Is The Golden Age of Wine Writing over?
This question hit me last night shortly before I went to bed. I come from an era when wine writers took the art of writing very seriously. They actually sweated over each word, using Thesauruses (Thesauri?) and dictionaries, piling sentences elaborately upon sentences, building up paragraphs into a narrative, worrying over leads and looking always for the flourishing finish.
Of course, it all had a purpose and was well-rewarded. One wrote for a publication — be it a book, magazine or journal. One had the option of writing at length. One was aware that, even though we were merely “lowly” wine writers rather than serious novelists or investigative journalists for the New York Times, we nonetheless were members of an elite: writers. And I think we wine writers, who became active in the 1970s and 1980s, were aware, at least semi-consciously, that we had plunged into a Golden Age of Wine Writing that had been going on for quite some time, and showed no signs of waning.
What is a “Golden Age”? The term is most commonly used to refer to the Greek Age of Pericles (c. 440 BCE), when Athens was at its classical height. Sophocles was writing his plays, Socrates was busy corrupting Athenian youth by encouraging them to think, Democritus was theorizing the atom, Protagoras was inventing a little theory that someday would be named for him, and Herotodus and Thucydides were recording it all, and inventing History in the process. Several centuries later, the Greek poet, Hesiod, wrote that during the Golden Age “Men lived like gods without sorrow of heart…with legs and arms never failing they made merry with feasting beyond the reach of all devils.”
All Golden Ages end, sadly. Hesiod accorded the demise of Greece’s Golden Age to the time when Prometheus gave mankind the gifts of architecture, mathematics, astronomy, navigation, medicine and fire, among other blessings. For this, Zeus “became angry at Prometheus for making people powerful by teaching them all these useful skills.”
The Chief of the Gods, of course, famously punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and causing an eagle to forever eat his liver. Why was Zeus pissed at Mr. P. for elevating mankind? Probably for the same reason the Hebrew God was angry at Adam and Eve for eating of the tree of knowledge. Gods are jealous. They want all the power to themselves. Perhaps they fear that a mankind made equi-powerful to them will bring about destruction and madness. It’s hard to know just what a God is thinking.
We wine writers of a certain age had our Golden Age. We had our Platos and Sophocles, our Pythagorases and Pericles, and long, sunny days in which to labor at our love of writing. Now, who was our Pericles, what was the fire he delivered to mankind, and how are the Gods punishing mankind today? Our Pericles was the two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) and Bill Gates. The fire — the great power — they gave us was the personal computer and the Internet. To what rock are we now chained, and what eagle is it that eats our livers?
Hence the decline of the Golden Age of Wine Writing.
Who writes anymore? People tweet. They misspell (on purpose?). They Facebook. They churn out silly little books like Crush It! and 101 Wines: Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World that nobody cares about and nobody will read tomorrow because they have nothing to say. I’m not complaining, exactly. Life goes on. The Millennials deserve their chance. Will the wine writers amongst them reverse the decline and restore the Golden Age? Golden Ages, once gone, do not typically come back. I can see a time, in 300 years, when somebody says to somebody else, “Can you believe that once upon a time there was a class of wine writers that was like a priesthood, elevated and slightly mysterious but revered, who pronounced mystically upon wine, and wrote lengthy treatises on it, which were purchased and studied by the masses?” To which the other person replies, “You have got to be kidding!”
[to be continued]