Wine writing – like all forms of journalism – has sharing at its heart. The lucky few who are paid to write about wine are part of a global community of oenophiles who spread their knowledge, research and tasting notes in the hope that their readers will share their vinous passion. It is a true labour of love – you rarely see a wine journalist in the driving seat of a top-of-the-range sports car or toting a limited edition Kelly bag. Wine writers choose their subject safe in the knowledge that, while it may not yield great riches, it will sate their thirst for knowledge and allow them to be part of an international group of tasters whose subject is rooted in culture, history, geography, politics, food and (of course) wine. As the rise of social media transforms the landscape of modern journalism, we explore how the world’s most prestigious wine writing competition, the Louis Roederer International Wine Writers’ Awards (LRIWWA), has been enriched by the increasing internationalism of wine writing.
“International” – the buzzword in wine writing
The organisers of the LRIWWA have watched the global wine-writing community grow larger each year. Marinel FitzSimons, chief organiser of the awards, says, “International is truly the keyword in the LRIWWA, which is globally minded not just in terms of its organisers and sponsors, but increasingly in relation to the contents of its entries, the participants, winners and even the judges.” This year, participants from 22 countries spanning six continents submitted examples of their wine communications, in the form of books, articles, photos or videos. The range of countries represented has increased by 21 per cent since 2016, a figure that has been growing continually since the competition began in 2004, revealing a dramatic growth of international engagement within the wine-press community, from countries as far-reaching and as new to winemaking as Puerto Rico, India and Singapore. Not only does this show that conversations about wine are happening on an increasingly global scale, but also that there is a thriving new market for wine writing in countries that not only do not produce their own wine, but also have no history of drinking it. The more diverse the range of entrants, the more interesting the global conversation about wine becomes. Wine journalism is no longer confined to the vineyards of Bordeaux and Burgundy. Over the past few years, participants have written about winemaking in the Crimea, Georgia, India and China, to name but a few emerging or little-documented regions that have been covered by entrants to the awards. Subject matter has ranged from volcanic wine to guerrilla winemakers, with writers educating readers on topics ranging from the science of tasting (I Taste Red: The Science of Tasting Wine by Jamie Goode) to How to Drink Like a Billionaire by Mark Oldman.
The increasing internationalism of the competition has brought a freshness and vibrancy to the wine-writing category as a whole, encouraging established writers to venture to pastures new and rediscover the joy of discovery in an ever-expanding world of wine. Even well-documented, traditional regions have been brought back to life, with journalists choosing to dig down beneath the surface and devote whole books to exploring well-trodden regions in minute detail, with one journalist dedicating an impressive 1,255 pages to the Napa Valley. This demonstrates that, as the global conversation about wine gets louder, there is always more to say, and there are always more esoteric, interesting ways of saying it.
Bloggers, vloggers and social media stars: the new faces of modern journalism
The increased globalisation of the wine-writing category owes thanks, in large part, to the rise of social media. This year saw entries to the Ramos Pinto Online Wine Communicator Award rise by 483 per cent. Increased online discussion about wine has made wine-related journalism more accessible, gradually increasing the readership of this formerly niche category. However, not only has it allowed articles by established journalists to be shared far and wide across the boundless internet cyberspace, it has also opened the floor to wine amateurs, bloggers and social-media stars alike. While Online Wine Communicator has always been a popular category, this rise of online blogging, vlogging (video blogging) and social media engagement over recent years has allowed ever more people to enter the fast-expanding wine-writing world without having the established reputation that was once required. According to Guy Woodward, a judge for the 2017 LRIWWA, “These days, everyone is a publisher and there is a wealth of material available on every possible subject. We’re very lucky in the wine world, not only in terms of the quantity of the material, but by virtue of the fact that most of those behind it are doing it out of a genuine passion for the subject.”
The second most popular category in this year’s awards was Artistry of Wine, with a 318 per cent increase in entries compared with 2016. With the growth of blogging, vlogging and Snapchatting has come the meteoric rise of Instagram, transforming every smartphone owner into an amateur photographer overnight. We look at the world through a series of Instagram filters and it is now impossible enter a bar without seeing numerous millennials adding an image of their drink to today’s Instagram story. Although this could arguably have distanced some from reality, it has had the positive effect of transforming each Instagram user into a critic, making them take an extra moment to analyse what is in their glass and broadening the global conversation about wine through the lenses of millions of amateur photographers. This increasing dominance of images over words in online communication has enriched the Artistry of Wine category, as well as improving people’s knowledge and understanding of photojournalism. Furthermore, it has bolstered the wine trade’s focus on aesthetics and social-media communication – a big step for an industry that was, until recently, considered to be old-fashioned. The Domaine Faiveley International Wine Book of the Year Award has also seen the positive repercussions of this, with one entry focusing solely on wine photography: images taken by professional photographer Andy Katz were supported by commentary from renowned wine journalist and Decanter’s Bordeaux columnist Jane Anson.
Looking to the future
In the words of Francis Percival, judge for the 2017 LRIWWA: “At the top level the entries were more than just writing about wine – they were exercises in serious cultural commentary.” Wine cannot be accurately analysed without considering the history, geography, politics and culture behind the country or region that produced it, which is demonstrated by the topic of one of this year’s entries to the International Wine Book of the Year Award, Empire of Booze by Henry Jeffreys, which examines how alcohol has shaped historical events in Britain in a range of ways. This deep-rooted link between wine and culture, as well as the global nature of grape growing itself, is fertile ground for increasing the international dialogue of wine writing and communication. With new technologies and methods of communication emerging all the time, from blogs to vlogs, virtual reality to Instagram and social media platforms, it seems that the future of wine writing is bright, with new talent emerging all over the world every day.