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Five Decades of Wine: The Arc of My Career: Part Six: The Post-Enthusiast Years



Why did I finally quit Wine Enthusiast? Many people have asked me that question. After all, I had one of the top jobs in wine journalism and criticism. I had a good name in the industry, was liked and respected, and continued to enjoy my work. But there were things going on that few knew about, except my family and close friends.

For one, I’d been doing the same thing for 25 years, at Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. And the truth is, when you do the same job for that long—even a job you like—you find yourself thinking about alternatives. I wasn’t getting any younger. The twilight of my career was getting closer every day. I wasn’t quite ready to retire, but I did feel—as I’d been telling my friends for several years—that I was sure Life had one final adventure in store for me, before I hung up my wine writing gi.

(A gi is a martial arts uniform. I’d earlier retired from karatedo, after years of serious practice. When I did, I put away my gi, with its embroidered black belt I had made for me in Japan. So I had a feeling for retirement.)

But what that final adventure was, I had no idea. I just felt in my bones that it was out there. And I’m a person who’s crammed several lifetimes into one, in terms of all the times I’ve reinvented myself.

I thought a little about making some extra money through my blog. After all, it was quite popular. Lots of people seemed to like it: why not try to leverage that popularity? But to make a long story short, it proved not to be possible. Lots of wine bloggers were thinking along the same lines. Advertising? Subscriptions? Some other form of revenue? Alas, nothing was realistic. (One popular wine blogger told me his financial ambition was to sell his blog to Rupert Murdoch for $1 million. It hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t think it ever will.) The truth is, monetizing a blog has been next to impossible for anyone except the likes of Jancis Robinson, who has a worldwide audience.

And the Wine Enthusiast job was getting, well, let’s call it déja-vu. It’s November? Time for another “What wine to drink at Thanksgiving?” column. Summer? Time for another “Fresh, crisp whites to drink by the pool.” Winter? “Zinfandel: the perfect wine for hearty stews,” for the umpteenth time. There was the ever-constant demand from New York to discover fresh faces, celebrity winemakers, offbeat destinations, hot new mixologists, top new somms. In coastal California—my beat—I found myself writing more or less the same articles, on a four- or five-year cycle. (Of course, I still got off, enormously, on reviewing wines. The pleasure of doing that hadn’t run out after 25 years—and still hasn’t.

So I didn’t particularly feel “burned out”, and I think that would not be a fair characterization. It’s just that the template of wine magazine writing had, after so many years, run into its own self-imposed limits. And I can tell you, without mentioning names, that I’ve had this conversation with other well-known wine writers of my age cohort, and they experience the same Groundhog Day sense of déja-vu.

So I was ready for a change. Once again, I didn’t know what it was, or how it would present itself, or when. I just knew, in an intuitive way, that something was out there, lurking just beyond the horizon, and that it would be an exciting new step in my career. And, as things turned out, that’s exactly what happened in the late winter of 2014. I’ll write about it next time.

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