It’s bound to stir up some controversy, and the results will be fiercely contested, but I’m rather pleased with the new Wine Writer Classification of 2013. Now wine consumers have a guide to the voices in the wine writing world that have meaning, and those that are basically bus stop ads. It has taken several years for the classification to become final, and a lot of bickering and insider politicking went on behind the scenes, but I think the committee, overall, did a wonderful job. From the First Growths down to the Fifths, wine writers have been assigned their level, and the wine buying public is better off for knowing it. It’s a nice bit of irony that the men and women who have made their living assigning imaginary values to wine now find themselves in a similar situation. A wine might be forever branded an “89,” but now, at least, the critic finds himself forever a Fifth Growth Writer. Admit it, it just feels right.
You may notice a few wine writers who were omitted. Perhaps because they lack any significant influence. Or perhaps because they’re just unpleasant people, pushy and demanding to a degree directly inverse to their actual clout. The committee was overwhelmed with pleas from wineries and winemakers to add a sixth level, Cancerous Growth, but this became unworkable when every single wine writer’s name was nominated.
The committee, whose work was done in anonymity for their own safety after repeated threats from Natalie MacLean to “cut their balls off and feed them to Guy Fieri in a nice tomato sauce with a whisper of oregano” if she wasn’t at least a Second Growth Wine Writer, spent long hours assessing the scope and influence of the greatest living wine writers. When they finished with those two, they slapped together the rest. In the time it took for the final classification to be decided, a few of the writers had died. Death does increase popularity, of course, and the committee urged wine writers unhappy with their ranking to strongly consider it.
You may disagree with the Wine Writer Classification of 2013, but it is done. The classification will be revisited in ten years, at which time the committee hopes the writers will have finally found gainful employment in a field at which they actually excel. At that time they will also establish a Veterans Committee to acknowledge wine writers they may have overlooked, or, like Oz Clarke, they were unable to translate into English.
Wine writing is important to the popularity of wine. The committee expressed its sincere wish that it might, one day, also be important to its enjoyment. Wine writing has its roots in man’s love for wine, and his inability to shut up about it. The Wine Writer Classification of 2013 celebrates those who educate and enlighten us at the expense of entertaining us.
Each category, or Growth, represents a different level of influence, talent and longevity. A First Growth wine writer is one whose every word can move wine markets, cause buying frenzies, or ruin family businesses forever. Think Bernie Madoff, just hasn’t been caught yet.
A Second Growth wine writer will have valuable name recognition and a discerning palate, like Monica Lewinsky. Not as influential as a First Growth, this causes a distinctive bitterness to the tone of their work.
A Third Growth wine writer is particularly knowledgeable but has the communication skills of Koko the talking gorilla. They often simply point at kitties.
A Fourth Growth wine writer hasn’t had an original idea since he pulled the chair out from under Harry Waugh at a Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin meeting and said, “Ever mistake the floor for a chair, Harry?” Irrepressible Harry dutifully replied, “Not since lunch, asshole.”
A Fifth Growth wine writer is utterly convinced he is a First Growth because his blog gets over four hundred hits a week, and two wineries sent him free wine that had been refused by their wine club members and was sitting in a UPS warehouse for three months. Wine writers who also play in bands are automatically Fifth Growth because almost everyone hates them.
Here then is the Wine Writer Classification of 2013, the undisputed list of who’s who in the wine writing world. Next update: 2023
After 19 years as a Sommelier in Los Angeles, twice named Sommelier of the Year by the Southern California Restaurant Writers' Association, I moved to Sonoma County to explore the other aspects of the wine business. I've spent, OK wasted, 35 years learning about and teaching about and swallowing wine. I am also a judge at the Sonoma Harvest Fair, San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition and the San Francisco International Wine Competition--so I can spit like a rabid llama. I know more about wine than David Sedaris and I'm funnier than James Laube. Stay tuned for an informed but jaded view of everything wine and everything else.
I'm living proof that alcohol kills brain cells.
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