I taught a class on wine writing at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York a few nights ago. I found it heartening that anyone signed up at all — given all the talk about the ‘death of journalism.’ But the class (all women and one man) was clearly made up of believers in life after death- and possibly even aspiring wine writers as well. They were all in other professions of course- banking and real estate and law- and one magazine editor – who wrote the best tasting note on the two wines that I poured. (A wine writing course should always be accompanied by a couple glasses of wine.) Joe, the one man in attendance, was a political consultant “only for Democrats.” Joe came with his girlfriend, who had bought him a ticket to my class for Valentine’s Day. What a wonderfully romantic gesture! I commended her. (It turned out Joe had a copy of my book, Educating Peter and was also a fan of my ex, Alan. He had a copy of his book, Fork it Over as well. Alan was Joe’s favorite food writer. “I even read his blog,” he said. “I have his barbecue story in the glove box of my car.”
I talked to the class about some of my current-day favorite wine writers- and showed them examples or what I thought was good – and bad – writing. I also talked about some of my early wine-writing ‘heros’ the first of whom was Gerald Asher, the former Gourmet columnist whose old book On Wine inspired my own wine career- first as a wine salesperson and later as a writer. Asher was actually a wine merchant himself for many years before he began writing about wine, in fact, there is a venerable tradition of this in the UK (Asher is English) and famous English wine writers like Michael Broadbent and Hugh Johnson also sold wine – though I have no idea how well they actually did. (Broadbent’s son Bart is in wine sales; in fact, he has his own company, Broadbent Selections.)
There are a few American wine merchants who have also picked up a pen (or more likely, a mouse) to good literary effect as well – most notably Kermit Lynch (Adventures on the Wine Route) and more recently, Neal Rosenthal (Reflections of a Wine Merchant). But unlike Asher they’re both still selling wine. Asher had a wine company called Mosswood where I worked very briefly many years ago as a sort of sales trainee- it went out of business after a while but that wasn’t (just) because I was lousy at selling wine.
I don’t know why these wine salesmen turned to writing any more than I know why a banker or lawyer or real estate agent would want to write about wine instead of lawyering or banking (well, maybe wine writers are more beloved than bankers right now). I do know why I do. Wine is like literature to me- full of endless variations, narrative styles and possibilities for plot twists. There are always new people, new places, new wineries and new wines to be discovered. Great stories abound. It’s just a question of finding them out. Be curious above all else! I exhorted my class before they left – no doubt in search of (another) glass of wine.