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.