How will the 22nd century view “wine critics”?
Sunday: I’m up here in West Seattle meeting Janel’s (niece’s) neighbors, some of whom still had half empty glasses of red wine on their tables next to empty bottles, the leftovers from the previous night’s dinner waiting to be cleaned up. But who’s in a hurry to clean when the weather’s a rare 82 degrees, the big boat is anchored just a launch away on glistening Puget Sound and the salmon are biting? Cleanup can wait.
Folks up here are serious about wine. Coffee, too (obviously), and fresh fish, and tofu, and herbal remedies for what ails you, and stopping at stop signs. West Seattle is one of the politest, most liberal areas of the country, with a live-and-let-live attitude towards life that I like. And they’re really into their wine.
I thought about the place of wine in people’s lives who love it but don’t necessarily know (or care) that much about it. They don’t work in the industry, don’t subscribe to wine periodicals or (gasp) read wine blogs (the heathens), and never heard of Robert Parker or me for that matter. For them, wine is just something they like and love and feel the need to have with their dinner, maybe not 7 nights a week, but certainly on the weekend.
My niece’s own husband is a surgeon, and he’s on call a lot, so he doesn’t drink much, but their friends do. Whenever I’m introduced to one of their friends and the subject of what everybody does for a living, I always struggle with exactly how to say what I do. Sometimes I say “I write about wine.” Sometimes I say “I’m a wine critic” or “a wine journalist.” Sometimes I’ll say “I’m an editor for a wine magazine.” No matter how I say it, it seems incomplete. I can see puzzlement on people’s faces. Sometimes their reply is, “Really,” but it’s not a question that’s asking for more information because they don’t want any more information, it’s just an interjection to end the conversation. Their body language and the lack of followup tell me that they neither want nor need any additional facts about me being a wine critic, so fine, end of story. I don’t have to talk about my career if someone doesn’t want to hear about it, and the truth is, I don’t want to hear about most other people’s jobs, either.
But sometimes they’ll be really interested. “A wine critic!” they’ll say, with real inflection in their voice. “Wow.” And that’s where I feel like, okay, they want to know more, and so I’ll tell them, carefully reading the situation until I see their interest start to wane, and then I’ll say, “But enough about me, how about you?”
I also haven’t quite mastered the tone of voice and facial expression to accompany my “I’m a wine critic” remark. By that, I mean that most people think that being a “wine critic” is a very esoteric, weird thing to be, so most of the time I’ll adopt something of a sheepish, semi-embarrassed look. I mean, if I were a pharmacist or an insurance salesman I’d just say so with a straight face because there’s not much of a back story associated with being a pharmacist or insurance salesman. Nobody’s going to hear that and think, “Wow! A pharmacist! How weird and interesting!” But they do often think that when I say “wine critic,” and I guess my sheepish, semi-embarrassed look, with a little shrug of the shoulders, is partly to put them at ease, so that they won’t feel like they’d be insulting me by letting me know that they think being a wine critic is a little weird, because frankly, so do I.
I honestly believe that someday the notion of “wine critic” will be obsolete, like “gas lamp lighter” or “town crier” or “telephone operator.” In 2112, some little girl will hear that her great-great grandfather was a “wine critic,” and she’ll have to look it up on whatever device she uses to look stuff up (which will probably be a chip in her own cerebral cortex). The conversation will then go like this. “Hey, mom, did you know great-great grandpa was a wine critic?” Mom: “Sure, honey, didn’t we ever tell you.” Little girl: “No! What does that mean?” Mom: “Well, I’m not really sure, to tell you the truth, but it was something some people did about the turn of the last century, and whatever it was, I’m sure it was a very respectable job.” I can see the little girl going to school and telling her little friends, “My great-great grandpa was a wine critic!” Maybe, when she’s old enough to go to college, she’ll write a term paper on “wine critics in the late 20th and early 21st centuries” and I’ll be in there. I’d like to be around to read that term paper but I guess I won’t be.