On Andrew Jefford's famous speech at the bloggers' conference

Andrew Jefford at work

I can’t think of many recent pieces of within-trade wine communication that have had such an impact as Andrew Jefford’s keynote speech at the recent bloggers conference, which he has posted on his website.

Jefford addresses some of the issues that those of us who write about wine have been grappling with for some time. He does it beautifully and economically, with no wasted words. [As an aside: he’s the son of an Anglican clergyman, and perhaps this, in some way, influences his communication style. He talks using parable-like illustrations, that you can take away with you and extract more meaning and application with time. It’s a very effective way to communicate. His speech has been on my mind, on and off, over the last couple of weeks and I have kept getting more from it as I grapple with the issues it touches on.]

Titled ‘Source/The Death of the Wine Writer’, the speech is built around three different ideas of ‘source’.

The first source is a freshwater spring. It is important that springs do not dry up, and that they remain unpolluted. The passion and inspiration that starts us off must not turn into cynicism. We need to nourish the spring within us that acts as our source.

The second source Jefford refers to he illustrates with Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. We should listen to everyone we meet as if he or she is the ancient mariner; we should be looking for the ‘ghastly tales’. ‘Wine explodes with stories,’ says Jefford. ‘Struggle to find that narrative frame.’

The third source is the sauce that brings the fish and meat to life on the plate. The meat and fish are not the whole story. ‘Of course you have to learn your lines, and get your story straight,’ says Jefford. ‘But what will make you a great blogger or communicator is how well you perform with that material. That is the bigger challenge.’

Then he gets more practical. Traditional wine writing as a way to make a living is dead. You can no longer expect to make a living just from writing about wine for print publications, unless you are exceptionally lucky. Instead, the future of wine writing is for us to be multi-faceted communicators, mixing writing with other paid activities such as lecturing, consulting and judging. The exact mix will depend on each person’s own unique skill set and personality.

Being a generalist in the increasingly complicated world of wine is not the way to go: instead, find a niche – become the expert in one or more smaller realms of the wine world.

Jefford finishes by identifying two areas where he thinks there are urgent vacancies for wine writers: humorous or witty or caustic writing about wine, and wine writing powered by gonzo irreverence.

What do I take away from this? I love the idea of a spring as a source. I need to spend more time in the quiet place, gaining inspiration and reflecting on what I am doing. I need to read more. I also need to spend more time seeking out interesting people with a story to tell. I think it would help my writing a lot if I thought more in terms of stories, because that is how we understand and make sense of the world, with stories. I also think that my writing has a lot of room for improvement: I need to think more about how I tell the story. Finally, I am not the story. The temptation is, as a writer, to put yourself in the middle of the story. Actually, I need to step back. I am just the story teller. My opinion is just the blowing of the wind: I should be letting others tell their stories, and bring them to life for my readers.

6 comments to On Andrew Jefford’s famous speech at the bloggers’ conference

  • J. A. Roberts

    I quite enjoy reading Old Parn’s blog. He makes a good fist of filling the first vacancy, and possibly the second. I bet a tasting with him would be a right laugh!

    http://oldparn.com/

  • For some humorous or witty or caustic writing about wine, check out The Hosemaster of Wine: http://hosemasterofwine.blogspot.com.es/

  • A very good summary of Andrew’s speech, well captured.

    @Fabio; The hosemaster does write (very) irreverently, but not about wine. His sneers are directed at the people in the wineworld. I don’t think that’s what mr Jefford meant in his talk.

    I agree with the first commenter; Old Parn makes for a very good read. Almost form over function, but not quite. Unique at least.

    The ViniiTV guys do seem to be trying an irreverent view on wine, and mostly bring a story.

  • A nice resumé, Jamie, of a brilliant presentation by Andrew. The trouble is that I’m tempted to agree with Hosemaster. A lot of wine stories that fascinate people who are fascinated by wine are rather like their equivalent in the world of sports. Just look around the hall at any black tie event where the after-dinner speaker is a famous former cricketer or rugby player and you’re sure to see a mixture of the riveted (fans who are simply happy to be in the same room as the speaker, whatever he has to say) and the glazed.

    For those who have yet to be bitten by the wine bug, the tale of Jack the former banker who now has a vineyard (rather than a bed-and-breakfast or a trout farm) is interesting enough, but it’s only worth reading once. In other words, once they’ve read about Jack, the story of Jeff the winemaking former stockbroker is not going to get nearly as much attention.

    The beauty of good travel writing lies in its variety. Ultimately, most wine writing is about… well… wine.

  • Damien

    In some senses I think you’re beating yourself up a bit over Andrew’s speech; your comments about ‘writing has a lot of room for improvement’ etc. Although you mention his father was a vicar, I suspect doing a Literature degree has far more influence upon Andrew’s writing. Yours, as your later post with microscopic photos proves, was to do with the science of things, which has little room for the arts. Personally, that’s a bonus; we know where we can find both perspectives (hence your books Wine Science, Authentic Wine) and use them usefully to enhance our own outlook on wine. All part of the rich tapestry, no need to change course.

  • zelda sydney

    Re humour, I’m in WSET Diploma and NOTHING is funny there! In October I posted a page of original wine jokes and a cartoon just for the fun of it. Won’t put the link here (it’s cheesy to self-promote on other peoples’ blogs). Here was one — please enjoy:

    Q: Why did Washington’s L’Ecole No 41 decide to vinify Semillon?
    A: Because Roland Barthes said it was the smartest variety.

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