my opening farewell

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Suddenly it's so clear to me
That I'd ask you to see
What you may never see
Now my kind words find their way back to me

There's a train every day leading either way
There's a world you know; there's a way to go
You’ll soon be gone; it's just as well
This is my opening farewell...

– Jackson Brown (as sung by Bonnie Raitt) “My Opening Farewell”

This weekend’s column will be my last for the Seattle Times. It has been 11 years since I became the Wine Adviser for the paper, and in that time I have written something like 500 columns.

The path that led me there was a curious one. The late Tom Stockley, who had written the wine column for decades, was a friend and mentor. His sudden and tragic death early in 2000 was a blow not only to those who knew him, but to the entire wine community. Suddenly, there was no leading, authoritative voice tracking the ongoing development of the second largest wine producing region in the country.

For something like two years, Tom’s vacancy remained unfilled. I was encouraged to apply for the job, but was fully occupied with other writing assignments, working on a book, and not interested in a full time position. It was rumored that as many as 400 applications had been received but none accepted. After a considerable time had passed, a friend once again suggested that the paper contact me, and we reached an agreement that worked for both parties.

Remember that in 2002 there were no wine blogs, and the voice behind the wine column at the region’s leading newspaper carried far greater weight than it does today. I believed that I had the knowledge and experience to fill Tom’s shoes, and I dedicated myself to doing the job in a way that would make him, and the industry, proud.

I should mention that I have worked all my life in media and advertising, but never as the full time employee of a single publication. The freelance life is challenging. You work without benefits, sick leave, vacation, pension, or any real security. There is rarely any time off, and certainly no union backing you up. To be successful, you must over-deliver, constantly proving yourself. You must attract and maintain a stable of good clients, fulfill their needs, meet all the deadlines, and keep yourself motivated at all times.

I’ve been able to do this all of my working life. At this time, the opportunities to do more than work as a freelance wine critic have become irresistible. There are speaking engagements, opportunities consulting and training people in the wine business, books to write, and the chance to be part of an exciting new winemaking enterprise. My longtime relationship with Wine Enthusiast remains a priority as well. The Seattle Times column, that I have very much enjoyed writing for the past 11 years, no longer fits comfortably in the mix.

The opportunity to serve newspaper readers with advice and recommendations about wine is one I have especially enjoyed. For many years, my columns ran also in the Walla Walla, Yakima and Spokane papers as well as the Times. In them I have been able to lend support to many a start-up winery, importer and retailer. Though I have been, and continue to be, a critic – in the most helpful sense of the word – I am also an unapologetic cheerleader for the Washington and Oregon wine industries. I’ve watched and chronicled the growth of these industries for the past three decades, and am extremely proud to have been a part of it.

As I wrote in an earlier blog, the world I work in now is increasingly oriented toward online, social media rather than old school print media. With the rise of blogging and other public forums, new guidelines as to transparency and accountability have emerged. I fully embrace and endorse these guidelines. They allow me to be who I am, to write what I feel is important to write about, to express my unedited opinions, and to continue to serve a broad readership, many of whom never see a print publication. I have always, and always will, operate in a way that supports the industry and gives me the freedom to grow, to challenge myself, and to serve my readers in the best possible way.

I intend to continue to cover the wines and wineries of the Northwest just as thoroughly on this blog as I ever did in the newspaper. On Fridays, I will continue to feature a Pick of the Week and spotlight a topic or grape or region or winery with the goal of best serving your interests and needs. On the other blogging days, I will be able to write opinion and comment on breaking and topical news, without the inevitable delays that print entails. I invite you all to join me here from now on, and let me know how I’m doing.


Jo Diaz said...

How well I remember Tom's untimely death, then the next two years of a wine void in Seattle. How well I remember you're entrance into the Seattle Times writing position. (Of course, I've loved your writings with the Enthusiast.)

Then, you began blogging and at one (recent point), you announced that the blog was going to take a back seat. I remember thinking, "This is going to be short lived, because Paul's got a lot to say... He's a big thinker and the blog allows him to say what's on his mind..." And, then you returned. I never saw today's blog post coming, but I do understand.

You are an excellent guest speaker. Hearing you at the past two Oregon Pinot Gris Symposiums has shown me that you're so much more than a wine reviewer/wine writer. You're a brilliant marketer and big thinker, and anyone who brings you in to present ideas is darn lucky to have you.

I wish you well, my friend. You're such a treasure.

Alana said...

Wonderful description of the life of a freelance life. (I've been at it since 1992.) The Jackson Browne song is brilliant. I look forward to reading you wherever you show up and hope I have the opportunity to hear you speak. Best wishes & enjoy~

The Sommeliere said...

Best wishes in all your endeavors!

Matt Levy said...

Paul - I wish you the best in your future adventures. It has been wonderful reading your articles over the last 11 years for the Seattle Times. Your leaving will create a void that will be hard to fill. It is wonderful that you will continue to be a contributing force in the promotion of the wines of the Northwest - through the online medium. We are all lucky to be able to share in your experiences into the future. Cheers!

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