The Internet is awash with wine blogs these days, many of which are doing similar things or one off takes on tried and true formats. Joe Roberts, the man behind 1WineDude, does things a little different whether you like it or not – though it appears as though people do like it, having enticed countless people to his wine writing since he started 1WineDude back in 2007. He also isn’t afraid to make wine personal as he opens “highly-pressurized cans of whoop-ass on the wine industry” with his informative, entertaining and comedic writing style. Enjoy Roberts’ point of view on wine, the industry and writing in the latest installment of our SpeakEasy interview series with influential bloggers.
Let’s start from the beginning. Why did you want to create 1WineDude?
Initially, it was to have some content to go along with a (now defunct) consulting gig that I was working on with a friend (hence the name; I was one of two "Wine Dudes"), and it allowed me to indulge my love of writing. It quickly morphed into me creating a resource for intermediate wine lovers, which was something that, at the time, I couldn't really find anywhere.
How has your writing and the atmosphere around writing about wine changed since you started 1WineDude? Are there some areas of your writing that have remained constant?
Speaking specifically about 1WD, I think that the humor is a constant; so is the simple joy of sharing things about which I am personally passionate. Also a constant is taking the craft of wine and its appreciation (but not myself) seriously. The other constant is brutal honesty; I've never been afraid of calling it as I see it, or of hiding aspects of my personal life, whether good (such as the birth of my daughter) or bad (having to divorce a cheating spouse). So, laying it all out there in order to build trust with the audience has been a constant, for better or worse. Hopefully it's for the better; when people who read 1WD meet me in person, they often tell me that they feel as though they know me, and I like that.
I have adjusted the writing voice on 1WD many times, but I am somewhat ashamed to admit that has never been in the service of a trend or a changing critical atmosphere; it's simply my own indulgence in helping to prevent myself from feeling bored. I don't like simple or static music, art, or writing, so I change things up on 1WD in terms of which aspects of the writing voice get emphasized.
You spent some time writing a wine column for Playboy.com. What was that experience like? Did you find it helped shape your writing voice in any way?
That was a fun gig, though dealing with celebrities' idiosyncrasies for interviews is not something I care to repeat unless I am being paid well! They gave me free reins and rarely edited what I submitted; they wanted the voice to be like 1WD, but amped up, on steroids. So it was a fun indulgence in that respect, but it forced me to be a more cognizant and responsible self-editor, because of the profile and the potential audience. I wrote a piece for Parade once, which has something like the largest circulation in the history of ever, and I was similarly crapping myself at times, thinking "how many people might read this?"
Was their a specific “aha” moment that solidified your want to write about wine?
Not really. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and I've been sharing things that excite me for as long as I can remember, regardless of whether or not anyone around me cared! Fortunately, blogging is perfect for that, and enough people enjoyed coming along on the crazy, wild rides with me online that I was able to build a solid brand for myself in the wine space.
You’ve had the opportunity to talk with a wide swath of people about wine - both in traditional wine roles and non traditional. Have you noticed any general trends in the culture surrounding wine that have given you a hint at where wine is going next?
Yes, for sure. The key to this, I think, is the simple realization that wine is not actually that different than any other niche topic or crafted luxury good. Which isn't to say that wine isn't magical, or isn't beautiful, or isn't special; it is all of those things. But it's also a business, and as such is not immune from the general market trends that we see happening everywhere in capitalist style markets: personalization, the rapid dissemination and sharing of information, the tendency towards pre-purchase research and crowd-sourced review resources, etc.
In my experience, the people who discount those trends impacting the wine space a) are ignoring compelling evidence, and b) have a vested financial interest in those things not impacting the wine world. But we all know how that has worked out everywhere else, right? What my experience has shown me is that betting on the wine *business* being so special that it will be immune from all of those other market-shaping forces is a fool's bet.
You were one of the first wine bloggers to reach a wider audience, something that was previously reserved only for print writers. What do you think led to your popularity? Do you think the embrace of bloggers and podcasters is changing the demographics and perceptions about wine?
Answering the second part of that question first, I think it's inevitable. The vox populi decides via both audience numbers and engagement levels who they consider authoritative sources, and wine is no exception (and much smarter and more successful wine people than I am have pointed this out already ad nauseam). If anything, wine is becoming more accessible and more populist as a topic as a result of those things (same thing is happening outside of wine, of course; e.g., I love Doctor Who, as do millions now, but it was NOT cool to be a fan of that when I was a kid... the tolerance levels for enjoying geeky pastimes with other passionate consumers is at its highest point ever).
As far as my popularity, I've never figured that one out. I still think "man, this is weird 1WD/Joe Roberts shit, how is it that people like this?!?? This isn't supposed to be **popular**!!!" The combination of honesty, non-douchebaggery, humor, and respect for the crafts of writing and wine are things that I hold as precious, and thanks to the Internet, other people with the same values can find me, and hopefully I am providing edu-tainment and value to them. I just happened to start earlier enough online that it seemed like a breath of fresh air to some people, maybe, which is lucky for me.
There’s an eclectic array of things you have had a hand in, from writing reviews to podcasts to video. What is your favorite format to use and why?
I miss doing video, but the standard for production value is so high now that unless the topic is ridiculously amazing (think filming a celebrity, or Bigfoot, or a natural disaster, or all three at the same time) you can't compete in that medium on a low budget anymore. So, it's great when I am hired for professional front-of-camera video work, and I love those gigs, but I rarely do them myself any more.
I love writing, even when it's a paid gig and the style is conservative. Writing lengthy, offbeat pieces is number one for me; I love taking the "standard" writing formats, blowing them up into smithereens, and putting some of the pieces back together in bizarre, Postmodern ways, which I can indulge in when I am writing on 1WD. It's not for everybody, but as time goes on, I give less and less of a crap about that. I'd rather appeal strongly to a smaller number of people than superficially to a larger number.
Wine writing isn’t always entertaining, but you like to add humor into everything you do rather than take everything too seriously. Are there writers that you find inspiration from?
There are too many to name in full. In terms of style, Hunter S. Thompson and Italo Calvino were big influences for me; they injected humor and/or fantasy in spots where they, in a classical sense, wouldn't have been considered to belong. In wine, Hugh Johnson is, I think, *the* master (he is actually quite funny but it's so dry that many readers miss it). When I perform music live, I never cop the exact lines when covering a song; there is always improvisation and me trying to add my own thing to it. Writing is the same for me; I'd never cop influences directly, because a) it's already been done, and b) my writing would only be a pale reflection of the talent of others, anyway.
I think that it goes back many years, I developed a desperate sense of trying to assert my own voice and personality, particularly studying literature in undergrad. In college I was forced into writing poetry and prose in the styles of some of the great European and American modernists and postmodernists, and it drove me absolutely nuts because I was always - *always* - trying to sneak in things to express my own developing voice without getting a failing grade. I went to great lengths to do that, and I did some whacked-out, crazy shit that should have gotten me an 'F.' Lucky for me, however, most of my professors recognized what I was trying to do and many actually encouraged it rather than trying to squelch it. I suppose that I owe them some bottles for that!
What is your go-to wine?
Cru Beaujolais. Times, like, one thousand. The red wine that can go with basically any food, ever. On the white side, I am still a Mosel Riesling freak. But my tastes are quite catholic; actually, they're peripatetic. I blame the Millennials, their penchant for trying anything has really influenced me.
Finally, what do you suggest that people who are interested in learning more about, or writing about, wine do?
Taste (for wine) and read (for writing). There are no short cuts there. Do both as broadly, frequently, and open-mindedly as you can. Do your own thing when it comes to expression. Also, when in doubt, create your own adverbs (hey, it worked for me...).
Is there is anything else that you believe is important for our readers to know in order to better understand you and 1WineDude?
1WineDude.com is the penultimate expression of wine writing and if you don't go there immediately and click on all of the ad links hundreds of times, you might die. Or not. Ok, I made all of that up, but I'm sure we can agree that it's important stuff for your readers to know, right?