Yup, this guy.
Some of you may have noticed that I have not been writing recently. This happens every time I start to believe my own bullshit. When I start taking wine too seriously I get fed up with the whole shebang. This is a terrible attitude for a wine writer.
I have, however, been spurred into action by David Clarke’s recent guest blog on Tim James’ site, where he lists some of his first impressions about the local wine scene. I agree with all of them, but I think they come with added weight, because they are written from an outsider’s POV. We need more stuff like this.
But, why did this post drag me back here? Well, he calls me out in person:
10. Where are all the young wine writers? And finally, with reverence to my host and provocateur, I ask where are all the young wine writers/critics/judges? The industry is alive with the efforts of vibrant, young winemakers and viticulturists; but where are the members of the wine press born after 1980? Harry Haddon was there, but now he has disappeared. Looking at the panels for competitions and Platter’s, it appears that the wine drinker under 35 is not represented.
Rather than drown in a sea of existential angst: am I here? Where am I? Who am I? I thought I would ask the same question differently.
What do wine drinkers under thirty-five want to read about? Where do writers contribute content for these individuals that allows them to pay rent?
These are difficult questions to answer. Myself and Christiaan Eedes have tried to answer them over many bottles of wine. We have never really got to any conclusion. Apart from the one where we both agree that I do not blog enough.
I have a sort of an answer, that does not really go very far to paying the rent, but it is an answer all the same. Before I get there I think there is another point that David makes that is connected to the lack of wine writing/media in South Africa.
The need for third party validation on both quality and taste. Old Mutual Trophy, Veritas, Top 100, Platter’s, Wine Advocate, Wine Spectator, Decanter, Jamie Goode, Tim Atkin et al: guides to wine all—gospel none. When selecting a wine, they can be informative and useful, especially when they are used in conjunction with each other and, if you are very familiar with them, can make adjustments for taste—theirs and yours. The surprising part of this to me is the omnipresent reliance on these guides (usually just the scores) in and by the South African wine industry. Don’t bother finding out where the fruit comes from, how it was grown, treated in the winery or the stylistic influences and aspirations of the winemaker/s—just memorise the score/s the wine received. Very few in the industry seem confident enough to stand behind the quality and style of their wines without mentioning (ramming it down throats) the “93 points it got from so-and-so”.
As you are all well aware, I am no fan the back slapping, self-congratulatory, circle-jerks that many of these events are. They speak to how wine is marketed in South Africa. Part of a wine writer’s job is to find out and inform about “where the fruit comes from, how it was grown, treated in the winery or the stylistic influences and aspirations of the winemaker.” Yet, with wine being marketed as a lifestyle addition, quality=scores, and anything over R100 is crazy expensive, the realm of the wine writer is generally limited to his or her blog.
Not only do we need more younger wine writers, but we need to understand the younger wine audience. In my opinion, we need to find ways to create one. It’s a massive challenge, with no financial reward, and its very, very difficult. I’ll admit to failing. It was far far far harder than I thought.
So what’s the solution.
London has seen the release of a new independent wine publication called, Noble Rot. They focus on wine, food, and music covering unashamedly geeky and niche topics, in a pretty engaging, well-written manner. I can say for sure that it is not going to make its owners millionaires, or possibly any profit at all……but
This indie publication managed to raise 3000 quid more than their target. That’s R100k. Does anybody believe we could do that in SA? Because, to be honest, the only way we are going to see young, talented, interesting young wine writers emerging from South Africa is if we find ways to publish their work in a financially viable manner, find an audience who wants to listen, and find out what that audience wants to hear.
Why is this important? More than just so there is SOMEONE to write about wine in South Africa in 10 years time, South Africans need to tell the South African wine story. Currently we pander to international journalists to arrive here and tell it for us. South Africans need external validation constantly. While that need is not entirely misplaced, it is makes the narrative of the South African wine industry totally unbalanced.
There are exceptions, of course, Tim, Angela and Christian (and myself in the tiniest way possible) have written for international websites and publications, but that is not what I mean.
If you are a foreigner wanting to learn about South African wine, where do you go online? Jamie Goode’s blog, Jancis Robinson’s site, basically they will be looking outside South Africa. The same could be said of many of the world’s wine regions. But this is what we should be working toward.
Another very important point is that the wine media is not only aging, but very very white. The industry as a whole does not like to talk about it. Serious wine appreciation and writing is always going to be somewhat of a niche subject, but it should definitely not be niche in terms of race. I have no answers, but it is a glaring issue.
There are less column inches available each month, fine wine makers are looking overseas for validation and communication more and more, and we seem to know little and less about what local consumers want to hear about (other than medals, lifestyle, etc.) I really don’t have the answers.
Anyone want to start a super indie, super niche wine magazine with me?
(I’ll also be listening to David and Christian and writing more. But I refuse to take it all too seriously. I have other work now, but will carry on doing this for the joy it brings. Wine’s awesome, and all I can hope for is to make some people agree)