Monday, June 10, 2013

An antagonistic approach (a reputation you get when you question authority)

This weekend, a colleague of mine introduced me to a friend of his at the third annual Colorado Urban Winefest. Part of his introduction include a reference to my wine writing. He referred to me as an "antagonistic blogger." Both of those terms are used pejoratively in the world of wine writing. Now I have no problem being called a blogger. I write about wine on this blog. I have also contributed to Palate Press, Sommelier Journal, Wine Spectator and Decanter. So I am a wine blogger, and I also consider myself a wine writer.

I had never really thought about the antagonistic part of that term before. I mean, I know I have riled a few feathers on Twitter and other blogs, but I never thought of myself as opposing other wine writers or even the "Winestream media," as my friend, and Wine Blog Award winner, Jeff Siegel says. I do admit I have no problem calling people on their bullshit. I'd like to think that I'm not afraid to speak the truth and if that means I'm an antagonist, then by all means I embrace it.

If I'm the antagonist, then obviously Steve Heimoff is the protagonist. If you read this blog or his blog, you already knew that. Steve is the California Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine and he blogs daily at his eponymous website. I read his blog every day (with my coffee in hand). I believe that reading what others in the industry have to say is an important part of always continuing the learning process. Steve is often very provocative on his blog. He knows this and it is no accident. Not surprisingly, I also often disagree with what he has to say. I have no problem with questioning him and pointing out when I think he is wrong. Isn't that ability the best part of social media? Unfortunately, Steve has taken to not responding to me on his blog, though I was surprised when he responded to me (well, an ad hominem attack) on Twitter.
Now, I have nothing personal against Steve. In fact, I think we would actually get along quite well. It just so happens that Steve is the most prolific high-profile critic and isn't afraid to say what he really thinks either. In fact, he often pokes fun at his competitors at Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator and us lowly bloggers. I too have been a critic of Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator. I've often questioned Wine Spectator's blind tasting method and 100-point rating system. In most cases, Thomas Matthews, James Molesworth and Harvey Steiman (Wine Spectator editors) thoughtfully respond to my arguments. I applaud and respect them for this. I happen to believe that Wine Spectator has the most transparent and fair tasting methods and doesn't abuse the 100-point system as much as is common amongst other publications or individual critics. I actually think Wine Spectator does a lot more good for the wine industry than many other anti-Winestream Media types (another point of disagreement between me and my friend Jeff Siegel).

I don't focus my argumentative nature for just the ivory towers or Steve. Just in the past few weeks, I have engaged Bruce Schoenfeld, W. Blake Gray and Richard Jennings on their blogs and Twitter on issues I thought they were wrong about. My points were not personal, but just me freely speaking my opinions. I both respect and like Bruce, Blake and Richard. I encourage them to comment on my blog when they disagree with me. I don't try to be an antagonist, but I do try to add to the wine discourse.

I am quite surprised that there haven't really been any antagonistic (and serious) wine writers before. Wineberskers.com was started when a bunch of forumites were banned from the eRobertParker.com forum, but most of them don't actively write or comment much on blogs. And of course there are trolls, but I think I raise valid opinions that many other people actually agree with. I know that my opinions aren't far out of line with public (and industry) opinion. How do I know? I have received quite a few emails and direct Twitter messages commending me on standing up to other wine writers. Most of the people/wineries that I have talked with do so because they feel like they are unable to do so publicly out of fear of revenge from the critics they both need and despise. When I was out at Premiere Napa Valley in February countless numbers of other media, public relations folk and even big-name wineries commended me for standing up to Steve when he banned me from his site (I have since been unbanned). Thanks and support were a common theme. I will obviously keep their identities in confidence. When I was visiting with the Pritchard Hill estates for my Sommelier Journal article, many of the wineries didn't want to be a part of Heimoff's report and even confided that they hated the 100-pt system. And these were wineries that receive 97, 98 and 99-pt ratings from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator.

I don't stir up controversy on purpose and I wish those afraid to put their name behind their true opinions would gather the courage to join me in speaking the truth. It is one thing for a relatively unknown writer from Colorado do rock the boat, but if big name wineries were to speak up, something might start to happen. Things in the wine world won't change by being silent, nor in just attacking for the sake of it. But engaging the legacy publications, new publications and the general public might make a difference. And when I tell Richard Jennings that his 100-pt system is flawed or point out (repeatedly) to Steve that he got a handful of facts (facts, not opinions) wrong in his Pritchard Hill article for Wine Enthusiast, I'm doing it to hold them accountable for their actions. I encourage others to call me out when I've done or said something that they find out of line. I would also hope that they would commend me when I deserve it. I tell Steve he does a good job almost as much (maybe not almost...) as when I disagree with him. I would hope others would hold me to the same level of respect


  1. If you aren't pissing people off in the wine world, you are doing something wrong. I applaud your effort to focus on what you see as correct and incorrect in the wine writing world, and the wine world at large. There are many people who need a dose of reality in this "romantic" and "beautiful" world of wine.

  2. This is the wine business, Kyle. You aren't supposed to have an opinion, unless it's to reinforce the existing opinion. How else are you going to get famous?

    Start writing rapturously about clones, and you'll see what I mean.

  3. Jay, thanks.

    Jeff, more people need to have opinions. You are a beacon of light on that front. How many writers focus on cheap wine? And yet that is what consumers buy. Or even worse, regional wine! Congrats on the WBA and keep up the good work.

    Blake, yes, I think I do. That might change if we were to actually meet, but I like reading what you have to say. I rarely disagree with your opinions, and when I do I let you know. You're not nearly as full of bullshit as many of us (wine writers that is) are...