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Becoming a wine writer


It was 32 years ago, in 1989, that I decided to be a freelance writer specializing in wine.

I’d just parted company with my employer, California College of Arts & Crafts, where I ran the Career Planning and Placement Center. It was not a pleasant experience. Talk about campus balkanization! I mean the way all the Deans and professors guarded their particular realms with tribal pugnacity, treating outsiders as marauding Visigoths. It was awful trying to get anything done for the students. Every time I tried to introduce a new program that would help the students get internships and be better prepared to enter the job market, the NIMBY Deans crawled out and screamed, “Not in my department!”

So I quit. Problem was, I had a mortgage to pay, and very little money. I needed a new job, fast, but if I’d learned anything from working in career counseling, it was this: Find a job you love. You’re going to be doing it for decades, so why labor someplace that makes you miserable?

I asked myself, What do I love? Two things came to mind: writing and wine. I think I came out of my mother’s womb impatient to set pen to paper and write. When I was four years old, I’d sit at my mother’s vanity and watch myself scribbling curlicues on a piece of paper in the mirror, pretending I was writing in script. Writing has proven to be my comfort and balm throughout a long life. Whenever I was up or down, writing evened me out.

Wine entered into my life in the winter of 1978-1979 (I’ve told the story many times about how the “wine bug” bit me in that supermarket aisle in the San Francisco suburb of Benicia.) I became seriously deranged about wine at that time. It didn’t make any sense; I didn’t come from a wine-drinking family, nor were any of my friends winos. Nonetheless, it happened.

So I put “wine” and “writing” together and came up with “wine writer.” I would write about wine for a living! There was never any doubt in my mind that I would make it work. I knew I’d be really good at it. I knew I’d love it. The fortunate thing at that time was that there would be no competition. In 1987, nobody wanted to be a wine writer. It was the Reagan years; everyone wanted to be an M.B.A. So the path to wine writing was clear.

It wasn’t hard to get hired at Wine Spectator. Nowadays, of course, it would be all but impossible for an unknown person to get hired there, or at any other reputable wine magazine. But I did. And that was how it all began.

When I muse back over these 32 years, I’m proud of what I achieved. Nobody gave me a lift up, nobody mentored me, no one greased the skids. I did it on my own, by hard work and a little God-given talent. Those are the essence of the American Dream. It sounds corny, but I believe it.

I know there are people who will say that opportunities for success in America aren’t what they used to be. I’m not sure I believe that. Yes, things are tough now, and the job market is undergoing incredible stresses. But it’s evolving into something new. A young, hard-working person, of any race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, can achieve wonders, if she’s willing to keep her eyes on the prize. I wouldn’t mind being 24 again and starting afresh. Of course, all this begs the question of “Whither wine writing”? Does it have a future? Does anyone care anymore what somebody blogs about wine? One thing’s for sure: the Golden Age of Wine Writing is over, and I was privileged to be part of it!

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