Thursday, August 12, 2021

My Life in Wine Episode 17

In Episode 16, the Wine Spectator packed up and moved to San Francisco, amid an atmosphere of tension  and uncertainty.  The newspaper was expanding and the growth meant new publishing equipment and the need for more contributing writers. As the editor, it was an unsettling time for me, and I had to decide whether to stay or go. 

Opera Plaza: San Francisco, CA
Opera Plaza, San Francisco

It was 1983 and Wine Spectator owner and publisher Marvin Shanken was visiting the San Francisco offices, in Opera Plaza, and at a meeting we agreed that it was time for me to move on.  I had been with the Spectator for three years and I wasn't happy with the direction the publication was going and Marvin wasn't happy with my objections. 

Janet and I were renting a split-level house on a canyon in the Belmont hills then, so I set up an office in a downstairs room and began the long re-booting of my dormant free lance wine writing career. 

By the early 1980s, the U.S. wine scene had matured beyond the so-called wine boom of the 1970s. But the growth meant more competition among those wanting to write about wine. The field was wide open and editors at all levels knew very little about wine, so all one needed to do to be a wine writer is to convince an editor that you were a wine writer. 

Fortunately the work situation for me wasn't hopeless.  The publisher of a small wine magazine, then called Wine & Spirits Buying Guide, (W&SBG later became known as Wine and Spirits magazine) called and offered me a job as editor.  

The offer was tempting since things were slow at the time. But there was a catch; in fact, there were two catches: The magazine's offices were in the East Bay, a long daily commute from Belmont; W&SBG was owned by an affable Aussie who owned a similar magazine in Australia but who didn't quite grasp the ins-and-outs of the U.S. wine industry, the personality of the California wine community and U.S. business law and taxes.

Sometimes you feel in your gut that despite obvious concerns, you should take the plunge, so I signed on as editor of W&SBG for 12 months.  Mostly it was a good experience, the grinding commute aside.  The magazine grew in content and circulation, but there were financing problems I wasn't told about and I was itching to return to freelancing. 

The short version of a long complicated problem is bills weren't being paid, so the owner sold W&SBG and returned to Australia where he put all his energies into the magazine he had mostly neglected while trying make W&SBG work. Today, Winestate is a success in Australia and New Zealand and Wine & Spirits has carved out a niche in the U.S. wine publishing market.  

Memorial services announced for Dallas wine pioneer Diane Teitelbaum -  CultureMap Dallas
Diane Teitelbaum, 1946 -  2014

Not long after I was back at my desk in Belmont sending out queries to editors, I got a call from Diane Teitelbaum, a friend in Dallas, who also happened to be good friends with Michael Bauer, then food editor at the San Francisco Chronicle. 

"I'm having lunch with Michael Bauer before going back to Dallas and I told him about you," Diane said.  "He would like to meet you.  Can you join us for lunch?"

In the next episode, Teitelbaum, Bauer and Boyd put their heads together to discuss the future of wine writing at the Chronicle, over pastrami on rye sandwiches at Max's Opera Cafe, near the San Francisco airport. 


Next blog: Napa, then and now Part 1 

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