Acknowledging the Nudges, Remembering Life’s Little Tales

Sunrise

I’ve been witnessing from my computer seat quite a bit of fury these past few days.  Along with that, I’ve left my mind completely open to every possible opportunity that presents itself before me.  The scenarios playing out are working both sides of my brain, rendering me both exhausted and yet somehow enthused.  And I’m hearing voices, as they almost scream some of life’s most basic lessons: “It’s hard to see the forest for the trees”; “Don’t wallow in the mire”; “People love a good train wreck”….

That last sentiment in particular is spinning virtually out of control in my mind as I view the blog world today.  That basic life moral also applies quite appropriately to many of the current situations I and my family face during these days, reported on through these blogs pages.  I had originally launched this blog at the beginning of 2009, after nearly a decade of composing letters to my customers, as a way of spreading the vinous news.  As a retailer of fine wine, with a passion for writing, offering literally a dozen new offers per week or more, presenting my thoughts via the blog-o-sphere seemed like the next logical step.

Taking that leap into the unknown opened my eyes to a world as of yet never imagined.  The world of blogging, in particular the world of wine blogging, is quite similar to a Houston or Los Angeles freeway at rush-hour.  For those of you experienced with that visual, you get the picture, for the uninitiated, imagine viewing millions of cars attempting travel on a road built for a few thousand.  As I began to explore the ocean of wine blogs out there, I wanted to find a bar and have a drink until rush hour subsided.

But I drove right on in, never deterred, never fearing.  This was going to be the year of my discovering, I was convinced.  Now, with nearly 70 blog posts this year alone (I told you I was passionate about writing), I have discovered some things.  Recent occurrences have me taking to the administrative tools within my blogs, these features forcing me to begin a closer examination of not just the blog world, but the wine world in general.  These examinations, born from curiosity, delved in to seriously – I have a LOT of free time on my hands – have me in a state of re-examination.

“Don’t wallow in the mire”.  I am by no means a highly religious guy.  Spiritual?  Yes.  But private and low key in that sense to be sure.  So when I go quoting statements from my grandfather’s sermons it’s a pretty big deal for me.  Lately, however, that little life’s lesson has been forgotten by not only yours truly, but a growing number of the folks I follow in the wine world.  And then today, as if in keeping stride with the little nudges I’ve been receiving these past two days – more on that in just a moment – one of the more recent folks I follow in the blog world connected me to a story.  This story, one of wallowing in the mire, has my thought processes running overtime.

In my 25 years plus in the wine business, I have most consistently focused on the upper end of the wine world: Burgundy (first and foremost), the best of the Rhone Valley, Alsace’s finest, Loire Valley treasures and the other most prized (by me and the critics) wines of France.  Also on my list of preferred wines have been the great wines of Piedmonte and Germany and a few of California’s treasured Pinot Noirs – the Pinot camp I’m in falls squarely at odds with most of today’s “Souper Pinots”, for the record.  There are certainly many other wines not listed here, but you get the gist; I’m an Old School Fine Wine guy.

The critics that I’ve followed throughout my career include the big names, you know who they are, I don’t need to spell ’em out.  And these top guns are now in what I might consider the twilight of their professional careers.  One in particular has faced medical down-time and other pressures, and while he would have the outside world believe he is as young as the day he left law school, we, his subscribers for the past couple of decades, have read his personal words and know the tale.  He has taken on many new co-authors to his magazine and the results have been mixed, receiving criticism from retailers, consumers, the blog writers and subscribers in general.  And while the magazine now boasts more than a hundred more pages than it did in the late 1980s, the content is under constant scrutiny.  But remember another of life’s morals: “Any publicity is good publicity”. 

Or is it?  That article I read this morning may be one of my mid-life turning points.  Published in Forbes, the tale shines a light on the impact of certain stories.  The Forbes author interviewed a man in question, a blogger, who had published a series of e*mail conversations between a certain powerful wine magazine’s co-author and another wine columnist.  I read that initial exchange, even re-posted it at my social networking site.  And then today I read the Forbes article.  As I said, that Forbes piece began some personal homework, and introspection.

Publishing that initial mini-brawl between the two powerful wine-writers brought a lot of traffic to the blogger’s web-site.  Like the moral preaches, “People love a good train wreck”.  But here’s the most telling tale.  The blogger openly admits that his one-day, busiest recorded traffic day to the blog was NOT that day.  In fact, that blogger’s busiest day came with the publishing of a story on growing moss in an empty wine bottle for parents looking for a unique chemistry class experiment for their kids.  That was another nudge, the first real push into this re-examination; “Wait a minute”, I thought, “let’s look at MY numbers”….

And there it was, just waiting for me to discover: my single most-traffic-receiving day at my blog so far was a day when I offered the public a positive, glowing review on a wine that I had recently discovered.  In that review I told my readers of my research using the internet to secure the best price in the country and I went into great detail covering the wine’s background.  I offered tasting notes based on my decades of tasting literally hundreds of thousands of wines – more than a million perhaps – and I followed up that report with an email to my list of readers.  That was my site’s busiest day.  And never once did a drop of mud hit the floor.

That Forbes article went on to discuss the emergence of the new wine drinking culture.  A culture born with computers in every room of the house, a group of young folks who turn ever increasingly to the internet for information on their wines.  I’m from the old school, admittedly.  I grew up with subscriptions to magazines as my learning tool.  Today, evidenced by an informal poll I’ve taken over the past 2 days, folks under 30 years of age, those folks I’ve casually engaged in conversation at local wine-selling retail establishments, either do not read the Wine Advocate, or have never heard of it.  Overwhelming, observation points to these young wine drinkers looking to their friends and trusted wine stewards for advice.  It is we “old-timers” who are keeping the big names of wine criticism alive.

But as a former merchant who once catered to the “old-timers”, I, and my now closed business are beacons the industry should pay attention to, just as this Forbes article mentions.  The “old-timers” (and that’s my vernacular, NOT Forbes), have all but ceased buying wine, having amassed collections of wine that they are ever-increasingly becoming aware they will never consume.  Add to that realization that we’re in a depressed economy for the near to possibly semi-long term, and one can see that the “fine wine” side of things is going no where, fast!

And if today’s wine buyers, the young crowd, the actual buyers in this market and economy aren’t interested in the big boys of wine criticism, and the folks who add traffic to the blogs prefer to read our blogs when there’s something positive to read, perhaps it’s time to truly reconsider my personal path.

Earlier on in this piece, I mentioned receiving little nudges these past few days.  I’ve been contacted through my social network site by William&Mary and the town of Short Pump, to name but a couple of the encounters recently.  And now, this Forbes article, forcing me to truly examine not only my methods of blogging, but the community of wine buyers requiring serious attention.  Where is all of this pointing?

The first and most obvious direction is a visit to Richmond, VA.  This forest of trees surrounding me has me slightly blinded to the signs so innocently nudging at me these past fews days.  From that point?  Remember another of grandfather’s sermons: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

All the best in wine and life,

Christopher Massie
Diplome D’Honneur de Sommelier
Houston Wine Idealist

for those interested in the Forbes article:

http://www.forbes.com/2009/04/23/robert-parker-squires-steinberger-vaynerchuk-opinions-contributors-wine-advocate.html