The Personal Pursuit of Balance
This blog has been on a summer hiatus. After four years of devoting the bulk of my free time to this effort, I decided it was time to take stock of how much effort it requires, how little I am receiving monetarily from my writing and what else I could be profitably doing with that time.
I was also realizing I’m significantly heavier than I was when I started the blog, in much worse shape physically, and that I’d been spending precious little time in recent months with friends, or potential new friends, because I was so focused on getting to tastings, wine-related travel and meeting deadlines.
It’s also been clear to me for some time that I’m not really a blogger at heart. I don’t live to opine on the same things others in the wine blogging community are writing about. I like to write about things others aren’t exploring. I also like to take the time to be thoroughly conversant with my subject and get all my facts right.
This site has evolved in the four year since it started into more of a collection of long, reference quality pieces about producers, regions or varieties. Those pieces on a weekly basis have run from 5-12,000 words, are thoroughly researched and, usually, supported by extensive tasting notes. There’s no other wine blog that has had that kind of content, on a regular basis. I’ve started to see there’s a very good reason for that.
I’ve also been doing a condensed version of my weekly pieces here—less than 1,000 words—for the Huffington Post. That seemed like a great opportunity to reach a more general audience when it was first offered, and I am proud of the pieces I did for HuffPo.
HuffPo pays virtually none of their bloggers, me included, and after briefly highlighting wine related columns in their own Wine section, and promoting many of the pieces I wrote in their daily emails to subscribers, columns like mine eventually got relegated to the Taste section, where the main emphasis is on food, dieting and recipes. So my pieces have received significantly less traffic there than they did in the first year and a half or so on the site. And yet they require a lot of effort to condense, punch up for a general audience and completely reformat for HuffPo. I expect to still do some on occasion when I think it’s a particularly newsworthy topic for HuffPo, but not with my prior frequency.
Aside from the writing, tasting and research required as background for the writing, there’s been all the time required to set up and maintain a blog.
Initially I had to learn WordPress to get the site going. WordPress and its thousands of plug ins keep changing and expanding—which is a good thing, but also requires one to keep up.
When I was disappointed by my rankings on search engines after the first several months of writing for this site, I also had to learn about search engine optimization, which ultimately required weeks of re-doing my site, and its “metatags.”
Pictures are also vital to a successful blog, so I have spent a lot of time editing and uploading photos over the past four years too. Unfortunately, the site that had hosted my thousands of pictures for 10 years decided to go out of that business, so I lost the hundreds of photo links on my site overnight and had to spend weeks of time I could ill afford uploading my photos to a new site and rebuilding my photo links on Flickr, which I hope will be around for awhile.
In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed an unexpected opportunity that came to me as a result of my writing here: being invited on media press trips to wine regions in various parts of the world.
The invites started to come pretty regularly after pieces I did on trips to places like Rioja and Uruguay, and I had begun to set aside all my vacation time from work for those trips—trying to do one of these trips nearly every other month.
Two particularly arduous trips this year, however, made me rethink the wisdom of taking advantage of those opportunities.
The organizers typically overschedule us media types, and on my last couple trips, not only were we going at a breakneck pace, from early in the morning to very late at night, but also nearly half the time was spent on activities the organizers insisted we attend, even over protests, that were not something of interest to me or my readers. Traveling for an entire day each way, as was required to get to Israel or Cahors, in Southwest France, is also pretty arduous in itself. Between that and the non-stop pace when one gets there, I was feeling completely exhausted when I got back (after taking a week of “vacation” time).
Although I have particularly enjoyed and learned a lot on well organized trips to places like Rioja and Champagne, in the future I will mainly organize my own trips focused on the producers and topics that most interest me. I’m still open to a particularly interesting wine press trip, where I’m clear on the itinerary in advance (and said yes last week to an October trip to Tuscany that promises to be very well organized by the Chianti Consorzio), but will otherwise be turning down these opportunities in the future.
So what else have I learned in my several weeks off from the weekly grind of banging out pieces for this blog and HuffPo?
I am thrilled to have started to get in shape again. I’ve lost over 25 pounds so far, and am now working with a professional bodybuilder as my personal trainer to help me take off another 20 or so and to take advantage of all the new science of bodybuilding that seems to have developed since the last time I had a trainer.
I am going to fewer tastings, and being much more selective and strategic about what I attend. I continue to receive a lot of samples for tasting, many of which are quite excellent, and I’m trying to keep up with that flow and my reviews on CellarTracker without it negatively impacting my weight and health.
I’ve also begun to experiment with formats for reaching other and younger audiences with messages about wines of note. That means I’m now on Instagram and Tumblr, learning how to best take advantage of those apps. And I’m still trying to keep up a presence on Facebook and Twitter, which have helped drive traffic to my site and other writing efforts in the past.
Ironically, in this hiatus period, I’ve been interviewed/profiled by a couple of online wine websites. The first to appear was my responses to Jameson Fink’s very thoughtful questions for Grape Collective, where I also did a Top 10 list of wine and food destinations in the greater San Francisco Bay area. The second was Snooth.com, for which I wrote on assignment on a paid basis for about a year and a half, before they lost their budget for those assignments.
And I’ve been reconnecting with friends and family members, as well as making at least a couple nights a week “date night.” I’m thoroughly enjoying the time being social again.
So what’s ahead for me as a wine writer and this site, now that I’ve taken some time to think about it and put some balance back in my life?
I don’t plan to try to keep up with a weekly grind of pieces of the length and thoroughness that I was doing. It’s simply not sustainable, not if I want to continue to lead a balanced life, and I’m not sure there’s that much of an audience for them anyway.
Instead, I will be revamping this site from a blog into a wine reference website, with sections that highlight quick recommendations for some amazing, characterful and reasonably priced wines. That revamping will take several months to finish, including making my full database of tasting notes finally available on the site. I’m looking forward to the changes and creative process though.
I will also continue to work on longer pieces, but will do so with an eye to publishing them as eBooks on wine regions. I’ve got close to enough material on the wonderful Santa Barbara County wine region to make that my first eBook, to test out the format. I would probably follow that with an eBook on the terrific but still relatively low profile California wine region I happen to live in: the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
Now that I’m feeling much healthier again, I also want to explore wine as a part of a fit lifestyle—how to get the health benefits of wine without the negative consequences of overindulgence. And I will pitch stories to print and online publications on some of the regions and producers I’ve become expert on—something I’ve had little time to properly do while I was churning out my lengthy “blog” pieces.
I continue to be enthused about wine as a topic, and as one of the major delights of life. I also remain fascinated by the stories of artisanal winemakers and of wine regions and traditional types of wine. And I want to do a better job than I’ve done to date of highlighting excellent, reasonably priced wines that display exceptional character. By writing at such length here, I think I’ve buried the lead on occasion about some of those amazing wines. It’s time to shorten my coverage and punch it up, so those wines can hopefully benefit from greater attention.
I am thankful to my readers, wine writing colleagues, and the many whose work in wine continues to inspire me. Now that I’m feeling more fit, more balanced and clearer about how I can help get out the word about worthy wines, I look forward to doing a better job of that in the coming months.
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