Almost four (holy crap!) years ago, I wrote on these virtual pages a response (ok, rebuttal) to a claim by the thought-provoking PR maven Tom Wark that we were in a “golden age” of wine writing.
Fast-forward to last week, and we have Tom taking umbrage with a satirical piece by Ron Washam, a.k.a. The Hosemaster of Wine, in which wine writer Karen MacNeil delivers a keynote address to the Wine Bloggers Conference in which she offers the helpful advice that most wine bloggers ought to hang it up: “Your prose is like box wine—a collapsing plastic sack of crap.” Steve Heimoff, formerly of Wine Enthusiast, also got in on the discussion, essentially wondering aloud if wine writing is doomed.
With me so far?
Tom’s rebuttal essentially restates his position from 2011; that we are in a golden age of wine writing, particularly online: “The list of very good writers who are or have started as wine bloggers is long and undeniable.”
At first blush (see what I did there?), it would seem that we have moved not one iota in the nearly four years since we first aired this friendly debate across our respective corners of the Global Interwebs. And while that may actually be the case, I am not here to offer a rebuttal to Tom’s rebuttal (despite the fact that, while I love the wine blogging community, I largely agree with Ron’s position and would extend it to include the vast majority of wine writing found in print).
No, I am here to tell you that asking (or debating) if we are in a golden age of wine writing is effectively asking the wrong question…
The more pertinent question is whether or not we’re in a golden age of wine media.
And the answer to that question, I think, is “yeah, maybe we are; or at least, we’re getting closer.”
When talking about online, holding wine writing up as the penultimate form of wine coverage is probably a stance espoused primarily by wine writers. Take a step back, and the idea that quality of wine coverage ought to be debated around the context of writing alone seems embarrassingly antiquated, like Caractacus Potts showing up in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at the Indianapolis 500, or me showing anyone under the age of 27 my current “smart” phone.
While it’s undeniable that what most educated wine consumers and pros would consider “excellent” wine is made up of a tiny percentage of those attempting it, that is almost certainly true of any niche. Combining the disciplines required in niche coverage (for example, writing, editing, tasting, etc.) into real craft takes real time and real effort.
Fortunately for all of us, with the barriers of entry being so low, one can find those 0.5% of higher quality outliers – those aiming for real craft – quite easily, and the increase in volume of coverage overall makes the size of the 0.5% a larger pool than at any other time in history.
But this coverage does not always come in the form of writing, and while at 43 (holy crap!) I am not exactly young enough to casually dismiss the written word (or even the printed word!), I am not anywhere near old enough to ignore how many other forms niche media takes these days (I’m guessing that I might never be old enough – at heart, anyway – to ignore that).
With very little effort, one can find wine coverage in the form of writing, photographs, videos, audio, cartoons, and infographics. Yeah, most of them suck. But the ones that don’t? They’re reeeaaallllyyyy good, folks.
So, are we in the golden age of wine media?
By volume, no. By just about any other measure? Yeah, maybe we are; we need only broaden our perspectives enough to truly see it.