà une des sessions VinoCamp Paris sur les sujets de la cartographie, la géolocalisation, et d’autres moyens de bouger le monde.

Un peu sec, inédit, mais cela peut être intéressant d’entendre exactement ce qui a été dit pour tous ceux qui n’ont pas pu venir.

Il y a une discussion de logiciels comme FourSquare, Gowalla et Haidu qui ont tous un aspect de géolocalisation. Nous observons ensuite certaines innovations dans les logiciels cartographiques. Très cool pour les geeks. Ce ne sont peut-être pas des innovations crées pour la personne non-avertie, mais c’est amusant de voir où le futur de la géo nous amenera.

Dans la vidéo, il y a un grand nombre de personnalités du vin et de la technologie. Veuillez m’excuser si je n’ai pas la liste complète des noms, et je vous invite a ajouter un commentaire pour que je puisse vous identifier sur la vidéo!

Nous avons VinBlog, Yair Haidu, Grégoire, Tag de Vin, Per Karlsson, et d’autres personnes qui sont intervenus.

More coverage of VinoCamp Paris:

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

O’Vineyards
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 “Ave de la Montagne Noire” (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.
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