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It’s only wine, init?

UK newspaper The Guardian recently ran a short online piece on corks, and their apparent comeback over the recent rise of the screwcap. You can see the original piece here:

Why corks are popping once more (guardian.co.uk, June 21st)

If you actually click through to read the article, you will immediately see some of its many shortcomings. It is a tragically short piece; just four paragraphs (totalling nine sentences) on the return of cork. With no real conclusion, it reads as though another dozen paragraphs have been lost somewhere between submission and publication. Fair enough, there’s nothing wrong with pithy, to-the-point journalism, except that this piece is also very unbalanced, with no exploration of the issue at hand; it reads very much like some re-worked press release.

The author is Hannah Olivennes; take a look at her other listed articles and you will see her name attached to some ‘bigger’ stories, on a counter-terrorism review and the closure of children’s residential care homes, but always in partnership with other journalists. So she is an intern, and a ‘trophy’ intern no less, as Hannah is the daughter of actress Kirsten Scott Thomas. Berry Bros. & Rudd have Alexandra Mentzelopoulos (daughter of Corinne, proprietor of Margaux) who works in their glamorous Basingstoke offices, learning about the UK wine trade….and the Guardian have Hannah Olivennes, clearly learning the ropes at the newspaper, perhaps as part of a degree in journalism?

The crowning glory of any internship would of course be to see your own piece published. Unfortunately for Hannah, her colleagues have under-estimated the response a nine-sentence PR-rehash would generate from those who take wine and wine closures very seriously, and the piece has backfired on Hannah, who I suspect has learnt much about the newspaper industry during her internship, but not a lot about journalism. The poor quality of the article – and let me be clear, the ultimate responsibility for this lies, in my opinion, with her supervisors/editors, not with the inexperienced Hannah – was quickly seized upon by online Guardian readers. Two pages of comments exist, although in a display of heavy-handed moderation worthy of Mark Squires (Squires moderates the erobertparker.com board, deleting criticisms, censoring anti-Parker comments, at one time even censoring mention of opposing voices such as Alice Feiring and Wine Berserkers, words which were automatically replaced by the board software with ************* – you can’t make this stuff up!) many have been deleted.

The ultimate message here for me is not that the newspaper staff at the Guardian need to look after their interns better, instead of hanging them out to dry by allowing them to publish rubbish work, nor that they should be encouraging a little more journalistic thought in their interns, even though I think that is probably true. Instead I wonder if the piece went to publication because it was perceived that it didn’t really matter. After all, it’s only wine, not a story on terrorism or a looming social services disaster. It is indicative of the disregard the UK mainstream media have for wine and wine writing, neither of which are treated seriously. This cork piece is perhaps part of a much broader dumbed-down landscape, one which also features “shopping list” wine writing articles instead of real wine writing, in which otherwise erudite authors, as well as Malcolm Gluck, publish superficial articles which are primarily lists of low-priced wines currently available from supermarkets as a substitute for saying anything interesting. Finding any articles of merit concerning wine in the UK mainstream media, is near to impossible.

Because, ultimately, it’s only wine, init?

3 Responses to “It’s only wine, init?”

  1. I’m a previous wine writer for a national paper until my publication went bust in February.

    Although my column was very limited in terms of words (“the squeeze” which provoked Tim Atkin to leave some of his publications), I had full freedom to write about whatever I wanted, something I’m thankful for.

    My approach was leave the reader with something more than “chocolate, berries and cloves” but also to provide balance, that is provide wine that is widely available (read supermarkets here or nationwide delivery by an online specialist).

    The worst thing, in my view, is to admonish anyone for choosing to buy wine in a supermarket. In fact, the opposite is true, and by providing some sort of guide to help people find a gem amongst the infinitude of choice in the supermarket aisles we at least do some good and provide a path towards some knowledge and hopefully a steer away from the default option of BOGOF.

    Since my paper’s demise, another national paper has dropped the wine columns from both Saturday and Sunday editions seemingly because “wine columns don’t make us money”. No, what doesn’t make you money is publishing yesterday’s news on paper today.


  2. Thanks Lar. Yes, I should make clear the demise of wine writing in mainstream media is not due to the writers, but to the editors. And I suppose their hands are tied also – if, as you say, they ahve to go with what generates revenue. But in that case it’s a vicious circle isn’t it; if wine writing has to tie in with advertising, it will always be the big brands (i.e. supermarket wines) that have the advertising budget to meet this?

  3. Indeed, back in November I had a “difference in opinion” post filming about what “widely available” meant.

    My interpretation was an independent network/co-op of wine shops who had figured out how to deliver effectively, efficiently to ANY remote corner of Ireland, with next day delivery.

    They meant any supermarket beginning with “T” or the convenience store franchise (key advertisers).

    The interesting part was that one of the food matches they were looking to match a wine with was venison, not something you’d pop out to your supermarket or local convenience franchise for.