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.””
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.