Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The End of an Era

At the dawn of the Internet, wine geeks gathered on various online fora, chatting and learning about the wines that they were so passionate about and discovering they weren't alone with this sickness we call a passion. Eventually, a few good sites evolved from the multitudes, rising to the top of the heap and really dominating all discussions about wine. Mark Squires' Bulletin Board on Robert Parker's website was, for a long time, the top dog in this pack of wine sites.

Like many others, I cut my teeth there when I first came into wine. The people there helped me fall in love with the grape, they shared a ton of information (from folks whose depth of knowledge still scares me), and became some of the most amazing friends I've ever had. Of course, it wasn't perfect, but what is? It was the best, most knowledgeable place to talk and learn about wine on the Internet. The amount of information about wine, winemaking, and wine storing there was incomparable. It truly was a vast, free resource for anyone interested in learning about wine.

But, as with all things, to this there came a time. Slowly, as the site grew in popularity and personalities (not all of whom were angels, it's true), the moderators began to tighten their fists, squashing dissent and any criticism of Robert Parker or of their heavy-handed ways. To paraphrase Princess Leia, the more you tighten your fist, the more winegeeks will slip between your fingers. And thus it came to pass. Eventually, a few split off after being run roughshod over and started up Wine Berserkers.

For a while the two coexisted, with a few other distant websites chattering about wine. An uneasy coexistence settled in, with both boards taking pot shots at each other. BUT, one could easily navigate from one to the other (unless you were banned from the Squires board - as far as I know no one is actually banned from Berserkers). While Berserkers encouraged free-wheeling (and occasionally sophomoric, to be honest) discussions about wine, Squires' censored all talk about its competition, whether blogs, boards or other critics. More and more people began to jump ship, sensing the end approaching.

And then the final blow came the other day, posted without notice or warning: the Squires Board was going to be only accessible to full-paying Robert Parker subscribers.

Why should you care if you're not a winegeek or wine collector?

Because despite all its faults and foibles, the Squires Wine Bulletin Board was one of the most knowledgeable places to learn about wine on the Internet. If you have any passing interest in the grape or how wines are made, this was the place to visit for information. And I'm not even referring to participation from Parker or other critics, which, frankly was minimal and contentious, to put it mildly. No, the regular people, people like you and me, were what really made that board special. Many had moved on, but their posts and tasting notes remained, like vestiges of an ancient civilization with lessons to teach future generations.

Now it's all locked away behind a door in a vault on a ship that is sinking rapidly. I am saddened by this heavy-handed, brutal and frankly unnecessary action. The business explanation doesn't cut it for me, sorry. This was about control and censorship, pure and simple.

But, amidst all this sadness, there is a bright light: (wine) life goes on, as many of the intelligent, experienced people who once made Squires' Bulletin Board interesting have moved on to Wine Berserkers. So there is hope in the universe of wine, despite the passing of a once great forum. I suggest you stop by, say hello, open a nice bottle of your favorite vino, and begin learning.

It's a wonderful journey that never ends.

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