Bloggerview #2: Terrence Hughes
The Bloggerview #2
Name: Terrance Hughes
Terrence Hughes is the author and proprietor of MONDOSAPORE, probably the best and most erudite wine blog on the net that puts emphasis on the wines of Italy. His choices of subject matter, while usually focused on Italian wine and culture, can stray off into the eclectic and person. This makes Mondosapore what a good wine blog should be—something of a sidecar into which the reader can jump as the blogger heads toward their chosen destination. MONDOSAPORE is well worth a regular read and a subscription. Reading this interview you get a sense that this wine blogger is in it not just to inform and entertain his readers, but for his own sanity…
1. When did you begin blogging and why?
Until March 2005 I didn’t think about blogs. Then I did a search of wine blogs. A number of them popped up on the screen, notably yours, Vinography and an Italian one called Aristide. I started reading these and a few others, and soon I was posting comments. So I slid into blogging sideways, so to speak.
Very soon I started writing articles in Italian from a NY point of view for Aristide and in October 2005 decided to begin a blog of my own. For the record, the first use of the word “mondosapore” was on Aristide. The idea behind the name is that Italy offers an astounding array of wines, all types and colors and uses and flavours (sapori). The country is a wine world (mondo) in itself.
The why of it is more complicated, of course. The most important motivation was to immerse myself in two subjects that have always fascinated me, Italy and wine. I was teaching school in the Bronx at the time, and what with that daily misery and grad school, I needed an outlet. (Healthier than porn!)
Quite soon I had formed “blogships” all over the world, had started meeting interesting people in wine, and felt myself going on a new path. Which was good, because I hated the one I was on. (Long story short: I had lost my advertising job after 9/11, didn’t work for two years, went through all my money and went into teaching as a way to get health benefits and a truly meagre salary.)
When I finally met Giampiero Nadali of Aristide in August 2006, things really started to click. We got along famously, I met a lot of really smart, wonderful people in the Verona area, and I began to encounter more and more wine producers, big and small. All of my usual sarcasm aside, mondosapore has been a magic door for me. And through it I’ve come to realize that people in the world of wine are not only very interesting but lovely, warm and open-hearted as well. You know, on the whole.
2. In two sentences describe the focus of your wine blog.
Anything to do with Italian wine or wine topics that are somehow newsworthy, like the health benefits of wine, consumption trends and developments in Italy — it’s all grist for the mill. I also like to write about some of the things I get up to in New York, especially good places to eat that are off the tourist path and reasonably priced, because I want visitors to see more of this fascinating town than Fifth Avenue, Times Square and sad, cornball places like Little Italy.
3. What sets your wine blog apart from the pack?
My Italian friends, like Giampiero Nadali, call me “the Ambassador” of Italian wine in America. It was originally said in a joking way, but it hit a nerve. I do feel a mission to make Italy’s wines, cuisines and ways of life better known to North Americans. Not that it’s all mandolins and moonlight over there; there are aspects of Italian culture that are peculiar, funny and sometimes deplorable (the way they treat extracomunitari (illegals), their genius for uglifying any stretch of seafront, their bourgeois dourness, etc.)
Anyway. Back to topic: I have a good and growing network of bloggers, print journalists, producers and other people over there, and I find out a lot about what’s going on over there in certain zones. Someone just wrote me, saying that the focus on Italy (wines and everything I dump onto these virtual pages), with its mix of Italian and English, was “unique” and it is clear I love my subject. I sought that, accept it and am grateful someone else sees it too.
One more thing. I write this blog because I need to. Sometimes it feels like a lifeline.
4. How would you characterize the growth in your readership since beginning your blog?
So-so. It started at something like 200 hits a month (like, who the hell was I? and what’s all this stuff in Italian??). It’s still not great – 4000 – 4500 hits a month. My Italian readership has fallen off precipitously since I stopped writing much in Italian. The UK and US readership has finally begun to take up the slack.
That switch-over was something I did intentionally. While it was great having a lot of Italian readers, I did feel I wasn’t doing enough to reach the people who really needed the info, namely us in Canada and the United States.
5. Do you accept samples for review?
My rule is this: If I buy a wine with my own money and don’t like it, I’ll write about it. If it’s a sample and I don’t like it, I maintain a discreet silence. I will write to the producers and tell them why.
If I like it, no matter its provenance, then I’m happy to share impressions – impressions, not an official, point-totin’ review.
6. What kind of wine rating/review system do you use and why?
I don’t. I prefer to describe my reaction to the wine, with greater or lesser detail depending on my excitement over it, and let the reader draw his own conclusions. If it’s something he’s eager to try after reading the post, great. If not, OK. The world’s awash with good wine these days.
And of course even the crummy ones have their story.
7. How do you fit the maintenance of your wine blog into your daily schedule?
When I was teaching I snuck an hour’s blogging here and there. Now that I’m on a leave of absence, I can devote as much time as I want or can to it.
This is a little hard for me to write about – it’s something those closest to me know – but accumulated stresses in my life, especially many traumatic events since 1990, combined with the difficulties of teaching in the NYC system, sent me into a deep depression last Christmastime, and I haven’t been able to return to work. Certainly not and never again as a teacher, at any level. For long periods this year the blog was the sole constructive activity I was capable of. When I say it was or is a lifeline, I mean it literally.
8. Have you utilized any particular techniques to successfully market your blog?
No. Posting comments on Asimov’s blog seems to do OK. Also on the Gambero Rosso one. I’d like mondosapore to be a gateway to a new career, but I’m not going to make any money from it directly. What the hell – it’s a labor of love.
9. In your view how, if at all, is blogging different than traditional wine writing for print?
It’s quite different. It’s more personal, less “political” and guarded most of the time, less afraid of consequences (angry advertisers, etc.). The very fact that you can immediately post a public comment and begin a dialogue with the blogger and other readers is the decisive innovation.
The downside of this is the cultishness that’s developed in some quarters, where if you’re suspected of dissing Parker, for example, the members of the community (cult) will trash you, demean your manhood and/or your patriotism, etc. It gets so weird.
10. Which other wine blogs do you read regularly?
Aristide, Bigger Than Your Head, The Pour, Fermentation, Jancis Robinson – these head the list. I hit another dozen or so less often. A couple of years ago I followed many more – several dozen. I devote more time now to writing and other wine-related pursuits.
11. Do you believe wine blogs have made any marked impact on the wine industry or wine culture?
Not as much we as bloggers would like to believe. It seems to me that we’re mostly preaching to the converted.
12. Vacation: Paris or the Caribbean?
Truth to tell: Paris bores me. It’s very staid, isn’t it?
Now if you’d said “Rome or Maui?” I’d be at a loss.
On the whole, I much prefer to travel in countries where they make lots of good red wine. That’s what interests me. And the food’s better there too. Much.
13. Pet: Dog or Cat?
They make very fine eating. Cat tastes like chicken.
14. Airplane Reading: New Yorker or People?
People. I appreciate its lack of pretension.
Mostly, though, I’d either watch TV shows (always comedies) on my iPod or PC, or listen to jazz and read Inspector Montalbano mysteries of Andrea Camilleri to get myself into my Italian frame of mind.
15. Car: Prius or BMW?
Tom, buddy, if I could afford a car in Manhattan, it wouldn’t be some shitty Prius.
16. Chablis or California Chardonnay?
Chablis. Chablis. Chablis.
17. Last Meal?
Like if I were on Death Row? Jesus, what a question.
OK, I’ll play along. I’d eat a dozen Big Macs so when they came to get me, I’d be glad to go.
18. What is Heaven Like?
Koeppel gave the best possible response theologically. My typical smart-ass answer:
In heaven I wouldn’t need Lexapro and I’d never never get a hangover. Oh, and I’d be living in a place that strongly reminded me of Italy. Far from my family.
19. If you could invite 4 people dead or alive to your fantasy dinner party, who would they be and who would you have bring the wine?
Oh I wish Steve Allen were here to help me!
Lessee…they’d have to be winelovers…literary is good…dead is real good because they wouldn’t have to reciprocate and I wouldn’t have to incur the cost of renting a car…here we go:
Homer, Boccaccio, Joyce and Christopher Marlowe. By the end of the evening we’d all be shit-faced and there’d probably be a fight. Homer would be thrashing Joyce with his lyre. Marlowe would beat the crap out of Boccaccio. (If Boccaccio already had a date, I’d invite Chaucer.)
20. What advice would you give to someone considering starting a wine blog?
Focus on something you’re passionate about or else it will peter out.
Post all the time so the reader can get to know you; every post needn’t be a masterpiece or even on topic. (And post all the time so that you can get to know you as Wine Writer.)
Dare to be an asshole. Say what you want, take risks, invite discussion.
And keep a sense of humor because it ain’t religion.