I spent part of the holiday weekend reading 64 articles, columns, essays and blog postings from aspiring wine writers across the country. This was all part of the process to see which of them will be granted fellowships to attend the 2008 Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa Valley next month.
The exercise wasn't far removed from evaluating wine itself in a similarly structured blind competition. As I went through the writing I found myself asking whether I should judge this writer on the basis of this performance alone or look for its potential as it matures. And how much value should be given the long, weighty and complex writing compared with the light, pleasant and easily accessible?
The material ranged from a scholarly dissertation complete with footnotes and bibliography to casual blog postings. I sat back several times to reflect on what the pieces seemed to say of the future of wine writing, and couldn't come to any confident conclusions. The most encouraging sign that it will improve was the earnest tone, inquisitive attitude and selfless intent to empower readers that characterized much of the writing. On the flip side, flashes of humor were rare, enterprise reporting was scarce, and several pieces had an oddly distant voice, with little intimacy or personality. Refreshingly, however, arrogance and smugness were virtually non-existent. Overall, the outlook for more vibrant and diverse wine writing is encouraging.
For more information on this year's symposium, visit its Web site.