Back in 2002, when Tom Stevenson asked me to write on Jura and Savoie for his new annual guide Wine Report, to be one of 40 contributors, I was flattered, but resigned to doing what I knew would be a huge amount of work for not great financial return. But I didn’t know what real pluses it would bring me and how unique in the overloaded world of annual wine guides and how well respected the guide would be. I also hadn’t taken in the level of credibility writing for this unusual guide might convey onto me, as one of the contributors, something always hard to measure.
Especially now, while the future of Wine Report remains uncertain for reasons I will explain later, it reminds me of another huge wine project in my life – that of Master of Wine studies, which I embarked on in 1987 and concluded (the polite way of expressing ‘gave up’) in 1991. I never regret embarking on the journey to become a Master of Wine even if I never received the accolade … I passed the Theory exams in 1989 on the 2nd attempt, re-took the tasting section twice more and then said “enough is enough”. I gained a huge amount – new friends and colleagues together with a truly deep understanding of every aspect of wine and – even if I never reached the required standard in tasting – a really methodical approach to tasting. I was teaching a consumer wine class on the evening after the last time I took the exam and explained that it was unlikely I would have passed having seen the so-called ‘crib sheet’ listing the wines we tasted. One of the regular weekly students – a man of a certain age and thus wisdom, perhaps – asked me what I had hoped to gain by becoming a Master of Wine. “Credibility, I guess” was my hesitant answer. “Don’t worry” he said, “you’ve got plenty of that already”.
So, back to Wine Report. If you’ve never bought a copy and you love the world of wine, buy the 2009 edition now – just click on the Amazon link opposite and you will get a bargain. It’s packed full of passionate writers sharing their inside knowledge about the world of wine. Of course, it also includes vintage reports and lists of ‘greatest producers’, ‘best value for money wines’ and other more standard annual wine guide features, but its strength lies in the news stories and the opinions shared by the contributors. Tom has always encouraged us to be topical, outspoken and controversial, and this is the strength of the book. The other quirky point that has, I believe, aided its credibility, but perhaps not its sales potential, is that Tom allowed equal or sometimes greater space to small or lesser-known wine producing countries and regions than he did for the well-known ones. So, I was able to say proudly (with a grin) to the producers of Jura and Savoie, that they should be proud firstly that they were even included into an annual guide book that covers the world and secondly, my chapter on Jura and Savoie is, every year, of a greater length than the Bordeaux chapter or the California chapter to name just two. Other relatively long chapters include those for Luxembourg, Lebanon and Asia for example. It’s simple really – everyone knows the news and views on Bordeaux, Burgundy, California and Australia already don’t they? But Jura or Lebanon?
This post is not a review of Wine Report – you can read that by others less biased than me, or just take it that the fact it won ‘Best Wine Guide/Wine Book’ for two years running in the Gourmand International Awards is accolade enough. This is however, a little lament. There will be no 2010 Wine Report – the publishers from the 2004 to 2009 editions, Dorling Kindersley (owned by Penguin who in turn is owned by the owners of the Financial Times) have pulled out and we’ve known about it for some time. Tom is battling valiantly in these difficult economic times to finalise an agreement with another publisher. In my humble view, Dorling Kindersley never promoted the guide properly: they did not secure foreign distributors to enable translations to be done (the original intention), nor did they promote it sufficiently to the extended wine trade around the world and to keen wine amateurs and geeks at whom really the book is aimed. This is not a beginners’ wine guide nor was it ever intended to be. So, simply speaking, there were insufficient sales.
Working on Wine Report forced me to discover in depth about the fascinating, but bizarre Jura wine region; it also encouraged me to write in a journalistic and critical style that I didn’t know I was capable of; and it was one of several things that provided me with inspiration to create the Wine Travel Guides website. Wine Report is widely respected by our peers in all parts of the English-speaking world and I salute Tom for the original inspiration and all the hard work. You can find his own insightful chapters on Champagne and on Alsace freely available to download as PDFs on Wine Pages (owned by another Wine Report contributor, Tom Cannavan who writes one of several non-regional chapters – his is on Wine on the Web).
This whole issue gives more worry food for thought to would-be wine book writers and publishers. I can only express the hope that Tom finds a means to bring us all together again to publish the 2011 edition and that credibility in the end will lead to saleability.