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Commentary | 1 Wine Dude - Page 7

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On The Death Of Sommelier Journal (Or “The Nigh Impossibility Of Building Wealth As A Wine Writer”)

Vinted on November 5, 2013 binned in commentary, wine news

By now many of you will have heard that Sommelier Journal is ceasing publication.

The news came to me via SJ editor David Vogels, who several days ago issued an email to those writers who had contracted work with the magazine. I happen to be one of those writers, having only weeks ago completed a featured story / regional overview on Crete, an article that was to appear in SJ’s November issue. Here’s what Vogels wrote in the email:

“I regret to inform you that Sommelier Journal has suspended publication. We are currently negotiating with a group that hopes to purchase the title and resume publishing the magazine at some point within the next year. In the meantime, we have arranged with Wine & Spirits Magazine to complete the terms of our current paid subscribers with the same number of issues they have remaining (whether in print or online-only).”

The news is sad for several reasons. Sommelier Journal was a bright light among wine publications over the last six years, as any long-time 1WD reader is already well aware. It was probably the only publication that catered specifically to sommeliers, beverage directors, and others in a similar vinous vein who actually cared deeply about building a taste profile for their clientele.

But among the reasons for why the shuttering of SJ’s glossy covers totally sucks, the reason vying for number one in line for the suck-a-thon as far as I’m concerned is the fact that I’m now not going to be paid for the article I wrote for them. That’s work I sweated and bled, based on a journey I took to the region under the auspice that I was on assignment (I’ve reached out to World of Fine Wine about taking it up, but they seem to move pretty slowly, unless they have something they’d like me to promote to you, of course!).

I’d like to say that this development is probably a fluke, but I think it’s actually indicative of a larger issue, which is that paid content in any form is a tough sell, period. Paid content for a niche is even tougher. And as a result, building wealth by writing content about a niche topic like wine is a bit like talking about unicorns or the Easter bunny (or about Easter bunnies riding unicorns): fun to discuss, but ultimately a figment of our collective, wine-soaked imagination…

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Did We Just Win A Battle In “The War Over Wine?”

Vinted on October 15, 2013 binned in about 1winedude blog, commentary, wine news

This is the kind of thing that probably gives major wine critics apoplexy.

James Conaway, the talented writer and author of the excellent novel-with-a-wine-soaked-plot Nose, recently penned an article for Worth titled The War Over Wine. It’s cogent, well-conceived, deftly written and fiercely opinionated. In other words, it’s the kind of writing that fills borderline-hacks like me with a burning jealous rage hot enough to turn our faces the shade of a slightly aged Moulin-a-Vent.

Now, normally I don’t pat attention to Worth, mostly because I do not need reading material to fill my time below deck while my yacht is piloted to my own private dessert (whoops!) desert island. Just perusing the Worth.com website is like stumbling upon the remains of some lost civilization that used the same words we do to communicate, but put them in sequences that no longer have any meaning for us. It’s how Shakespeare appears to the high school student, or how Wine & Spirits appears to mortal wine drinkers, or how Umberto Eco appears to everyone who can read.

Seriously, topics can be found there such as Mutual Fund Strategies in the Aftermath of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the ever-popular Where Is the Best Opportunity in the High-End Luxury Space?, and my personal favorite, 10 Questions for Your Chief Innovation Officer (‘cuz I only had eight questions for mine, so I am clearly a 99-percenter slacker!)

Anyway… Conaway’s piece seems somewhat out of place in Worth in that context, but it’s the kind of article that makes me want to take up arms and shout from the rooftops, in the hope that it’s less a tempest-in-a-teapot and more a topical-sh*tstorm-about-to-explode (as The Tick might have shouted, “from the mighty butt checks of wine media justice!”)…

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California Winemakers May Routinely Use Formulas To Achieve Certain Scores

Vinted on September 24, 2013 binned in commentary

During one of my many recent Left Coast jaunts, I had a rather disturbing conversation with a California winemaker over dinner. It’s a conversation that haunted me for weeks afterward, until I could catch up with that particular winemaker (who needs to remain anonymous for reasons that should become obvious very quickly) and get more detailed information on the topic that we’d discussed.

The short version of the story is that the winemaker with whom I spoke referenced a matrix he’d developed that set qualitative and quantitative targets – for color, extraction, sugar levels, tannin, taste profiles, etc. – for achieving specific scores from specific U.S. wine critics.

Not a wide ranges of scores, but in some cases, targeted score ranges that were quite narrow (between three or four points).

While the matrices began innocuously enough – as reference points for achieving certain styles or quality levels of wines more quantitatively – in some cases they morphed into tools meant to target specific scores from certain critics for marketing purposes. And this winemaker hinted that such matrices / formulas were and are fairly common tools in terms of fine winemaking in California.

Apparently, certain characteristics are almost guaranteed to get you a better chance at a particular score from particular critics. There are companies that will do similar analysis and – for a fee that is apparently not unsubstantial – will tell you when (harvest timing, etc.) and how (extraction, manipulations, etc.) to make your wine, based on that analysis, complete with target score ranges in major wine publications…

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Wine Doesn’t Sell Wine, Stories Sell Wine (Nederburg Auction 2013 Keynote Speech Recap)

Vinted on September 12, 2013 binned in commentary, going pro, on the road

I’m not-so-freshly back from Cape Town, where last week I delivered the keynote address at the 39th annual Nederburg Auction. Somehow, my back survived the jaunt (though the sciatica and disk issues did some relatively serious damage on my anxiety).

Since the Nederburg organizers don’t invite keynote speakers back, I felt even less pressure than normal (and I don’t start with much in this regard to begin with) to censor my thoughts… and so I think I delivered on the promised “tough luv” messages about the difficulty, complexity, and insanity of the U.S. wine market, and my ideas on how South Africa can still “win” there.

The organizers were absolutely lovely people, the event was top-notch, and the hospitality beyond any reasonable sense of expectation. Also, I’ve now officially tasted impala and can now tell you that I understand why the big cats prefer to hunt those suckers down in Africa (after the lunch of it I had at La Motte’s fabulous restaurant in Franschhoek, I was ready to try to run a few of those things down and eat them raw myself).

Anyway, the auction itself was successful this year, with price per bottle up over last year’s event. Some amazing juice got auctioned off on day two during the charity portion of the event (including two bottles of 1981 Hill of Grace that were generously donated to the auction by Nederburg in my name… and no, I didn’t get to drink any of it). Below are some images that pale in comparison to actually being in the beautiful country of SA, and (eventually… hang in there!) an embedded video of me getting all Southern-Hemisphere-Keynote on everyone…

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