#AMERICANWINEWRITER ASKS: WHERE ARE OUR WINE HEROES?
I had a dream last night. Okay, it was this morning. Right before I woke up. Maybe that’s why it’s still fresh in my mind. I can feel myself moving through it, talking in it, even now, minutes into the future with my morning toast and coffee in hand, as I try to wrap my words around the central point of the dream.
I don’t analyze my dreams on a regular basis, I dream about too much nonsense. This one, however, I believe is worth writing about. Partly because it has to do with writing, partly because it has to do with wine, or the “blogging about wine,” and some problems I’ve been mulling about Social Media in general.
The premise of the dream – at least how it started – was rather simple. I was invited to a conference of writers. Most of them were wine writers, wine thinkers, wine communicators, promoters, etc. There was the expectation that I would be giving a presentation. I told the organizers that I hadn’t anticipated attending the conference and that I hadn’t prepared anything, but that if they wanted me to be there I would try to prepare something.
I struggled to figure out what to present to the audience that I anticipated would be in attendance. Certainly, they were professors of wine, wine doctors, masters of sommeliership, theoreticians and the like. I certainly couldn’t take this assignment lightly.
Finally, an idea occurred to me. Honest Wine Writing. It was a nebulous theme, but I am not immune to building something concrete from an unformulated concept.
An idea came to me. I brought the idea to a kind of generalized arrangement and told my parents-in-law about it – this is still happening in the dream, mind you. I told them how I would don a towel, nothing else, and discuss what it means to be an honest writer. The tone would be humorous and revealing, because, as I explained it, I would be in a towel talking about honesty in writing. They, being the age they are and who they are, balked at the scenario. They literally looked at each other in the dream and leaned back in their chairs and started shaking their heads.
That’s when I knew I was on the right track.
When I checked in at the conference. There was a fluid kind of environment. Everyone kind of knew everyone and yet no one was engaging one another. It was as if we were all molecules bumping into one another in a warm kettle – all the same and every one of us different. I said hello to a few people, but that was all I had time for. I had to get to my presentation.
The presentation area was in a well-lit garden-level room. It reminded me of some of the classrooms I had as a child – where the carpet is shallow and the ceiling is short. There was an automatic wood train set operating on a table that wrapped around a series of school desks. My colleagues and fellow lecturers – some of the best in the business: wine singers, and masters, and popular personalities – were squeezed into uncomfortable poses around me.
By now, I had ditched the idea of presenting my thesis in a towel. I’m not sure what it had to do with the thesis, or the dream, but I started the little wood train around the track and told everyone that by the time the train arrived back at the station I would be finished with my presentation.
Someone asked me what my theme was, and I told him – Writing Honestly About Wine. He laughed to himself. When I asked what part of the theme was funny, he waved me off and looked down at his personal device. There was a picture of a kitten trapped in a wine glass on the screen of his device. He shared it with his neighbor and one by one, the rest of the audience liked it and shared it with the person next to them. By the time I began my presentation, the audience and the size of the room had grown.
I said, “Honesty in writing is …”
I was starting to think about it. The dream and my conscious brain were sharing images and sensations. I was waking up, literally. My dog was in the room stretching, my cat was meowing in the kitchen, the church bells were chiming. Soon, I was stumbling through my morning routine – feeding the animals, cleaning the coffee maker – but the dream wasn’t fading.
I wondered. Has what I have been classically trained to do – i.e. writing with intention and purpose – really become a laughable craft?
One thought became another, and eventually I had a wall of snowballs that I ever so eloquently pushed down the hill as I made my small breakfast and coffee: Is there honesty in writing about anything anymore, or has it all become creative writing? Who draws the line between truth and an experienced reality? When writing about pleasure – and wine is certainly a product of pleasure – do you perpetuate the experience of it, or do you try to explain its inception?
Certainly, somewhere in wine and writing people are still seeking Truth. We haven’t all caved to memes. We haven’t all become promoters-only. Have we? Is there such a thing as a wine-detective? If so, who would that be? It certainly sounds like an interesting job. As wine writers, are we all simply blowing up a big balloon of luxury products that will someday pop and become as plain and ordinary as the bottle of milk in the center of the American dining-room table? (Have you ever tried convincing an ordinary Italian that wine is something unique?)
Somewhere, everywhere, there is a truth to be told. Somewhere behind the truth lies experience, and someone with the bruises and cuts to prove it. Somewhere on the horizon lies miles and miles of failure, of trying and correcting course, of sitting down and simply doing the work you know you were cut from the cloth to do. Somewhere, in all this wine mess, there is a hero.
But where? Which direction do we look? Who do we trust? Where are the Wine Hemingways, the Wine Woolfs, the Wine Alis, the Wine Earharts?
I realize that many of my colleagues are faced with an insurmountable wave of opportunities to gain the public’s ‘friendship’ with ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ so eventually we have clout somewhere out there in the algorithm of Time. But that shit isn’t real. It never will be. Focusing on a merely social profile and calling yourself a wine writer is as intangible as a glass of fine Tokaj in a dream.
The real story is on the ground, in the hard work and dirty fingerprints of the farmer, of the face of the exhausted cellarworker, the flat tire of a tractor, the Eutypa Dieback, the resilient nematode, the drought … These are the stories that I want to read. These are the stories that I want to write.
“Oh, but have you see this photo of a puppy balancing on a barrel-stave?”
No, I haven’t. I’ve been shovelling volcanic ash off of my truck. (Literally.)
Believe me, I am not immune to the sociological experiment of interactive new media. I have and continue to maintain connections with my perceived public through popular outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram … Yes, those are shamelessful plugs … but personal experiments in these mediums have revealed their necessity and their limits in my life, as a writer.
I admit that I have fallen subject to the search, that the online candy land has attracted my attention far too often and for far too long, that I have sought favor in many wrong places; and that I am as much to blame for my own discomfort with the current wine-journalism landscape as anyone who jettisons anything in the social stratosphere. However, it is infinitely evident that while some social and online interactions feed and disseminate the content of my work, they have never contributed to the real work of writing (or making) something that matters.
That much has been left to me. It is a work that must be done on my own time, over thousands of keystrokes, hand-cramping experiments in text, a coffee mug overflowing with self-doubt and self-criticism, and the singular hope that some truth will emerge in a line, or a paragraph, or a page.
On the eve of my 40th year, I hereby commit to make use of this space, to defend its honesty, honestly. And should the collective of what I write fill a book, should there be books that eventually fill a shelf, I’ll be all-smiles. Thanks to a dream – and perhaps last night’s homemade limoncello – I am in full acceptance that a memepire of kittens-in-wine scenarios is nowhere in the cards for me.