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I Hope Steve Heimoff Kicks My Ass (Thoughts on the Wine Bloggers Tasting Challenge)

You know what?

I hope that Steve Heimoff kicks my ass.

Not literally, of course (hey, I didn't study a bit of Wing Chun for nothin'!), but tastingly. (Is tastingly a word? Ah, who cares - adverbs kick ass!).

Who is Steve, and why should I want him to kick ass? And how does this relate to wine? Well... it's... complicated...

It actually has to do with the first-ever North American Wine Bloggers Conference being held this week in Sonoma, which both Steve amd I are attending (more on that later in the week). At about 5PM PT on Friday, some of the attendees will be taking part in a Wine Bloggers' Blind Tasting Challenge - as described by the conference organizers:

Bloggers will test their skills in identifying grape varietals and regions. Because we will have only local Sonoma wines, the competition will focus on identifying the type of grape, determining the vintage year or AVA within Sonoma County, matching the wine to the label description, etc. This will be a social exercise with small groups sitting around tables and will be done in rounds, going from easy to hard. Ultimately, one winner will be crowned as the “Wine Blogger Top Taster”.
The last sentence is the one that seems to be causing some controversy among some of the wine blogging community. The controversial piece being the media coverage planned for this portion of the conference, the reaction to which you can read in detail in this not-so-safe-for-work discussion on the Wine Bloggers Conference group at OpenWineConsortium.org (title: "What Bullsh*t is this? So much for the Wine Bloggers Conference").

The competition itself is meant to be friendly, with (hopefully) some fun moments with the media on hand to capture it all. The counter argument is that the media coverage will in effect exploit a community that has had its fair share of media exploitation already this year.

And it's my hope that Steve (remember him?) takes part in the competition and kicks our blogging asses.

Because that would show us bloggers (myself included) that we have a lot yet to learn about wine and the art of tasting it, and eloquently writing about it. It's easy for us to lose sight of that and get caught up in the 'side show' media elements of blogging. It's great to have an opinion, but we also need to know what we're talking about - and for wine, that foundation is built in tasting. As Lao Tzu said, "the great way is easy, but people chose the side paths..."

Oh, yeah, regarding Steve - he's an author and long-time wine writer for Wine Enthusiast, and he is also a wine blogger. As such, he straddles the 'newer' and 'older' worlds of blogging and traditional wine media in a unique way. He's a good blogger, too, in that he's smart and opinionated enough to get people thinking about, talking about, and sometimes really, really not liking his takes on the world of wine. Steve and I have traded both barbs and compliments on-line, and I've got a lot of respect and patience for him - and I'm looking forward to meeting him in Sonoma, because I'd love to interview him about his take on the future of wine writing.

Anyway, Steve probably tastes hundreds to thousands of wines per year. This is way, way above the total tasted by most wine bloggers, myself included, by a factor of... well, I hate math but I'm sure the factor would be measured exponentially (ah - another kick-ass adverb!).

Which means that if he participated in the Blind Tasting Challenge, Steve could unleash a Chuck Norris level of whoop-ass on the rest of us.

That's a good thing.

Because sometimes, we need that to keep our progressive, opinionated, but ultimately well-meaning blogger banter in perspective. Wine has been good to us bloggers, and not a day goes by when I'm not grateful to wine in some way/shape/form.

And I'm certainly not above having my butt handed to me (as I expect to have happen at the Bind Tasting) if it means I'm going to learn something and have another opportunity to increase my debt of gratitude towards wine.

Let the ass-kickings commence!

Oh, before I go... Steve, if you're out there reading this, you should know that a Google image search of your name turns up this little ditty... I suppose there is some resemblance... not sure if it's you but I really, really hope it is... and if it is, do you still have the Jethro Tull-style hat?

(images: steveheimoff.com, winebloggersconference.org, umass.edu)


Anonymous said...

I'm actually hoping for a real fight. I want to see your skills.

Joe Roberts said...

I'm a drinker, not a fighter...

Anonymous said...

Hi there 1WineDude. When I read your headline about kicking ass, and then saw that you studied Wing Chun, I thought, “Cool!” I’m a black belt in Wadokai Karate, so I figured maybe you and I could have a new breakout session, tournament-style. We’ll bring our gi’s and mouthguards and all the other bloggers can make bets!

But then I saw that, no, you’re not challenging me to a fight, you’re just having a little fun. So, on to the main points. Yes, I’m going to enter the blind tasting. Why not? I like challenging myself. I never see blind tasting as a “competition,” rather as an opportunity to expand my knowledge. I’ve “won” a lot of blind tastings in my time, but “lost” far more than I care to remember. My mentor, Harry Waugh, was famous for answering the question “Did you ever mistake Bordeaux for Burgundy?” this way: “Not since lunch.” So if you want to make this a big Battle of the Palates, be my guest, but believe me, it’s not. And you know what? I hope you “win.” I really do.

I also wanted to thank you for your kind words of “respect” for me. I’m just a humble wine scribe and, now, blogger, trying his best to make my way through a complicated world and earn a living. Your desire to interview me on the future of wine writing is happily granted -- not that I think I’m an expert on that (or anything else). I guess I have opinions, same as you.

I do taste thousands of wines a year, as you guessed, but here’s what I always say about tasting expertise: I never claimed to have a natural, inborn palate. All I ever have said was that if you do anything often enough, you achieve a certain faculty at it. Truth is, pretty much all I taste these days is California wine, so I wouldn’t expect to do well in anything involving, say, Italian Refosco. Hell, I'll be happy if I can tell the difference between Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Finally, congratulations on digging up that old picture of me. I hope you didn't go through too much trouble -- you could have just asked me. Do you want some more? Yes, my dark secret is out: I was a Hippie! (And had a damn fine time, too). But really, 1WineDude, you have got to get over this obsession with me.

Peace, love and flowers!

Anonymous said...

Joe, what an awesome photo of Steve you found! Reminds me once again of the power of Google. Now, if only those powers could be used for good...

I for one will be participating up until the first round, when I'm sure to be eliminated. My expectations are so low, you could say that I would be shocked to my skin to do anything other than suck at the challenge.

As for the larger question of dredging up the recent "summer of love" we had in the wine blogging world, I'll just say that it's definitely a well-worn path at this point. I'd like to see the conversation move on in a more lasting and permanent way, as in, "let's drop it."

Finally, I'm dying to have a respite from the presidential politics to sit around and talk with all of you guys about wine blogging for a few days!

See you there!

Joe Roberts said...

Thanks, Steve - As far as my Wing Chun "prowess", I learned just enough to be able to possibly hurt someone for 3 seconds which is just enough time (hopefully!) to free myself and run away! Glad to hear you are taking part in the blind challenge. My point in this post is to remind the blogging world that blogging does not a wine expert make - tasting is what builds expertise. Also, I promise not to stalk you after the interview. Also, I want that Jethro Tull hat...

hey Randy - don't worry, I'm ***not*** going into any specifics about the wine blogging summer of non-love... and if anyone tries to do that at the conference then I say that we pile up on 'em gang style and attack with extreme prejudice! Regarding the tasting - if everyone thinks that they're going to bow out in the first round (which seems to be the case in the wine blog-o-world), then the competition will be quick; only 2 rounds long, and then we can all get back to drinking!


Amy Atwood said...

Wow! Steve just won major points with me with his wicked hat. Nice.

I'm with Steve on this one. Tastings ( blind or not) are always a chance to learn about wine and about myself.

The winner will probably come out of left field.
I have seen some amazing outcomes at blind tastings.

Anonymous said...

I am not a big fan of any kind of critic, but I hope you and Mr. Heimoff have a great kick-ass event and spare any nasty wounds.

Blogging about wine is the best way to neuter the power center of the critical few.

Joe Roberts said...

Thanks, Amy - the hat *does* play, as they say.

Anonymous - thanks, I'm sure the tasting and the WBC in general are going to be a fantastic and very friendly time for all. I love your quotes, by the way...

Anonymous said...


How about getting over this blogger naval gazing and do what you are good at, humorous wine writing and leave the blogger vs. media dynamics alone. Are there not enough wines in the world for you to review and write about?

Have a great time at WBC, but remember we want to read about wines not about people who write about other people who write about wines.

Joe Roberts said...

Thanks, ray.

Uhm... just need to clean out this little bit of lint from my belly button before I get back to writing...

Vinogirl said...

Good luck with the blind tasting.

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