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EWBC 2010 Keynotes – Elin McCoy on Ivory Tower Wine Journalism

–This is part of an ongoing series about the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference
-David Schildknecht from the Wine Advocate responded to this post here-

At the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference in Vienna, Elin McCoy spoke to us all about the future of the Ivory Tower wine critic. It was a keynote so we all got to sit in for the speech which addressed the rising number of voices in wine journalism and the effect that has on the old guard. Robert Parker got named specifically. (edit: I should mention that Elin knows her stuff. She literally wrote the book on Robert Parker.)

And Jim Budd uncovered an interview that Parker was doing just a week or so before where he shares his own views on the “white noise” generated by Internet wine writers. So this is a topical question being pondered around the world and it’s not limited to 200 wine geeks in Austria.

“”Taste a little less; think a little more.”"
–Elin McCoy

Obviously, there was a lot of content to Elin’s speech, but I’ll focus on one key point that I think is getting overlooked in some of the recaps. Elin specifically defines the Ivory Tower critic as somebody who stays far away from production. They sit in a tower and taste. Now, she picks Robert Parker as a sort of icon of this style, but Bob still does travel to wineries (and he did this a TON when he first started). But she harps on him because his style is sort of characterized by focusing on tasting notes and points.

I feel torn because I wholeheartedly agree that the wine world is overly focused on the retail/consumer end of things. But does my opinion actually matter?  I left my life in the states, bought a vineyard, and live and breathe wine all day (as fanatical a wine nerd as it gets) so what I like in wine writing doesn’t necessarily correspond to your average consumer.  Aren’t publications that focus on tasting notes more useful to the average wine drinker?

Most people who enjoy an episode or two of Love That Languedoc aren’t always going to be able to go out and buy the bottles I’m tasting on the show. They might go out and try another Languedoc-Roussillon wine that is available, but my website cannot be considered a useful consumer guide. Instead it’s more of a regionally themed travel rag. Something that gives behind the scenes access and can make them dream a bit. Is this useful? Does this model even compete with the Ivory tower critic or consumer advocate?

Hell, is the Wine Advocate even an ivory tower publication? I understand David Schildknecht (who tastes Languedoc Roussillon for the Wine Advocate) is coming to the Languedoc this December [edit: he's not coming til spring], as he does every couple of years. So if there is an ivory tower, he’s obviously not in it all the time. It remains to be seen if he’ll come all the way out to Carcassonne to visit me, but the point is he’s visiting somebody.

Elin McCoy got us all thinking when she proposed that the Internet’s many voices will usher in a new era of wine journalism focused on getting dirty and really getting involved in every part of wine. I hope this is true, because I’m like the exact opposite of an ivory tower critic (using her definition). I live in the mud with the winemakers, making the stuff. My writing and videos are unpolished and barely edited. So I hope to god she’s right–that people really want this uninhibited sort of wine story-telling. But I don’t know that I’m in direct competition with more practical published tasting notes and consumer guides. I bet there’s a place for everybody in this world.

And a lot of people will enjoy looking up to whatever towers are erected.  If you don’t believe me, check out Suckling’s new teaser which is literally just a montage of him scoring wines.

But then maybe his “I’m Here” video montage is an attempt to tear down the ivory tower stereotype. :D

Anyway, there’s room for all styles of story-telling in wine.  And it’s silly to argue over who will be the most popular. Ultimately, the most viewed wine videos will always be of people performing party tricks or getting hit in the face and/or crotch, or sometimes all of the above!

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Please leave a comment

  1. Iris Says:

    Love that outsider of the Languedoc style of reasoning about the conference, thank you Ryan, once again, for your “regionally themed travel rag. Something that gives behind the scenes access and can make them dream a bit” – a point of view I share and try to practise as a bloging winemaker and enjoie as a potential consumer :-)

  2. Alfonso Says:

    This is going to be a hard one to pin down, for old media types. It’s a moving target, and just like the upcoming generation, refuses to be categorized.

    I’d say, hang on or let go. Either way, this carousel will continue to spin, as will the scribes, whether it’s with with pencil and paper or Ipad

    Thanks for the observations

  3. Kerstin McKay Says:

    Why does there have to be just one “right answer”? Some people need the reassurance of an “expert” or they worry they aren’t getting what they pay for. Others (myself included), love to try new wines and discover for themselves what they like or don’t like. And getting a recommendation from a friend, blog, or store owner can be helpful. Each source of information is right for that person.

  4. Paul Says:

    I think those Suckling videos are hilarious! If they are meant as a joke he is a genius. If they are not meant as a joke I think everyone should be very worried.

  5. mroconnell Says:

    @Iris Thanks! I think we’re pulling our weight on the travel rag side :)

    @Alfonso thanks for taking the time to read and contribute

    @kerstin Who said there was a “right answer”? ;D You’re throwing those quotation marks around pretty loosey goosey. But ya, I agree. And it’s intertesting that your reasoning is so retail-centric. When you say some people will get recommendations from a print critic and others from a friend, blog or storeowner….your measurement of usefulness is still purchasing recommendations which pretty much makes sites like mine useless to you! ;D Intriguing!

    @Paul Ya, the Andy Kaufman of wine.

  6. David Schildknecht from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate on Tasting | Love that Languedoc Says:

    [...] Very cool news. David Schildknecht, who writes about the Languedoc-Roussillon for the Wine Advocate, has contacted us with a detailed response to my post regarding Elin McCoy’s keynote at the European Wine Bloggers’ Conference. [...]

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