My award-winning limerick from Wine Writers Symposium

During the Professional Wine Writers Symposium this week, we were challenged to write a poem about Tuesday night’s after-party, featuring some noted 2002 Napa Cabernets. The following limerick, written in about five minutes just prior to the deadline, was awarded second prize at the gala dinner last night. Since I was asked to produce a copy of it, I am attaching it here:

A wine writer, knowing my sentiment                                                                                        offered a decade-old Cab, quite pre-eminent.                                                                          “Pour me a glass, my friend!                                                                                                  And we’ll drink to the end                                                                                                          of the bottle, or ’til we hit sediment.”

Thank you, thankyouverymuch.

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The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

symposiumIt seems somewhat ironic that, while I am retired, this could turn out to be the most significant week of my entire career.

I have the good fortune this week to be attending the ninth annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at the Meadowood Resort in St. Helena. With a grand total of three published news stories (all in January, but several queued up for the coming weeks) behind me, I am thrilled to be able to participate in this exclusive gathering of writers and “faculty.” The funny thing is, when I applied to the Symposium last November I was declined, because while my blog was considered good, I had not been published in mainstream media. I was politely encouraged to spend the next year getting 3-4 pieces published and then I could register in 2014.

Well, that was just not acceptable to me!

So I immediately reached out to the Napa Valley Register and asked if they needed someone to write wine feature stories, and the editor replied with a resounding yes. My writing commenced in December, with my first story appearing January 4th. But even before that first story appeared, I re-applied to the Symposium in December and explained my course of action. The Director called the newspaper to verify my claim, and replied back to me congratulating me on my tenacity, and approving my attendance.

And now the week is here. The Symposium runs from Tuesday through Friday. I am equally excited and intimidated.

Only 50 writers may attend, and the agenda is packed. Some sessions are in listen-only mode, some involve wine tasting (one of my specialties), but most of the sessions are hands-on (meaning we will be interviewing, writing, and/or critiqued) or individually focused. For example, I get to have two 1:1 sessions with faculty members that I pre-selected. One will be with Gary Walther, a regular luxury lifestyle columnist for Forbes.com and contributing editor at ForbesLife magazine. He has a big hotel/travel writing background. My second 1:1 is with James Conaway, author of the two “bibles” of Napa history: “Napa: The Story of an American Eden,” and its sequel “The Far Side of Eden.” He is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford.

Other faculty members include a number of other decorated editors and authors, including Jon Bonné of the San Francisco Chronicle food and wine section.

Wine writers do not earn much money for their work. Very little, in fact. But vintners rely on the writers to provide coverage of their wines and wineries. So, the Symposium is subsidized by a number of vintners, who provide scholarships for writers who need them, as well as amazing wines for us to taste and learn about. I did not ask for a scholarship. Still, I know the vintners are helping to keep the costs amazingly low for a program of this caliber.

An added bonus (and one that makes the week completely ridiculous for those of us in attendance) is that the big Premiere Napa Valley wine auction takes place this week, and we, as members of the media, get to cover it. Hundreds (if not thousands) of people in the wine trade (resellers, not consumers) are in Napa this week to participate in the auction, which takes place Saturday. At this auction, 200 vintners auction offer 5-, 10- or 20-case lots of specially blended wine, with all the proceeds going to the Napa Valley Vintners. The NVV is the organization that promotes Napa Valley wine around the world and supports all its vintner members. This auction provides most of NVV’s annual operating budget.

(The better-known Napa Valley Wine Auction takes place in June, is open to consumers ((if you can afford the $2500 ticket)), and benefits numerous local charities.)

Prior to Saturday’s grand barrel tasting and auction, there will be countless meetings, luncheons, private tastings and gala parties during the week for the buyers who are in town. As members of the press, we get to attend a lot of them–to the best of our ability, given our Symposium commitments.

My goals for the week are to learn as much as I can, make as many connections as I can to people who can help me further this writing career, and stay as sober as possible.

At some point I will summarize the experience here, but it may take a while to decompress first. Stay tuned for more info. Meanwhile, I may be in over my head, but it sure as hell will be an interesting week!

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Third story in four weeks. Does this make me a veteran?

photo[1]I was very happy to find out yesterday afternoon that my latest story would be running in today’s Napa Valley Register. When I write my own stories, the editor just holds them until a week when the Friday wine section has room, or the story becomes timely, or someone else fails to come through with a story. So, I never know exactly when they will run until they do.

I must say, though, it’s a small thrill when it does go online on Thursday night, and a bigger one when I see the actual ink on paper Friday morning.

Yes, ink on paper. A revolutionary concept.

Please take a look at my latest story (you can see the entire piece and the photo, which I also took) here, and let me know what you think. I have three more interesting pieces in the works! Thanks for all your words of encouragement and support; they more than make up for the meager paycheck!

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New Year, New Job: Reporting for the Napa Valley Register!

Register story 1One of the great things about life is never knowing what’s going to happen next. Take my new job, for instance.

As I spent more and more time becoming immersed in the Napa Valley, I kept meeting people and learning great stories–about the land, the history, the wines, and the people themselves. This blog allowed me to tell some of those stories. As my readership grew, my friends encouraged me to write articles for mainstream publications, like travel magazines, wine publications, or other high-end lifestyle media. While that is certainly a goal, I realized it is important to get published first, so I reached out to the Napa Valley Register, my local newspaper, which is the only newspaper in the country with a weekly wine section. (Others have food and wine sections, certainly, but not one solely focused on wine.) The editor of the wine section was thrilled  (thrilled, I say!) to meet me, and very open to my initial list of story ideas. So I set about working on my ideas, and she soon started to send me stories to work on.

Long story short, my first feature story ran in today’s Register, and you can view it here. More stories are forthcoming, although I have no control of how often they may appear. The good news is that there are plenty of stories to be told, as there is no shortage of material. I hope this will be a springboard to bigger and more profitable assignments. (And in fact, I am already being invited to attend events as a member of the media, so keep your eyes peeled for my byline!)

Thanks to all of you for your encouragement and support, which pushed me to take this new and exciting step. Cheers!

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What could be better than living in the Napa Valley?

Nov 2012 Misc 032Aah, it’s funny how perspective depends upon your point of view.

Many of you know how fortunate I feel that Laurie and I moved here 19 months ago. In many ways it is the best decision of my life, and I have enjoyed each and every day since that move, no matter the weather. Living in this amazing valley has opened my eyes to so many things and has caused me to set new life goals. I feel invigorated and energized and full of life. So does everyone here feel the same? Not so much.

A couple of weeks ago some dear friends from the peninsula were in the Napa Valley celebrating the wife’s 50th birthday, and we met them and their friends for drinks and dinner. Upon seeing us, the Birthday Girl exclaimed “Oh my god, you two live in vacationland!” She went on to say that she hadn’t really thought of Napa as a place to live, but she could now imagine how idyllic it must be. You get the drift.

However, a few days later I was in Cost Plus, and while I was looking at glassware I overheard an interesting conversation between a young man and woman (I guess late 20’s-very early 30’s) who just encountered each other after a long hiatus. While I didn’t take notes, the gist of the woman’s rant went something like this: “I’ve got to get out of this town. Napa is just Disneyland** for grownups where all they care about is their wine, and their food and their Cab Sauv. There is no soul here, it’s disgusting. I can’t wait to move.” (While somewhat truncated, those words are almost verbatim, believe me.)

I gave a lot of thought to her words, and I certainly do not begrudge her her opinion. Napa is an unusual place; the Valley relies on tourists and the money they bring in. I understand that it seems superficial to a young woman, who (by her conversation) longs to spend more time in Europe, or San Francisco, or other cities where there is a greater diversity of culture, arts, and history. I get that. But Napa is so much more than just a laser focus on food and wine. When you strip away the tourism elements and the (admittedly) amazing food and beverage, this is a farming community. People here don’t make as much money as they do in other parts of the country. People moved here, and live here, because they are passionate about the land and the pursuit of winemaking. It also is so much more laid back than Silicon Valley or San Francisco. The streets roll up at night, and the wee hours of the morning are eerily silent (unless the propellers are going off). So many people have made huge sacrifices–in income, commute time, proximity to relatives–to live here, because it is so peaceful and serene. (And affordable.)

Most of my immediate neighbors are not in the wine business. Many are retired. One is in the hospitality business. Many volunteer. All enjoy their wine; Napa residents must consume far more wine per capita than other Americans, based on the sounds I hear every Sunday night when the recycling bins are put out. But every one of those neighbors feels so fortunate to be able to live here and enjoy this amazing part of our country.

Certainly, if I were 30 years old again I might long for more of an edge. Our kids, all in their mid-20’s, love to visit Napa, but I know they would be bored to live here full-time. But at least they are learning to appreciate the Valley for its many merits, and they are learning about the farming aspects behind the bottle on the table. While I empathize with the young woman in Cost Plus, I feel bad that her perception is so unbalanced. My hope is that one day she gains an appreciation of what this Valley is, and what it isn’t, and embraces the unique qualities of this place.

I guess it’s true that two people can look at the same glass, and one will say it is half-empty and the other will say it’s half-full. I will see that glass and say “Here, let me get you some more.”

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** By the way, she was wrong. Yountville is Disneyland for adults. Not Napa.

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