Fabricating a History of Wine Writing

gomlAt the risk of sounding like the guy shouting at the kids to get off his lawn, I have to ask: Is it really necessary for Jordana Rothman to fabricate history in order to profile Punch Editor Talia Baiocchi in Food & Wine Magazine and demonstrate the really great work she is doing at that site?

In a lead-in to a profile on Baiocchi, Jordana writes:

There was a time, not so long ago, when wine and spirits writing was mostly the province of old, white men who conducted their critical business with score cards and spit buckets.”

For anyone who has been reading drinks literature for more than very, very short time, this kind of statement comes off as pretty insulting and not a little ignorant. It also comes off as lazy.

Still, it’s not the first time a writer fabricated history in order to justify a scenario that supports the angle they want to take in a story or feature. It happens all the time. When I see this, I usually just stop reading and move one. That’s really not fair to the subject of a profile, but what’s the point of continuing.

In this case, upon reading that up until just recently wine and spirits writing was nothing more than spitting out ratings and review—and by (God forbid, “Old White Men), I wondered if the writer has any idea that there was prose writing about wine before 2010? I wondered if she’d ever heard of:

Gerald Asher
Matt Kramer
Mary Ewing Mulligan
Bob Thompson
Jerry Mead
Frank Prial
Clive Coates
Florence Fabricant
R. W. Apple Jr
Frank Schoonmaker
Dan Berger
Hugh Johnson
Jancis Robinson
James Halliday
Harry Waugh
Alexis Bespaloff
Ed McCarthy
Kevin Zraly
Alexis Lichine
Michael Broadbent
Karen MacNeil
Gerald Boyd
Leon Adams

To name but a few of the wine writers Ms. Rothman dismissed.

There is a tendency among inexperienced writers who want attention fast to make declarations about some thing or some idea or some process being very new—and very new after a long, weary time of their being very little to recommend. They tend to give the impression they discovered this worthy new thing. It happens in political writing a lot, in food writing and, in wine writing. It’s a tiring fault.

Here is the fact, while there are many new voices and new talents in the world of wine writing, including Talia who has risen based on her superior talent, neither she nor many others are writing about wine and the wine world in any significantly different way than the wine world has been written about for the past 50 years. For as long as there have been writers totally or semi-dedicated to wine, they have told stories of vintners and growers, considered the route to market for wine and critiqued the product.

What’s notable, though, is that the number of writers who, as Ms. Rothman says, “conducted their critical business with score cards and spit buckets.” is few and far between. The vast majority write, not score or rate.

At this point I would normally address further Ms Rothman’s tired “old white man” trope included in the otherwise interesting article on Talia. However, then I’d end up being the old guy on the porch shouting at the kids to get off his lawn AMD spraying them with a hose.


Posted In: Wine Media


7 Responses

  1. Bill McIver - February 18, 2016

    Great piece, Tom! You could have added Schoonmaker-era of wine writers Julien Street, John Melville, Mary Frost Mabon, Andre L. Simon, and Dr Salvatore Lucia. And oh how I miss Jerry Mead

  2. Thomas Pellechia - February 18, 2016


    Let’s not upset a story with facts….Ruth Ellen Church (Chicago Tribune) and Jane Nickerson (NY Times), FEMALE wine writers in the 1940s and 50s

  3. George Ronay - February 18, 2016

    Tom: Since you’re in California, somewhat surprised that you omitted the names of Robert Lawrence Balzer, perhaps one of the first wine writers at a newspaper (the late great Los Angeles Times), and of course Sacramento’s Darrell Corti, who has yet to score a wine but has written eloquent prose for decades…..

  4. Donn Rutkoff - February 20, 2016

    I also dismissed that article as crap.
    I read maybe 1/2 to 1 hour a day in our field, work 5 days a week in retail, in California, and never has anyone mentioned that publication, or author. How transformative is that. Lets not forget Kermit Lynch. And I wonder if either of them know who Maynard Amerine, Edward Roessler, or Markus Keller might be.
    I guess they come from the Ibama School of Me.

  5. Tom Wark - February 20, 2016


    It’s not that Talia isn’t a good idea for a profile or interview. She’s talented. It’s the dismissive introduction by a writer who chose not to even consider the context of her subject and to just write things that make no sense and fabricate some sort of history of wine writing.

  6. Charlie Olken - February 22, 2016

    Insulting? Or just plain stupid and antagonistic?

    Glad someone bothered to mention Robert Lawrence Balzer, but what about Nathan Chroman (LA Times and LA County Fair), Hank Rubin (Bon Appetit back when that mag was one-third wine and spirits), Leon Adams (whose book, Wines of America, was the single most comprehensive discussion of wineries forty years ago).

    And what about the women writers–Eunice Fried, Harriet Lembeck, Mary Lester?

    It is the sin of youth that it does not understand history and thinks the world began with it. The utter stupidity to write as if Talia were somehow different from hundreds, indeed thousands, who came before her or that gender has anything to do with the quality of writing makes the article an incredibly telling testament to the both the laziness and the bias of the writer who somehow trying to prove a point without having the slightest idea what the hell she is talking about.

    The next thing you know. she will try to tell us that she is going to build a wall on our southern border and make Mexico pay for it.

  7. Mark Cochard - February 22, 2016

    Great comments Tom, One correction Mary Ewing-Mulligan

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