Good writing is all about narrative, we are told. When you go to a wine region, find the stories, and tell them. It’s good advice.
But there’s a danger facing wine writers looking too intently for a story.
If they are not careful, their pieces become more about them than they do the region they are visiting. Ego is the ravine that many writers risk plunging into. Some have already fallen in and there’s not much chance of saving them. They aren’t the story, yet so often they place themselves at the centre of it.
It’s good to find a narrative thread to hang a piece on, but only if it’s actually true. I love it when I find one.
Some acclaimed writers centre their pieces on constructs of their own making: they create a big theme (‘the heart of XXXX’; ‘the future of XXXX’, ‘the soul of XXXX,’ or some similar idea), and then base their piece around this construct which doesn’t actually exist. It often sounds plausible, but that’s because no one questions the legitimacy of the construct.
Often, the big story in the wine region seems to be that they have visited.
Sometimes, there’s no narrative. People are making wine. Some people have successful businesses, some have less successful ones. Some make cheaper wines; some make more expensive wines. Most people are trying to make better wines, and generally quality is a bit better than it used to be. Sometimes, that’s all. If this is the case, then just tell me a bit about who’s doing the best work, making the most interesting wines. Tell me a bit about the place and the soils. That’s all I want to know. Give me some colour, and write bravely and clearly, but I don’t want to read about your imaginary construct. You are not the story.