Wine writing - what are the chances?
I've been speaking to quite a few people about wine writing recently, and while it's undeniably self-indulgent and reflexive for wine writers to discussing wine writing - well, you'll just have to indulge me.
Plenty of people want to get into wine writing. On the one hand this keeps the market competitive and varied, but on the other hand it makes earning a living much harder. Because there are diminishing numbers of print titles, and scarce opportunities to get paid online, freelance wine writers are all competing for the same limited number of opportunities. (Also, the rate of pay hasn't changed in years - my first ever commission in 2008 paid 25 pence per word. Last month, I wrote a feature for the exact same rate.)
To make a comfortable income, all wine writers have to diversify by doing things like corporate entertainment, leading masterclasses, teaching WSET courses and so on. The work is out there, but building it up requires at least as much perseverance as it does talent. Plus, some of it can be quite soulless or too compromising or badly paid. For many people, it's too precarious an existence. But if you can stick with it, it's definitely possible.
Anyone serious about wine writing should keep abreast of all the competitions and opportunities that are on offer - of which there are quite a few. The LRIWWA, the YWWA (although this seems to have gone quiet), the F&M Food & Drink Awards, Born Digital, the Wine Blog Awards, the Wine Writers Symposium - these should be on everyone's radar.
Plus at the moment, JancisRobinson.com is running a one-off competition to find the best wine writing talent - the prize for which could be (among other things) a column on the website.
Writing for JR.com was how I got started, so I'm bound to think this is an opportunity not to be missed.
With wine enjoying something of a revival on screen recently, there is perhaps a surge of optimism about the potential for wine writing. For most of the population it remains far too niche, and is unlikely to attract a large readership, regardless of how good the writing is. Whereas from a commercial point of view, potential advertising revenue from wine companies is pretty limited, so wine is a less attractive proposition to editors and publishers than, say, cars or spirits or perfume.
I'd love to think there's a chance for someone to become the Giles Coren of wine writing (and I'd love it even more if that someone was me) but it doesn't seem likely. Besides, the overwhelming momentum for newspapers is to reduce wine coverage. Only last month, the latest wine column to come to an end was Anthony Rose's, who had written for The Independent since it launched in 1986.
As an optimist, I think there are a number of great opportunities for wine writers. But as a realist, there's always going to be a larger number of writers vying for those chances. The most successful will be those who remain stubbornly committed.