My say on Suckling
Okay, fasten your seatbelts. This is gonna be a bumpy ride.
Read this first from Decanter. Then return here.
First, I’m wishing James Suckling great success in his new venture. I met him from time to time when I worked at Wine Spectator, and he was a nice enough guy. Now, to the point. This post is about snobbism in the wine world. It’s not really about James Suckling. It’s just that his story brings up so many dreary things about the wine world, things I’ve fought all my professional life, that I have to get it off my chest.
That Hollywood producer, James Orr, referred to in the article? Biggest snob I ever met. We were both at a Wine Experience dinner one night when I was at the Spectator. Some groveling came over and kneeled down beside me at my table.
“There’s someone who’d like to meet you.”
He indicated a handsome guy sitting at another table. “James Orr. He’s a Hollywood producer.”
Never mind that I wondered why Mr. Hollywood producer couldn’t come over and introduce himself. I folded my napkin on my chair and went over to meet James Orr.
He was a bigtime wine collector. He gave me his private number. “Call anytime,” he said. I was writing The Collecting Page in every issue. All the collectors in America wanted to be quoted there. It was an ego thing — to have your name on The Collecting Page of Wine Spectator! Even better if your picture was also there.
He always answered my calls. “James Orr’s office. Who may I say is calling?”
“Oh! I’ll put you right through.”
Then I left Spectator and went to Wine Enthusiast. I called Orr soon after. Left a message or two. You can guess the rest. Silencio. (Although I would hope that nowadays, with Wine Enthusiast having such a top reputation, he would.)
I hate when that happens! So rude, so unnecessary. It’s everything people hate about Hollywood elitism, about naked ambition, about ingratitude. And unfortunately, that attitude permeates our wine culture in certain places, at certain levels. It’s the poison that continues to make so many Americans wary of wine. They can sense it, like a “Don’t come in here, you don’t belong” exclusionary velvet rope that keeps the trash out. It’s also the environment in which James Suckling apparently has chosen to base his new career, “shooting A listers in California and Bordeaux.”
Before some of you write in and say, “Jealousy, jealousy!” let me point out that I’ve been railing against snobbism all my professional life. Anybody who reads this blog knows that. Yes, I love great wine as much as anybody. I feel privileged to drink it. I wouldn’t want the A listers to do anything but produce great wine so I can taste it. But personally, I’d suffocate if that was the only little corner of the wine industry I hung out in or covered. And while I hope that James Suckling won’t disappear entirely into the snobby ivory tower, it sure sounds like he will — like he’s going to be writing for collectors instead of for everybody.
By the way, James reached out to me over the summer, promising to tell me the exciting news about his new venture in September. I told him, Fine, and that I’d be happy to put it in Wine Enthusiast, or on my blog, whichever seemed more appropriate. But he failed to honor his promise. Instead, it looks like he decided to share his plans with Decanter.
I personally think James is making the wrong decision. The Western world is moving away from elitism toward diversity, transparency and openness. (China is moving toward a new kind of nouveau-riche snobbery, and perhaps James will traffic in that.) It’s too bad, really, because with his obvious talents and fame, James could perform a real service, of opening up the world of wine to a greater range of people — and that does not mean eliminating collectors, it just means expanding the perimeter of who’s allowed in. Instead, it sounds like James will be circulating in the same airless, self-conscious, isolated gated community in which he did when he was at Spectator. Well, at least he’ll have James Orr by his side, shooting every sad moment.