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Living the wine writer lifestyle

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Check out the new ish of Mutineer Magazine, which has a multipage interview with me by a guy I’m glad to call my friend, editor in chief Alan Kropf. (The article isn’t online, so you’ll have to buy the zine.) Alan put me through my paces, asking good questions and letting me go on at length. He did a good job editing, so the article is really an accurate representation of our conversation. (And the pictures are totally cool!)

Alan wanted to know my thoughts about “the controversial nature of my writing.” I told him I was surprised by this question, because I didn’t know my writing was controversial. Sure, three years ago there was that blowup about the Rodney Strong “Rockaway” Cabernet Sauvignon (and if you don’t know what that was all about, it doesn’t matter, because it’s ancient history). But it blew over quickly, and as I told Alan, the wine bloggers needed time to get to know me, and vice versa. As far as I’m concerned, all is smooth sailing now.

Alan got me reminiscing about the 1980s and how I got into wine. I love remembering those good old days when, even in San Francisco, not too many people were into wine, and those who were felt like part of an underground cult. One of the things I liked best about the scene was that you met the most interesting people, whom you otherwise never would have. I ended up joining the old Les Amis du Vin group (at one point, they asked me to head it up, but I didn’t want to). We’d meet once a week or so in a restaurant to taste wine with an invited proprietor. I still have my notes from those days. In fact, I advise budding wine lovers to take plenty of notes and keep every one of them. You never know. Look what Michael Broadbent did with all his old tasting notes.

I guess I should consider myself lucky that a younger-orientated magazine like Mutineer is interested in me. But I’m interested in them, so it’s a two way street. I’m interested in how people in their 20s and 30s drink and think about wine. I want to know how they make their buying decisions. I’m curious about whom they listen to when it comes to recommendations. The conventional wisdom is that they go on Facebook or Twitter, and their “friends” tell them what to buy, but I’ve never believed that. I have 2,400 Facebook friends. If each of them recommends a wine (and believe me, lots of them do), am I better off with personal reccos, or am I more confused than ever? The latter, I should think. I won’t buy a wine just because a Facebook friend, whom I may never even have met, tells me to. I’m much more likely to buy a wine if an expert tells me to. And in order to be an expect, you have to have earned the position, in my book.

Alan Kropf called me “a trailblazing wine blogger who is leveraging his experience as a respected wine writer to help evolve the medium through his fearlessly opinionated blog.” That hyperbole is beyond me, but I appreciate Alan for understanding that, in my blog, I try to go beyond what I write in both Wine Enthusiast and the books I’ve been privileged to publish for University of California Press, to express as pure an opinion as you’re likely to get from a wine critic these days. There are times I write stuff on this blog that I can’t believe I said. But I hit the “publish” button, and it seems to work.

  1. Steve, I have been curious for awhile about this and it seems like an appropriate time to ask.

    You use this blog often to advocate for professional voices in wine and are rather openly skeptical about the roles of social media as a substitute for critics.

    So with that in mind, where do you see the next ranks of serious wine writers coming from? Will they come up the way you and others like Mr. Parker or Mr. Laube have, through more traditional means? Or do some of them already exist in people like Mr. Yarrow, who did it on his own in a sense?

    I am curious how it will all play out. I am not one of those know it all Millennials that thinks he has it all figured out, but I am not entirely a devotee to critics. I find useful information from both professional and amateur sources a like.

    Anyhow. I am both bothered and encouraged by the role of wine blogs and such. When they are good, they can do amazing things. When they are not, which is often, the serve as mouth pieces to corporate wineries and distributors.

    Curious on your take.

  2. P.S. Blue Agave in Santa Barbara on a weekend night (regarding your recent FB question). Ask for Alex at the bar, best mixologist in town and a multi generational native of Santa Ynez Valley.

  3. raley roger says:

    Do you know what chains sell Mutineer? Where can we buy the hard copy?

  4. Raley, most Barnes & Noble carry Mutineer. Here is a tool that is fairly accurate: http://www.mutineermagazine.com/pages/locate.php but since this issues came out at the beginning of September, it may be sold out and may be best to call the store ahead of time.

  5. Steve, how can you not see the “the controversial nature of (your) writing?” You daily blgs are littered with your personal and political opinions, which is ok. This is your blog, you you publish it, and you can say whatever you want. Just think, if you submitted these to your WE editor would he print them as?

    I personally enjoy the blog. I might not always agree some of the throw-off political/personal comments but I think that is what makes the blog intersted (besides being insightful). Anyway, that’s this mid-late 30s wine drinkers opinion (who relies on critic and recommendations when I know how to properly frame the information).

  6. “Your daily blogs” not “You daily blog”. I am horrible typer and think faster than I type.

  7. I see copies of Mutineer all over the place these days although not sure where you can buy a copy at a newstand. Your best bet is to subscribe at http://www.mutineermagazine.com/subscribe/

    I haven’t yet received a copy that I didn’t love.

  8. Mutineer is carried at Barnes and Noble, B. Dalton, Copperfields, Books a Million, Hastings, Safeway and Vons. Locations typically only carry like 4 or 5 copies and it sells out a lot, so it can be pesky to find if you wait too long after the release date.

    Great post Steve, thanks!

  9. Brian, I try to keep politics out of my blog. I think Alan’s question was based on the Rockaway incident from 2008.

  10. Big props to Alan and Mutineer for hitting the nail on the head regarding your unique status. Steve, the unfiltered nature of your blog gives you street cred (as Alan would say) with younger folks who aren’t as concerned with the “expert status” of wine writers as they are with pure, heart felt opinions that are not measured by a marking plan. A great deal of expert wine writing seems very contrived. So yes, I’ll trust a friend’s recommendation over a well known critic’s because, for the most part, they taste with an opened mind. It seems to me that once someone becomes an established expert they are less likely to take a risk and recommend something new and exciting for fear of alienating their followers. But that’s exactly what young people want, turn me on to something I wouldn’t have tried otherwise. How cool would it be if you listed one, or two wines, at the end of each blog post for readers to try, not because the wine scored 95+ points, but because you find it interesting, and worth tasting, in the sprit of expanding one’s horizons. Nothing against high scoring wines, I drink those wines too, but look at some of the trends happening at the moment. Natural wines, unique varietals, and unique places, they all present new taste and redefine quality. What you can do better than any of my friends, Steve, is write. I may try their recommended wines but they can rarely describe them in depth. As I have said before, you are one of the best wine writers out there. If you open up to new ideas and taste, millennials and the like will buy into your recommendations in droves, stick to the status quo and they will be like me reading your blog everyday and half-heartedly flipping though WE.

  11. I trust my experts, Steve (including you). Just as I trust book reviewers for books I may never have otherwise found. I don’t always like them (books or wine), but I’d rather do it this way than wade through even more bad wine and books. Sometimes a home run, sometimes an RBI. Keep on swinging. Thank you.

  12. Steve,
    Wayne begins the comments with purpose and highlights some things that have germinated in my mind for a couple of days.
    Wayne said: “I am not entirely a devotee to critics”, and I must say that this is wisdom, for when WS can score Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon 80 points, I have to scratch my head and put an asterisk next to all their EXPERT scores.

    As for how I buy a wine? One way is to read a cogent response as Adam Lee made on your blog; I went out the next day and bought the last bottle of Siduri 2006 Russian river PN the store had.

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