Online Wine Magazine Tests Waters

Palate Press is an experimental mix of blogging and traditional journalism, publishers say

by Jane Firstenfeld
Palate Press
Indianapolis, Ind. -- An ambitious new project debuted last week. David Honig, publisher of Palate Press, hopes to bring wine knowledge to more desktops by harnessing the efforts of wine writers and bloggers across the continent. Honig told Wines & Vines that although he and editor-in-chief W.R. Tish have already signed a "stable" of some two-dozen contributors, "We accept submissions from anybody, anywhere, any time."

He insisted, however, that the business model "is far more than a blog aggregator, as they collect everything, edit nothing, and scroll away too quickly. It is also different from a group blog, as those do not edit contributors' content or control publishing schedule, and are limited to members."

Regular contributors have committed to provide enough content to update the site six days per week. "That, in our opinion, is the minimum," according to Honig. News will be updated at least daily, "with more depending on the rate of submissions," he said.

Palate Press David Honig
David Honig, publisher of Palate Press, plans ultimately to pay the site's contributors.
"We intend this to be a for-profit enterprise," Honig stated. "It is best described as an experiment. The hypothesis is: If you collect the best available wine writers and run them through filters of great editing and a steady publishing schedule, you can produce a quality product of interest to advertisers and readers."

Tish, who said he was inspired by the Huffington Post, said, "I am focusing on Palate Press in the strictest editorial sense: trying to encourage and select the best range of stories that will attract wine-loving readers....It's all about the content itself, and presenting it as authentically as possible." He said that the ability to comment on every story is a major point of distinction. "Our stories are not meant to be the final word…they are more food for thought." In this way, he added, Palate Press is more like talk radio than traditional journalism.

Palate Press W.R. Tish
W.R. Tish, editor-in-chief, is both a wine educator and seasoned wine journalist.
The masthead includes well-known names like Tish, former editor of Wine Enthusiast magazine; and nationally-ranked bloggers Deb Harkness, wine review editor; editors Lenn Thompson and Jeff LeFevere; and Hardy Wallace, winner of Murphy-Goode Winery's viral "Really Goode Job" campaign. Tish, Lefevere and contributors Jeff Siegel and Josh Hermsmeyer also have written for Wines & Vines.

In order to compensate this far-flung talent, however, advertising revenues are required. Honig noted that since the launch was announced last week, he has received numerous inquiries about advertising, and indeed, both California's quirky Twisted Oak and New York's Heron Hill already are running spots on the site.

"Once the cash flow exceeds costs, we will start paying editors and purchasing stories," Honig said. "I do not believe it will turn into anybody's fulltime job. (As) I've described it, wine bloggers can starve individually, or can join together and have a light snack. The size of the meal will depend, ultimately, upon the quality of the product."

Palate Press accepts wine for review, although, "We are holding off on publishing reviews until we are completely confident we can do it just right."

Given the geographic diversity of the contributors, "We need to know we can have complete confidence in any particular reviewer, or taste several of the same wines at the same time to calibrate palates. We are not going to just toss reviews online and hope for the best. One thing we will do is ask readers to review our reviewers," Honig said. "This helps other readers have confidence in the good reviewers, and helps us filter out the lesser ones."

Honig believes that the winegrowing and winemaking community will benefit in other ways as well. "First, if they have something to say that is not simply marketing their own product, something of interest to the entire winemaking and wine-drinking community, we want to publish it." He pointed out that his target audience is composed of a younger generation than readers of traditional consumer wine publications.

This generation, he contended, "will simply never pay for content online. They believe information should be free." Having grown up with access to free information, these readers, he said, "have an incredible thirst for knowledge....They muddy the information line between producer and consumer in a way older consumers never did. They also want to interact, to be part of the conversation. That is why we will carry more traditional trade stories than the glossy magazines, and why we will always be interactive."

Given the recent demise of Appellation America's online publication, it's not surprising that at least one prominent wine blogger expressed some skepticism. Tom Wark wrote: I'd love to see Palate Press go gang busters, attract a huge audience, be profitable and, in the process, bring a slight change to the online wine media world....Still, I can't emphasize enough the poverty of the 'Build it and they will come' strategy of online publishing. So much has been built already that the key now is directing the crowds through the maze of buildings to their destination....My hope is that there is a certain amount of capitalization to sustain even a small initial marketing campaign."

"I think Tom is quite correctly concerned that we might rely too much on the quality of our product and not back it up with marketing and capital. Fortunately, he is incorrect," Honig replied.
Posted on 09.16.2009 - 12:28:35 PST
Hmmm. This sounds vaguely reminiscent of the former "Wine Sediments" model that Lenn Thompson, Jeff LeFevere, myself and yes, Tom Wark, were all a part of a few years back -- although I doubt my three colleagues would acknowledge that "great editing" was part of the venture (I was editing them, and my fingers are still bloody nubs). It wasn't lucrative, but it WAS fun. Good luck to Palate Press and to those striving to make it work.

Mark Fisher
Dayton Daily News/Uncorked
Dayton, OH USA