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01.20.2009

Tough Time to be a Wine Writer

In a contracting economy, the last things you want to sell are goods and services that people consider discretionary luxuries. Wine, especially bottles costing more than $15 certainly fits in that category. From limp auction results to the massive flushing sound of Champagne sales going down the toilet, those who sell expensive wines are scrambling to avoid losing their shirts as demand drops, at least for the moment.

Apparently the next worst thing to be, apart from someone who sells wine these days, is a wine writer. With the downward spiral of print ad spending and a similar trajectory to ad rates online, it's no wonder that a lot of media outlets find themselves on hard times, or at the very least, with hard decisions to make.

The L.A. Times recently got rid of their talented wine writer, Corie Brown. In my neck of the woods, after layoffs in the wine section about a year ago, the San Francisco Chronicle announced recently that they would be ending their unique and pioneering stand-alone wine section, and consolidating back to a single Food and Wine section. While they claim (and for now it seems to be true) that they aren't cutting any existing columns and haven't laid anyone off, it's hard not to see this as more signs of the times.

I also learned yesterday of cuts at American Express Publishing that included Lettie Teague, their Executive wine editor at Food & Wine magazine. Spokeswoman Jill Davison confirmed, "In light of these economic times, Food & Wine magazine's parent company American Express Publishing announced a reduction in staff last week that was spread across the entire company (business/editorial). Among those affected is Food & Wine Executive Wine Editor Lettie Teague, who will continue to write her award-winning column 'Wine Matters' as Food & Wine's contributing wine editor."

Such instability in wine publishing is not confined to our shores. In December, Harpers, one of the U.K.'s longest running wine publications, was sold and merged with rival publication Wine & Spirit.

And the list goes on. Who knew that wine writing was such a cut-throat business? While it might be a stretch to directly connect the drop in demand in wine with the drop in demand for wine writers, they are certainly both symptoms of an increasingly unfriendly economy. And I don't think we've seen the bottom yet by any means.

What does this all mean? I'm glad you asked. One of two things will happen: either we will soon see the rise of an AFL-CIO backed Union of Wine Writers, whose mighty collective bargaining power will turn wine writing into a highly sought-after career with long term salary growth and security... or... there will soon be even more wine bloggers out there.

Because if no one will actually pay you to write about wine, then you've got no choice but to become a wine blogger. Or maybe it's the other way around? Perhaps online media will, at the very least, help some of these talented folks find some work to pay the bills.

So If you see a wine writer panhandling in the street, take them in, give them a cup of coffee, help them set up a Facebook account. Or, better yet, send them my way. I'm hiring.

And at $10 a year, I'm betting that I'm paying the highest salary of any wine blog around.

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