Saturday, July 19, 2014

Impressions on the Wine Writers Panel at #WBC14 Buellton and My Hunch About Jim Conaway’s Next Book

A few blog posts have already been written about the Saturday Wine Writers Panel at the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Buellton last weekend, (here is a good one) -- but I thought I’d give my impressions too.

The Saturday panel with wine writers Jim Conaway, Mike Dunne, and Steve Heimoff, was in my view, an example of people who are more comfortable on the page than in person. Many great writers are not great speakers. In fact some are completely inarticulate off the page. So while there were a few nuggets of gold in the session, the panning it took to get them was painful.

I found the panel tedious, but in fairness, these types of Q &A panels are always difficult to pull off and it’s hard to get the speakers to be concise and succinct. My hat is off to Taylor Eason for doing a great job wrangling the panel into some semblance of order. Cheers to that!

Mike Dunne, a writer for the Sacramento Bee, seemed overshadowed by the other panelists long rambles. His comments about his writing process were straight forward, but nothing truly noteworthy.

Steve Heimoff is well known as Steve Heimoff. The best question for Heimoff was  –“How do you manage conflicts of interest between your PR obligations with Kendall Jackson vs. your personal blog?”

Steve squirmed a bit and said “Oh wow, that’s a good question.” Then he went on to say that there were some pressures and issues regarding his blog while at Wine Enthusiast, but part of his deal at KJ was that his blog was off the negotiating table. It’s his opinion and he can write what he wants. So in essence he is corporate flack by day, intrepid wine blogger by night! Nice work if you can get it. I dare say he knows how to juggle his editorial with his advertorial. Amirite?

Jim Conaway gave the keynote in Penticton at WBC13 and I thought it was very good. I read both of Jim’s books on Napa and enjoyed them very much. I would have liked to hear more about Jim’s writing and interview process. His Napa books reminded me of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, the non-fiction work by John Berendt.

These kinds of books take a tremendous amount of research and trust creation with your subject. It’s embedded journalism. I imagine Jim’s bourbon and charm offensive is very effective for disarming the people he writes about. Smile before you betray their trust! According to Jim, the diligent and patient writer will find a way to put their subject at ease and eventually the interviewee’s vanity will get in the way and they’ll open up to you. You just need to cozy up to your subject, drink their wine, eat their food, and then get them comfy enough to drop their guard and tell you some real dirt that you can write-up.

In the long run I think it’s probably difficult to repeat the process. You become a victim of your own success and word will spread that you are not to be trusted. That’s the mistake people make in the first place; they talk to writers freely -- but a writer must never be trusted.

I wonder if Jim’s foray into fiction with Nose has anything to do with running out of people who will talk to him? I hope not, because I think his non-fiction is far superior to his fiction.

Given that Jim came back for more WBC this year, I can’t help but wonder if he is working on a deep dark expose of the world of wine blogging. God knows he could write a dozy of a book on the topic.

So, fellow bloggers, did you find yourself getting chatted up by Jim at any of the after-after parties? Do tell.

RELATED POST: A Rant and a Solution for the #WBC14 Writing Workshop

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