Wine Writing, Relevance and Obituaries

“You, know, the rule of thumb is that once you’ve done something for 10 years, you’ve created one sentence in your obituary, maybe a paragraph if the writer is feeling frisky.”

This was the response blurted out by a gentleman after he learned that I’d recently completed my 8th year of blogging about wine here at FERMENTATION. I was introduced to him at a party last night and he mentioned that he’d read this blog. He asked how long I’d been blogging. “Tomorrow marks my eighth anniversary writing FERMENTATION, actually.  I started in 2004.”

Lord knows that one of my great hopes in life is that my eventual death will inspire a moment of friskiness in one or two people.

Of course how we inspire others wasn’t the point of my new acquaintance’s somewhat dismissive quip. He clearly was in an existential state of mind brought on either by one too many Holiday Negronis or a form of social autism that allows him to blurt out uncomfortable truths at inopportune moments and aimed at people he does not really know.

His point was that “significant” describes very few of the things we do in our lives.

It wasn’t the most cheerful of observations my blurtatious acquaintance could have uttered at a Holiday party. But it did make me think. “Significance” is not what any wine blogger or wine writer should be hoping for from their work. Relevance is the achievable and notable goal. Can a reviewer or critic of wine offer an opinion relevant to their audience? Can an explanation of a wine region be relevant to people seeking a better understanding of what they are drinking? Can an analysis of the workings of a sector of the wine industry strike people in the industry as a relevant contribution to their understanding of the business and how they approach their work?

Relevance, not significance—let alone, legacy—is what an intrepid wine writer can hope for whether they are published for a day, a year, a decade or longer.

Thinking about the interaction on my way home from the party, I decided it was probably too many Negronis that led this young man to spill his existentialist perspective all over my evening. However, he did lead me to compose my own obituary as I drove.

“Known for his relevant and regular essays on the state of the wine industry published at his FERMENTATION Wine Blog, Tom Wark…”



19 Responses

  1. Alfonso - December 3, 2012

    Ha! You beat the Hosemaster by writing your own obit before he wrote his own. Well done, Tom!

  2. Tom Riley - December 3, 2012

    Your piece today is exactly what I needed. Maybe that makes it relevant; who knows. But after only two years of bloggging I’ve been rethinking lately what I do and why. I think you’re right, that relevance is what matters. Excellent insight, and thanks for that insightful boost. Much appreciated.

  3. Tom Wark - December 3, 2012

    Tom….Your comment perhaps made my point. Thanks very much for your note. FIND RELEVANCE!!!!

  4. Georges Meekers - December 3, 2012

    I enjoyed your post and I agree wholeheartedly – as an occasional blogger aiming to provide perspective on the smallest independent winemaking country in Europe: Malta.
    So, don’t pay the ferryman; at least not just yet.

  5. fredric koeppel - December 3, 2012

    The number of wine bloggers who rate the Significant category probably totals four. Relevance indeed should be the goal of all the rest of us, so find out what you want to write about and want to say, write well, be accurate and post often. It won’t get you an obit in the NY Times or even much in the way of advertising, but if you read your own blog and you’re happy with it, that should be enough.

  6. Thomas Pellechia - December 3, 2012

    Last month, ex-NYTimes wine writer and reporter, Frank Prial died. He and I maintained a sporadic email correspondence over the years. I’d say he was relevant.

    One of my favorite Prial quotes circa 1998:

    “A typical wine writer was once described as someone with a typewriter who was
    looking for his name in print, a free lunch, and a way to write off his wine cellar. It’s a dated view. Wine writers now use computers.”


    […] Good news in the wine biz: Tom Wark of Fermentation celebrates his 8th year of blogging. […]

  8. mark storer - December 3, 2012

    I have not commented in some time, but I do read…see? And I too would like to applaud this post. As a blogger who has moved away from writing about wine, I did so because I felt I had nothing new or relevant to say. Everyone else was saying it better than I. I point this out only to acknowledge that when I allowed that truth to seep through, my freelance writing career took off. I don’t write much about wine anymore–though on occasion, maybe once a month, I’ll get an assignment having to do with wine from a publication. But relevance is all in journalism. Nicely said, Tom. Cheers–and Happiest and blessed Holidays to you.

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  12. Tom - December 4, 2012

    Blurtatious — what a great word! Relevance is a worthy goal. Back when I was working for an environmental advocacy organization during the Bush II administration, we’d have been thrilled to achieve relevance.

  13. Deborah Parker Wong - December 4, 2012

    Some small measure of comfort may be taken in knowing that your life as witnessed through your blog inspires moments of friskiness in me all the time.

  14. david - December 4, 2012

    Here lies Tom
    Who bought the farm
    Of his writing one might say
    It’s still relavent even today.

  15. Henry Mayo - December 5, 2012

    Tom after I thought about the 10 year thing and the one liner-I decided there is some truth to that statement. Many of us spent over 10 years of our life doing what we thought was very important and relevant to us but who else really cares or even remembers. That may sound negative but with 75 plus years of reflection there are not a lot of really significant moments. I can get up to 20+ but they are importat to me not many others.
    Having said that, Tom you are really good and keep on doing. Henry

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