Wine writer ‘not dead’

A few days ago I read my obituary in the drinks business. It wasn’t just me that had expired, but the small sub-species I belong to.

The Wine Writer is Dead” declared the headline above a report on Andrew Jefford’s comments to the European Wine Bloggers conference in Izmir, Turkey. I checked my pulse and felt a faint throb, but there it was in black and white: ‘the creature we used to call a wine writer has died.”

If I am still around it may be because I write about other drinks like whisky, rum, beer and Tequila besides wine. Yet according to Jefford that is even worse. “Can anyone hope to be a generalist any more in a wine world which, like the universe, is expanding rapidly in every direction?”

Of course he is correct up to a point. With declining circulations across the board, print journalism is in dire straits. The idea of buying a few sheets of processed wood pulp, commonly known as a newspaper, has little appeal to a new generation, even those doing media studies at university. When the last copy of Metro rolls off the press, you can bet your bottom dollar it won’t feature a wine column.

The decline of such columns is partly self-inflicted. Some columnists cling on too long and become dull and repetitive. Personally I believe there are limits to how often you can write about cork taint before readers will desert you, while on TV and radio, wine soon becomes stale in the studio with just a bottle and a glass for props. BBC4’s excellent Château Chunder on 12 November about the rise and fall of Australian wine, proves how well it can work in a social context.

Beware the wine writer. For we are the living dead. Mwaha ha ha.

For wine to retreat to specialist magazines and the blogosphere where bloggers preach only to the converted would be a big mistake. Writing on drink in the Herald every week, I like the idea that occasionally readers might stumble on my column by accident. If I was doing a blog how often would that happen?

Booze gets a bad press in the mainstream media that is fed by the well-oiled PR machine of the public health lobby. Like all drinks, wine needs to fight against this puritan vibe with plenty of wit.

Jefford says “there is an urgent vacancy for humorous, witty, caustic writing about wine powered by gonzo irreverence.” Of course he is absolutely right, it is in short supply especially on-line. With a narrow audience and no editor to keep things sharp and snappy, many bloggers take themselves way too seriously.

3 Responses to “Wine writer ‘not dead’”

  1. ryan says:

    At least we can see the mystery writer is not dead! No author?

    How are bloggers “preaching to the converted” yet wine writers are not? I don’t think most writers are writing on very non-winey platforms(newspapers aside). Please stop letting the medium define the audience. Most wine writers on any medium talk to the converted. Simply based on the fact people read what they are interested in.

    That said on a blog, plenty of people stumble upon the content. Thanks to Google and keywords. Click throughs happen a ton and are quantifiable. I can tell you how many people who were not searching for wine content find my page. How many of them stay to read it, and which ones continued to come back. All quantifiable and all things which happen VERY regularly. Print will always suffer from not having the ability to do this. Or measure it in any solid way.

    Hope that helps with some of the misconceptions.

  2. Tom, the headline was a little more sensational than it might have been, but Andrew’s point was well made. There are very few people who make any kind of decent living out of writing about wine journalistically (as opposed to speaking about it in public or teaching it). Chateau Chunder (which I was lucky enough to appear in) told the – surprising – story of how Australian wine went from Monty Python joke UK high street champion. It is not the kind of programme that one can make in volume; it was shown on BBC4, home to minority-interest shows.

    Tom, you say that you “like the idea that occasionally readers might stumble on [your newspaper] column by accident.”. Let’s face facts here. Newspapers like the Herald are living on borrowed time – at least as far as their print versions are concerned. When it goes fully online, the number of people who’ll stumble over your column will shrink. One day the editor will have to decide whether it’s worth your being there. (I recently talked to the contributor to an online journal who said that her editor tells her precisely how many people read her wine column every week, and for how long…).

    We wine people think that we are special beings; we’re not. On BBC radio this week, a science writer revealed that fewer and fewer people are writing books about science these days, for want of paying publishers and readers.

    On balance, I fear that Andrew Jefford is right. Wine writers were very rarely encountered in the 1960s; there’s no reason why they should not return to that state in the 2020s…

  3. @Miguel_C_L says:

    Tom, that bloggers only “preach to the converted” is quite a generalisation. Maybe the blogs you and I read, but there is also plenty of consumer friendly blogs out there. But to some extent I agree. Maybe the simple answer is that bloggers usually write out of sheer passion as opposed out of commercial motives?

    Winery’s, importers and retailers have previously enjoyed a lot of help in selling their products from wine journalists, for example on the Herald. In my view everything points to a scenario where the sector no longer will have wine journalists in print media to help sell their products. The wine sector will turn their full attention to popular bloggers, eventually. I believe that commercial bloggers making revenue out of ads might just be the “reincarnation of the wine journalist.” Many of these will be as appealing to the large masses as they can. Just as wine columns in print media. I other words, things will change – but not really.

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