On Wine Writing, Insecurity and Validating Your Passions

It’s been more than a month since I’ve returned from the 2016 Wine Writers Symposium and I’ve been a little quiet: It’s amazing what less than a week immersed in your passion can do. It’s incredibly invigorating, yet its impact has left me deeply introspective. There was a lot to take in, and while I wouldn’t call it overwhelming, the symposium was a constant heightening of the intellect and all the senses. It was a special trip.

I won’t lie: Reentry into my Washington, D.C.-world was tough.

Who can resist the luxury of staying at Meadowood Resort in St. Helena, Calif:

Meadowood’s grounds, its details and comfort of the rooms made for quite a treat.

The stunning wines we tasted – especially those served by the master sommeliers:

Dinner with Master Somms
Forgive the blurriness of the photos – left to right: Geoff Kruth, Bob Bath and Gillian Balance. These were just three of the 12 master somms that paired wines with four courses on the last night of the symposium.

The interesting dialog and discussion that emerged from every single session:

Ray Isle and Jay McInerney
Ray Isle and Jay McInerney led a session on how to tell a story from a single glass of wine.

The chance to trounce through the tall mustard cover-crops and touch 50-year-old vines on a stunning day:

Haynes Vineyard
A tour of Haynes Vineyard in Coombsville from Ancien Wines owner and winemaker Ken Bernards.

But more importantly, being surrounded by people who share your love and interest in all-things wine.

Before I boarded the plane, I was reassured by past attendees and its organizers that everyone receiving a fellowship deserved to be there. And once I reached the symposium, that was reiterated. But each day, I woke up wondering: “Are they sure?” Fortunately, as soon as the morning sessions were underway those thoughts were replaced with a sense of “It doesn’t matter, this is fascinating! Look where I am!” And eventually it became, “Yes, I do!”

The Hosemaster of Wine – a satirical wine blogger whose first-night keynote was a healthy icebreaker on the seriousness and absurdity of what we were about to embark on – summed it up best in his recount of the symposium:

“Like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the symposium was filled with odders. It felt like a place filled with people who felt out of place.”

As writers and editors, we’re trained to be observers. But in this situation, we all share a deep love for the subject matter, too. It’s what I’ve struggle the most in my own writing – how to juxtapose that passion with the objectivity needed to maintain the right writing voice.

I had many takeaways – some fun, aha or d’oh! moments – like it’s actually possible to taste 200 wines without getting drunk (and without any spitting mishaps!).

There were also some more serious and insightful lessons, too: What sticks with me the most, is a life lesson we all know, but rarely see in action: That it’s possible to take gigantic risks, succeed and be happy. I met more people (both at the symposium and in the Napa community) who took the leap of faith to follow their passion. Unlike, Washington, D.C. – where competition is at a heightened state all of the time – the people I met across the industry instinctually want to learn more from each other, and are happy to help, too.

There were some technical lessons, as a session about the often-used but-rarely defined term “minerality” proved that consistency in language is extremely important – whether you agree with the concept or not.

There were opportunities to think creatively, as in how to use a single glass of wine to spark story ideas.

And there were some practical ideas, such as when Mike Veseth, aka The Wine Economist, rightly pitched to all of us to consider using wine as an example to tell a bigger story – whether that be a business piece or something else. (You can read his takeaways from the symposium, here.)

The most humbling lesson of all: there’s no reason for me to be insecure. Being surrounded by such talented people who share similar passions was the validation I needed to keep pushing, keep exploring, keep learning and to keep writing.

And if that wears off, I can take a bite out of my “most likely succeed” award the organizers bestowed on me during the final lunch:

most likely to succeed prize
Here’s my “payday” for being named “most likely to succeed”.

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