Jun 15, 2020
The question comes up again and again in wine: who can we read that is trustworthy and who reports on the truth? We know it isn't the glossy magazines and many industry wonks are all in the pocket of high end producers and beholden to them so they can stay in the "club" and continue to drink expensive wine in their elite circles.
There is one guy, however, that you can trust. And that is Don Kavanagh the editor of Wine-Searcher's journalistic arm. He has spent the past 25 years either working in the wine trade or writing about it, in his native Ireland, the UK, and New Zealand. He is far from an insider and his dedication to telling things as they are -- as a true observer of situations rather than a judge, jury, or partisan -- is clear in all that he writes and publishes.
Don is a truly normal person. Unlike people who were graced with expensive bottles at his parents' dinner table, he worked his way through the wine trade, working in the UK and learning about wine (while also laying bricks, doing construction and being a bouncer), setting up his own shop in New Zealand, and then attending journalism school before launching a successful career at newspapers, wine trade publications, and now Wine-Searcher. I really relate to his story, having grown up in a home without luxuries myself and having to work many jobs to pay the bills.
Don's commitment to honest representation of facts led him to doggedly pursue the 2018 scandal in the Court of Master Sommeliers in which a board member gave away the answers to portions of the exam. This led to all candidates being de-certified and was a big enough story to hit the international news.
While the Court turned to its friends in the wine trade to quickly sweep the scandal and all of the implications it had under the rug, Don kept asking hard questions. He was the single voice in the wine trade that wouldn't let it go. To date, the Court of Master Sommeliers has still never answered his questions nor have they discussed the changes they would make to the exam that would fix some of the problems Don's stories highlighted.
We discuss the issues with the wine industry at large, the certification culture that has emerged, the elitism, and how advertiser dollars drive what gets published and what stays quiet (we mention this disturbing yet honest article by Richard Hemming, Master of Wine “Why Wine Writers Don't Hold The Trade To Account”?).
We discuss how the industry can be fixed, and come to a few conclusions.
If you ever wanted to hear about the underbelly of the wine industry and how wine writing works when advertisers in the industry are involved, as well as the power structure that prevents more honesty in wine, this is the podcast for you. Sign up for the Wine-Searcher newsletter to keep up with him.
Don is one of the best guests I've ever had and I personally love this show!
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