Alan Goldfarb is a seasoned veteran, who’s been writing about wine, while living and working in Napa Valley. As a journalist, he takes his career very seriously; and so he should, as he’s a very thoughtful guy producing stories of truthfulness. He doesn’t gloss things over. Alan’s investigative, telling it like it is. He’s a journalist, through-and-through… and he writes with succinct style and grace.
I’ve found, in our communications back and forth over the years, that his powerful credentials have created a writer with a very strong ethic. Alan doesn’t write “feel good” stories, per se. He writes about facts, but in a very engaging and well structured manner.
He’s an East Coaster transplanted in wine country, which is probably why I love his style, being a Maine-iac.
NEWSPAPERS & MAGAZINES: Alan has been writing about wine for nearly 20 years. He’s been the wine editor at the St. Helena Star, and his work has also appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, Wine Enthusiast, American Airlines’ American Way, and the Underground Wine Journal (now gone, but was an excellent magazine that I always loved), among many others.
ON-LINE: Alan is an Appellation America senior editor, primarily covering Napa Valley’s AVA, but branches out significantly in other areas. I just read his story on Matanzas Creek in Bennett Valley (Sonoma County) and his story about Santa Clara Valley (Silicon Valley).
BOOKS: He’s the contributor of the chapter, “Chewing on Chile,” in the Travelers’ Tales book, Adventures in Wine. He also wrote the biography of wine artist Thomas Arvid in his 2004 published book, Arvid: Redefining the Modern Still Life.
RADIO: He’s also had his own radio show called “Wine & Food with Alan Goldfarb,” which was broadcast in San Francisco, Sacramento, and in the East Bay of San Francisco.
Alan is very well rounded and quite knowledgeable about the wine industry… and a great read. This you can do any time on Appellation America’s Website. It’s well worth the subscription.
Below is the Q&A. I always love reading the answers, when a writer is willing to take the time to answer my questions. They’re so revealing about the hand behind the pen. Enjoy!
[Q] Many wine writers also have a day job. If wine isn’t your job, what is and for whom?
[A] Wine writing and wine consulting is my day job.
[Q] When did you start writing about wine?
[A] I actually began writing a column in 1981 for a small daily in the Livermore Valley, covering that region’s wine industry. But when I was laid off in one of the periodic economic bloodletting cutbacks that happen in the journalism business, I designed kitchens and managed some restaurants.
I got back into writing in 1990 or ’91 as a freelance, straddling sports (from where my career began in 1966) and wine; and I wrote a wine column for a weekly in Oakland from ’91-’97.
[Q] What prompted you to start writing about wine?
[A] I was first introduced to it inadvertently by my aunt, who married a Sicilian man in Brooklyn. She became a world-class Italian cook and there was always wine on the table as we went to their house for dinner almost every Sunday in the ‘50s and early ‘60s. I never thought that it would become my profession. I first began using it as a “pick-up” line when I dated, enticing women with restaurants and wine; but when I arrived in California in 1973 I quickly realized that the No. 1 sport here was food and wine and so, I left sports and crossed over.
[Q] What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy covering?
[A] I find it challenging to interview individual winemakers and vintners, trying to tease out their stories beyond the cliché and mundane. I also find wine people – for the most part – incredibly bright and interesting. Thirdly, it has been the most exacting task to learn about every aspect of wine, of which there is a never-ending curve. But, as the wonderful André Tchelistcheff once told me upon asking him why he was still working at 90 years old, he replied, “Every day, I wake up, and learn something new.” It has been my mantra.
[Q] How has your job changed since you’ve started?
[A] Absolutely. It’s morphed from simply reviewing wines, to writing about individuals and wineries, to the arcanery of the wine business — the politics, the agriculture, and the process of making wine.
[Q] What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?
[A] Easy. In the same room as the Count du Lur-Saluces of Chateau d’Yquem as we tasted in 2000, his 1950 Sauternes. It was the color of cola, the texture of jello just before it gels, and the taste and smell of crème brulée.
[Q] What’s your favorite variety?
[A] I really don’t have one, although I’m always asked that question. If forced to, I’d say Riesling and Italian reds.
[Q] Do you believe that there are better quality, lower priced wines today, than in past vintages?
[A] Of course, but it depends on what is meant by “better”. Big, over-the-top, sweet, alcoholic reds is not better. They are unbalanced wines (but I know some people adore them). But on balance, wines are made cleaner – all over the world – and with an amazing array of technology (which can go to philosophical differences of opinion), it’s really hard to make a bad wine.
But it’s still equally hard, almost impossible, to make a great wine. Most fall into the middle of the spectrum.
[Q] What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?
[A] Truly leaving the wines pretty much alone. What a concept!
[Q] What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
[A] Well, lobster and foie gras, and chocolate are my favorite foods. Also, Asian foods. So, Champagne with the first, Sauternes with the second, and the chocolate, now that’s a little trickier. People think it’s easy to match chocolate with a red wine, but it depends; depends upon the type of chocolate, and the acidity in the wine. Try a Maderia. Treacherous business that. As for what wine with Asian food, also not easy. Everyone immediately goes to Gewürtz, but not always the best choice. Just as you can’t paint all Asian food with a broad brush, you can’t use just any wine. White, of course, is best because of the acidity, but not all whites have the right amount of acidity.
In general, the best way to match wine and food is not the protein, but the spicing and the sauces that you marry with protein.
[Q] What are your interests outside of the wine business?
[A] I love sports, particularly baseball (in spite of the juice), and I adore music, most especially bee-bop. No. 1 though, is my obsession with finding great restaurants, not an easy thing to do. Just like middle-of-the-road wine, a preponderance of eating places are merely mediocre-to-OK. (And I’m just not talking about high-end restaurants. I’m done with those.) Give me a great Italian restaurant, a great Chinese restaurant, and a fabulous seafood joint, and I’m in heaven. In the Bay Area, sorry to tell you, in spite of its image, there are no great restaurants in any of the three categories, although LaCiccia and Incanto in San Francisco come close; and the best Chinese restaurants – as in most North American cities these days – are in the suburbs. In N.Y. it’s in Flushing, in SF it’s down the Peninsula, in Vancouver it’s Richmond, and in L.A. it’s Alhambra and Monterey Park.
[Q] Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?
[A] The aforementioned Mr. Tchelistcheff and Bob Mondavi. Maybe Eric Dolphy in music. Jackie Robinson in sports. Richard Wing of the Imperial Dynasty in Hanford, equidistant between SF and L.A. Note: They are all dead. One who is still among us: Phillip Chu, who owns a wonderful Burmese restaurant, Nan Yang, on the Oakland-Berkeley line.