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Back from NY and glad to be in Cali

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I’m sorry I’ve been so unavailable here the last few days. Our meetings at Wine Enthusiast in New York were relentless, lasting from early morning until after dinner, and I frankly just didn’t have the time or energy to get online.

Of course there were upsides. It was great to see my colleagues, and I got to drink a lot of things I usually don’t — Cahors,Chateau Climens yum yum, old Port, Burgundy, Champagne, Alsace, German TBA, although somehow, Bordeaux and Italian wines escaped my attention, although there must have been some around.

Planning for a year’s worth of article — scores of them, big and small — up to a year in advance is tricky. You can’t know what’s going to be hot or newsworthy in 2011 or, by contrast, what will be so 2010. Our primary target — he and she for whom we write — is “the consumer,” a beast as mythical as the unicorn. We want to please and inform the consumer, but who exactly is he or she? He isn’t one person, of course, but many. Our circulation is way up these days, into six figures, and we aim to double it by this time next year, so it’s hard to know precisely what all those readers will want. Will Malbec remain hot or will it be something else? Will value still be important or will consumers be willing to spend again? What kinds of food trends will there be? What cocktails and beers will everyone be talking about? Which raises the question: Are we writers leaders who tell readers what the new trends are, or do our readers lead us to new trends, wines, foods, styles?

It’s a little of both, of course, especially these days. Wine (and food) writing is now a two-way street, as the conversation moves online. Wine Enthusiast, like every other print pub, is trying to figure out exactly what this online revolution is — and if we can help lead it. And we think we can.

For me, it’s always nice to get to New York and see my old friends and colleagues, but I do miss California when I’m away. Easterners still love to bash Cali — fruits and nuts, too casual, not hip enough or fast-talking enough, not so quick with the wisecracks, too mellow and laid back — but I always detect a little jealousy behind the put-downs. I don’t have to remind anyone of California’s virtues, do I? The weather, the views, our vibrant cities, wine country, mountains, seas, forests. Some people still like to put down our wines as too this, too that, too whatever. I just smile. Consumers like them, and that’s what counts.

As for next year’s magazine, I have some unbelievably great stories planned. They’ll take me all over the state. I can’t wait to dig in and write them, and I’ll still be blogging five days a week, bringing my adventures to you.

One thing we reviewers talked about in New York was critical consistency in rating wines. Roger Voss, our chief European editor, got off a good one in that regard. We were talking about MWs and how seriously they tend to take blind tasting and replicability, and Roger, who knows many MWs, said, “First, they learn the rules of blind tasting, and then they break them.” I think I know what he meant. I’ve heard the same said of artists. Picasso, for example, first learned how to draw and paint in the classic style, and once he mastered that, he threw the classic style away and invented his own style, which became the new classic. Picasso broke every rule in the book. Is it a stretch to compare wine critics to artists? You tell me.

  1. Your last paragraph was pretty enigmatic. Either one tastes blind or one doesn’t. Is this what Roger meant with his insouciance?

    Criticism includes an artistic element–creativity–but it’s core function differs fundamentally. It scrutinizes the art object rather than the reality as interpreted by the artist. Yet to do this s/he must have a good grasp of that reality in order to evaluate how the artist has shed new light on the outside reference. Or if no reference is meant or occurs, s/he must have the sensibility to appreciate or not how the artist has used the materials of the given art form in a novel and pleasing way, unlike Picasso, in my view, who was a genius promoter.

  2. Tom Merle–

    Leigh Knowles would have loved the your comments–straight from the prismatic luminescence school of art appreciation.

    Steve–

    Love the Roger Voss quote. It is one thing to be a free thinker unbounded by convention. The world needs more of those. But wine has convention, as stuffy as that sounds, and in order to understand when and how to think outside of the box (convention), one first has to understand the box. That is the way the knowledge and wisdom grow.

    If a winery wants to make oxidized, dry GWZ at 17% alcohol, that is its business. And if some people like it, that is theirs. But, both the making and the appreciation have nothing to do with knowledge, and as the result, those wines, just like Marcassin and Martinelli Chardonnays may or may not be great but they often have no reference to common knowledge.

    You often get messages here from Randy whose love of lower alcohol, minimally oaked wines is pretty clear. Whether one likes those wines or not, Randy knows where convention lies and chooses to make wines with his own take on it.

  3. Hi Charlie, I like Roger’s quote too. It reminds me to never get too stuck on convention.

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