Wine writing for beginners

Thursday, June 27, 2013
Max Allen

headshot of Max Allen
Max Allen

Dear prospective wine writer,

You’ve asked me how I became a wine writer.

I was lucky: I arrived in Melbourne after working in the UK wine trade in the early 1990s. Victoria was coming out of recession, interest in wine was building, a new generation of people was emerging, I was one of very few people who wanted to write about wine, Divine Food and Wine magazine (now defunct) had just started down the road from where I lived, I started writing for them for free (pre-internet days, remember – no such thing as blogs then) and met a photographer who worked at The Age. Through him I got in the back door of the building (literally) and put a type-written story on the Epicure editor’s desk. Right place right time, luck. The rest, as they say ….

If I was starting out now, this is what I’d tell my younger self:

Make sure you have an external and lucrative source of income unrelated to wine (to avoid any potential conflicts) such as a high-powered career in corporate law or being the heir to a vast hotel fortune before you start writing about wine, because writing about wine will not make you rich …

Make sure you don’t have any children or, for that matter, a partner – or, if you do, make sure you are either frighteningly disciplined and / or a workaholic and able to juggle the work/life balance …

Sign up now for a liver transplant and lap-band surgery in ten years' time – unless you have rigid self-control.

Gain as much experience as you possibly can behind the scenes (in wine shops, wineries, wine companies, wine competitions, visiting wine regions around the world, etc) before hanging out your shingle as a writer: people tell you the real stuff if you’re not a journalist.

Specialise: it took me almost 15 years of writing about wine in general before I realised that I wanted to focus on green and alternative wine issues (organics/new grape varieties/natural winemaking, etc) … In today’s overcrowded wine writing scene, you’ll need to stand out from the crowd.

At the same time, make sure your writing is better than everyone else’s. The second word is far more important than the first in the job description ‘wine writer’. And it will help if you have something original to say. Or at least an original way to say what everyone else is thinking.

Go online. Forget getting a job in print. The writing is on the wall for mainstream newspapers and magazines. Or go the other way and set up your own magazine – like Divine did two decades ago. And when you work out how to make money from online wine writing or self-publishing, please let me know.

Hope this helps.


About Max Allen

Max Allen is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about wine for over 20 years. Wine columnist for The Weekend Australian and wine editor for Gourmet Traveller magazine, his book, The Future Makers: Australian Wines for the 21st Century, was named Best International Wine Book at the Louis Roederer Wine Writers Awards in London in 2011. His latest book is Wine Know How, a beginner’s guide to the joys of fermented grape juice.