On Winning Louis Roederer Emerging Wine Writer of the Year 2012

Something rather remarkable happened to me on Monday. At about 11:30 PST — 8:30-ish London time — I received an email from David Honig, publisher of Palate Press, consisting of three words. “You won” in the subject line, and “congratulations” in the body. I hadn’t been able to fly to London where the Louis Roederer International Wine Writing Awards were being presented; the trip would have cost me about fifteen percent of the annual pittance I make as a graduate student, and that clearly wasn’t happening. David, who went on behalf of Palate Press’s nomination for wine website of the year, offered to accept for me should the necessity arise. I had planned on not winning, partly because I didn’t want to get my hopes up, but also partly because I don’t see what I do as being that award-winning. So, when David’s email arrived, I was truly surprised. It even occurred to me for a moment that it might be a mistake or a joke, but that’s not David’s style. I’ve been doing even more than my usually generous amount of smiling ever since.

I’m honored, naturally, and humbled, and astonished, and delighted. But I also feel as though my winning this award says something about the position of wine science writing in the the wine writing world. From my very first article for Palate Press, I’ve written almost exclusively about wine science: microbiology, flavor chemistry, article critiques, and the like. Doing so, I’ve always felt like a bit of an outsider in the wine writing world. I can’t relate to most other wine writers’ experiences about press trips to Portugal or interviewing a great sommelier or trying to tell the story of this beautiful South African Pinotage. Researching an article, for me, doesn’t involve tasting and talking; it involves hours of reading scientific journal articles. It’s nearly impossible for me to compare my writing to people more in the mainstream; we’re talking apples and oranges, in some ways.

Most importantly, it’s hard to judge whether what I’m doing is valuable. I can say that I’m one of the few people trying to talk about wine science to the lay-wine enthusiast. I can say that I think doing so is important. But I can’t say whether anyone else agrees with me.

The other finalists for Emerging Wine Writer of the Year are all splendid writers — including my Palate Press colleague Evan Dawson — but they all write something closer to the mainstream of wine writing. That I was chosen among them says something about wine science writing as much, and perhaps more, than it does about my own skill. It’s a validation, at least by this group of people, that the science of wine is potentially as interesting and important to the wine enthusiast as is the personal narrative of wine, or the economics or architecture or politics of wine, or tasting notes. It’s a statement that wine science writing has a place in the greater mission of wine writing. Even if I sometimes feel peripheral, I’m still sitting at the table. It’s a good place to be.

Let me have won the Roederer, then, not just for myself, but for the greater cause of wine writing. And, maybe, even for every writer who takes the risk of doing something different because it’s what she loves.

Because the air is very smoky here today

The sky is innocent enough but the dust, the dust is coming from some place I’ve never been and calling me to a place that is only a memory, and a collective one at that. I’m solidly focused on trying to place one foot in front of the other, calmly, resolutely, to make it look like this is easy, to make it look as though I’m not trying to ignore the horses cantering and the cattle grazing and the women in long skirts going about their business through my mind. But then a guitar comes from an open door, a guitar and a voice, and the only reason that I know the door is open is the music because I’m still staring resolutely at my feet, but “steeeel guitars from Memphis on the way to rock ‘n rollllllllll…” makes me look up, and back, briefly, and I see the figure in the worn jeans and sturdy belt and pale cowboy hat the color of a steer you might rope at the county rodeo and smoking what I’m certain must be Marlboroughs And I stop in my tracks for a moment, an instant, short enough that the kid behind me thinks that I’m still walking, because I hear the man in the jeans and the belt and the hat asking me the whereabouts of the young buck cowboy I lost years ago and who owns the horses he saw cantering and the cattle he saw grazing and whether I’m friends with the women in long skirts going about their business. But it’s a quarter to nine o’clock and I keep walking as though I don’t know the answers to his questions, no, sir, you’ve got the wrong girl.