…a very responsible blog…catavino.net…[it's] refreshing to see such professionalism.
Robert M. Parker Jr.

Wine Blogging question – Do you have to charge to be considered “professional”?

What would happen if tomorrow, all of Robert Parkers reviews were given out for free? Or Stephan Tanzer, Jancis Robinson, or any other “wine professional” for that matter? Would they mean less? Robert Parker was a wine amateur who happens to have a long history of writing about wine, so when did he become a “professional”? Does it make someone more of a professional if their reviews are only accessible through payment? Does the exchanging of money make a person’s opinion (what any review by anyone really is) worth more?

I ask this because we were recently contacted by someone who wanted contact information for the Penin Guide. When I wrote back saying I had no personal information, I received a reply that really made me think:

” I was interested in exploring a licensing relationship for his professional reviews like we have with Stephen Tanzer, Allen Meadows, and Roy Hersh.”

I REALLY want to know what everyone thinks is the threshold where you move from amateur to professional. I know Robert Parker is an amateur, if you choose education as a defining factor. Roy Hersh, a good friend of Catavino, is an incredible amateur, if measured by this same criteria. I wonder if there is a threshold of time or acknowledgment that suddenly makes one a professional. How long do you need to be involved in wine to become more than an amateur?

I take about 3-400 notes a year. Granted, not all of them make it into our site, nor are they all cataloged online, but they are tasted and make, in my opinion, a very strong argument for at the very least semi-pro status. Next month, we are becoming trained as official (by the DO of Jerez) sherry educators. Does this mean that with this credential, we’ll be elevated to professional status in regards to sherry?

On the other hand, maybe I need to move to a paid model of wine publishing: charging for every word and thought, no matter how silly they may seem. Then, can I say I’m a professional? I could finally say that my writing provides me an income…wouldn’t that be dreamy! Lenn of LENNDEVOURS recently was asking on twitter about what it takes to make someone realize that you don’t need tons of education to be a viable wine writer/critic. It’s a good question, what does it take?

I make no claims to be in the same class as Tanzer, Parker, Robinson, or others. I don’t have the same super palate as they do. On the other hand I taste and write about Iberian wine everyday, can I be a “regional wine expert”? Other bloggers what do you think/say? Alder are you a professional? Professional Blogger, or Wine Professional? Maybe, I’m looking at this all wrong. Maybe professional is something to avoid. At this point in my life, I get the majority of my wine advice from amateurs; consequently, maybe professional will become a pejorative denoting writers too far removed from the actual wine drinking process to deserve merit? Maybe the tide will turn in the near future, where people no longer look to the Royal family of wine for advice on what they should drink, but to the fellow lay people!

Just thoughts, but I really want to know what you think. Maybe we need a new site to parallel Wine Blogger. WineAmetuer.info – definition yet to be determined…

Cheers,
Ryan Opaz

BTW – I can’t wait to see what all of you amateurs are going to taste for WBW #38…see you Wednesday!

  • trevor

    There must be an easier route to getting paid to drink…

  • Ben

    Everything from the bbc is free, and you don't get more pro than them!

  • Bill

    Ryan, Interesting topic. Let's look at it in a slightly different context. We'll substitute vocation for professional and avocation for amatuer. In those terms, it is obvious that you are a "professional" even if you don't get paid for your expertise. The wine business is your livelihood. You are also fortunate that your vocation is your avocation. How many people can really say that? Coming back to the money for tasting discussion, you should damn well better aspire to getting paid for it! There is nothing wrong with charging for your expertise. Part of the difference today is that the critics you mention above cut their teeth using "conventional" print media to do so. With the competition for these sorts of jobs, the professional definition is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Your situation (and that of other bloggers) is how do you define professional? And what does it take to get paid in this business?How does the cream rise to the top? Maybe that's what you are getting at. Bill

  • http://www.notesfromspain.com Ben

    Everything from the bbc is free, and you don’t get more pro than them!

  • trevor

    There must be an easier route to getting paid to drink…

  • Bill

    Ryan,

    Interesting topic. Let’s look at it in a slightly different context. We’ll substitute vocation for professional and avocation for amatuer. In those terms, it is obvious that you are a “professional” even if you don’t get paid for your expertise. The wine business is your livelihood. You are also fortunate that your vocation is your avocation. How many people can really say that? Coming back to the money for tasting discussion, you should damn well better aspire to getting paid for it! There is nothing wrong with charging for your expertise.

    Part of the difference today is that the critics you mention above cut their teeth using “conventional” print media to do so. With the competition for these sorts of jobs, the professional definition is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Your situation (and that of other bloggers) is how do you define professional? And what does it take to get paid in this business?How does the cream rise to the top? Maybe that’s what you are getting at.

    Bill

  • Wine Scamp

    Very thought-provoking post, Ryan! I wonder if the line between amateur and professional is drawn twice: once by a blogger believing that their opinions and expressions are worth money, and once again by another person agreeing to pay for the blogger's opinions and expressions, or pay to advertize on the page of expressed opinions. There's a blogger called Manolo who purports to earn six figures a year, largely blogging about shoes. I think he's pretty definitely a professional. What makes an aspiring novelist a professional, for that matter? When she self-publishes her novel, or when it's picked up by Random House? Before she sells the novel, is she an amateur? If she has a full-time, non-writing job, but is paid to write too, is she a professional writer?

  • Wine Scamp

    Very thought-provoking post, Ryan!

    I wonder if the line between amateur and professional is drawn twice: once by a blogger believing that their opinions and expressions are worth money, and once again by another person agreeing to pay for the blogger’s opinions and expressions, or pay to advertize on the page of expressed opinions.

    There’s a blogger called Manolo who purports to earn six figures a year, largely blogging about shoes. I think he’s pretty definitely a professional.

    What makes an aspiring novelist a professional, for that matter? When she self-publishes her novel, or when it’s picked up by Random House? Before she sells the novel, is she an amateur? If she has a full-time, non-writing job, but is paid to write too, is she a professional writer?

  • Steve Bachmann

    As the person quoted in your post, I feel like I should respond. The Dictionary.com definition of “amateur” is “a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.” There is nothing in that definition which speaks to the quality or expertise of the activity performed by the amateur vs. the professional. My use of the term “professional” was meant simply to describe a review from someone who is pursuing writing wine reviews for a living as evidenced by charging money in some form for them already. Parker, Tanzer, Meadows, and Hersh all do so through subscription-based web sites, and/or printed products (periodicals or books). Those products also bring recognition, awareness, and authority which is desirable for my purposes in attracting customers/users to Vinfolio (in particular, supporting users of our free online cellar management product, VinCellar, and within our ecommerce site to support wine sales). Penin was (and still is) interesting to me because by publishing a guide with a significant number of reviews, he appeared to fit the bill as a recognized and respected authority for Spanish wines. Do I think that a wine review has to be written by a “professional” to be good? Absolutely not. Are professional wine reviews the only reviews which influence consumers and collectors? No. In fact, studies have shown friends or “amateurs” have more influence than professionals. In fact, our next release of VinCellar will introduce a community tasting notes capability, precisely because I believe strongly in the points just made. “Professional” reviews will be kept separately from these reviews (mainly because of licensing and copyright issues). We will be inviting various “amateurs” to add their notes to this community in advance of launch and offering them a package of various incentives to do so. If an “amateur” (especially a “semi-pro” with a wine blog) came to me with a meaningful quantity of quality notes, I’d also consider making a financial payment to use them. Should we talk?

  • Alder

    Professional just means you get paid to do it. That's the difference between an amatuer ___ and a professional ________. Fill in the blank with whatever you like: actor, tennis player, wine critic, etc. And I would say that there's probably some test of "reasonable income" that common sense would apply here. E.g. having written one article for $$ in the last 5 years does not make you a professional writer. Writing an article every month to the point that the income you make is a significant part of your income (no matter how small) makes you a professional. Then there's the question of influence or power, which is a completely separate conversation.

  • http://www.vinfolio.com Steve Bachmann

    As the person quoted in your post, I feel like I should respond. The Dictionary.com definition of “amateur” is “a person who engages in a study, sport, or other activity for pleasure rather than for financial benefit or professional reasons.” There is nothing in that definition which speaks to the quality or expertise of the activity performed by the amateur vs. the professional.

    My use of the term “professional” was meant simply to describe a review from someone who is pursuing writing wine reviews for a living as evidenced by charging money in some form for them already. Parker, Tanzer, Meadows, and Hersh all do so through subscription-based web sites, and/or printed products (periodicals or books). Those products also bring recognition, awareness, and authority which is desirable for my purposes in attracting customers/users to Vinfolio (in particular, supporting users of our free online cellar management product, VinCellar, and within our ecommerce site to support wine sales).

    Penin was (and still is) interesting to me because by publishing a guide with a significant number of reviews, he appeared to fit the bill as a recognized and respected authority for Spanish wines.

    Do I think that a wine review has to be written by a “professional” to be good? Absolutely not.

    Are professional wine reviews the only reviews which influence consumers and collectors? No. In fact, studies have shown friends or “amateurs” have more influence than professionals.

    In fact, our next release of VinCellar will introduce a community tasting notes capability, precisely because I believe strongly in the points just made. “Professional” reviews will be kept separately from these reviews (mainly because of licensing and copyright issues). We will be inviting various “amateurs” to add their notes to this community in advance of launch and offering them a package of various incentives to do so. If an “amateur” (especially a “semi-pro” with a wine blog) came to me with a meaningful quantity of quality notes, I’d also consider making a financial payment to use them. Should we talk?

  • http://www.vinography.com Alder

    Professional just means you get paid to do it. That’s the difference between an amatuer ___ and a professional ________. Fill in the blank with whatever you like: actor, tennis player, wine critic, etc.

    And I would say that there’s probably some test of “reasonable income” that common sense would apply here. E.g. having written one article for $$ in the last 5 years does not make you a professional writer. Writing an article every month to the point that the income you make is a significant part of your income (no matter how small) makes you a professional.

    Then there’s the question of influence or power, which is a completely separate conversation.

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  • Ryan

    I understand money is tied to "professional". And while influence and power are other discussions, I do feel that many people feel "professionals" are the only one's worth taking serious. That said, I think professional, correctly or not, is also tied to professionalism. Being professional in your writing, and behavior is a very important matter for any serious amateur. Therefore a non-paid blogger, who acts professionally, is a professional amateur? Wow there's a circle! Maybe wine professional, if only tied to money, is a useless term now a days. Should amateur bloggers, ask for a change in the terminology or simply create their own. BTW Steve DO contact Penin, while I don't personally like his review style, he does taste a ton of wines, and here in Spain has far more influence than Parker.

  • Emilio

    Ryan, maybe we all are professional amateurs? I used to write for money until about 18 months ago. Then I started to do other things in the wine business. Now I don't have the time to write a lot. Does that mean I WAS a professional. This month after almost two years I started writing again (and this time not for money). I did some posts for blogs like catavino.es. Does that mean I AM an amateur again. Or is it possible that my post is professional but I am an amateur? Or the other way around? I'm getting PRETTY confused about this whole thing. I think that being a professional has to do a lot what other people think you are. This means that there are amateurs who earn six digits and profesionals who don't earn nothing. Now I'm probably even more confused. If I just write a post about what I like, and what I know, then I am amateur, right? But if that same article is published in a magazine (hard copy). Did I suddenly become a professional? What does that make me? A professional amateur? As a typical Dutch saying says: I can't see the forrest through the trees.

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    I understand money is tied to “professional”. And while influence and power are other discussions, I do feel that many people feel “professionals” are the only one’s worth taking serious.

    That said, I think professional, correctly or not, is also tied to professionalism. Being professional in your writing, and behavior is a very important matter for any serious amateur. Therefore a non-paid blogger, who acts professionally, is a professional amateur? Wow there’s a circle!

    Maybe wine professional, if only tied to money, is a useless term now a days. Should amateur bloggers, ask for a change in the terminology or simply create their own.

    BTW Steve DO contact Penin, while I don’t personally like his review style, he does taste a ton of wines, and here in Spain has far more influence than Parker.

  • http://www.winemeetingpoint.com Emilio

    Ryan, maybe we all are professional amateurs?

    I used to write for money until about 18 months ago. Then I started to do other things in the wine business. Now I don’t have the time to write a lot. Does that mean I WAS a professional. This month after almost two years I started writing again (and this time not for money). I did some posts for blogs like catavino.es. Does that mean I AM an amateur again. Or is it possible that my post is professional but I am an amateur? Or the other way around? I’m getting PRETTY confused about this whole thing. I think that being a professional has to do a lot what other people think you are. This means that there are amateurs who earn six digits and profesionals who don’t earn nothing. Now I’m probably even more confused. If I just write a post about what I like, and what I know, then I am amateur, right? But if that same article is published in a magazine (hard copy). Did I suddenly become a professional? What does that make me? A professional amateur?

    As a typical Dutch saying says: I can’t see the forrest through the trees.

  • Joel

    Nice post. Its seems pretty easy to define – take the Olympics. It used to be (in the US) that "Pro"s couldn't play. If you got paid, regardless of expertise, you couldn't be an Olympian. That remained true until the marketing people at NHL and NBA realized that exporting the sport by showcasing Pros and having them kick the living shit out of the world's amateurs was good business (under the guise of fostering talent in other countries). FYI – 18 years later, our Pros are a bit of a joke as other countries are now playing better ball than we are…makes me chuckle a little… College athletes are amateurs even though many are better than so-called "Pro"s. So that is clear cut. So that distinction isn't a testament to how authoritative your (or anyone else's) writing is. I've seen some pretty bad "Pro"s write stuff and gotten some EXCELLENT wine advice from "amateurs". I'll tell you right now, I'm a better soccer player than some American "Pro"s (some Europeans might not find that to be a big claim ;) but clearly I've never gotten paid to play the beautiful game. Interesting thing is that with blogging and the Internet, "amateurs" who are good are catching on much faster than Mr. Parker did with his typewriter and Xerox machine!!!

  • http://www.winelifetoday.com Joel

    Nice post. Its seems pretty easy to define – take the Olympics. It used to be (in the US) that “Pro”s couldn’t play. If you got paid, regardless of expertise, you couldn’t be an Olympian. That remained true until the marketing people at NHL and NBA realized that exporting the sport by showcasing Pros and having them kick the living shit out of the world’s amateurs was good business (under the guise of fostering talent in other countries). FYI – 18 years later, our Pros are a bit of a joke as other countries are now playing better ball than we are…makes me chuckle a little…

    College athletes are amateurs even though many are better than so-called “Pro”s. So that is clear cut. So that distinction isn’t a testament to how authoritative your (or anyone else’s) writing is. I’ve seen some pretty bad “Pro”s write stuff and gotten some EXCELLENT wine advice from “amateurs”. I’ll tell you right now, I’m a better soccer player than some American “Pro”s (some Europeans might not find that to be a big claim ;) but clearly I’ve never gotten paid to play the beautiful game.

    Interesting thing is that with blogging and the Internet, “amateurs” who are good are catching on much faster than Mr. Parker did with his typewriter and Xerox machine!!!

  • Wilf Krutzmann

    A little late in my comment but here it is. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from the interpretation of the word "professional" which traditionally meant : Of, relating to, engaged in or suitable for a profession:lawyers,doctors, and other professional people. It has become more generalized and now a trades person, like a carpenter can do a "professional" job. I have a degree in veterinary medicine and thus have a profession. My second career is in wine. I started a wine shop in Victoria, BC in 1993 and sold it in 2005. I wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper for two years and do some freelance writing for various other publications and yes I do get paid for it. But I have never and will never consider my self as a professional writer. When I give a talk, I cringe when I am introduced as an expert. After 30 plus years of enjoying and studying about wine, I am only beginning to scratch the surface of what there is to know about wine. I don't think we spend enough time, just "enjoying" the fruit of the vine.“Not only does one drink wine, but one inhales it, tastes it – and then talks about it.” A quote from King Edward VII.

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  • http://wwpress.blogspot.com Wilf Krutzmann

    A little late in my comment but here it is. Perhaps some of the confusion comes from the interpretation of the word “professional” which traditionally meant : Of, relating to, engaged in or suitable for a profession:lawyers,doctors, and other professional people. It has become more generalized and now a trades person, like a carpenter can do a “professional” job. I have a degree in veterinary medicine and thus have a profession. My second career is in wine. I started a wine shop in Victoria, BC in 1993 and sold it in 2005. I wrote a monthly column for a local newspaper for two years and do some freelance writing for various other publications and yes I do get paid for it. But I have never and will never consider my self as a professional writer. When I give a talk, I cringe when I am introduced as an expert. After 30 plus years of enjoying and studying about wine, I am only beginning to scratch the surface of what there is to know about wine. I don’t think we spend enough time, just “enjoying” the fruit of the vine.
    “Not only does one drink wine, but one inhales it, tastes it – and then talks about it.” A quote from King Edward VII.

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  • RichardA

    I think it may be equally as compelling to discuss what constitutes a wine "expert." Are all professionals experts? Must experts have official "education?" Can you be an expert just in a limited area? Are all of the big name wine people, like Parker, Tanzer or Robinson experts? Or are they only experts in limited wine area? Are there wine bloggers who are experts?

  • http://passionatefoodie.blogspot.com/ RichardA

    I think it may be equally as compelling to discuss what constitutes a wine “expert.” Are all professionals experts? Must experts have official “education?” Can you be an expert just in a limited area? Are all of the big name wine people, like Parker, Tanzer or Robinson experts? Or are they only experts in limited wine area?

    Are there wine bloggers who are experts?

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  • Oenophilus

    Ryan- I thought I should share my response to Tom Wark's posting on this subject earlier this morning Tom- I agree with you in that "Professional" is rooted in "Profession". While we all do may things with our lives these days, I would hazard to say that few of us have more than one profession. My profession is a vintner: I own a company, I make wine, I market wine and I sell wine. That is my profession. However, professionals are not the only experts and a professional is not necessarily an expert in the entire field. I am a winemaker, but I definitely do not consider myself an expert in Enology. I am a blogger, but I am neither an expert in writing nor am I an expert in computers. I am an expert in Roman Catholic Liturgy. I am an expert wine educator. I am an expert bodyworker. I am an expert bed-time story teller. Are there angles dancing on the head of this pin? Probably. Professional or expert may just be a semantic discussion. To the meat of Ryan's posting: If a site charges a subscription fee or is supported by a print publication that does, they should pay you for your EXPERT reviews whether or not you are a PROFESSIONAL. Should any of us bloggers -expert or professional or otherwise – charge curious surfers? I think that might be a step over the thin line that makes US better than THEM. There you go. Sorry I didn't get around to responding directly to you. It took my reminder this morning to get me going!

  • http://www.iridessewines.com Oenophilus

    Ryan- I thought I should share my response to Tom Wark’s posting on this subject earlier this morning

    Tom-
    I agree with you in that “Professional” is rooted in “Profession”. While we all do may things with our lives these days, I would hazard to say that few of us have more than one profession. My profession is a vintner: I own a company, I make wine, I market wine and I sell wine. That is my profession.

    However, professionals are not the only experts and a professional is not necessarily an expert in the entire field. I am a winemaker, but I definitely do not consider myself an expert in Enology. I am a blogger, but I am neither an expert in writing nor am I an expert in computers. I am an expert in Roman Catholic Liturgy. I am an expert wine educator. I am an expert bodyworker. I am an expert bed-time story teller. Are there angles dancing on the head of this pin? Probably. Professional or expert may just be a semantic discussion.

    To the meat of Ryan’s posting: If a site charges a subscription fee or is supported by a print publication that does, they should pay you for your EXPERT reviews whether or not you are a PROFESSIONAL. Should any of us bloggers -expert or professional or otherwise – charge curious surfers? I think that might be a step over the thin line that makes US better than THEM.

    There you go. Sorry I didn’t get around to responding directly to you. It took my reminder this morning to get me going!

  • Winefarmer

    Just because someone is paid for their art doesn't mean that they're necessarily better than someone who is unpaid. Personally, I can't disagree enough with Monsiour Parker's palette. He loves wines that I find fairly undrinkable. I like to taste fruit. He likes to taste barrels. Both wine and wine writing are at the intersection of art and commerce. Van Gogh wasn't a paid for his art in his lifetime… does that make him any less of an artist? Any less of an expert? Personally, I think that what separates the heavyweights of wine writing from us mere mortals working in the blogosphere isn't the quality of writing, but the acquisition of status. Those who've become famous through their wine writing didn't do so by merely writing good reviews, they did so by fighting their way into prominence, playing the game, and understanding the field. There's a lot of tight rappers out there with no record deal. There's a lot of lousy rappers out there getting paid in full. In wine, the game being played by the "pros" isn't to be the very best reviewer, or to have the very best palette. It's to get in the limelight and make money. Personally, I find myself in agreement with William Saroyan on the occasion of turning down the Pulitzer: (something like): "Commerce has no business patronizing the arts, but I'll take the Nobel. That's where the real money is."

  • http://winefarmer.wordpress.com Winefarmer

    Just because someone is paid for their art doesn’t mean that they’re necessarily better than someone who is unpaid. Personally, I can’t disagree enough with Monsiour Parker’s palette. He loves wines that I find fairly undrinkable. I like to taste fruit. He likes to taste barrels.

    Both wine and wine writing are at the intersection of art and commerce. Van Gogh wasn’t a paid for his art in his lifetime… does that make him any less of an artist? Any less of an expert?

    Personally, I think that what separates the heavyweights of wine writing from us mere mortals working in the blogosphere isn’t the quality of writing, but the acquisition of status. Those who’ve become famous through their wine writing didn’t do so by merely writing good reviews, they did so by fighting their way into prominence, playing the game, and understanding the field.

    There’s a lot of tight rappers out there with no record deal. There’s a lot of lousy rappers out there getting paid in full. In wine, the game being played by the “pros” isn’t to be the very best reviewer, or to have the very best palette. It’s to get in the limelight and make money.

    Personally, I find myself in agreement with William Saroyan on the occasion of turning down the Pulitzer: (something like): “Commerce has no business patronizing the arts, but I’ll take the Nobel. That’s where the real money is.”

  • Ryan

    One final question – Since most agree that making a living off one's writing/reviews would qualify you as a Professional. Then what is a person who charges for their writing but does not make a living off of it? Either way this was a good discussion and I appreciate all the answers and subsequent articles…

  • http://www.catavino.net Ryan

    One final question – Since most agree that making a living off one’s writing/reviews would qualify you as a Professional. Then what is a person who charges for their writing but does not make a living off of it?

    Either way this was a good discussion and I appreciate all the answers and subsequent articles…

  • Oenophilus

    A person who charges for their writing – and actually gets paid – is a writer. Beyond that, I can only use language as example: In Spanish don't we say, "?Como te llamas?" That translates to, "What do you call yourself?" That is what is important to the person with whom you are interacting. Do you call yourself a writer?

  • http://www.iridessewines.com Oenophilus

    A person who charges for their writing – and actually gets paid – is a writer. Beyond that, I can only use language as example: In Spanish don’t we say, “?Como te llamas?” That translates to, “What do you call yourself?” That is what is important to the person with whom you are interacting. Do you call yourself a writer?

  • Diane Letulle

    I'm definitely an amateur now…but hopefully not forever. I recently visited Chateau Mouton Rothschild, normally a 24 euro tour, but since I had told them I write a wine blog, they let me in gratis! I consider that my first payment! My situation is slightly different because I am concentrating on wine travel rather than wine tasting alone. I love writing about wine, so that's payment alone suffices.

  • http://www.loveswine.blogspot.com Diane Letulle

    I’m definitely an amateur now…but hopefully not forever. I recently visited Chateau Mouton Rothschild, normally a 24 euro tour, but since I had told them I write a wine blog, they let me in gratis! I consider that my first payment! My situation is slightly different because I am concentrating on wine travel rather than wine tasting alone. I love writing about wine, so that’s payment alone suffices.

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