It’s a fair and common question when I am introduced to someone. “How did you become a wine writer?” More interesting than the how part of the answer is the why part. I’ll share a bit about both.
In my post-college days I set my sights on a music career. As that was struggling along I found work in radio, print and television. I became a media guy. As a DJ I was fortunate to work at several of Seattle’s leading FM stations, notably KZAM, where new artists frequently visited to plug their records. As a staff writer for the Seattle Weekly I covered pop culture in all its forms – music, theater and media in particular. As a producer for KOMO-TV I headed up a staff of 14 that generated a constant flow of programming for a five-day-a-week morning television show. All through this busy period of my youth I slowly became interested in wine.
There was no single ‘Aha!’ moment; it was a gradual dawning of attention to this unique product. A number of close friends and industry acquaintances played a part in my informal education, but it was my awareness of the nascent Washington and Oregon wine industry that really pushed me along. At one of the occasional junctures where my music or media career ambitions derailed I decided to take a break and tap into my previous writing experience and pitch a wine story.
I knew I could write about anything and I had no intention of passing myself off as a reviewer. Rather I chose to look at the industry growing around the Northwest and find stories that any good journalist could research and write. I got a lucky break – after a couple of my pieces had appeared locally I got a call from Harvey Steiman at Wine Spectator. He wanted me to write a piece for the magazine about an interesting fellow named Myron Redford who was making wine in the Willamette Valley. And that is what really launched my wine writing career.
It was another 12 years, after I’d written many articles for different publications and a couple of NW Wine Pocket Guides, before more job derailments turned me toward wine writing full time. It had never seemed to offer enough security or income to be more than a pleasant diversion from the challenges of my regular work life. Then a chance encounter at a Napa Valley barrel tasting let to an exchange of business cards with an editor for Wine Enthusiast. I thought nothing of it until my phone rang a couple months later and Michael Schachner, who’d been handed my card back at the home office, explained that the magazine was no longer outsourcing their wine reviews and would I be interested in joining the new tasting panel?
Here I am a quarter of a century later still finding great pleasure, authentic challenges and intellectual fascination through my explorations of wine – the people, the work they do and the wines they produce.
I have been thinking about this quite a lot as I have pretty much started over and re-invented my wine writer self since leaving Wine Enthusiast a little over a year ago.
I asked the Chatbot ChatGPT how it might answer why wine is important. Here’s its response:
Wine is important for several reasons, including:
- Historical and cultural significance: Wine has been an important part of human history and culture for thousands of years. It has been used in religious ceremonies, as a symbol of wealth and social status, and as a means of celebration and enjoyment.
- Economic impact: Wine is a significant industry worldwide, contributing to the economies of many countries. The wine industry creates jobs, generates revenue, and attracts tourism.
- Health benefits: Moderate wine consumption has been linked to several health benefits, including a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, and cognitive decline.
- Social and recreational purposes: Wine is often consumed in social settings, such as dinners, parties, and gatherings. It can enhance the dining experience and be enjoyed as a form of leisure and relaxation.
- Artistic and sensory qualities: Wine has a complex and diverse range of aromas, flavors, and textures, making it a sensory experience. It is also appreciated as an art form, with winemakers using their knowledge and skill to create unique and complex blends.
Good stuff! I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bot got in with that response. Perhaps the key to success is to think less like a credentialed professional and more like an algorithm.
But back to the question posed at the top of this essay – why am I a wine writer? Wine is important to me not so much because of the reasons enumerated by the Bot but because it has opened up vast parts of my life that simply wouldn’t exist had I not seriously pursued wine writing. The rewards I feel are comparable to the value I have received from playing, writing and performing music for the past half century – although – here’s the kicker – wine writing has been far more lucrative than playing music ever was or will be.