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The joys (and oy!s) of being on the road



This year has been, and will continue to be, a busy one for me in the realm of symposia, panels and speaking engagements. Among other events so far, I introduced the great Merry Edwards at her induction ceremony into the Vintners Hall of Fame – was the official blogger for World of Pinot Noir – taught a wine tasting class at the University of California, Berkeley Haas School of Business, and co-taught another one, in winery social media, at the University of California, Davis – moderated the panel at the Paso Robles CAB Collective – led a panel on the Cabernets of Pritchard Hill at the recent Kapalua Wine & Food Festival on beautiful Maui – moderated no less than four panels for sommeliers at the Alexander Valley Cabernet Academy – and, next month, will lead the panel at the Chardonnay Symposium (where Merry Edwards again will be) and give the keynote address at the Petite Sirah Symposium.

It can be hard to find the time to do all these things, since most of my days (and, often enough, nights) are spent tasting and writing. I like getting out on the road, and of course the journalist in me is ever keen on finding new people and things to write about, which is difficult when you’re chained to a computer. But there is this eternal tension between productivity (much greater at home) and research in the field (which is low on productivity but scores very high in other respects).

As a result, I haven’t put much energy into my speaking or panel-moderating career over the years. I know wine people whose income largely consists of speaking engagements. They’re forever on a plane to or from somewhere. I’m not sure I would relish such a life. There are aspects of travel I detest (don’t we all?), and then there’s the problem of what to do with Gus; the longer my absence from home, the more acute that problem gets.

Being on the road has the paradoxical quality of being exhilarating and tiresome. It’s exhilarating to be out and about, in new places, meeting new people, and never quite knowing what’s going to happen next (which lends a sense of frisson). I confess also to enjoying being in front of an audience. I did a lot of acting in school (the high point was playing Ralph Rackstraw in “Pinafore”, and I could hit the high notes on “Oh Joy, Oh Rapture Unforeseen” before my voice cracked). I also did standup comedy in San Francisco during the 1980s (when I learned to endure audience heckling, a talent that inures me to somewhat frequent Twitter and blogosphere abuse). Those experiences, aided perhaps by something in my genes (my father’s cousin is Joan Rivers, so we have show-biz in the family) give me an onstage comfort.

The tiresome part of travel is having one’s regular schedule turned on its head. You drink and eat too much, sleep too little, have no opportunity to work out (always a paramount consideration for me), and there’s a lot of schmoozing that may or may not be comfortable. The antidote to uncomfortable chit-chat is, naturally, alcohol [see last sentence], the intake of which can be considerable among us “professionals” on the road. There’s something of the conventioneer’s syndrome: late night imbibing at the hotel bar, war stories traded back and forth, staggering back to one’s room well past midnight (if you can find it). I need to add that there seems to be a direct relationship between the quantity of late night partying and the level of greatness of a panel. The more of the former, the more of the latter. Early bird panelists are boring panelists.

Despite the inconveniences, I like wine-related travel, and I’d like to do more speaking, paneliing, tasting and educating. If your group is interested, I invite you to get in touch.

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