We have been blogging for about five months now; in total, we have twenty-two posts about our experiences living in and traveling around Northern California wine country. Aside from a post about a Napa Valley Golf course and one about a rare sighting in Napa (a brewery!), all of our posts are focused on wineries and restaurants. Readers of our reviews will quickly conclude that we enjoyed every winery, restaurant, brewery and other activity written about in this blog. In fact, we did enjoy them. All of them. Yes, 100% of our blogs reflect positive experiences with the establishments that we visited.
The lack of any negative blog posts has led several readers to post questions in our comment section more or less on the same theme: “How is it possible that you like every place you visit? Are you working for the companies that you profile? Do you have some incentive to always be positive? Wasn’t there something, anything that you didn’t like about the winery or restaurant?” We love getting comments from readers, including these comments, as we believe feedback is a gift. These reader questions helped us think more deeply about why we blog and what we are hoping to accomplish.
What is the purpose of a blog like ours? Is it to be a chronicle of everywhere we have been? Is it to present our opinions, both good and bad, on the wines and food that we taste? Is it to provide a “fair and balanced” analysis of the places we go and the experiences that we have?
We would be curious to hear from other bloggers on this topic, as there are certainly reasonable opinions and different approaches. When we started our blog, though, we had a very specific purpose in mind: having a great time visiting new, out-of-the-way places and sharing them with people who may not have experienced them yet. Living in Napa Valley, we have plenty of places to choose from, not only in Napa but also Sonoma County and the newer wine regions that are starting to gain notoriety for their wines (Mendocino, Lake County, Lodi, Sacramento-area wineries, Solano County, etc.). Our goal was not to use our blog as a glorified Tripadvisor or Yelp review (although many people do, and we enjoy many of those blogs). Do we sometimes leave a winery disappointed, either with the service, the quality of the wine, or the ambience? Yes, just as frequently as everyone else does. Do we like every restaurant? Of course not! Like everyone else, we sometimes have to ask for a new fork multiple times and it annoys the hell out of us. Or our server takes forever to take our order; or, our order takes forever to come out of the kitchen. Every once in a while, the food just isn’t that good – or not good enough to justify the steep prices. So why wouldn’t we blog about negative experiences and let people who read our blog know that we had a bad time?
For one thing, negative experiences have such a subjective quality to them; writing about them as fact, as many people do, does not feel right to us. Was the food bad, or were we in a bad mood? Was the waiter a jerk, or did we come into the restaurant with some baggage that caused us to obsess about the seconds ticking by as we waited for someone or something to come to the table? If we have a bad experience, is that useful for someone considering going to that same restaurant or winery? Does it make it any less likely that you will enjoy your time there? No! The best establishments in the world have Yelp reviews that make you wonder how their authors could have been at the same places as the authors that gave 5-stars.
When we have a negative experience somewhere, the first thing we do is discuss whether or not we want to address our concerns with the establishment when we are there. Most people do not, and then write scathing reviews when they are in the comfort of their home and in the safety and anonymity of their computer keyboard. Repeatedly, we have been told that the best way to help an establishment improve on bad food or service is to say something during the visit. On some occasions, we do say something, but not if the problem seems isolated to our visit, or driven by specific circumstances on that day (packed restaurant that was caught understaffed, for instance). Once we leave the winery or restaurant, we lose our interest in chronicling, in writing, the terrible time we had.
When we write a blog, it is not to tell you what places to avoid. As we have already established, we like to write about places at which we had a special time. But we don’t tell you what to order, or what to drink; we just share what we had, our interactions with the business and its staff, try and tell a little about their unique story and their approach to food, or wine, or whatever they are selling. The fact that we liked the short rib is no guarantee that you will. We may tell you that we liked it, in passing, but our interest is more in describing the food, the wine, the service, the decor, and the atmosphere. One of the reasons we share so many pictures is that it enables the reader to see for themselves how the spaces are laid out, how the food was presented, etc. Rather than talk about “like” or “don’t like,” we focus more on the establishment’s approach. If we are blogging about a restaurant, what is it trying to achieve? What genre of food is it trying to carve out (pun intended)? Where do they get their ingredients?
If we are blogging about a winery, we want to emphasize their winemaking style – are they making big “California” or “Napa” wines or following a more European approach? Is the wine sweet or acidic, or somewhere in between? Those are the things we think people care about more than our ratings or personal opinions. If you like a high-alcohol, super-fermented buttery Napa Chardonnay (think Rombauer), then you should know the place we are blogging about makes a crisp Chard with zero residual sugar. If you like red wines that jump out of the glass and punch you in the face, it will be helpful for you to know that the wines we tasted were only 12-13% alcohol and had a more subtle flavor profile.
We are not sure that our approach is correct, but for us, it just feels right. If we blog about a place, that means we think it’s worth visiting. If we go somewhere we hate, it’s not worth blogging about. We do have opinions, of course, and if you ask us “hey what about XX Winery,” we’ll tell you what we think if we’ve been there. Even if we hated it.
Let us know how you think about blogging and if your approach is different.
John & Irene Ingersoll
October 5, 2016