Writing a book part 31 - total overhaul

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Writing a book part 31 - total overhaul

Last month, following the advice of a professional within the book trade, I resolved to write a synopsis to help me see where I could add more to the book, which needs to be longer by around 50% of its current length.

As part of this, I sent the manuscript as it stands to my very close friend Will, who also writes for a living and has particular expertise in television. As a result, I now have developed a much stronger plot - but it is significantly different from the current story, and involves a complete rethink of one of the main supporting characters.

In fact, it is so different that it feels a bit like starting from scratch - and I've seriously considered abandoning all the writing so far and literally opening a new blank document. Hardly the most encouraging thought, and such thoughts are usually swiftly followed by a strong urge to forget the whole thing. Which is swiftly followed by a large glass of wine.

A core problem that Will pointed out is that the main storyline - the love story between Chloe and Freddie - doesn't really work. It happens too late, too incidentally, and too un-satisfyingly. There is not enough emotional investment in their relationship, and not enough at stake for readers to particularly care why they should be together.

Instead, there's an awful lot of stuff about wine - which confirms something I was trying to avoid. My intention was always to write a book in which wine was the context, rather than the story, but that's not what I've ended up with. 

However, I've continued working on the synopsis, and have designed a much better romance storyline, based on the story structure that Will told me about here. It feels a bit hackneyed and unoriginal to copy a formula for storytelling, but this is how so many great stories are structured, I'd be stupid to deny it.

The net result is that I don't quite need to start from scratch, but I will need to change something like 90% of the text as it stands - as well as writing at least 20,000 new words.

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Everything I wrote in March

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Everything I wrote in March

Over the Easter holidays I was on holiday for two weeks (as pictured), so here's a late round-up of everything I wrote last month.

 

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The best BYO in London?

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The best BYO in London?

Finding a needle in a haystack might be hard, but finding a good quality yet affordable needle in a haystack is even harder. Likewise for BYO restaurants in London.

There are plenty of lists of BYO options in London (see these Google results), but when you look closer there is usually a catch. Many of them only offer corkage on a Monday night, which is a logical policy to encourage custom on the quietest night of the week, but for the same reason it's the least appealing night of the week to go out for dinner.

Others have prohibitive corkage charges (above £50 per bottle in some cases) or are located in distant parts of the city, or cook a particular style of food which might not be the most wine-friendly cuisine. Sometimes these places can work out perfectly - but in my experience, they are often not quite right.

Which is why I was so delighted to discover Foxlow. It's a small chain of casual restaurants with branches in Balham, Clerkenwell and best of all, Soho. It's an offshoot of Hawksmoor (itself a popular Monday-night BYO option, though the menu isn't cheap) and therefore has a good pedigree of well-sourced ingredients. The Foxlow menu is basic and the cooking is straightforward - and that's a very good thing. They have a choice of good steak, burgers and fried chicken plus one or two more fancy items, such as whole fried bream and smoked mackerel salad.

It's a relaxed room with good acoustics, friendly young staff and quick service. But the real kicker is unlimited, free corkage every Tuesday. I've been twice with a large group - most recently the bill came to £24 each, which bought us more food that we could finish, plus unlimited BYO.

It's not a Michelin-starred affair, and not trying to be. But for a good-quality casual dining option it is incredibly good value. Quite how they can stay profitable for £24/head I don't know, especially with the squeeze that so many restaurants are feeling right now. (In fact, their Chiswick branch has recently closed down, which I hope is a one-off.)

But there's no other restaurant in central London I know of that offers free mid-week corkage with good quality crowd-pleasing food. For the wine trade, this is a godsend - and we should make maximum use of it so that it doesn't get lost back in the haystack.

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Writing a book part 30 - the secret to getting published

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Writing a book part 30 - the secret to getting published

Last month, I attended a City Lit course entitled 'How to impress a publisher', which promised to reveal all about how to get a novel from your hard disk to a shop shelf. The good news is that it delivered exactly that insight. The bad news is that I'm now faced with much more work to do.

One of the main shortcomings of my novel is its length. At around 60,000 words, it falls short of the standard 90-100k length. This is important for an entirely pragmatic reason: there is an expected standard width for paperback novels, all of which retail for around £8 each. A shorter novel will have a thinner shelf profile and that is enough to discourage publishers, because potential buyers will be put off at the smaller size - and having to pay the same price for it.

It was made very clear to us that publishers and agents are looking for any excuse to reject submissions. The top agents can apparently receive 300 manuscripts every week but might only take on three or four new clients in an entire year. The importance of fulfilling the standard industry expectations is essential to give yourself the best possible chance. Submitting a short novel is a fast track to getting a rejection letter.

That means I need to extend the length of my novel by at least 25%, which is more than six months' work at my current rate. Therefore I won't get it finished before my 40th birthday in July - which was my original ambition. But an arbitrary date is no good reason to undermine whatever (slim) chances I have.

So now I have to figure out how to add more to my novel. Once I've finished my current round of revisions, I intend to write a single-page synopsis of the book as it stands. There are already some bits that I know could be fleshed out. In addition, I will probably need an additional subplot - and I have some initial ideas about how that could work.

The rewrites I am doing at the moment are going quite well, and are making the book stronger, I think. Something else we were told on the course was that you had to make the submission as good as it can possibly be, rather than sending in an imperfect version and implying there's room for improvement.

They also told us that a £5,000 advance would be considered very generous for a first novel, and that a bestselling debut is only sells around 20,000 copies, with a royalty of only 3% of the cover price. Evidently nobody is in this for the money ...

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Everything I wrote in February

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Everything I wrote in February

It was an unexpectedly busy month for me in February, which included two days in Amsterdam being filmed for the forthcoming Wine Masters documentary (as pictured). That meant things were a little quiet here on the blog - though I did manage to write something to mark my tenth anniversary as a fully fledged wine writer. Here's everything else I wrote, plus a short appearance on America's National Public Radio network (at 2:38).

 

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How to write about wine

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How to write about wine

Or more accurately, 'how I write about wine'. Ten years ago today, my first ever piece was published on JancisRobinson.com, which is my self-indulgent excuse to cobble together the rules of writing I've set myself over the last decade.

I don't claim any of these as original or radical, nor do I always stick to them, but I would like to think they have helped develop my AWARD-WINNING (once) style. So for what they're worth, here are my ...

Ten golden rules of wine writing

  1. Entertain first and foremost
    The world of wine takes itself far too seriously. Even the most technical article should be entertaining to read. That doesn't mean cracking jokes every second sentence (see rule three), it means writing in a way which is enjoyable to read using wit, creativity, storytelling and levity.
  2. Write about something else
    This was always one of my favourite rules, originally inspired by reading Giles Coren's restaurant reviews in The Times. He routinely writes at least half an article on a completely different topic before even mentioning the restaurant he's reviewing. This has an important function, and it's not simply eating up word count: it gives an insight into the personality of the writer, providing useful context to the subsequent review. Even a few opening sentences on an apparently random topic can do the trick.
  3. Don't try to be funny
    Trying to be funny is one of the most painful faults in writing of any kind. Granted, everyone has a different sense of humour, but forcing it never comes across well. Effective humour tends to be thrown away and understated rather than shoehorned and overworked. Funny, or funny not. There is no try.
  4. Don't repeat yourself
    A nice simple one: avoid repetition. I try not to use unusual words more than once in the same article - or possibly ever. There's always another way of saying something. Forcing yourself to begin paragraphs with interesting words is a good exercise in creativity. 
  5. Kill your babies
    Literally. No, not literally. But ruthless cutting is essential to develop better writing. This can be particularly gutting when you've laboured over a passage and it still isn't working - but it's these moments which usually sound exactly that: laboured. If I'm doubtful about something I've written, I grit my teeth and delete it. I heard somewhere that the writing team on Blackadder would only include a joke if it made everyone laugh. One stony face, and it was cut.
  6. Get the basics right
    Practice makes perfect. Or is it practise? Getting the basics of grammar and spelling right should be non-negotiable, but there's still lots of shoddy writing out there. Having an editor makes an enormous difference, but for self-editing try reading your writing out loud. This is a great way of checking typos, clarity and comprehensibility. And if you grimace while reading any of it, refer to rule five.
  7. Avoid school reports
    It was a [insert weather] morning when we arrived in [wine region] for a [duration] trip to discover its wonderful wines - and have a lot of fun along the way!
    NO NO NO NO NO.
  8. Don't be wrong
    This is less about style and more about basic professionalism. Spell names correctly, never miss a deadline, get your facts right, fulfil the remit, hit the word count, trust your editor.
  9. Don't swear
    Not through any oversensitive sense of decorum, but because profanity is cheap. It's nearly always more effective to achieve emphasis through more creative wordplay rather than resorting to default swear words.
  10. The callback and the rug-pull
    These can sometimes be clichéd, but are two of my favourite techniques when used effectively. The callback simply picks up on an earlier funny comment and it's a useful way of rounding off an AWARD-WINNING article. The rug-pull is when you set something up but then go somewhere totally unexpected, like that time I was writing the ten golden rules of wine writing while completely naked.

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Writing a book part 29 - re-writing the wrongs

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Writing a book part 29 - re-writing the wrongs

After denying the inevitable for the last few months, I now realise how necessary significant rewrites are for my book. I had hoped that small re-writes for specific passages would suffice, and I planned a timetable that would mean I finished these by March.

That included a full re-write of chapter six, because it simply wasn't good enough. It's no coincidence that this was the first thing I started writing back in January 2016 (when it was chapter seven, in fact). Over the last fortnight, I have rewritten the chapter from scratch and it feels like much better quality writing. Now that I've finally written the rest of it, I inevitably have much better confidence with the tone, characterisation and style of the book.

Unfortunately, this means that large parts of the other chapters I started with will need the same treatment. So I'm faced with effectively having to rewrite the entire first half of the book. 

Groan.

This is exactly what I hoped to avoid, but I can't ignore the fact that the quality of the earliest writing is so much worse than what comes later. My absolute deadline for finishing the book was always going to be my 40th birthday on 25th July. I'm still working on the book for 30 minutes each normal work day. There are 79 of those between now and my birthday, which should allow me to rewrite around 24,000 words. 

So I'd better get on with it.

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Everything I wrote in January

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Everything I wrote in January

January was a busy month of tastings, with the Burgundy 2016 en primeur campaign dominating proceedings. In total, I published 785 tasting notes this month - so here's a round-up of those, and everything else:

  • On JancisRobinson.com:
  • My Living France column continued a new series on iconic French wines by focusing on Petrus
  • My Drinks Retailing News column was a sobering look at the anti-alcohol brigade
  • And there were four blog posts, the most popular of which was a comparison of subscription prices for wine writing websites

 

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The lure (and economics) of en primeur

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The lure (and economics) of en primeur

This week, I bought wine en primeur for the first time. Or rather, I've applied to. My application for an allocation of the wines won't be officially confirmed for several weeks yet.

I've gone for four half-cases of Rhône 2016, all of which I tasted as part of my en primeur coverage for JancisRobinson.com last year. I had no intention of buying, but The Wine Society sent a flyer this week and I happened to have some money to spend. So, after a bit of research I went for the following:

  • 6 bottles x Ch de Beaucastel, Coudoulet de Beaucastel 2016 Côtes du Rhône
  • 6 bottles x Delas, Dom de Grands Chemins 2016 Crozes-Hermitage
  • 6 bottles x Pierre Gaillard 2016 Côte-Rôtie
  • 6 bottles x Yves Cuilleron, Bassenon 2016 Côte-Rôtie

The en primeur prices per bottle are £12, £15.33, £25.83 and £28.33. However, when you add on five years of storage, plus duty and VAT, the prices will work out more like £20.60, £24.59, £37.19 and £40.19.

So the question is, will the 2016 vintage of these wines be cheaper to buy at retail in five years' time? Wine-Searcher led me to the following retail prices for older vintages of these same wines, available to buy now:

For close to the same price, I could buy mature vintages of these wines right now, and have them to drink today. So why didn't I do that?

Seriously, why didn't I? Sort of wish I'd written this blog before placing the order.

But in fact, there is a reason, and it explains exactly why en primeur works. Firstly, the 2016 vintage is particularly good, and the en primeur prices I'm paying are at least not inflated. It is highly unlikely that these wines will be cheaper at retail in five years time (which can't be said for some red Bordeaux).

Secondly, I'm guaranteeing my share (assuming I get the allocation requested). I've tasted these wines, I know how good they are, and I don't want to miss out.

Finally, and most importantly of all, is the romance of buying en primeur. The reason wine is so compelling isn't about cold economics or rational thinking - it's about embracing the emotional pull of wine. Not just the endlessly intriguing flavours, but the personal connections to the producer, the place, the vintage.

Until this week, I've never been able to afford to buy en primeur. Frankly, I could probably have spent the £500 I'm paying for these 24 bottles on much wiser things. But the connection that I get for that purchase is worth more than the money. Years from now, I will take delivery of these cases and feel a much greater sense of connection and anticipation than if I'd bought older vintages found online via a search engine. Wine, after all, is not about objective quality of flavour, but what particular bottles subjectively signify to us as individuals.

That's the real lure of en primeur.

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Writing a book part 28 - planning ahead

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Writing a book part 28 - planning ahead

By the end of this week, I should have worked through my first draft making all the changes I annotated in the hard copy. The cuts and edits mean the length is now below 60,000 words, which is painful because it means I almost certainly need to write additional new material. There's nothing wrong with a short novel in itself, but I think mine will need more to build up the shortcomings in plot and characterisation.

Of which there are plenty. Once I've finished the first edits, I intend to print and read the whole thing in one sitting so that I get a good impression of where most work is needed. I already have an inkling as to what the weak points are, as follows:

  • certain similes and imagery and repeated too often
  • using magazine articles (written by one of the characters) to explain plot details is probably too obvious and clunky
  • the relationship between two of the supporting characters doesn't really serve any purpose
  • the courtship between the two main characters probably needs to be longer
  • the characterisation is inconsistent, including speech patterns

This potentially involves significant rewriting and additions, and I'm not sure yet whether to do this before sending it to agents and publishers. That ultimately depends on whether it's good enough to send out as it stands. It might be more useful to get feedback from publishing professionals about what changes are most important rather than spending another six months writing. 

Besides, I'm keen to get the book into other people's hands and have started thinking about how to do that. I've signed up for a one-day course at City Lit called How to impress a publisher, and I'm also thinking about what genre it fits into - probably romantic fiction. I wish it was literary fiction, but it really isn't. And I definitely don't want to call it wine fiction. Hopefully the course will help me figure out this sort of thing.

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How many wine writing subscription websites are there?

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How many wine writing subscription websites are there?

There are lots of things the world needs. More subscription-based wine writing websites probably isn't one of them, yet they continue to proliferate. One of the most recent additions was Decanter, and I noticed today that Jasper Morris's Burgundy site is going to introduce a paywall soon.

I even hear that the Hosemaster of Wine is going to introduce a $199 subscription which will actually block subscribers from accessing his site. Sign me up.

So how many wine writing subscription websites are there? At least 31, by my reckoning - and probably quite a few more. I've listed them below in descending order of annual subscription in GBP, including local currency where relevant.

Whether they actually generate a decent income for their respective owners is an entirely different question. Incidentally, an annual subscription to all of them would cost £1,286 - the same as a triple-pack of Armand de Brignac champagne at Hedonism. I'll leave you to decide which is better value.

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A list of wine writing subscription websites

  1. Burghound £107 ($145)
  2. JamesSuckling.com £107 ($145)
  3. Vinous £88 ($120)
  4. View From The Cellar £88 ($120)
  5. JancisRobinson.com £85
  6. Restaurant wine £80 ($109)
  7. Quarin.com £80 (€90)
  8. Champagne Club £79 (€89)
  9. Decanter £75
  10. RobertParker.com £73 ($99)
  11. JebDunnuck.com £73 ($99)
  12. Champagne Guide £66 ($89)
  13. Burgundy Report £64 (CHF85)
  14. MatthewJukes.com £60
  15. La Revue du Vin de France £52 (€59)
  16. International Wine Review £51 ($69)
  17. The Feiring Line £50 ($68)
  18. Wine Companion £45 (AUD79)
  19. The Wine Doctor £45
  20. Wine Spectator £44 ($60)
  21. For The Love Of Port £43 ($59)
  22. Purely Domestic Wine Report £37 ($50)
  23. HuonHooke.com £28 (AUD49)
  24. The Wine Front £28 (AUD49)
  25. Drink Rhône £25
  26. The California Grapevine £24 ($32)
  27. JeremyOliver.com £23 (AUD40)
  28. Wine Align £21 (CAD35)
  29. NatalieMaclean.com £21 (CAD35)
  30. The Wine Gang £19.99
  31. Inside Burgundy (TBC)

Are there any I've missed? Let me know in the comments below!

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Everything I wrote in December

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Everything I wrote in December

December goes quiet for the small world of wine writers, so my monthly output was accordingly reduced. Even so, there was plenty of delicious wine to drink, including those served at the JancisRobinson.com Christmas party - see below. 

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Here is everything I wrote last month:

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The state of wine writing in 2017

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The state of wine writing in 2017

Much has changed since I reviewed the state of wine writing last year, yet while the pack has been shuffled, the game stays largely the same. So let's have a look at how things stand at the end of 2017.

Print: no news is Good news?

As far as I know, nobody has lost a newspaper column this year, which must count as a success of sorts. The main national columnists remain intact, and judging by the chart below, there aren't going to be many personnel changes soon.

Duration of UK wine writers' newspaper columns

However, at Decanter magazine there have been some significant changes. Time Inc. (the owner of IPC Media who publish Decanter) were bought by the Meredith Corporation in November. It is not yet clear how that might affect the fate of Decanter, which remains profitable thanks to the Decanter World Wine Awards, yet must be struggling with the challenges of nosediving advertising revenue in the magazine itself.

Furthermore, one of the brand's most important forces left the magazine earlier this year. Rumours abounded that publisher Sarah Kemp was given little option but to quit when management imposed a new direction that she disagreed with.

There are signs of positivity too, however: last week, regular contributor Matt Walls announced he had been given a contributing editor's role. Congratulations to him!

Books

Despite the fact that dozens of wine books continue to be published each year, those that make a profit must be few and far between. For many wine writers, their purpose is to raise profile and credibility, and in many cases purely to satisfy a creative urge. The days of a wine writer being paid £1m over four years in the mid-1980s by their publisher are long gone, I'm extremely sad to say. But that's what Hugh Johnson got from Mitchell Beazley, according to the man himself in The Sunday Times last week.

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Unbelievable indeed.

Online

The main gossip from the online world of wine writing concerns RobertParker.com. In July, the Michelin Guide purchased 40% of the company. Since Parker began relinquishing control of his publication five years ago, there have been rumours of unrest among the editorial team, and two big names departed the publication this year: Jeb Dunnuck and Neal Martin. 

Both were key members of the editorial team, and while to lose one might be regarded as a misfortune, to lose both looks like carelessness, to misquote Oscar Wilde. They have recruited William Kelley in replacement.

Elsewhere on the wine writing web, Decanter put up a paywall for their premium content, which must surely be related to the changes mentioned above. For all our sakes, it is essential for it to succeed, although these comments are not exactly the most favourable. Tune in this time next year to find out.

What does 2018 hold?

Despite the shifting sands at Decanter and RobertParker.com, it seems unlikely that anything very sudden and dramatic will befall such established businesses, although there is a rumour going around that Sarah Kemp might try to buy Decanter off its new owners and set it up as an independent magazine. My hope is that any changes are ultimately for the best.

The number of wine writing subscription sites seems to have reached saturation point, so I would be surprised if any new ones were established; whereas Antonio Galloni's Vinous may well continue its spending spree to consolidate its position as a challenger to the RobertParker.com empire. The joke goes that his next big recruitment will be Bob himself.

But one thing's for sure: nobody's going to be getting paid £250k a year for writing wine books.

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67 Pall Mall goes up in the world (including full online wine list)

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67 Pall Mall goes up in the world (including full online wine list)

London's club for wine lovers, 67 Pall Mall, has now been operating for just over two years. Last month, they opened a new upstairs floor which doubles their capacity and provides a much-needed casual space for drinks and food. (Unlike downstairs, jackets are not required, but there is still a ban on sportswear, ripped jeans, gym shoes etc).

 The club room bar

The club room bar

The club room, as the upstairs is known, seats 93 in a cleverly designed space that has several different sections. The horseshoe bar is the main feature, with an assortment of tables and chairs around it. There's a large oak boardroom table high stools, and a coal fire with easy chairs.

 The boadroom table and below the mirror behind it, the marble fireplace

The boadroom table and below the mirror behind it, the marble fireplace

Towards the back of the room is a smaller, more private section of tables and chairs which can be commandeered for book launches and the like, then a final cubby-hole known as the naughty corner, which features a mini cocktail bar and saucy pictures on the walls.

 The smaller section

The smaller section

 The way to the naughty corner

The way to the naughty corner

This extra space has made a huge difference to the usability of the club, which could frequently be overcrowded in the bar and mezzanine for those who hadn't booked a table. The lounge (downstairs) remains unchanged, serving a full menu and requiring bookings; the club room (upstairs) is unbookable and serves a different menu from a dedicated kitchen.

The by-the-glass lists are different too, though have similarly big range. Both are accessed via tablets, and can therefore be found online, using these links:

WINE LIST FOR THE 67 PALL MALL LOUNGE (DOWNSTAIRS)
WINE LIST FOR THE 67 PALL MALL CLUB ROOM (UPSTAIRS)

It's very useful being able to look at the wine list in advance! Top tip: hover your mouse to the right of the wine name to see how much is available. (Often there will be fewer than two glasses left.)

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Compared to last year, I've been using the club much less in 2017. About half as much, in fact, though my average spend has doubled. That means I've been in around 25 times and spent about £2,000 (including the annual fee of £750). That's pretty small fry compared to some many of the spending I've seen in there, but it represents pretty good value for me.

Talking of which, the wine list is full of outstanding buys. Some of my highlights this year have been:

  • Château Tahblik Shiraz 1999 Nagambie Lakes, £7
  • Domaine de la Côte, La Côte Pinot Noir 2013 Sta Rita Hills, £17
  • J L Chave Sélection, Offerus 2013 St-Joseph, £11
  • Julien Pilon, Lône 2014 Condrieu, £8.50
  • Dom St-Prefert, Collection Charles Giraud 2011 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, £8.50
  • M Chapoutier, Chante-Alouette 2015 Hermitage, £11
  • Two Paddocks Riesling 2105 Central Otage, £7

For me, the club has become indispensible as a place to meet colleagues and friends for drinks and meetings, or as a quiet place to work during the day. The food keeps getting better, and the kitchen seems proficient at everything from steak to Thai-style salads. And the staff are, without fail, professional, welcoming and superbly efficient.

Is 67 Pall Mall a perfect 100-pointer, then? Not quite. The biggest bugbear is the amount of time it takes to get served. This is perhaps an unavoidable consequence of a huge list and using the Coravin, but it isn't uncommon to sometimes have to wait ten minutes to get your wine in front of you. Regarding food, I'd still like to see a fixed-price menu option. Otherwise, the reception and cloakroom area can get congested at peak times and I'd like better filtering/sorting options in the wine list - arranging search results by price or vintage, for example.

But these are small gripes and overall, I am very impressed. What amazes me now is how we ever managed without a place which has now become a London wine institution.

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Writing a book part 27 - a new deadline

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Writing a book part 27 - a new deadline

After taking a month off (to write an entry for this competition), I have returned to first draft of my book, and it's not as awful as I thought. In fact, I'm quite pleased with the last few chapters and the ending - perhaps only because they seem to need minimal rewriting. 

Elsewhere, however, much more is needed. Chapter 19 didn't exist apart from a few notes, so I'm currently writing that. Then I will start rewriting from the beginning, working from the printed copy of my first draft, which I have been annotating. 

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I've also decided to swap the order of two chapters, and completely delete chapter one. I'm now not sure how the book will start, and how much extra I will have to write. The word count is pretty low - currently under 65,000 words, which is short for a novel. I had originally intended to reach 80,000 but the idea of having to write an additional 25% of the existing book seems way too time-consuming.

As things stand, I hope to have the second draft finished by March 2018. At that point, the intention is to start sending it to agents and publishers. (I say that like I know what it actually involves. I suppose it starts, as all things do, with Google.)

There are a few people I have a vague connections to that could potentially give me some leads, but I'm quite looking forward to sending it out unsolicited to get some reaction and feedback. I reserve the right to change my opinion on this based on the nature of the reaction and feedback.

But before that, there is plenty to do to get it into shape.

 

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Everything I wrote in November

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Everything I wrote in November

November saw my Rhône en primeur coverage published on JancisRobinson.com, which took up most of my time. In other news, A Glass With was selected for Spotify - one of only three wine-related podcasts on the platform! Olly and I are busy planning more episodes for the new year.

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What's in my Eurocave 2017

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What's in my Eurocave 2017

When I bought my Eurocave over two years ago, the intention was to keep some bottles long term, but to have at least 25% ready to drink. There have generally always been a few spare slots as I drank various bottles and bought new ones on a whim. Last month, however, I filled every spare slot, so I figured now would be a good time to audit what I've got and provide a few selected highlights.

Of the nine wines I mention in December 2015, only three are still present. So much for keeping wines long term. They are: 

  • Samsara, Rancho La Viña Pinot Noir 2012 St Rita Hills
  • Cien y Pico, Doble Pasta 2009 Manchuela
  • Damianitza, Uniqato Rubin 2010 PGI Thracian Lowlands

I'm endeavouring to not open them until at least ten years after their vintage. Based on my prowess so far, that isn't very likely. However, there are plenty of others to drink in the meantime ...

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The Taylors 1985 was a recent purchase from The Wine Society - at £75, this is a massive bargain, and I intend to open it this winter. The Schloss Johannisberg Rotlack Riesling Feinherb is a 2013 and should keep for years, but I reckon about five years old will be just to my taste - not too oily, still full of fruit. I bought a bottle of Solace Syrah in Edinburgh earlier this year and it blew me away. It's made by Iona, and is genuinely one of the best Syrahs I've had all year. When I saw it for £21 from The Wine Society, I bought three more. And Norman Hardie Chardonnay is one of my all-time favourites. Olly Smith gave me this bottle in this podcast episode.

Then there's a bunch of bottles that I will try and keep a bit longer, if I can.

The Janasse Vieille Vignes Châteauneuf was a gift from the singers in Skin Côntact LIVE AGAIN so has great sentimental value. I intend to open on the ten-year anniversary of the gig (12 May 2026). I got lucky with the Château Figeac, which came in a random case of bottles bought from the Institute of Masters of Wine when they were clearing out ready for their office move. The 2016 Assyrtiko de Mylos was the last vintage made by Harry Hatzidakis before he tragically died this year, so I will open that in his honour in the next few years. And the Jamet Côte-Rôtie 2010 is pretty much my ultimate wine. The 2010 vintage is going for around £150 per bottle today - way beyond my usual price range (this bottle was a gift).

Oh, and that random bottle of sake? I finally chucked it away last week. The bottle was leaking and it had turned yellow.

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How to get a job in the wine industry 2017

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How to get a job in the wine industry 2017

Since I first wrote this post two years ago, the principles of getting a job in wine haven't really changed. But because that article has become one of the most popular on my blog, I wanted to provide an revised version. What follows are my top tips for how to get a job in the wine industry right now, and an updated resources section.

This advice isn't the only way to get a job in the wine trade, but it covers the most common experiences that most people have in the UK. (If you want to read about how I did it, see here.)

  1. Start at the bottom of the ladder. This could apply to any career, of course, but for the UK wine industry it means working in retail, B2B sales or hospitality. (Increasingly, there is the option to work in production too - although these jobs tend to require specific training and are generally over-subscribed). Entry-level jobs are rarely glamorous and never well paid, but they will get you crucial experience - and contacts - in the business. There's no substitute for learning the basics the hard way.
  2. Learn about wine. Many people are attracted to the wine industry because they already love wine, but learning about it to a professional standard requires serious commitment. Taking WSET courses is virtually a prerequisite, but you should also be reading books, magazines and websites as well as tasting as much as possible. If that sounds like a hardship, the wine industry probably isn't for you!
  3. Be flexible. Developing a career in wine can require relocations, unsociable hours and low wages. It's usually easier to do this relatively early in your career, but either way, you need to be prepared to make sacrifices and adapt to whatever opportunities come your way.
  4. Go where the money is. Rightly or wrongly, there will always be more opportunities to work in wine (especially fine wine) wherever disposable income is highest. For the UK, that means London and a few other large cities.
  5. Keep the faith! The wine trade is competitive and oversubscribed. Having a successful career requires commitment and longevity. It isn't always easy, but the perks - the travel, the people, and most of all, loads of delicious wine - are usually enough to convince most of us that it's a great industry to work in. So good luck!

USEFUL RESOURCES

WINE TRADE JOB ADVERTS

These sites are the main UK-based wine jobs boards and are all reputable and trustworthy sources.

OTHER ADVICE

  • Master of Wine James Cluer wrote this blog about getting into the wine industry in 2017
  • This 2016 post from Craft Beverage Jobs is particular relevant to woking in the US wine industry
  • The WSET careers path page contains descriptions of 19 important roles in the wine industry. There's also a series of blogs going in to more details about specific wine jobs.
  • Wine Folly have a post from 2015 giving the US perspective on wine careers, including salary expectations
  • This 2008 article from The Independent has useful guidelines to working with wine
  • Decanter wrote this article in 2003 which is still relevant, if out of date

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Writing a book part 26 - half-time hiatus

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Writing a book part 26 - half-time hiatus

My work on the novel has ground to a halt - I'm telling myself this is a deliberate and temporary ploy, but there's a niggling doubt that it might be more than that. The reasons are simple: firstly that I've been away travelling for a fortnight, during which time I (intentionally) didn't take the first draft with me to proof read; and secondly, that I've now reached the end of the first half anyway - and have realised how much rewriting is required.

Worse still, the rewriting is needed because what I've already written is so poor in places. There are long sections which I thoroughly dislike and which need to be cut and started afresh. This is a depressing thought, and a drawn-out process, which makes me question how committed I am to seeing it through. Do I want to spend another year writing this book? Or even longer? For what purpose?

One of the original motivations I had was to simply to see if I can indeed finish a complete novel. I'm under no illusions as to its likelihood making any money from it - but I still wanted to achieve the goal. Right now, however, I am enjoying the break from it - and distracting myself by writing something totally different instead - an entry to the Mogford Prize short story competition.

Next month, I will return to the novel. But I can't be sure if my feelings will have become much more positive.

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Everything I wrote in October

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Everything I wrote in October

For two weeks this October I was travelling in the Rhône valley, tasting the 2016 vintage and taking notes for publication soon on JancisRobinson.com. In the meantime, here's the other writing I've been doing.

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