…On the way to the forum.

Wine seems to spawn critics. I don’t know why, but it does.

The original purpose of this blog was to be a different voice, not a critic but an observer, a reporter, if you will, trying to get facts across. But I have to admit, I’ve done my share of criticizing—not wine, but those engaged in its marketing and consumption. I’ve also criticized the critics, but I hope never nearly as vitriolic as some of them can be.

Today I am going to give my critique of Web sites, the ones dedicated to discussing wine.

First, the sites can be addictive, so much so that at times I have to force myself to stop posting on them—a guy’s got to earn a living, and posting on wine-centric bulletin boards does not bring in cash. (I almost never stop reading them.)

Second, the bulletin boards can be entertaining, especially when a moderator goes ballistic, or a poster becomes incoherently abusive, or the subject is as inane as the aging potential of Blue Nun!

Third, the sites can be educational.

Fourth, they have separate personalities.

Let me begin my critique with this observation: It never ceases to be a marvel to me that after years of reading them, some people still believe that wine critics are objective.

I remember one particularly annoying poster on a web site trying to persuade me that an objective fact—reduction, volatile acidity, etc.—can be arrived at subjectively and therefore need not be proved in a laboratory. This is the kind of talk that sometimes takes place on wine bulletin boards.

My favorite site is named Wine Lovers Page; Robin Garr is its moderator.

Robin moderates with a light touch. People who become asses are gently prodded and reminded of their responsibility to be reasonable. When Robin gets into some of the discussions, he makes his points firmly but neither abusive nor vitriolic (I point this out because, well, you’ll see later).

Mostly, the people who frequent Robin’s site respond to the openness and relative moderation of its moderator. Not that there aren’t flare-ups as ideologies clash; just that they are rare and usually addressed well.

Flare-ups often happen in the “basement” section of the forum, where any subject but wine goes, but they are not confined to that forum—the subjective/objective confusion often creates arguments in the wine forum. Over time, I’ve learned to ignore certain posters, as I am sure they learned to ignore me.

Wine Lovers is habituated by professional wine people and wine consumers, plus knowledgeable wine people as well as novices.

Robin makes no excuses for the fact that he earns a living moderating his site, so you always know his motivation.

I used to participate much more in a site named The Wine Board. The irreverent Jerry Mead, a wine writer and founder of a major West Coast wine competition, started this site.

Jerry died a few years ago, but his site has been maintained as a business. I know the moderator only as Jackie.

Before he died, Jerry railed on his site about any subject related or unrelated to wine. He was largely libertarian, with a special disdain for the government’s intrusion into wine.

I loved Jerry’s attitude and especially loved his tolerance for the rest of us who posted on his site and were the source of his incessant arguing over a point, which he seemed to live to do.

Anyway, the forum operates at a quieter pace than it used to bounce along. It is habituated mainly by wine consumers with a stable of a few long-time posters that welcome a seemingly endless stream of novices and their questions.

The conversations on The Wine Board are generally lighter, but there have been a few ideological flare-ups here, too.

For ideological flare-ups it’s hard to beat eRobertParker.com.

I’m not talking about political ideology, as political discussions are banned on this site. I refer to the way fights break out on the wine forum: you would think that wine was crucial to our survival.

The fights often illustrate clearly the hazy understanding of people when it comes to the murky subjects of subjective as opposed to objective, opinion as opposed to fact. Indeed, the site was established based on the success of the opinionated Mr. Parker.

Over the years, this site has increasingly gained an uncomfortable edge, as Mr. Parker is subjected to increasing attack. I can understand his frustration, but I think his strident responses to attack make things worse. He does not have a thick skin.

The forum is moderated by Mark Squires, and he has become quite controversial. He wields an ax (and legal threats) over those who would question either him or his boss. He often seems to engage in goading posters, putting forward a closet full of “strawmen” arguments, appearing as if he purposely wants people who disagree with him to say something terrible and then he can ban them from the site forever and be happy talking with those who agree.

On the plus side, the Parker board seems to attract many winemakers. Maybe the reason is obvious, maybe not, but the discussions between the winemakers often are wonderfully educational.

From what I understand, the next bulletin board, Wine Therapy, was started in reaction to the eRobertParker site. Parker’s name is censored on this site.

This could be a fun site, provided you are a member of the “in crowd,” are willing to become one, or can take the often childish welcome you will receive when you sign on for the first or third time, depending upon who missed you on your earlier attempts.

Therapy posters include wine professionals and consumers, but many are not just your garden-variety consumer. You’ll find scientists, poets, linguists, musicians, and all manner of accomplished individuals discussing wine and everything else.

Although conversation on this site runs from the arcane to the sublime, the place reminds me of a classroom for unruly high achievers vying for the teacher’s attention. Too often threads devolve into a top-dog, one-upmanship game that I remember engaging in when I was in high school.

The site has a particular oddity to it: those smart adults seem to get jollies by posting strings of profanity—but, hey, whatever makes you happy, which seems to be the theme of Wine Therapy (that and freedom from spoofulated wine, a reference to the perceived influence of the CENSORED one).

For some reason, Therapy is a magnet to spammers from Asia, Albania, and everywhere else, selling porn, credit card scams, and even mustard.

Wine Talk’s moderator, Serge, posts on Therapy—it’s about the only site that will allow him to post.

Serge’s been banned from other boards for a variety of reasons, all connected to irreverent behavior. He was banned from eRobertParker once, but managed to get back on that “Real Names” site under another name, was ratted out and then banned again and of course, threatened with a lawsuit.

On Therapy, he has been given slaps on his wrist.

Anyway, his site, Wine Talk, is a cozy group of a few nice people, in and out of the wine business, who share talk of wine and of anything else that comes up. Some of them, like me, frequent the other bulletin boards. We go to Wine Talk, I think, because it’s fun.

I happen to like Serge. He is harmless and fun loving. I have been watching his wine learning curve for about three years, and he has been learning, too.

Many other wine bulletin boards are out there. I’ve stopped in on a few of them, but have found them mostly moderated by pompous wine bloviators—not my glass of wine.

Check these out and get back to me:

WineLovers WineBoard eParker Therapy WineTalk

Copyright, Thomas Pellechia
December 2007. All Rights Reserved.

2 Responses to “…On the way to the forum.”

  1. winophite says:

    While I have visited the mentioned forums in this post, I still find the wineboard to be the easiest for me to use and easiest to find specific info. From asking novice questions to looking for posts on a specific wine (or type of wine). All the “regular” posters freely share their knowledge even if the question has been asked repeatedly. Never have I felt belittled by answers to silly questions and I especially like that posts seeking “free advertisment” are edited to leave the pertinent info only.

    I do see some fun in reading some arguments in the other sites, but generally I visit sites only as a way to learn about wine and expand my experience and the wineboard seems to have that covered.

    Thanks for you candid review of the popular sites. Best wishes for the holidays to you and a hopes for a prosperous new year. Winophite

  2. Thomas says:

    The Wine Board was the first forum I ever visited.

    Too bad you didn’t get to know Jerry.

    Have a safe and happy holiday, Winophite.