For a long time I thought wine needs no visuals. In the early days of the Wine Rambler we did not even have photos on the blog. After all, what use is it to see the label when all you need to know is inside the bottle - and surely that is better captured in words? Well, I was wrong. Wine is more than just taste. Amongst other things it is also image - an image created by, amongst others, wine photographers. Today we have one of them, Andreas Durst - who is also a winemaker -, explain why he feels that wine photography is failing, stuck in old clichés that always were a lie. Enjoy, and learn.
What's wrong with commercial wine photography? A photographic guest ramble by Andreas Durst
Wine glass glistening, autumnal gold on sloped vineyards, the winegrower wandering the vines in his Sunday best - or, another favourite image, we see him with glass in hand, tasting wine by romantically flickering cellar candlelight.
Wine photography as Heimatfilm - a cheap, sentimental romance.
This image is old hat, and even in the olden days of winemaking it would have been far from realistic. Winemaking means work, hard work. However, these hoary old clichés, even today, continue to dominate our image of wine and of the people who make it.
Wine travel writing has to feature passionate winemakers, gorgeous vineyards and fabulous wine. I will get to these in future posts on my recent visit to the German wine country around Mainz, but today is about looking at wine writing from the other side. It is about wine writers and communicators, about introducing the press trip and - most importantly to me personally - it is about a man holding up a piece of cardboard. Or rather: his absence.
Ever since I stepped off my first airplane as a child, this man held the key for my ascendancy to a higher level of human existence. Looking at this man, waiting with his piece of cardboard at arrivals, the young Torsten concluded that there are two types of travellers: those who just pass through, and those who, as a person or through their mission, have been deemed worthy enough to by picked up by that man. I travel a lot for work, but the highest appreciation I have been shown so far is being walked from Coventry train station to the university. Walked. And there was no sign with my name on it. Now imagine my joy when the invitation from the German Wine Institute to participate in an "international press trip for bloggers" contained the magic words: "arrivals", "driver" and "sign". On 6th October I would finally meet that man at Frankfurt Airport, and his name would be Mr Würzburger.
Once upon a time people drank their wine in peace, relying on word of mouth to find what they liked. Then the forces of darkness struck. Inventing powerful spells such as marketing, advertising and sponsored wine journalism they took control of the innocent wine world. But behold, a small army of light stood up to the forces of darkness. Writing truthfully, unbiased wine bloggers would save wine lovers from evil.
Some may believe this, but a closer look at the wine blogging world will tell you it is not that simple. In fact, bloggers are now targeted by the forces of evil in the ways not too dissimilar to journalism before them. Are we aware enough to resist?
When did you last drink Moschofilero, Txakoli, Aglianico or sparkling Shiraz? 'Wine personality' Mark Oldman thinks many customers are stuck in the routine of drinking the same boring Cabernet and Chardonnay. To help them out, Oldman's Brave New World of Wine introduces 46 types of wine beyond the usual suspects, each 'brave new pour' described with anecdotes, recommended producers, food pairing suggestions and all sorts of 'winespeak without the geek'.
Providing wine drinkers with easily accessible knowledge is an applaudable mission, and as I had never read a popular book by a 'wine personality' I happily accepted when the publisher offered a copy for review. Now I am trying to answer the question: can a book about wine be too funny?
I had a surprisingly charming Chardonnay from one of Rheinhessen's countless family wineries with sunday lunch today (full review). It was recommended via twitter and co-rambler Torsten by German wine guru Mario Scheuermann.
Going on an "objectively" correct ranking like WeinPlus wine guide's 81 points ("Nicht allzu tief. Ordentlicher Abgang"), I wound never have bought it. I can just about see what Scheuermann means by the "lustvolle Subjektivität" (joyful subjectivity) that he would like to see in wine journalism. After emptying the rest of the bottle, I couldn't care less if he plays cards with Runkel's second cousin, or his critical neutrality was impaired in any other way. [read the full post...]
Following the recent controversy, Armin Diel, the editor of the Gault Millau Wein Guide for Germany, has resigned. According to a statement issued earlier this week, Diel felt he had to protect the Wein Guide, the VDP, his winery and his family from what has turned into attacks on his person. In another statement, the publisher of the Wein Guide also referred to increasing personal attacks on Diel. The publisher reiterated that will be completely independent of wineries opting to pay for the voluntary 200 Euro package that triggered the conflict. Despite resigning from his role as editor of Gault Millau, Diel will continue to be involved with VDP, the association of Germany's premier wine makers - the fact that Diel was both vintner/functionary and reviewer was certainly not popular with everyone. [read the full post...]
The current controversy is finding its way into mainstream media. The Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany's leading newspapers, published an article entitled "Aufstand der Winzer" (rebellion of the vinters). This almost sounds like the title for Star Wars 7, and inevitably it would have to be followed by "The Publisher strikes back" - which they did. But first things first.
The Süddeutsche article starts with an introduction to Gault Millau's Wein Guide and explains the 195 Euro "voluntary" contribution issue. It then quotes Werner Knipser who thinks it is outrageous to pay to be reviewed. Knipser feels this would be a dingy practice and equivalent to paying for the actual ranking. He said he wanted to start a broad discussion. Contrast that to Jörg Bauer, who is quoted saying that charging was a common practice with regards to tests and that it was only to be expected that Gault Millau would introduce that; Bauer also feels that less well known wineries needed the publicity of the Wein Guide. [read the full post...]
I'd like to point out one more aspect of the Gault-Millau debate, namely that the way scores come about plays an important part in the sorts of arguments that can be made against a wine guide.
Gault Millau tastes openly, that is to say every taster knows which wine he is about to score. That has a positive side, as a wine can of course be appreciated more fairly when you have some context to go with it, some experience of the kind of quality that a certain producer has shown in the long range, and other things. The negative side is this: Faced with one producer's range of wines, any taster will tend to give scores that reflect the hierarchy of quality that the pricing suggests, rather than a strictly objective evaluation of every individual wine. [read the full post...]
The German wine community is in uproar (well, a little). Hundreds of Twitter messages or blog comments are addressing the conflict between the Gault Millau WineGuide and a group of vintners. As is often the case with the blogosphere, most repeat what they have read in other blogs and the discussion can become a little self-referential. However, there are two reasons why I am revisiting this topic today: some of the more knowledgeable bloggers do indeed have a few interesting comments; also, most of the discussion is in German, so it will be hard to follow for our international readers.
The first posting I would like to summarise is Werner Elflein's (yes, this is German for 'little elf') article Quo vadis Wineguides? - published three weeks ago. Elflein starts with a few comments on the structural crisis of the media and the problems wine guides have to make a profit. He argues that winemakers do profit much more from the work of professional tasters than many of them realise and that it is often the producers of third or fourth rank who complain about unfair treatment (Wine Rambler addendum: this does obviously not apply to the winemakers who signed the Gault Millau letter). [read the full post...]
You may be aware of Gault Millau as a restaurant guide, but they also publish Wine Guide Deutschland, the "definitive guide to German wine". Today, a group of leading German winemakers has announced that it will not only stop sending their wines to Gault Millau, they also refuse to even have their wineries listed in the wine guide.
The list of winemakers who have signed the open letter reads like a who is who of German wine: Helmut Dönnhoff, grand master of Riesling, Knipser, who had just won the title "vintner of the year", Pinot Noir experts Dr. Heger and Meyer-Näkel, Josef Leitz (famously called "our friend Josi" by wine merchants Pinard de Picard) and Heymann-Löwenstein, who has redefined the Wine Rambler's understanding of what mineral means in a Riesling, to name just a few. [read the full post...]
Perhaps once or twice every fortnight I have to endure the London underground. It is usually a painful and in no way enlightening experience. To help the Londoners endure it better, the Lord has created free newspapers. The most substantial one is cleverly called "Metro", and today's Metro has an article about wine, cleverly called "You decant hurry love". Actually, the two pages of the "Good Taste" section are not so much about wine, they are about "vino". [read the full post...]