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.