One of the questions that was discussed at length at the Wine Blogger's Conference was the difference between a wine blogger and a wine writer. It was a lengthy discussion with no real conclusion, although my personal opinion lines up with Ryan Opaz of Catavino in that a blog is just a tool with which some choose to communicate. The decision to use this tool does not in and of itself differentiate one writer from another. But at the same time the conference gave me a chance to spend five days with hundreds of wine bloggers and get a sense for them as a group of people. One of the best parts of my time in Walla Walla was the people, and the sense of open community that this particular group of people created together. So my definition of a wine blogger, while not complete, is fairly confident in these characteristics:
Genuine - These people are real and willing to present themselves in their writing and face-to-face contact. There was not a lot of pretense, a new blogger like myself was treated with the same acceptance and respect as some of the old more established guard. People did not hold back with who they were and respectful disagreements, new friendships, and future collaborations all developed with a feeling that you could be who you were. It may be easy to assume that a room full of wine snobs would be filled with, well, snobbishness, but the extreme opposite was true as I found them to be some of the most genuine people I've ever met.
Passionate - If one thing was clear at the conference it was that nobody is making any money with a wine blog. Wine bloggers write for the passion of both creating their blogs, and the absolute love of their topic (uh, wine of course). Absolutely everyone would light up at the opportunity to discuss a specific wine, terroir, social versus traditional media, whatever it was. This was a group fueled by passion for what they do, and doing it because they love it. If you are going to write about the virtue of cork versus screw top, you better have some passion behind your writing and people like Hardy Wallace set the tone for exuding this excitement throughout the weekend.
Collaborative - Wine bloggers are on each other's side, and while they are certainly up for a good hearted (and occasionally heated) argument, they tend to see each other as collective owners of their craft. If one blogger is doing something great it is good for all of us. This sets up a mood of open and willing collaboration. If I know something that you don't know, or have access to information that would enhance your site there seemed to be an unwritten code of wine blogger conduct to help and share. This collaborative spirit is currently being harnessed by Rick Bakas in an all out effort to make wine blogs better, more accurate, and more fun for people to read. I'm all for it.
Accepting - Wow, here is were my slight agoraphobia kicks in. I went to a party the week before the Wine Blogger's Conference with 35 people I did not know well and felt quite awkward and out of place. I'm just not the type of person to make the first move. I didn't have one minute of that feeling during the conference itself, and actively noticed as people from all walks of life mingled, interacted, and were treated with respect and equality. I don't mean to be sickeningly auspicious but I do think that the people who have chosen this as a hobby, a pursuit, or even a slightly delusional career have a character trait that makes them open to others with the same interest.
Sincere - The wine bloggers had no reason to be anything but authentic. They spend their days putting their voice, their spin, their opinion out for the world to read and nearly across the board they were personable and sincere in their 'real' lives as well. I may be getting redundant but there was this strong sense of an openness to be 'who you were' and bring your view of the world to the table. This sincerity is exactly what I think makes the diversity of wine blogs so appealing to read and to interact with.
So conclusion about 'who these wine bloggers are' comes down to this: a passionate group of real people who are creating some interesting content that SHOULD be taken seriously. This is a group of people that I wholeheartedly recommend reading and interacting with. As Steve Heimoff noted, this is the group of people that has forced transparency onto wine writing. These are the personalities that move the conversation and do it out of passion. I've met the wine bloggers, and I can say they are good people.