Live from the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers 2021

This Symposium is dedicated to Steven Spurrier, Author, Publisher, Educator 1941-2021

The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers has been in existence for over a decade. I’ve been privileged to attend for eight of those years, attending two years on scholarship in 2017 and 2019. I will be describing the first day (Monday, May 10) of this year’s Symposium live from my Zoom session. Watch for other stories about the remaining two days in future newsletters. This Symposium is dedicated to Steven Spurrier, educator, vintner, and publisher of the Académie du Vin Library. He was responsible for arranging the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, which put California wines on the international wine map. Steven was portrayed by Alan Rickman in the movie, Bottle Shock.

This year at the Wine Writers Symposium or WW#21 we were virtually attending due to the Pandemic. There is one benefit in virtual meetings as they allow many more wine writers from around the world to attend. These are writers who would not have able to travel to the HQ for the Symposium: Napa Valley and the Meadowood Resort. The sponsors of the Symposium are the Napa Valley Vintners Association, Meadowood Resort, and the Culinary Institute of America, one of my alma maters.

“The Symposium always focuses on improving communication in wine writing. It is a privilege to attend.” - Tricia Conover, Editor, Wine Wanderings

Day One, Keynote Speaker: Stephen Satterfield, Co-Founder, Whetstone Media

Stephen Satterfield, public speaker, publisher, writer has used his platform as a sommelier and entrepreneur to serve as a catalyst for Black wine workers socioeconomic development in South Africa. He is a prominent and respected voice in American food media. He discussed his journey in the industry and the launch of his media firm, Whetstone Media. His company has been acclaimed for its socially conscious in print media and documentary movies.

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The Language of Wine: History and Style

Lead by Moderator, Erica Duecy, Chief Content Officer, Pix, the panelists include: Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor, Food & Wine Magazine, Reva Singh, Owner, Sommelier India Wine Magazine, Jeannie Cho Lee, MW, Master of Wine, Founder Asian Palate.com, Deniece Bourne, WSET Americas, Regine Rousseau, CEO, Shall We Wine, Dr. Hoby Wedler, Ph.D. Chemist, Joseph Hernandez, Research Director, Bon Appétit, this session details the varied ways we talk about wine, wine terms, and the history of wine writing, some starting in the Roman era and onward through the 1600’s. See some examples below.

Early wine writing

From the 1920’s writing about Port:

1950’s American wine writing:

Wine Writing today is more about wine in a social context, with actual descriptors of flavor and aroma.

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Types of Wine Writing:

Reported, Opinion, Reviews

Jeannie Cho Lee sorted the three wine writing types into various categories:

A. REPORTED ARTICLES/JOURNALISM, Wine Reporting for instance: Eric Asimov, New York Times, reporting on “Restaurant Wine Directors Worry About the Future,” March 5, 2021., an article above a wine director losing her sense of smell with Covid-19. How wine will “fit in” when the Pandemic is over? Many restaurants are selling off wine collections for revenue. Wine directors’ profession relies on smell and taste.

B. WINE BLOGS and OPINION PIECES or a WINE COLUMN: An example: Jancis Robinson, Purple Pages on JancisRobinson.com - Tells a personal story about a natural wine restaurant would not allow BYOB that was not a natural wine. These articles depend on the credibility of the writer within an experience with wine. Of course, Jancis Robinson is a Master of Wine and is the co-writer of The Oxford Companion to Wine, one of the most revered wine books in the world.

Wine Wanderings on Substack is considered in this category (with travel included.) Our articles could be science-specific pieces as well. See “The Healthiest Red Wines- Cheers to a Glass of Antioxidants”

C. WINE CRITICISM/REVIEWS: An example: a tasting note in Decanter Magazine by Andrew Jefford. They normally nail the “structure” of wine with descriptors like acid, tannin, flavors, alcohol, and aromas. They can be emotional, evocative, and also technical. Most of these are used by the wine trade for marketing purposes.

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Wine Writing in a Country New to Wine: India

Reva Singh, is the Owner, Sommelier India Wine Magazine, the first and only Indian magazine dedicated to wine. India was a country with only light wine drinking 30 years ago. India has been a country of whisky and beer drinkers. She largely introduced the culture of wine to India, and why wine has its own unique personality. She advises not “writing tasting notes that are too technical.”

Knowing Your Audience as a Wine Writer

The Consumer of Wine

The wine writer for this style of magazine is helpful in defining terms like “terroir” for their readers. They do not assume a certain level of wine knowledge, just an overall love of wine. An example of this style of magazine given by the speakers was the style of Wine Enthusiast Magazine. All types of wine writing can appeal to consumers: columns, investigative journalism, and wine criticism.

The Sophisticated Wine Drinker or Sommelier

The SommJournal is a more scientific and industry-specific magazine, written for the wine trade and sommelier audience. Here at Wine Wanderings we have a mixed audience of wine professionals and wine and travel consumers as readers.

Term Exploder: Let’s Get Rid of Poor Wine Descriptors

Esther Mobley, Wine Editor, San Francisco Chronicle is submitting that the “wine system of language” is broken. What is the solution to help people understand wine better and tell a bettor story? That was the heart of this session of panelists.

(Wine Wanderings comment) Let me know if you come across any of these crazy descriptors below in wine articles you read. I do believe that creativity is great, just understand your audience.

Examples of Poor Wine Descriptors:

“Masculine on the palate:” so sexist. Enough said.

“ has a Pain grillé aroma:” Do people know what this dish is? Does the reader speak French?

“Long-term cellaring worthy:” is an elitist way to say that this is age-worthy.

“A serious wine for the collector set” is also elitist-talk.

“Exotic spices:” Which ones? Exotic to whom? Exotic to which country? Exotic in 2021? Surely not!

“Sexy core of rich fruit:” Who wrote this? Sexy for whom? How is rich fruit sexy? Sexy is a lazy, marketing word. So many better wine descriptors exist.

“Varietal vs. variety.” one is an adjective and one is a noun. Use the terms properly. “This wine has a varietal character, but the variety is Pinot Noir.”

“Always be curious. There is more to learn. Walk in a grocery store that is different that the one in your neighborhood. Explore the fruits and spices there. Let’s embrace the ‘abundance mindset with a positive attitude.’” - Dr. Hoby Wedler, Ph. D., blind since birth, his wine sensory skills are huge.

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2017 at Symposium for Professional Wine Writers and Premiere Napa Auction

Wine Wanderings Editorial Calendar

Visual Journeys in Wine Regions – A Interview with Award-Winning Vineyard Photographer Janis Miglavs

An Interview with A Itlo-American Winemaker: Pietro Buttitta of Prima Materia Winery

Sonoma’s Russian River Valley- Single Vineyard Expressions of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay at Gary Farrell Winery

Visit Washington State Wine Country: Wine Tastings, Golf, Adventure Tours

An Interview with Dr. Liz Thach, Author: Ten Hot Wine Trends for 2021 in the US Market

An Interview with Dominic Chappellet, Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley

Dr. Bob Young, M.D. and Winery Owner: Have a Healthy Wine Part II

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