Most wine writing in wine magazines is boring and formulaic. What does that tell us? A logical conclusion to draw is that if you want to be a successful published wine writer then you need to learn how to write boring, formulaic wine articles, because this is clearly what the market is looking for.
So I’m here to help. I’m going to tell you the secrets – give you the inside track – on how to write just such an article.
First of all, you need to take a press trip. Two or three days in wine region X, paid for by a generic body, where you get to visit a mix of producers. Travelling with a group of fellow writers, you’ll be taken to see one or two boutique producers, one or two larger producers, and some lousy huge producers who pay a lot of money to support the generic body. The exact itinerary, of course, will mostly be determined by internal politics. [Bad producers, you see, don’t realise that it would be better for them if journalists just visited the best producers in any particular region.]
So you then get a commission from a magazine editor to write about wine region X. It works out quite nicely, because if region X has the money to host journalists, they’ll also have money for advertising, so magazine editors will be looking to commission articles on region X. They will want 1500-1800 words, and they’ll pay you between £225 and £250 per 1000 (a rate that has not budged in 15 years).
So how do you write your boring wine article? You haven’t got room to go into depth, so remember: big overview without too many specifics. The good news: it won’t take long to do, especially if you follow my template here.
Start off with how 30 years ago region X wasn’t making very good wines, despite the obvious potential of the vineyards and the grape varieties that were grown here. Then explain the work of the pioneers. People who began making slightly better wines than their peers. Mention between one and four producers who found out that if they made better wines, they could charge more for them, and how they realized they were onto a winning streak when they won a trophy at a competition or got a 90+ score from Robert Parker.
Then put some facts in. How many hectares? Which varieties? What’s the climate like?
Two paragraphs in, begin inserting a few quotes from some of the producers you visited. The blander and more generic the better. Keep it positive.
Say how some producers are small, some are medium sized, and some are big. Remark on how good the quality of the big producers is, considering how big they are.
Talk about the viticulture and winemaking. Explain that some of the vineyards are new plantings, whereas others are older. Explain that the best wines come from old vines on the best terroirs. Point out that some terroirs are better than others, and how the range of soil types varies across the region. You’ll need to put a quote in from one of the people you visited describing their soils, because you don’t know what the geological terms they are using means. [It’s OK. No one does.] Mention the grape varieties that are grown here. Some of them are white and some are red. There are different clones and some of the clones are better than others. Some wines are varietal and some are blends. Sometimes blends are better than varietal wines, but sometimes they are not. Some producers use oak and some use stainless steel. Some use both.
Some producers are traditionalists and some are modernists. Some people think the traditionalists are right, but others think the modernists are better. Some producers are traditional, but in a modern sort of way.
Take a personal angle. Tell (briefly) the story of winegrower Y who had a passion for winemaking and how they bought a small vineyard and lavished it in passion, and then gradually grew their business by making slightly better wines each year and gradually increased their vineyard holdings because of their passion for wine. And explain carefully that some old winemakers are retiring and new winemakers are starting out.
But don’t deflect from your narrative theme, which is thus: everything is getting just a little bit better. [I think I have Richard Neill to thank for this insight, but I can't find the original quote anywhere.] The wines being made today are better than those being made a few years ago, and because everyone is so passionate and motivated we can confidently predict that things will continually to improve, little by little.
The crunch. At this stage you’ll be worrying that your article is beginning to read like an advertorial. [Which it sort of is.] So you’ll need a crunch. This is the time to introduce two or three mild threats or challenges to the ever-improving wine quality, but it’s best that these challenges are fairly easily surmountable, or – even better – have already been successfully overcome. They could include a recent vintage that wasn’t quite as good as another, or the risk of hail, or exchange rate instability, or the shortage of donkeys for old-style vineyard work.
To finish. The conclusion. The future is bright, and the wines from region X are better than ever, and you should probably be buying them.
This is the stage where you recommend five producers, so take a spread from the different scale and quality levels of those you saw. And pick a wine from each and give it a vague generic description. Job done. No need to thank me, just trying to help.