What Constitutes a Golden Age of Wine Writing? 10/31/11
Last week a provocative article about the current Zeitgeist of wine writing was posted by Joe Roberts (of 1WineDude), in response to another piece posted by Tom Wark (of Fermentation) about the same topic. The two disagree as to whether we are in a so-called Golden Age of Wine Writing. Wark believes that we are, citing the night-magical ease with which we now can access wine info and tasting notes, as well as the unprecedented diversity of voices participating in the vinous conversation (mostly a result of bloggers). Roberts, however, feels the need to make a distinction between wine writing and wine coverage, and states that while we are certainly living in the Golden Age of the latter, the great wine writers of yore have not yet met their modern matches.
Wark begs to differ on this point, but essentially what their disagreement comes down to is a matter of terminology. What constitutes a Golden Age of Wine Writing anyhow? In my own comments I noted that we are, if nothing else, in the midst of the democratization of wine writing, where anyone can join in the discussion, and I agree with Wark in that such an immense diversity of opinions – along with so many channels by which to access them – is a wonderful development for the world of wine. But I also agree with Roberts, and my fellow commentator RichardPF, that “never before have so many wine writers said so little.” While there may be a greater number overall of talented wine writers today than there have ever been before, the sad reality is that the blogosphere is still full of garbage, and the vast majority of wine blogs aren’t worth reading at all.
Attention spans are shrinking. The sound bite has replaced the debate, the infographic the essay. We are gradually losing the ability to read uninterrupted blocks of text, and as a result, articles can’t be written as such, however well composed their prose may be. As Roberts puts it, “we must be entertained.” So when he talks about Gerald Asher’s A Vineyard in My Glass (which I have not but do intend to read), he must admit, despite the praise he showers on the text, that it’s “boring, and I mean boring in the way that your Grandfather telling you a story with a dozen tangents is boring. It’s boring in the way that Melville is boring when he goes off on those lengthy ‘this-is-how-worked’ descriptors about life at sea in Moby Dick. It’s boring because it’s masterful and beautiful and damn-near god-like in its lucidity, and we mere mortals simply lack the patience to deal with it.” If wine writers must compete for attention – and today they must, as a consequence of their sheer numbers – they will necessarily need to make compromises in their writing, pandering to the masses in a bid for readers.
Now this is a gross oversimplification, so forgive me, but it seems that the crux is this: Wark defines a Golden Age of Wine Writing by the amount and plurivocality of talent in the writing pool, while Roberts considers the proportion of talent relative to the total pool of writers. Going solely on this basis, I agree with 1WineDude; I wouldn’t say we’re in a Golden Age right now (presuming an “Age” is a period of around a decade – there’s another murky definition for you) because the bad simply outnumber the good. But to take things a step further, I don’t believe we even can enter a Golden Age of Wine Writing as Roberts defines it, because we are societally mired in a Dark Age of Reading, to which writers are by and large forced to bend – even the talented ones.
In summation, I can’t really decide which side I’m on yet. We are certainly in a Golden Age of Wine Coverage, and I feel Roberts’ distinction between that and writing is an important one to keep in mind. But Wark makes a lot of good points, and truth be told, I can’t seem to find any I disagree with. Even if we’re not in a Golden Age of Wine Writing, it is undoubtedly a Golden Age for Wine Writers (bloggers included – just look at Alder Yarrow, whose success prompted the Golden Age article in the first place). Indeed, without the advent of the blog as a medium of expression, I would not be writing about wine at all, and I doubt I’m alone in this respect.
But what do you think? How should a Golden Age be defined? How should wine writing be defined? Does the ADD-addled state of society prevent writing of the same quality as in the past, or merely change the definition of quality writing? Should a good wine blog be informative? Elegant? Funny? Alliterative? Should it have pictures? Videos? Music? Stupid captions everywhere? Are wine reviews in general as useful as rants/commentary? More useful? Less useful?
Also, I figure here is as good a spot as any to ask for recommendations; for a wine writer, I’ve done embarrassingly little wine reading. So who are your favorite wine writers? Which medium(s) did they write in? Are they still active? Retired? Dead? Unborn?
I welcome all your thoughts – and of course, the sweet, sweet brains that generate them.
Happy Halloween everybody!