The Great Wine Writer Migration of 2008-2009?

Something unusual is happening in the world of wine writing. While not surprising given the disastrous conditions in the market for those who want to make a living writing about wine, this phenomenon prompts some reflection.

In short: I’m beginning to notice folks who have heretofore made their living as journalists, wine writers, or wine critics are now taking jobs as PR and communication pros in the wine industry.

Two moves that recently caught my eye were Lettie Teague’s appointment as Director of Communications at the Italian Wine Merchant [she’s since moved back to journalism – see comments below], and Alan Goldfarb’s identical role at the Tudal Wine Group. Last year W. Blake Gray ended up at a Newton Wines for a time after taking a buyout at the Chronicle. I’m sure there are more.

On the one hand, as I said, this is hardly surprising. Wine writers need to eat, too. When magazines are folding, newspapers are laying off, and budgets are being cut, the publishing industry is not really in much of a position to offer many wine writers gainful employment. And of course, the wine industry needs the kind of skills that these folks possess (have you noticed it’s getting harder to sell a bottle of wine, these days, too?).

Yet, I must admit, I continue to be somewhat taken aback when I see names I normally associate with bylines followed by fancy titles and the names of wineries, wine retailers, or distributors. My reaction is completely irrational, and I know it, but I haven’t yet managed to suppress the initial gasp of surprise at these folks “crossing the line” to “the other side” like they’ve left the world of “objectivity” and entered the world of spin and marketing.

Never mind that many wine writers got their start on the industry side and then made the transition to journalism. And of course, plenty of wine writers fill the gaps between journalism gigs (those that still have them) by writing copy for winery labels, winery newsletters, and other industry marketing needs. We all gotta pay our rent.

But it still feels a little weird to have the folks we’re used to cutting through the spin be serving it up.

My surprise is no doubt fueled in part by some regret at the state of affairs that the wine writing world finds itself in. We’re losing (I hope only temporarily) some great voices in the world of wine journalism, and some measure of quality as well.

We’re far from the end of this migration from journalism to the commercial world in my opinion. While the publishing industry will recover some, it will be a long time before it even begins to approach its former self. And when it comes to wine writing, the future is definitely not going to look anything like the past.