Sunday, October 23, 2016

What is More Important to Winelovers? The News? Or the Story?

In a recent conversation with Elaine “Hawk Wakawaka” Brown - who started out in the world of wine as an artist and blogger and rocketed to recognition as an evocator par excellence - the idea of the story teller kept bobbing its head on the rough seas of the enoblogosphere. Elaine, if you don’t know her, is a storyteller’s storyteller. People like her are the reason the fire in the middle of the circle came about, many moons ago. Connecting the heart and the soul with the mind and the mouth, so that in the sharing of the words, the listeners (and the culture) become more enriched.


There are those who think wine blogs are dead. And there are those who think it is merely on life support, or has, at the very least, progressed to an age that if human, would be considered geriatric. Writing a blog can be a thing of joy, or it can become drudgery. Many who once wrote wine blogs have stopped, while others have morphed into print, P.R. or diving even deeper into the muddy waters of the wine trade. If we are learning anything in these times, it is that there is no one way to get to your destination. You can start as a sommelier and end up as a winemaker. Or you can start as a winemaker and end up as a wine importer. Or you can be impossible to pigeonhole – you can be your own vision of yourself – Something Elaine and I touched upon during our last chat.

As well, we all know there is no longer one news source. Where the Wine Spectator once ruled, now they share their kingdom with any number of independent voices. Of course, they still have their beats, sussing out newsworthy stories. Who bought, who sold, who kissed, who told – they are a polished gem for those newsy tidbits.

The Wine Enthusiast also breaks their share of stories as well. Tom Maresca commented on his friend Charles Scicolone's blog that “Kerin O’Keefe broke the story about the proposed Piemonte Nebbiolo DOC and that she was the first to report the proposal’s rejection just a few days ago. She has been widely hailed for these two scoops in the Italian wine press and in the twitterverse.” Indeed she did, although the blogosphere was otherwise inundated with mephitic bleating over Nebbiolo wars in the Langhe. Was it as if Kerin’s truth, in the telling, wasn’t as important as something else that would make for a bigger story, in search of more site traffic? Storytelling, yes. Truth, not as definably so.

I saw what happened last week with the post I wrote about the endangered wine list in the new age. It was as if a match was lit that started a brush fire across the wine world. I struck a collective nerve. It was one person’s opinion on the state of wine lists as he experienced it across his home state. Master sommeliers and younger, millennial sommeliers and members of the wine trade, flooded my inbox with an overwhelming show of support for my viewpoint. Was it newsworthy? I don’t think so, for it had been written so many times before. But it indicated that there has been a shift in the attitudes about wine in America, and it appears, across many places in the Western World. Storytelling? Yes. Truth? As disgorged from an experience-based perspective, with a dosage of judgement.

Every week I tussle to put words together that reflect my thoughts from the week before. I’m in the thick of it, right now, with the holiday selling period. We’re also in a combative election cycle. And we are grappling with the economic and social iniquities that have befallen us in this moment. A wine list isn’t newsworthy, any more than a heated debate regarding the future of Nebbiolo is a war.

“You want to observe war? Look not to Serralunga, but to Syria,” one onlooker was overheard to say recently. It punctuates a tendency I have noticed for some time in wine blogs (which could hasten the demise of the genre): overreaching for melodramatic effect. We don’t have enough adrenalin to attend to all the impending disasters in the world. And where in the world of wine is anything happening in a cataclysmic manner, let alone Piedmont? We want the circle. And inside the circle a fire. And around the fire, a master storyteller.

This is something I have been thinking a lot about for three weeks, when Elaine and I talked extensively. Who will remain, crouched over the fire circle and still be compelling enough of a story teller to keep the flames dancing in the eyes of the listeners? I hope we will see some new voices rise to the occasion. The more I live, the more I realize for me the important story is “the story.” Not controversy, for the sake of controversy. Not drama, to act as an emotional defibrillator, jump starting the listener back to life. But a real, heartfelt, emotionally intelligent narrative. I know Italy, and by God, the rest of the wine world, has these tales waiting to be told. That is what will save wine blogs, and wine writing. To rekindle the fire in the circle and get our story tellers back in the circle under a cool moonless night, under the stars, with all of us willing hearts and souls, who want (and need) to bask in the glow of those ageless sagas. That, along with a delicious glass of wine.






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2 comments:


  1. My father bemoaned how the “words of the wise” often fell on “deaf ears.” Back then, I’d counter that it wasn’t as much deftness as it was passive hearing. But now as I’ve moved beyond the three-score-and-ten milestone, the current plague of “distractedness” seems to be extinguishing even passive hearing. Maybe there are “deaf ears.” I’ve seen master storytellers struggle to turn the default of passive hearing into mindful-listening. I totally agree in “the story” being a heartfelt, emotionally intelligent narrative; but we also need to cultivate engaged, mindful, active listeners. Somehow, those of us with “willing hearts and souls” need to bring some kindred spirits to the fire in the circle. Thanks for keeping the sparks glowing.

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  2. The always incisive Joan Didion: "We tell ourselves stories in order to live." Another stellar post, amico. I don't know how you keep mining those seemingly barren depths. You are one the great rainmakers of image and word weaving. The stories that need to be told are there nestled in silence waiting for pens and cameras like yours.

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