This year’s edition of the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers was more reality-driven than some past years. Trying to summarize the event can overlook some of the best stuff that shakes out. So the Negress has resorted to an organizing principle she thinks might help. This post will focus on how we wrote. Subsequent posts will focus on the wines official and unofficial (Many thanks to Jon Bonne for enabling the unofficial wine gathering after the vintners’ dinner and apologies to the Meadowood guests we woke up.
More about that later). Our opening speakers were longtime wine writer Gerald Asher
and former House and Garden editor Dominique Browning. Each had useful advice for anyone writing about anything. But since a lot of wine writers need their natural inclination to pompousness amputated, this was especially valuable. Browning, who admitted falling into something of a depression when her gig was euthanized, admits she edited wine writing but never did any. She recommended loving what you’re doing and going where that love is. “The only reason to write about wine is to connect others to your particular form of worship,” she said. “There’s no such thing as being a writer. There is only writing.” Words to live by. She is one of many people who suggested reading your work out loud. She also suggested walking away from the topic if you become stale. You should labor over writing and wear your heart in your copy.
Asher encouraged more reporting. “Writing is the best kind of conversation. You can’t get interrupted,” Asher said. He also strongly urged the writers to have references, sources and history at their disposal. “Have more than you need.” He also strongly suggested that tasting notes move away from the fruit salad mode. Wine writers should keep more objective notes about tannin and acidity and refer back to those. Focus on the distinctive elements that calls you back to your mindful notes. He cited a recent Eric Asimov piece that questioned the usefulness of fruit-driven tasting notes but noted that Asimov then dug himself a pretty big hole after the sound premise. “Help people understand that wine is a pleasure,” Asher said. He then read a piece of his about the soil specifics of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume on the myth of gunsmoke that was lavish, smart and compelling. The Negress felt humbled.
Corie Brown, former wine writer for the LA Times and proprietor of Zester Daily, a site the Negress isn’t cool enough to be part of, joined Jack Hart formerly the writing coach of the Oregonian for a writing exercise on how to write a narrative piece, in this case a profile. Brown interviewed winemaker Michael Honig, and then set us all to writing the opening of a profile using the material her questions elicited and what we observed about Honig. You can find the Negress version of Honig here. You can also read her take on food and wine pairing there to from an exercise conducted by Karen McNeil.