Pamela Heiligenthal over at Enobytes contemplates wine writer certification.
Interestingly enough, wine writer experience and credentials are trending differently than they were twenty years ago. What I have found is that most of the traditional wine writers gained employment at newspapers and magazines with a journalism degree in their pocket…Today’s wine writers are different animals. They may not be well known, nor hold positions at newspapers or magazines. Most of them don’t have degrees in journalism but many enter the field with wine certification, which, in my opinion, is a welcomed addition.
It’s also one reason why so much wine writing is abysmal.
Lord knows its unfashionable to stand-up for journalists, but while Enobytes attributes the factual inaccuracy of ordinary wine writing to a lack of knowledge about wine, that inaccuracy is every bit as much the result of a lack of journalistic training. A journalist, given the time and resources to do his or her job, can write intelligently about anything. (And, given the journalist’s propensity for drink, wine is a likely target.) Conducting interviews, checking facts, following-up: it’s J School 101 and something a lot of wine writers can’t be bothered with. There is also the matter of actual training in writing, which is a skill that is not automatically conferred with a Master of Wine. A thorough understanding of research and writing (along with enormous talent) is why a great journalist like John McPhee can write brilliantly about geology, basketball, the Swiss Army, canoeing, and anything else that catches his interest.
I, personally, think wine writing would be better if the balance between journalism and expertise tilted a bit more toward journalism. I’m more interested in a well crafted piece that draws on multiple sources than I am in the fruits of a single person’s understanding. (The exception is that rare expert who also has a unique voice and interesting perspective. ) I could do with better writing and less pedantry. I, personally, think if you’re going to certify wine writers the certification ought to cover more than just wine; it ought to include writing, too.