After the Wine Spectator, my life in wine alternated between free lancing, an editorial run with a small struggling Australian-owned wine magazine and then back to free lance, including a long and satisfying time as a columnist with Wine Review Online.
This is not, thankfully, another story about Covid. Rather, this is my attempt to connect this MLIW episode with one of the unforeseen side issues of the pandemic lock downs. Namely, how thousands of people found themselves coping with the oddities of working at home and how that relates to wine writing.
There are a few dozen full time wine writers who work at a magazine or newspaper. But the majority of wine writers do their thing from an alcove or special area in their home, or if they're lucky (as am I) from a home office.
For the free lancer being able to work at home means no commute, no need to shave and you can pound your computer keyboard in your PJs or even your underwear; really, who's going to see you?
If that sounds like an ideal work environment, it isn't, unless you're disciplined and can keep to a set routine and not be distracted. Unfortunately, that didn't always work for me. in 1979.
In 1979, I was just finishing writing an opus on California Chardonnay when the San Francisco earthquake struck and everything in my office began to jump and shake. It was like a giant had our townhouse in its grip and was giving the building a good shake.
Books fell off the shelves over my desk and wines rattled out of a wine rack. It was temporary chaos, with bottles crashing to the floor on top of a mound of books. Miraculously, only two bottles broke and, of course, one of them was an expensive white Burgundy.
The free lance environment can be as quiet as a monastery cell or as noisy as an earthquake environment. Some writers need the quiet, while others, like myself, think and write better with a little music in the background. Classical music stimulates my thinking and concentration, except for those times when it's disrupted by a daily outside distraction.
My office in the townhouse faced a tiny fenced entry courtyard. Our mail carrier, a man who was passed his time to retire, worked hard at finding ways not to exert himself, like getting you to help with his mail delivery.
One day, while typing a wine note, I heard Don coming up our short walk. "Hey, Jer!" he yelled until I came to the front gate and took the mail. If I wasn't home or didn't come outside, Don would leave the mail on top of the gate, annoying to say the least since our mail box was just inside the gate.
On one occasion, the antics of Don the Mailman broke my chain of thought about a visit to Bordeaux where the winemaker demonstrated an innovative way to get wine from a barrel. The trick involved a special hammer with a long pointed sharp prong where the claw would be on a standard hammer.
Using the pointed end of his tool, the winemaker swung hard whacking the head of the barrel, opening a small hole. Fortunately, the barrel was tightly bunged creating enough internal pressure, so the wine didn't leak out.
Then, he hooked the pointed end of the hammer behind the head brace and pulled down on the handle. The light pressure against the head caused a narrow stream of bright red wine to spurt out of the barrel into a waiting wine glass. After dispensing wine into four glasses, the winemaker inserted a small wooden plug into the hole and hammered it home.
It was all a bit of winery theater, performed by a French winemaker and his Portuguese assistant, for the amused visiting wine writer and his wife
Of course, you don't need to travel to Bordeaux or any other world wine region to sample the wine, but you'll understand and appreciate wine a lot more if you go to where it is made. In the next few episodes, I do a bit of traveling, starting in Scotland where a spirit is distilled that comes as close to wine, for style and variety, as anything I've tasted.
Next blog: South of the Cote de Beaune
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