Karen MacNeil, Inspiration and Art of Wine Blogging

kmI’ve always approached blogging as an effort to convince my readers of something. They ought to think about terroir this way. They ought to get behind that consumer movement. They ought to have disdain for that wine industry fact of life. They should train their sights on what this person over there is doing.

It might be deemed “advocacy blogging”. It’s been my approach not because I think it’s the best approach to blogging about wine or cider or wine marketing. It’s been my approach because it’s how I think…for better or worse. But, in taking this approach to blogging it has not made my challenges different from bloggers who proceed from a different perspective. In the end, we all must be inspired to write (and blog).

At the opening of this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference, writer Karen MacNeil stood behind a podium in front of a crowded ballroom and addressed the attendees. As she spoke about her early travails breaking into wine and food writing and outlining a method of becoming a good wine writer, it struck me that anyone in the room who was not inspired by this living, breathing embodiment of success probably isn’t living and breathing themselves.

Karen’s story is one of perseverance and talent. And while this aspect of her life, along with the The-Wine-Bible-2nd-editionremarkable work she has done educating through her writing, is fascinating and impressive, it is not the most inspirational thing about her. Rather, it is the self-assurance she possesses that what she does is important. This is both impressive and important when you consider that what she does in write and think and communicate about a simple drink.

The important things in life are simple to identify. Family. Friends. Making a living. Our communities’ health. These fundamental things must occupy our thoughts always and constantly. They are the source of our well-being and the well-being of those most important to us. We become accomplished at caring and cultivating for these elements of our lives because our lives depend upon it. It strikes me that in order to become as accomplished as Karen is in her writing and communicating, you must find a way to convince yourself that writing about a relatively unimportant drink is an important pursuit; near equal in importance to caring for your family, friends, work life and community.

It all begs the question, how do you convince yourself that writing about a drink is of such relatively little importance is so important. Because…this must be done in order to successfully pursue the act of writing and blogging and to do it at anything near the level of competence that Karen McNeil possesses.

The way I’ve tried to convince myself that writing about the wine industry, wine politics and wine culture is of great importance is by coming to believe that the things for which I advocate in my writing are important to my community and to my career. However, reflecting on the seriousness Karen exudes and listening to her calmly and passionately explain how and why she writes convince me it is all more than just a bunch of rationalization (really good rationalization, I think) that gets you to a place where you can be so good at something that is not essential to your well-being.

And this brings me back to the essential element of blogging about wine: inspiration; that spark that drives us to toil once again at another post, another idea, another story. Karen’s professionalism and success and ability to find inside her reason for pursing wine writing to its highest level is inspiring. It makes me want to be better at this (blogging) element of my life, even if the end result is not a competence that equals my ability to care for my family, friends, career and community.

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9 Responses

  1. Elaine Chukan Brown - August 14, 2015

    Thank you for this blog post, Tom. There are so many angles on this conversation, some of which you and I have shared previous. Karen’s honesty about her path to where she is now is so important too – important for how human it is. It seems to be that honesty and humanity is one of the powerful sources of inspiration in all of this. We are all in this together in some sense that makes what we do relevant. Looking forward to catching up more after your return too. I’ll be thinking on if I want to write up my own response to this thread too. Thank you!

  2. Dwight Furrow - August 14, 2015

    Hi Tom,

    Really interesting post on an issue I have thought a lot about. I’ve devoted my whole career to writing about ethics and politics, topics that presumably are of great consequence. I’ve turned to wine and food aesthetics precisely because they serve no larger purpose. It is important to have things in life that can be valued for their own sake, that can be enjoyed just for what they are, not as an instrument for something else.
    Wine provides so much simple pleasure, it’s a useless passion, and that is what I find inspiring about it. Wine and similar pursuits provide the color of life that sustains meaning from moment to moment. Writing about it helps me uncover those dimensions.

    I wasn’t at the conference but I’ve heard Karen MacNeil speak and she is indeed inspirational. I would love to hear her talk about writing.

    • Tom Wark - August 14, 2015

      Nicely put, Dwight. That makes perfect sense.

  3. Karen MacNeil - August 14, 2015

    Hi Tom, Dwight, and Elaine;
    Thank you all for such kind thoughts. I am very grateful. And especially so because each of you is such a good THINKER about the wine and food that sustains us.

  4. Seeking Inspiration: In Gratitude | Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews - August 15, 2015

    […] Wark posted yesterday about Karen MacNeil‘s recent keynote address at the Wine Blogger’s Conference in the […]

  5. Alan Goldfarb - August 18, 2015

    Karen and Tom, to me as an observer and now a participant in this business of wine we’re trying to navigate, have always been at the top of the game in terms of integrity, grace (I’m not so sure about Tom), and intelligence. Oh, and original and critical thought. (I put Lettie Teague and Eric Asimov in that Premer League, too.)

    Now, Elaine Brown is emerging and who will most assuredly take her place in the pantheon of people in our industry who we can admire and emulate. I’ve known Tom and Karen for decades and I’m becoming acquainted with Elaine and her compelling site and writing.

    With Karen and Tom in the forefront of wine journalism, and now with Hawk Wakawaka, we have hope for the future.

  6. Pam Strayer - August 19, 2015

    Our communities health – if people really cared about that, they would look more for organically and biodynamically grown wines. The wine community is not paying attention to what toxic chemicals are so widely used in vineyards.

    • Tom Wark - August 19, 2015

      Pam,
      Organic and biodynamically grown grapes and wine is popular among a certain set and that popularity is growing.

      On the other hand, your contention that “the wine community is not paying attention to what toxic chemicals are widely used in vineyards” is just plain wrong.

      Tom…

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