Wrote the following as one of the new chapters in the 2nd edition of my book ‘I Don’t Know Much About Wine But I Know What I Like.’ Hopefully self explanatory…
With the rise of blogging, more words are now being written about wine than at any time in history. A good thing, surely? Hmmm… There is some total dreck out there. Actually there’s always been some total dreck out there, but today there’s more of it, and it’s easier to find.
So whereas in the last edition this chapter was ten pointers on how to find a good wine writer, I’ve turned it on its head and made it how to BE a good wine writer. As such, this is more of a private letter addressed to my fellow wine writers and shouldn’t be shared with other people via the link at www.simonwoods.com/wine-writer-moan. Anyway, here goes…
- Who is your target audience? I can’t believe how many get this wrong. There are huge differences in style and substance between writing for (and speaking to) normal people and wine geeks.
- Is the subject as interesting to that audience as it is to you? ‘Compelling allegorical Iraqi film about the relationship between an old man and his donkey (four-hours with subtitles)’ – for me, this translates as ‘avoid’. Similarly, mainstream articles that get too heavy on oak aging, clones and climate will have people turning the page.
- Is it entertaining? There’s a saying, ‘Most journalists are failed writers – but so too are most writers.’ The number of dull-as-dishwater wine articles bears this out. So would you want to read the article that you have just written?
- Has someone else said what you’re saying before? There’s nothing wrong with that of course – aren’t there only supposed to be seven plot types for a novel? But what are you bringing to the topic that’s new?
- If you’ve dropped in some jargon, do you need to explain it? For some audiences, you won’t, but for not everyone is at home with terms like cuvée, barrel-aged, varietal, laying down, breathing etc
- Have you spell-checked it? And not just though the power of Microsoft. It could be either Loir or Loire, Duero or Douro, Lilydale or Lillydale…
- Is there an elephant – or lack of one – in the room? An example from another field. If you’ve written about sports cars and not included Porsches, someone is going to wonder why. Similarly, if you’ve written about a style of wine and not mentioned the most famous producer, why?
- Is it clear what hospitality was involved in doing the research for the piece? Most wine writers don’t make enough money to finance wine samples and trips to vineyards. Most are honest and ethical, don’t feel swayed by the hospitality to put their critical faculties on hold, and are happy to put something like ‘Simon Woods travelled to XXX as a guest of YYY.’ But it doesn’t always happen.
- What action should the readers take at the end of it? Is it easy for them to track down the wines/producers mentioned in the piece, and if you’re recommending specific wines, have you checked they’re still available?
- Is it clear where readers can find more of your stuff? Many wine writers have very woolly business heads and omit even simple things like links to their websites or Twitter names.
For non-writers, if you can find wine hacks who regularly answers most of these questions, particularly the ones that relate to being entertaining and informative, then stick with them.