My Baltimore Jazz Buddy…

Wine writer Paul Lukacs’s day job is the chair of the English Department at Lyola College in Maryland. He’s another great example of a wine writer who primarily has an academic background, but who also has become deeply involved in the wine business. In fact, he’s so deeply involved that it’s a family affair; not only is Paul a wine writer, but he’s also married to one, Marguerite Thomas.

I first met Paul when he came to Sonoma County to promote his newly released book, American Vintage, The Rise of American Wine, published in 2000 by the Houghton Mifflin Company. Paul, my husband Jose, and I all went to dinner after his book signing at Gallo Winery’s tasting room in Healdsburg. American Vintage won the three major wine Book of the Year awards in 2001 — James Beard Foundation, Champagne Veuve Clicquot, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Paul explains in his book how the United States, with no winemaking traditions of its own, suddenly became a world leader. His book offers a full history; from seventeenth-century experiments, to the fall of wine during Prohibition, through its remarkable upswing in recent decades.

Shortly after our dinner in Healdsburg, I was in Baltimore for business and I contacted Paul and asked if I could take him to dinner in Baltimore. He flipped the table on me, when he and Marguerite invited me to a jazz concert they were going to be attending the night I was in town. The concert then segued into dinner with Paul, Marguerite, and their friends. It was such a wonderful experience, that it’s impossible – and would be rude of me – to forget their extreme generosity and hospitality.

His writings include the following: wine editor of Saveur magazine, and wine columnist for the Washington Times and Wine Review Online.

Paul has written for Wine and Spirits, Food Arts, and American Heritage. He’s traveled to many of the world’s most important winegrowing regions. He’s also taught wine appreciation and education classes; and since 1999, has been a wine consultant for restaurants in the Washington, D. C. area. Paul judges at numerous wine competitions in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, he’s one of the co-founders of the International Wine for Oysters competition held each November in Washington D.C.

All this and education, too…

[Q] What is your academic area of expertise?
[A] American literature, esp. 19th Century.

[Q] What about your academic life most intrigues you?
[A] Teaching. Also, I’m fairly good at academic administration, having been a dept chair for 15 years.

[Q] When did you start, and what prompted you, to start writing about wine?
[A] It was a way to prevent the hobby from getting out of hand and bankrupting me!

[Q] What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy covering?
[A] Its diversity.

[Q] Do you also teach wine classes?
[A] Yes, but not in a university setting.

[Q] What’s your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
[A] There have been so many memorable ones! I honestly can’t choose.

[Q] Do you have a favorite variety? If “yes,” which one?
[A] No – and I don’t think that critics should have favorite grapes and/or types of wine.

[Q] What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
[A] To visit – Alsace.

[Q] Do you believe that there are better quality, lower priced wines today, than in past vintages?
[A] Yes, if by “past” you mean 20 or 30 years ago. No, if you mean 5 or even 10 years ago.

[Q] What’s your favorite innovation in the past few years?
[A] Screwcap, glass, and other so-called alternate closures.

[Q] What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
[A] Champagne and sushi.

[Q] Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, it doesn’t matter)?
[Q] Marguerite, my wife – specifically, her passion for life.