Oddly enough, while the wine market is as strong as it has ever been in America -- and probably stronger -- the world of wine writing has followed print in general and gone into shrink mode. "At one point, I was syndicated by the Chronicle," says Blue. "And the papers used to pay for it. Then all of a sudden, they were giving it away for free. I think it has definitely put a damper on the wine-journalism field." (Blue does grant that he's seen some good work being done on the wine blogs, however.) And with the death of editor Bill Garry at Bon Appetit, "Things changed -- there was a shift away from wine and spirits."
Eventually, Blue became convinced that it was time to strike out on his own and launch his own magazine. He had already been writing reviews for Patterson's Beverage Journal, a wine and spirits trade journal published in California, Nevada, and Arizona. About a year ago, he partnered with Meridith May, who was already at the magazine, and the two bought the title from the printer. Two artistic overhauls and a rechristening (as Patterson's The Tasting Panel) later, it's beginning to take off. "Our overall goal is to be a national trade publication with a large circulation -- we're at 40,000 now. The printer we bought it from also publishes Variety, and that's kind of my model -- an industry magazine that's of interest to the general public. We're in a glamour industry -- there's interest; people want to get the inside dirt, and we've got that. Plus, we're about people." Plus, Blue gets to write his own review section and a letter from the editor. A recent example made a nuanced case for the elimination (or at least lowering) of corkage fees in restaurants and noted that "the Houston's chain, one of the best run and most profitable of all restaurant groups, lets its customers bring wine and...doesn't add any corkage charge to the bill. This smart operator has discovered that the customer that brings wine usually makes up for it by ordering the most expensive and sophisticated dishes and more of them."