Wednesday, February 01, 2012

I have written many Top 100 lists, and contributed to many more. I've never before found myself on one.

The first message of congratulations popped up on my Facebook page early Monday morning. I had no clue what I was being congratulated for. Surviving the weekend? Making the Monday morning "bean of life" coffee? No, must be the new dog, I supposed. Something about a new dog gets everyone excited.

More notes followed, and a link to the Intowine blog.

And there it was - a list of The Top 100 Most Influential People In The U.S. Wine Industry. The author, Michael Cervin, is unknown to me, but certainly the majority of the names on the list are quite familiar. Like any list, you can quibble with it. "What the hell is Gregutt doing there?" I'm sure a number of readers asked themselves.

Well, I subscribe to the old school philosophy 'never look a gift horse in the mouth.' And not being accustomed to such accolades, I am certainly not about to pull a Woody Allen and ignore or dismiss the honor. To be perfectly honest, I'm very pleased.

The role of a critic, whether you are a film or book or music or art or you-name-it critic, is not something that automatically generates warm and fuzzy feelings from well-wishers. I began doing critical writing simply because I was interested in a particular subject, and was given the opportunity to write about it. I fell into critical writing almost immediately, when I began writing for the Seattle Weekly back in the 1970s. I wrote reviews of rock concerts, records, restaurants, nightclubs, books and media. I had good editors and a certain amount of confidence behind the typewriter (if you have never seen a typewriter, I think they have them in museums nowadays).

I soon realized that a review generated one of three responses. If high praise was delivered, the author might – might – get a note of thanks. If any teeny tiny wrinkle in the performance or event or product was noted, the author would almost certainly get a note of complaint. But most of the time, the author would hear nothing at all. The only thing that kept me on the path of criticism was positive responses from my editors, publishers and employers.

For a number of years I focused on writing about the Seattle theater scene. It was active and fairly polished, and I was enamored of the theatrical world. I decided I would write plays, and I volunteered my time as a stage manager in order to find a comfortable role other than critic or actor that would insert me into the theater world. I devoured books about theater, acting, the great plays and playwrights; I totally immersed myself in the subject. But I never succeeded in breaking out of the prison of being The Critic. Actors whom I greatly admired kept a polite but safe distance; the rest simply ignored me.

I came to realize that I didn't enjoy or thrive in the isolation that being a critic seemed to require. I stopped all critical writing for a number of years. Until I stumbled into the world of wine. Once again, writing about a subject that fascinated me enabled me to learn more, and more quickly, than any other approach. I did not review wines at first; for many years I simply explored the subject in print. And made contacts, and began to make friends.

Fast forward to my present circumstances. Never happier, never more challenged to do the best possible work. But what I cherish the most is the fact that I do not feel isolated. Any critic has his or her critics, and I certainly have my share. That will always go with the territory. But I also have a bounty of talented friends and acquaintances who work in the wine industry in one capacity or another, and I value them beyond words. There is really just one word to say to them all, and to the people with whom I am privileged to share this Top 100 notoriety.



Stephanie LaMonica said...

congratulations, paul. and what a great list for newbies like myself to test my knowledge with, and finally put faces to the names. thanks for sharing.

Art said...

That's great, Paul! The HoseMaster will be so pleased. (He's back, by the way.) Also, I would have place you a lot higher than 42 . . . and a lot farther away from Gary Vaynerchuk!

David Larsen said...

Paul, Thanks for keeping it real despite suffering the slings and arrows that come from doing so. I compare being a wine critic to being an umpire - It's a thankless job because nobody thanks you for making the right call but you get an earful if you make the "wrong" call. Being ranked #42 would also seem to indicate you have done a great job of raising the visibilty of Washington state wines!

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