For me, the internet wine story of the year isn't Cinderella Wine or Cellartracker's impending redesign (maybe that's 2010's). No, the biggest internet wine story of 2009 was the creation of Wine Berserkers, now the fastest growing wine discussion site that I know of.
Wine Berserkers is not an ordinary wine discussion site. It's not based around a magazine (Wine Spectator), high powered critic (eRobertParker.com) or longtime wine journalist (Robin Garr's Wine Lovers Discussion Group). It's more like the offbeat site Wine Disorder, founded by users for users tired of the rules or lethargy elsewhere. (Disorder is restricted to those chosen for entry, so it seems more a niche thing. I really like the discussion there, but don't seem to have what it takes for entry.)
When it launched last January, Wine Berserkers was an alter-ego of eRobertParker.com's fourm. The founders were largely cast offs from that site, banned or otherwise restricted for a variety of reasons, some perhaps warranted, some more for simply rocking the Parker boat. In fact, eRP moderator Mark Squires unwittingly gave the new site its name by referring to critics of his heavy handed editorial actions as "berserkers."
Yes, there is an ongoing shadow relationship on WB. You'll see constant reference to things going on over at eRP. Some people seem to revel in the meta-commentary. Others hate it and though "open letters" have begged everyone to get over it and move on.
That hasn't exactly happened, but in many ways it has. At least, as the site grows, to me the original raison d'etre fades in significance. Instead, with nearly 2,000 registered users and now more than 200,000 posts in barely 11 months, the differences between eRP and WB are growing.
There's great wine discussion on WB between lots of seasoned wine enthusiasts. There are more and more international contributors, though this remains an American-dominated site. There's also less editorial oversight, so people are more free to challenge the status quo and be reigned in by the group, not as much by moderators.
What's really emerging on the site, to my mind, is a breaking of barriers between individuals and industry. That's always been a side benefit from wine discussion. I've written here that I never would have gotten into making wine and launching a wine business if not for wine discussion online, where I connected with so many industry types with relative ease.
Where Wine Berserkers seems to be reaching new ground is in attacting and catering to discussion and networking for wine industry types, and to connecting that growing pool to enthusiasts in a non-commercial way. Where eRP is essentially tailored to connecting users to the Wine Advocate writers, WB seems tailored to connecting wine consumers to each other and all aspects of wine industry. You see better integration of sites like Cellartracker in the WB interface. You see better understanding from site administrators of how blogging and social networking are changing wine for the better. You see industry types more willing to be involved in the success of the site. Pay attention to the upcoming one year anniversary of Wine Berserkers in January. Big things are happening.
A cynic might say that such industry involvement is sheer marketing on their part. That same cynic probably sees social networking platforms like Twitter as babble and marketing, failing to see how they are connecting people in new and complex ways. Talk about not seeing the forest for trees. You want marketing? Look at critic-centered sites that shut down much of the discussion of competition or challenges to the critic. What's the goal there? Then you see a site that's not selling a brand, but focused on connecting people across the wine spectrum. That's where Wine Berserkers is succeeding. It's not rocket science, but this site seems to be doing it the best and, to my mind, is the internet wine story of the year.