Is expertise in a subject needed to blog about it?

This morning on Twitter I saw a conversation between two writers about wine blogging and the need for wine bloggers to have first-hand experience in order to blog.

This is what I saw:


I had to jump in:


I don’t think that to be a good writer on any subject you need to be an expert. I think you need to be good writer, one with a desire to learn and share what you learn in an interesting and genuine way.

I don’t claim to be an expert on wine. I want to learn more. And blogging has enabled me to learn quite a lot and share with others who don’t have the opportunity to ask the same questions or may be intimidated to do so.

I doubt I would have ever taken part in harvest with Pomum Cellars as I did last Fall, had I not been a wine blogger first. (That’s me in the picture above.) And by taking part when I did, I could share my experience with a fresh perspective. Some blogs report from a fresh, new, learning perspective.  Some report from a position of authority. I take the fresh perspective approach, because it is mine. I am learning.  And having a blast! And I want my readers to enjoy each experience right alongside me.

Wine is intimidating. I know because I, too, can be intimidated by it. And many wine writers can be intimidating, too. Many have lost that wonder that you get at the beginning of learning something.  If we leave it all to the experts, the perspective of the newer wine drinker will get lost… and they will never be reached.

Reporters are not experts in every field they cover. They dig in enough before the interview to ask the right questions and learn right alongside their audience. Or at least that’s what I learned in Journalism school.

In my opinion and experience, bloggers can do the very same thing and still share very valuable information and perspectives.

What do you think?

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  • Catie

    Well first of all, I don’t think it is necessary to refer to someone as a “Twitter Goober” because they had an opinion. I mean, what does that say about the person calling the name? I also don’t buy into that “normal” people (whatever “normal” means) are kept from learning about wine by “attitudes from experts.” If we are truly interested and secure, why would we let someone else keep us from learning? Perhaps “normal” people should drop the attitude and learn from some of the best. Remember, even the best had to start somewhere.

    Now where was I? Oh yes. I don’t think you have to be an expert to write about a topic. There are plenty of thoughtful and talented journalists writing articles about subjects they know very little about. But they are also open to learning from the best and even open to learning from “normal” people, if it means a great and informative article.

    However, if they put a subtitle in front of their journalist or blogger/writer title (e.g. wine blogger, wine journalist, wine writer), I think they should be somewhat of an “expert” or at least open to learning more every day – - and more than just books and what they discovered in Wiki. I will admit I get slightly irritated when I visit with a wine blogger and they are bragging about all of their knowledge when they have barely touched a grape. It is all the reasons why I spent time helping to plant a vineyard, worked crush and even bottling line – - and I still feel I am not an “expert” when there is so much to learn about wine.

    Congratulations Amy for getting out in the field – - also a great photo!

  • Meg Houston Maker

    Do you need to be an expert on a topic to write about it? Yes, and no.

    Yes, if you plan to write opinion pieces that take the scope of a topic into account and position yourself as a thought-leader, one who has the authority to make assessments about the subject. You’ll need both breadth and depth to craft thoughtful, circumspect, and authoritative views.

    No, provided you’re authentic, truthful, and genuine about what you do and don’t know, and are able to remain open to possibility, including the possibility that your preconceptions about a topic are dead wrong.

    And in both cases, you need to be able to change your mind in the face of new evidence. That’s not just true for writers, by the way. It’s true for everyone.

  • Cindy Anderson

    Well, isn’t this a fine mess. Comments seemed to have gotten a wee bit out of control. I do believe first hand knowledge lends a hand in making a better blogger… it’s how we learn the real things in life. Being an experienced writer certainly helps to convey the message. That being said, I don’t think you need first hand experience to begin a blog, but having good writing skills will capture the imagination of your readers which in turn will lead to a successful blog that will open doors for that up close and personal relationship with your subject.
    Personally, I don’t care if you have bought 3000 bottles of wine, worked 20 years in a wine shop, owned a wine shop, or stomped tons of grapes… I read your blogs for the enjoyment of reading, the thirst of possibly learning, and to relax with a nice glass of wine. Thank you very much…

  • Lori Brown

    I absolutely agree!!! Passion is what needs to be passed on, not hesitation due to lack of first hand experience or knowledge. Life is all about learning and growing. Thanks for sharing your passion and journey along your road of wine enlightenment!

  • Ann

    Wine experts would cringe at my weekly wine reviews. I freely admit to reviewing based on whether or not I like the wine, not whether or not I am supposed to like the wine.

    Saying that, I do agree with Deborah above that if you are writing a post to educate based on experience, you better have had that experience. But, do I think someone needs to have stomped grapes to be able to write about their personal views on a wine? No. You don’t need to be an artist to appreciate the Mona Lisa.

  • Deborah Gray

    It depends on what you write about. If it’s going to be about harvest, then you should go out and at least observe harvest. Otherwise, you’ll never have a feel for the smells, sights, sounds and rhythms of the activity. You won’t get a sense of the people, the differences between machine and hand harvesting, why and what they pick when they do. The nuances of that particular vineyard.

    When a blogger writes about wine, they don’t need to experience harvest, but we hope they aren’t just looking at the label online. They need to observe color in the glass, inhale the nose, taste the wine and consider its character. Is it delivering on expectations? Has it aged well (if appropriate)? Does it represent terroir? Or whatever the issue might be. So, some knowledge of what they are tasting, in context, would also be helpful.

    No, you don’t need to be an expert. In my opinion, you need to fulfil the promise of your blog and entertain your reader. If you say you are the expert on Napa, then you must be. If you are a MW, then people have certain expectations. But if you are a casual wine drinker writing about casual wine drinking and state that on your blog, then learning along with your readers is just fine!

    ETA: I wrote all this before Erika posted, but now I see we’ve both said just about the same thing.

  • Jason Phelps


    I’m with Richard, there was some confusion here. A Twitter conversation taken out of context can certainly cause problems and in this case resulted in one of your readers calling the two people having the conversation goobers. Not a very useful outcome to be sure.


    • VineSleuth

      I’m sorry for any confusion, but, as I read your tweets, I assumed the discussion was implying some sort of working experience was needed to blog about wine, either at harvest or in retail or something similar.
      My post was inspired by your tweets being about needing first-hand experience. I then took it to question if expertise was needed, as I’ve heard implied in several channels.

  • Erika Szymanski

    If I may nuance the general sentiment just a bit, I don’t think that you need to be an expert in a topic to blog about it, but I do think that you need to make yourself an expert in whatever you’re writing. Speaking only for myself here, I rarely if ever begin an article with expert knowledge on my topic but, by the time I’ve posted it, I’m usually pretty darn close to being an expert on account of all of the reading and research I’ve done to prepare to write. When we share information the information needs to be, firstly, correct, and secondly, rare enough that it’s worth sharing. If you’re writing about the experience of being a beginning wine drinker, well, then maybe you’re an expert (or at least have expertise) in being a beginning wine drinker. Truthfully, why else would anyone read what we have to say?

    • VineSleuth

      Good point! Thanks for sounding off!

  • Jennie

    I think Laura is spot on above. I would be willing to guess that there are many bloggers who initally started their websites with very little knowledge in a chosen subject. In my opinion, it is the process of growth and learning in those subjects that makes for the most interesting content and dialogue.

  • Richard Auffrey

    I think your post deals with a much different topic than what was discussed on Twitter. The twitter discussion involved “first hand experience” while your post deals with “being an expert,” which is a different animal. Working a harvest or part time at a wine store certainly do not make you an expert. Instead, they offer additional knowledge and experience which will enhance your knowledge base. Consider the reporter who embeds himself in a combat unit, or who travels to another country to view its problems. Such experience can be very beneficial to one’s writing. It is necessary? No, and I also stated that on Twitter. But it can be very helpful and I would recommend it.

    I do not consider myself a wine expert, and I continue to learn all the time. So, I obviously believe one does not have to be an expert to write about wine. But I do believe that a wine writer should continually seek to educate themself, to expand their experiences with wine.


    • VineSleuth

      I’m sorry if I misunderstood.
      But I still would not have had any first-hand experience with harvest had I not been a blogger first. (I did have first-hand experience of drinking wine, though. :) ) It seemed to me your tweets were suggesting that, or retail experience, was needed in order to write about wine.

      • Richard Auffrey

        One of my tweets, which you did not post here, specifically stated I did not consider any of it “necessary” just that it could be helpful. I have never said that any specific experience is needed for someone to start a wine blog. I just advocate that wine bloggers would benefit by continuing to widen their knowledge and experience.

  • Bobby Collins

    Blogs are meant for sharing one’s own insight and opinion. As well as listening to the input of their readers. One thing everyone has in common is room for improvement. Being a self proclaimed expert, to me, comes across as arrogant and narcissistic. Also, all opinions are subjective; even those of the experts.

  • Kim

    I agree with you, Amy. To be a good blogger you need a thirst for learning, a connection with your audience and an ability to express yourself in a compelling way. As long as you blog with integrity, you will appeal to your readership. There’s absolutely no need to be an expert in a subject matter to blog about it. For many, blogging is about the journey – not the destination.

    • maryheston

      Absolutely! Typically blogging is a way for us to find our way to that expertise. I enjoy reading blogs that exude enthusiasm for a topic and express a passion far more than a dry technical monologue telling me what to think about something. I do enjoy reading blogs that educate but there has to be a spark in the writing that tells me that the author has enjoyed bringing this information to me.

      In these days of social media it is important for me to be able to be part of the process. Our group on twitter @womenwhowine has a huge variety of expertise. Some of them do bottle their own wine, participate in the harvest etc. but others just like to get together with their girlfriends, talk and enjoy a really tasty wine.

      By sharing this enthusiasm we can bring the non-experts into the discussion without intimidation and that can only be a good thing for the industry and for wine bloggers everywhere.

  • Laura

    Great point! I know many folks who started up a blog in order to develop a hobby or cultivate something new WITHOUT being a complete expert on the subject first. I think doing research and visiting during harvest season at vineyards can give you fresh perspective and better appreciation for wine and the process, but if you are not able to, I don’t think that makes you a bad wine blogger.

  • Kelly @ Kansas City Mamas

    It’s attitudes like the above twitter goobers that keep normal people from trying wine…they think they need to be an expert in it in order to enjoy it. (Which is SO wrong.)

    How I got into wine…I went to California and drank a bunch of it. I found out what I liked, I asked questions, I bought some wine, and I had fun.

    You don’t need to be an expert – you just need to have a passion for it and the ability to learn and share.

    • Richard Auffrey

      As one of those so-called “twitter goobers,” let me say that you shouldn’t judge me without knowing me. I never said that someone had to be an “expert” to enjoy wine, or even write about it. I don’t consider myself a wine expert either, yet clearly see it is ok for me to write about wine..

    • Allie

      How I got into wine…I moved to California, started off with lower cost wine from Trader Joe’s, moved on to other varietals, expanded my palate, paid attention to what happened when I drank wine (smell, taste, texture). I’m still learning, which means many more years of a great glass of wine.

      An open mind is the gateway to learning. Of course living in Northern California means I know a large number of people who are in the field, retail floor, and even getting degrees on the subject (Viticulture in Adelaide, Australia to be exact) yet I don’t consider myself to be any less knowledgeable on the subject. I find the smartest folks are those who aren’t afraid to ask questions.