I happened to finish two things about the same time last week. The first Wine Bloggers Conference and a book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar. This was perhaps a coincidence as I did not find time to read a word at the conference. Drinking trumped reading in Santa Rosa that weekend, but I finished the book a few days later. It’s hard to think of a greater contrast between the event I attended and the events and people in the book.
The Wine Bloggers Conference was defined by an almost innocent enthusiasm and love for wine, while The Billionaire’s Vinegar represents The Dark Side of wine. You cannot be help but be stuck by the ugly greed, arrogance and ignorance of the wealthy posers chasing “great wine” in this book. It’s one of those plots were there is no protagonist, they’re all bad guys. I highly recommend this book as it’s a great story based around the excesses and greed of big time collectors who were sold faked old wines and were just too greedy and had such massive egos they couldn’t taste the obvious.
One thing this book proves is that we are all too human in our abilities and no one can escape the trap of letting labels affect our perceptions. I’ll be the first to admit if someone told me I was getting a glass of 1787 Lafite purchased by Thomas Jefferson my esthetic distance would be right out the window. The trouble with the arrogant bastards in this book is that they thought that their palates were so great they could rise above human frailty. I can only guess they got stupid after they made their money, not before. The tacky glitz, excess and greed surrounding the elaborate tasting events described in the book cannot be overstated. What is perhaps most disconcerting is the attendance at these events of those that consider themselves wine “journalists” Certainly, attending such extravagant events gratis would not be acceptable under even the loosest code of journalistic ethics. It was clear to these writers that they would not be invited back if they offered even a hint of criticism in their reports. Rave reviews were the price of next year’s admission and they were always invited back. It’s hard to be critical after enough foie gras and caviar.
The recent first ever Wine Bloggers Conference in America (there was one a few months before in Europe) painted a very different picture. The jaded arrogance that blinds so many established wine writers these days was replaced by the refreshing enthusiasm of the wine bloggers that descended on the Flamenco Hotel in Santa Rosa. Surrounded by the beauty and wonderful wines of Sonoma over 150 new media wine writers gathered to explore their emerging genre. The energy brought to my mind Gracie Slick and the Jefferson Airplane welcoming the dawn at Woodstock, “It’s a new dawn…” said Gracie before the band roared into that hippie political anthem, Volunteers.
Every blogger that attended was there on their own dime as no one is make a living from wine blogging yet. Everyone was there because of their passion for wine. They are truly volunteers and the generous spirit of this group stuck out starkly to the outrageously expensive, competitive and ego driven wine world documented in The Billionaire’s Vinegar.
While there are many wonderful examples of wine bloggers making a difference I can’t help to pick out Deb Harkness, better known as Dr. Debs, who has created a blog called Good Wines Under $20. For what I hope are obvious reasons I won’t describe what Deb’s blog is about. Deb’s day job is as a college professor, but by night she’s a consumer activist seeking out great wines at great prices for her readers. Yet what is even more impressive about her is her deep commitment to a personal standard of ethics. While most mainstream wine writers are mostly concerned about what others will think of them when it comes to ethics, Dr. Debs, and many bloggers like her are concerned what they think of themselves. Their ethics are in their hearts. They’re not in it for the money or glamour tastings, but out of a sincere love of food and wine. At the end of the day only self respect and personal pride can make ethics a reality. Deb and many bloggers like her are setting a new standard.
I’m well aware that I was one of the old guys at the Wine Bloggers Conference and most of my compatriots there were well under forty, but the energy and spirit there reminded me of an earlier time, before when some of them were born, when we thought we could change the world. The conference gave me hope that maybe, just maybe, that the pointy world of wine writing today can be brought down. Power to the bloggers.
It’s a new dawn for wine writing. Good morning people.