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American Journalism Review
Covering Blowouts and Bouquets  | American Journalism Review
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From AJR,   March 1996

Covering Blowouts and Bouquets   

By Julie Ann Kodmur
Julie Ann Kodmur is a marketing consultant in California.     

It is, perhaps, an unlikely trend. Sports journalists, with their liberal use of such phrases as "in the paint" and "burying the trey," and wine journalists, with their endless adjectives to distinguish between wines that are "pre-Raphaelite" and those that are "forward," seem to have little in common. But the two disciplines seem to be converging with an increasing number of sportswriters alternating as wine writers.

Art Spander, a sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and freelance wine writer, argues the trend is a logical evolution from the days when sportswriters puffed on cigars and guzzled beer. Today, Spander explains, hardly anyone smokes and everyone drinks wine. "It's a natural progression," he says.

Paul Gillette, the late editor of The Wine Investor and author of several books, including "The Coaches' Quotebook," explained the phenomenon this way: "People who write about sports have an appetite for the good life. And wine is a quintessential part of the good life."

Sportswriters often attribute their interest in wine to the perks of their job--extensive travel and five-star dining on expense accounts. Some credit their appreciation of fine wine to the expensive bottles sent their way by star ballplayers eating a few tables away.

Mike Rubin, a former sports and wine writer for the Associated Press, offers another take. "If you're a sportswriter," he says, "you're inevitably a kibitzer. Your job is to second-guess as a fan would: 'Why did they bunt?' 'Why didn't they put in a pinch-hitter?' " Rubin makes the case that the same quality helps a wine reviewer. "There are always lots of questions: 'Why didn't they harvest earlier?' 'Why did they use malolactic fermentation?' "

Most sports/wine writers insist that switching from sports to wine and back isn't really much of a stretch. "Metaphor and simile are critical for both," says Dan Berger, a wine columnist with the Los Angeles Times syndicate and former sportswriter. "It's awfully tough to describe the emotion involved in a winning touchdown drive, or in tasting a 100-year-old Bordeaux. Whether it's Joe Montana or an 1881 Lafite, you have to make these things come alive."

Many sports/wine writers concede that both fields are deserving of criticism. "Most sportswriting is contrived, derivative and un-original. Sports events are oriented towards moneymaking, and the public has become cynical," says Berger. "Wine writing today is not honest enough and is filled with false illusion, pandering and gutlessness, where a wine writer might be overwhelmingly gentle to a particular winemaker for fear of alienating him or her."

Lew Perdue, editor and publisher of Wine Business Monthly and a former sportswriter at the Elmira, New York, Star-Gazette, says the main problem is that both types of writing have become too distanced from readers. "There's a calculus of writing that tapers off into an infinity of irrelevancy," he says. "The writers are desperately searching for words that are different from what they used last time: The harder they grunt and groan and stretch for a new way to describe something, the further away they get from being relevant to the consumer."

Nevertheless, many sports/wine writers say that they continue to be drawn to both sports and wine writing because they offer something other journalistic endeavors lack--excitement.



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