Wine is a conversation and every voice counts
…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
— John Dunne
The shocking news, revealed on its own front page, that the San Francisco Chronicle might shut down offers a frightening glimpse into a future in which nobody is reporting the news, because there’s nowhere for it to be reported.
I’ve always been a big newspaper fan. When I was a kid in New York my parents subscribed to three newspapers: the Post (today infamously owned by News Corp. but back then a liberal paper), the Hearst-owned Journal-American (which ceased publication in 1966) and the New York Times (which is rumored to be edging toward bankruptcy). Ever since I’ve lived in California I’ve subscribed to the Chronicle. It’s become part of my morning ritual, as near and dear to me as that cup of coffee.
The Chronicle, catering to its wine-interested readers, had one of the first and best wine sections of any American newspaper. They did a great job over the years, hiring wine-smart writers and, occasionally, leading trends. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of readers learned about wines, wineries, and wine and food pairing, and about the issues impacting the wine industry, from its pages. That’s far more than any wine magazine ever had or ever will.
If the Chron goes under, it will not be good news to California’s wineries or wine lovers. (Hearst Corp., the owner, is floating trial balloons to see if readers are willing to pay more money to subscribe.) Local wineries will have lost a major platform from which to speak to the public. The letters to the wine editor and the paper’s wine blog will similarly disappear. And there will be fewer working journalists to tell the stories, big and little, that are so important to be told. As the Chronicle’s conservative political columnist (with whom I seldom agree about anything), Debra J. Saunders, writes, “If newspapers die, reliable information dries up.” Blogs, as much as I like them, simply do not have the resources to unearth reliable information the way a working reporter can.
Wine is a conversation between the people who make and sell it and the people who buy it. Like art, music, literature and politics, wine is a part of the culture, where everyone has a point of view, and feels a shared stake in the outcome. It’s not at all like widgits, where you may use an item every day but feel utterly no connection to it or the people who made it. The Chronicle offers readers a window into the personalities and concepts of the wine industry, and reminds us that the men and women who make our local wines are our friends and neighbors. Ripple effects: a more informed, caring consumer demands better wines, and a wine industry driven by competition improves its best practices. So the Chronicle has had a strong impact on the California wine industry in ways not so obvious.
It is so disheartening that the Chronicle is teetering on the edge. The Bay Area, the portal to Northern California’s wine industry, may no longer hear its authoritative and collective voice, may no longer communicate among ourselves on a day to day basis. Are we now supposed to Twitter? If the Chron dies, that voice will have been strangled, and the wine industry, for whom the bell in this nasty recession already is tolling, will be that much more diminished.
No new wine excise tax in California. Wine Institute is reporting via email the new state budget agreement “did not include the proposed 640% excise tax increase on wine…”.
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