Identifying The Best Wine Writing
I've said before that I believe we are drifting through a "Golden Age" of wine writing. The primary evidence for this position is the exponential increase in the number of individuals writing about wine for public consumption. Surely this results from the ease with which one can now share their thoughts with the rest of the world using digital publishing formats such as blogging services.
I'm thinking about this Golden Age as I note that this week marks the commencement in Napa Valley of the Symposium For Professional Wine Writers, now in its fifth year. I admit I've never attended. But one need not attend to note that Symposium is a serious affair aimed at helping writers be better at being professional writers…this means getting paid.
My experience working with writers over the past 20 years tells me that one is more likely to get paid to write about wine if they possess excellent knowledge on their subject matter, are better writers than most, and work very hard at convincing people who pay others to write that they are worthy of being paid.
By looking at who will be speaking at this year's symposium, this notion that one must have knowledge, write very well and work hard to convince editors to publish them seems to be born out. The speakers consist of people who get paid to write about wine and have gotten paid for some time and people who edit those they pay to write. Among those on the speaking roster are:
Gerald Asher, Great American Wine Writer
Neil Beckett, Editor, World of Fine Wine
Jon Bonne, Wine Editor, San Francisco Chronicle
Richard Bradley, Editor-in-Chief, Worth Magazine
Corie Brown, Founder ZesterDaily
Katherine Cowles, Literary Agent, Cowles-Ryan,
Blake Edgar, Editor, University of California Press
Jim Gordon, Editor, Wines & Vines Magazine
Susan Kostrzewa, Executive Editor, Wine Enthusiast
Bill LeBlond, Editorial Director, Chronicle Books
Bruce Schoenfeld, Wine & Spirits Editor, Travel & Leisure Magazine
Lettie Teague, Writer, Wall Street Journal
This is a list of folks who have successfully made a living working in and around words associated with wine. No small feat.
So, I suspect that those who are attending the Wine Writer Symposium will, primarily, learn what must be done to be a professional writer. And again, that means getting paid.
What's interesting about this idea of the professional wine writer and what it takes to become one is that it's not a depth of knowledge that will break one into these ranks. Yes, having a depth of wine knowledge is important, but that depth of knowledge isn't too hard to find. Nor is it that difficult to achieve. Rather, the key ingredient necessary to missile ones way into a successful career as a wine writer is the ability to write…really well.
As far as I know, there are only two ways to become a really good writer: write and read. A lot. Beyond this, it is important to learn how to pitch a story to an editor and to do so in convincing fashion. And I suspect this will be covered at the Wine Writing Symposium.
And all this finally brings me to the really important point I want to make: With the proliferation of people writing about wine due to the disappearance of any bar over which it is necessary to jump in order to get ones words in front of the reading public, what's needed more than ever is the "Wine Literary Critic".
There is a real need to identify the best wine writers among us. While many of the best will have been already identified and scooped up or given a more visible platform by editors looking for talent, there are in fact very good wine writers who are toiling in front of very few eyeballs. Many in this category have their own blog, but have not been discovered. Or, they've not learned how to promote themselves. Some really good writers don't have blogs at all, but can be found using really well put together sentences in the service of compelling and interesting ideas laid out on Internet wine chat boards.
What I yearn for and what I think is necessary is the dedicated Wine Literary Critic who will analyze and identify the best wine writing available, whether on the Internet, in wine magazines and journals, on blogs or in lowly (but often well-read) wine chat boards. There is so much noise generated by the profusion of words on wine now being published in one format or another that it really is difficult to pluck out the best of the best.
The only form of Wine Literary Criticism that currently exists and that has ever really existed is in the form of reviews of books on wine that regularly appear in wine magazines and on blogs. These are useful guideposts, but they really don't touch the surface of what's out there. Some argue that the quality of writing one finds on line is really quite paltry. While this might be true, it's beside the point. While the general level of wine writing on the Internet might be average at best, there do (and must) exist samples of really good writing.
When I started the American Wine Blog Awards, one of my goals was to draw attention to the best writers using the blog format to communicate. I think this goal was achieved to a degree. But for my own selfish reasons, I'd love to see this effort to identify the best wine writers continue in other formats. For example. I would love to see an annual "The Best American Wine Writing" book published along side "The Best American Religious Writing" or "Best American Travel Writing". Why not?
It's true that the readership for a blog or newsletter or any other vehicle focused on Wine Literary Criticism would be small. However, it would generate a great deal of gratitude among those who are looking to immerse themselves in the best of the Golden Age of wine writing.