Three observations on winning a Born Digital Wine Award

**NOTE: The Born Digital website and social media announcements mistakenly cited my shortlisted Palate Press piece, rather than my shortlisted blog post, as the winner of its category, incorrect news which I initially repeated here. Having learned of the mix-up, I’ve changed the post to reflect the correct winner

I’ve won the “Investigative/Journalistic” category for the 2015 Born Digital Wine Awards. This is delightful. The awards recognize individual pieces of writing, and two of mine made the finalists list: a post here on replicating a 1500 year-old wine, and a piece at Palate Press on whether “hand-picked” is better. The blog post on ancient wine won its category.

It’s always difficult to know how to respond to such things, but I have these three things to say.

  1. I’m delighted to be, among the three winners of the writing awards, the one person who isn’t a well-established man. Nothing categorically wrong with well-established men, and Mr. Simon Woolf and Mr. Alder Yarrow are particularly fine examples, but I’m pleased to be able to represent one of the other sides of the wine writing situation.
  2. I’m delighted to have won a category labeled “investigative/journalistic,” whose original submission criteria noted that it was for “objective” writing. I’m anything but “objective,” and while I certainly investigate things I’m absolutely not a journalist. If winning this category does anything to help observe that we’re always getting our information from subjective communication by people who have a perspective on their topic, that’s a bonus. And if it helps the Born Digital people rename their categories for next year, I’ll call it a double-bonus.
  3. I feel as though I need to observe that, even though the Born Digital folk made a real effort to include writers in non-English languages and to provide translation services, all of the winners and runners up are American and British native English-speaking writers with the sole exception of a French writer, Pauline Versace, who tied for third place in the advertising/tourism category. I don’t think that this is an accident, or a conspiracy, or an indication that American and British wine writers are the best wine writers. I think it points to a problem with translation, and perhaps an imbalance in how the awards were marketed and the submissions they received. But on the translation problem, if I’m an English-speaking judge reading pieces written originally in English and pieces translated from Portuguese or French or Spanish or Italian, the translated pieces probably won’t seem as fluid or as well-written. Writing in Italian versus English isn’t just about understanding one language versus the other. “Good writing” means different things in different languages. Audience expectations are different, idioms are different, the beauty in the sound and shape of how words fit together changes. The wine writing world is still largely about British men (plus Ms. Robinson, of course), with an increasing influx of American men. There are lots and lots of women wine writers, and wine writers from other countries, but most of them don’t get much attention. That’s partially because most of them aren’t very good, but neither are most of the men; it’s a matter of who’s in the well-established group that got into this business early, did well, and made a name for themselves. The well-established group is shifting, slowly, but in the meantime it seems almost inevitable that these sorts of contests will be mostly a celebration of English. A shame.

3 thoughts on “Three observations on winning a Born Digital Wine Award

  1. Erika,

    Congratulations, your award was much deserved. I know few people who write so assuredly, on such original and thought provoking subjects, and as has been said before, with such wonderful dry humour (you know we Brits like that sort of thing).

    I feel I have to offer a small correction however – I can’t deny that I’m a man (albeit one well in touch with his feminine side), but I will deny that I’m “a well established man”.

    In 2011 I attended my first DWCC conference (then called EWBC) as a very amateur blogger who’d started a blog a few months earlier. In 2012 I tried pitching to Palate Press and wrote a couple of articles. Etc etc.

    I’m not from the wine industry, didn’t train as a journalist or a writer. My path to doing this professionally (well, getting paid, at least) was random and unexpected to say the least. I never had a grand plan to become a wine writer – and never, ever expected to be writing for publications like Decanter.

    I am just like you, an outsider who sometimes manages to strike a chord, and hopefully reminds people that writing about wine can be accessible, thought provoking and entertaining at the same time.

    On the subject of non-English language entries, I completely agree, however I suspect there was not sufficient volume to find a winner. Nonetheless it’s a good start to see not just Pauline Versace in the winners list, but also Francois Desperriers (runner up in the video category).

    • Simon, I stand corrected! Your own authoritative writing had led me to believe that you were an old hand (and being a British gentleman and publishing in Decanter probably didn’t hurt the case). Thanks for the kind words. I would have applied the same words to your work.

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