5th Nov 2014
How to become a successful wine writer
by Ron Washam
I am often asked what it takes to become a successful wine writer, which is like asking Harold Pinter how to become a successful song writer. He’s dead, you idiot. As it turns out, however, I actually do know what it takes to become a wine writer. And, surprisingly, wine knowledge isn’t one of the qualifications you need worry about. Or the ability to write. Where would wine journalism be if knowledge and talent were required? Imagine a world where wine articles are not only accurate and informative, but compellingly written. I know, I know, it would be a nightmare. You’d actually have to read the first 60 pages of Wine Spectator to get to the scores.
And yet there are thousands of people trying desperately to become wine writers. Judging by their blogs and endlessly repetitious newspaper columns, they have the necessary lack of wine knowledge and inability to be interesting in print, yet they’re not successful. So what are the secrets? What qualities does it take to ascend to the masthead of World of Fine Wine? How do you achieve a byline in Decanter? What does it take to be somebody in the world of wine writing these days? I’ve compiled a checklist.
If you want to be a wine writer, you first need a reputation. Reputation is a wonderful substitute for knowledge, just as wood chips are an easy substitute for oak barrels. You don’t need the real thing. You just need to smell like the real thing. One of the easiest ways to gain a reputation in the wine world is to write an enormous number of wine reviews. It is one of the great blessings of the internet that you can publish those reviews not just on your own blog, but on sites like Cellar Tracker, where you can become known for your indefatigability.
The internet is for nothing so much as it’s for creating your own imaginary identity. You can play a hero on “Dungeons and Dragons,” you can pretend you’re sexy and brilliant on a dating website, or you can play a wine expert on Cellar Tracker. It’s so simple, it’s amazing! The sheer volume of your reviews will convince everyone that you’re a wine expert in the same way we think morbidly obese people know a lot about freight elevators. They’d have to, right?
The thing to remember about wine is that almost everyone knows virtually nothing about it. Everyone I meet knows both more about wine than I do, and less about wine than I do. It’s not that wine is such a huge subject to master, it’s that it’s a startlingly trivial subject to master. Name the Grand Crus of Chablis, what grapes go into Canary Island wines, what’s up with Natalie MacLean’s hair? You don’t need to know that crap. No one knows all that crap. Or if they do, don’t you feel supremely sorry for their completely wasted life? You just need a reputation. Once you have a reputation as a wine expert, and there are other ways to gain that reputation, the easiest of which is to simply declare that you’re one, and keep declaring it until it becomes the truth and you land a job at a Rupert Murdoch publication, then you have to move on to the next attribute.
This is the backbone of successful wine writing. And it goes hand in glove with your phony reputation. Actual humility would bring subtlety to your work where false humility brings the necessary pretension. No one likes subtlety in wine writing. Subtlety is for poetry, which isn’t really writing any more than making beer is a craft. (Making furniture is a craft, you can make beer in a trash can.) People like pretentious wine writing that routinely proclaims itself unpretentious.
You must always pose as an Advocate for those less knowledgeable about wine, which turns out to be everyone, which is what you imply, never declare. You humbly serve them by taking the guesswork out of what wines to drink. You point them on the right path to wine knowledge — the path of Natural Wine, the path of Cheap but Good wine, the path of Lower Alcohol wines. You do it for them, not your own gratification or glory. You educate them about the right way to think about wine, though it took you a lifetime to understand it. In your false humility, you can educate them in a matter of a few thousand words, and you do it from your soul.
You see, this is what makes wine writing a joy. With your reputation and false humility, you can write just about anything and it will pass for insight. It’s all been said before, but never so humbly and by someone so expert. You’re well on your way to the poverty-stricken world of wine writing.
Always Put Wine on a Pedestal
Wine is fermented grape juice. Or is it? Isn’t it more like “bottled poetry?” What the hell is “bottled poetry?” Can I put it in my bottled poetry cooler? Dispense it one iambic pentameter at a time. “I know that I shall never see/A Prosecco lovely as a tree…”
Or is wine “proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy?” If He wanted us to be happy, He wouldn’t make our earthly lives so miserable we feel the need to be pissed all the time. It’s more like proof He thinks we’re only entertaining when we’re drunk.
The successful wine writer always puts wine on a pedestal, speaks of it in mystical tones. Naturally, one also has to be on that pedestal in order to know about wine, to understand it. Don’t write stupid things like “Please join me on my journey to discover wine!” You don’t want any company on the pedestal. On the pedestal is where the wine writer belongs all alone, gazing down at all those beneath him trying to clamber up the pedestal. From up there, your arms firmly around the mystery and majesty of wine, with your reputation and false humility, you can cast judgments and ratings and scores down upon the masses, as the Greek gods tossed lightning and fate down at mere mortals. And they have to accept it, they don’t have to like it.
It’s the greatest job in the world.
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