Monday, July 21, 2014

A Rant and a Solution for the Wine Bloggers Writing Workshop

I attended the Sunday Writing Workshop at #WBC14 led by Mike Dunne, Jim Conaway and Steve Heimoff, the same guys who were on the Saturday Wine Writer panel I wrote about here. The Sunday workshop had problems in my opinion, so I’d like to offer a solution on how to fix it for future conferences.

Oh, and I’m going to rant a bit too, so read on.

The conference agenda described the Sunday workshop as follows:  “… a two-hour workshop on Sunday that will help wine bloggers with their tone and writing.

The general advice given by the panel was sound—use proper grammar, check your spelling, gain command of comma usage, and if possible, get someone to edit your work.*  Yet when they got down to the actual critiques, it felt like the panel was scrambling to organize their thoughts on the fly and did not read the submissions completely. I’ve heard and read comments that many people in the workshop felt bewildered by the critiques. The panelists mainly evaluated the work for print publication, not the blog medium. (Which may have been the directions they were given. I don’t know.) But not all wine bloggers aspire to be print journalists. And once the panel discussed the economic reality of working as a wine writer, I doubt any will pursue full-time print writing at all.

For one submission, about winemakers in Istira, Mike Dunne advised the writer to avoid using weak descriptive language, but then he suggested the entire piece be re-written to focus on the use of Acacia barrels in the region. Yes, that would be lovely, but it was a profile piece on the winemaker, not the barrel program. How helpful was that to the writer seeking help improving a profile piece?

Next, Steve Heimoff commented on my wine tourism piece about DeLoach Vineyards and cautioned us not to “get spun” by our subjects. And then he added pointedly—“ Jean-Charles Boisset is not your friend. He does not care about you.”


I was not even in Steve’s group, I was in Jim’s group. Later, via some back and forth on twitter, Steve said there is a fine line between advertorial and editorial and that my piece read like a paid PR vehicle. I can assure you I was not paid by DeLoach.

Steve Heimoff (shown right) with Mr. JCB, his friend, not mine apparently.

A journalist from the Press Democrat attended the DeLoach event and filed a story that was almost identical to mine in terms of content and facts, yet the tone was impersonal and detached. (As a  journalistic piece should be.)  My blog post covered the same facts but was imbued with my personality and experience. That's what blogs do! Enthusiasm and humor does not make it an advertorial.

You can compare and contrast for yourself. Here are links to both:
Press Democrat—DeLoach
Come For the Wine—DeLoach

I think perhaps Steve failed to consider who my audience is and may not comprehend that my readers understand my tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. I took his advertorial remark as that of the pot calling the kettle black given his new Wine Marketing Communications role at Kendall Jackson. Or maybe he secretly covets my plucky marketing acumen. (I’ll admit you can take the girl out of marketing, but you can’t take the marketing out of the girl.) But I know the difference between writing for an audience and selling to an audience.

The truth is, I actually do admire Jean-Charles Boisset and I think his efforts to create interesting, fun, and educational experiences for visitors to his wineries presents a model of wine tourism. My goal is to encourage travel to wine regions. People who read the DeLoach piece said it peaked their interest to visit. Thus, mission accomplished.

And for the record, I don’t have anything against Steve. We are quite similar really. I like hats and dogs and wine too. And unlike some bloggers ( see #7)* -- I don't think his is a doddering, out of touch, grandpa. Heck, we may be the same age for all I know. (Just don’t call my blog advertorial, Gramps!)
*Well, in link above only said -- "grand-fatherly” -- not doddering and out of touch, those are my words.

End of rant.

Now, on to my suggestion for improving the workshop.


I think it was difficult for the panel to read so many posts and try to offer something concrete for each participant. Workshop was the wrong word to describe what the session delivered.

If WBC wants to offer this type of session again, I think the format needs to be recast as a PAID one-day pre-conference workshop and taught by a qualified writing instructor.

Workshop discussion topics could include:
*Framing a story
*Crafting a lede
*How to decide which form is best for your story
*Creating a compelling story arc
*How to write vivid prose and avoid clich├ęs
*How to pitch stories
*How to work with editors
*How writing for the web differs from writing for print!!! -- Because it does! {Unicorns be damned}

The workshop should also include in-class writing exercises.

So what should something like this cost? I’d say around $200-$300 per person. This amount would be a massive bargain compared to fees for similar one-day writing workshops and help ensure the chosen instructor is compensated and worthy. No qualified writer would or should ever do this kind of thing for free.

Marcy & Steve on the advertorial/editorial slide.
--It’s a slippery slope.

By the way, the day you can't rant on your blog is the day the Internet ends.

* WARNING: this blog may contain typos, grammatical errors, and egregious misuse of commas.

Related Post: Impressions on the Wine Writers Panel at #WBC14 Buellton and My Hunch About Jim Conaway’s Next Book


  1. Nicely said, Ms. Gordon. I didn't realize that you had a purse dog too.

    1. I have a backpack size dog and a steamer trunk size dog -- a Chow-Chow and a Boston Terrier, both have their own wine blogs.

  2. Bravo!! Love this post, Marcy. I appreciate how you offer real solutions to improve this problem as opposed to just a rant. More importantly, I love the photos you chose (especially the slippery slope one)!

    1. Thanks Mary. I try to be constructive. In the meantime, I’m going to get one of those slippery slope slides installed in my office.

  3. Hi Marcy,

    This is a great idea. I'm happy to pay extra for detailed content. As someone who isn't a professional writer, I'd love some real insight into effective blogging.

    There are two things that could possibly not work as far as I can see: 1) It would also mean an extra night or possibly two of hotel stay, which could put it out of reach financially. 2) It could also result in decreased quality of content for the rest of the conference if not carefully watched.

    1. Hi Tom--
      Thanks for your comments.
      Yes you are correct it would mean an extra night of hotel unless it was in some way subsidized as the pre-wbc excursions are, which are an additional cost as well.

      I’m not sure how it would result in decreased quality for rest of conference. Do you mean in terms of any other writing sessions or with regard to everything?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. I normally delete Anonymous comments because they are usually not constructive and I think you need to stand behind what you say. But I decided to put this one back because it’s so hilarious--

      “You are small and mean. Steve is trying to do the best he can with his god given talents. He is loved by smart people.”

      --Well, yes, I am not very tall. Can’t argue with that. But "Steve is loved by smart people.” Who wrote this? Steve’s mother?

      The comment really does not merit a reply, but I must say this post is my opinion and experience. It’s not mean. Go ask some smart people. ;-)



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