Something that I had written in one of my blog postings, which was something known within the wine industry but not really general knowledge, drew Keith Wallace to me. He was writing a story for The Daily Beast, and was interested in interviewing me, in order to get more specific details. As we talked, I realized that if I ever had anything that needed a journalistic voice in the future, this would be the man to whom I’d run.
In his wine career, Keith keeps his mind open and his pocketbook closed; i.e., he doesn’t even take samples, but successfully runs a wine school.
- In my experience, this is unheard of.
- He’s operating a wine school in the most restrictive state in the nation, Pennsylvania. You may not know this, but the tax on wine in PA is so exorbitant that a $10 of wine in all other 49 states costs at least $13 in PA. Imagine the cost of a $100 bottle. (It’s almost like their legislators want a dry state… hum…)
A good story for Keith to tackle resides in his own backyard… How, in the name of God, did Pennsylvania ever approve their tax on wine to be the highest in the nation, eclipsing any other state by such leaps and bounds. What’s at play here?
From that initial conversational query, a lot of communications went back and forth; and then I realized, Keith’s a perfect wine writer for my wine writer program. Some people I’ve known for years; some – like Keith – just present themselves, and away we go.
The following is the Q&A… There’s some funny stuff in here…
[Q] Many wine writers also have a day job. If wine isn’t your job, what is and for whom?
[A] Wine writing isn’t my full time job, but wine is. I run the Wine School of Philadelphia, which is the largest independent wine school in the states. Its a pretty cool job.
[Q] When did you start writing about wine?
[A] I used to be a journalist back in my twenties, for news radio and a daily newspaper, but I ddin’t start writing about wine until…. crap, I totally forgot. Probably in 2001, when I started up the Wine School newsletter.
[Q] What prompted you to start writing about wine?
[A] It kept people from emailing and calling me, asking what wine they should be drinking. Really. When I started the school in 2001, I used my cell phone as the main phone line. That was really, really a dumb move.
[Q] What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy covering?
[A] All of it except for the drivel that one reads in every glossy magazine (and yes, I have written my fair share of them). The world does not need another “top ten wines for summer” article. Stop the madness!
[Q] How has your job changed since you’ve started?
My job changes every single fucking day. I wake up in the morning and have no clue as to when or how my day will end. Its incredibly exciting, but also a completely freaky way to live.
[Q] What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?
[A] Its all about context: the 95 Lafite while standing in the LR barrelroom in Bordeaux, that was one of the most memorable. Another was the bottle of no-name albarino that I shared with the woman who will soon be my wife.
[Q] What’s your favorite variety?
[A] No idea, no freaking idea.
[Q] Do you believe that there are better quality, lower priced wines today, than in past vintages?
[A] Tricky question, in the last 10 years, we have had a major revolution in quality. Overall, I would say yes, emphatically. On the other hand, the drive to higher and higher technical quality has meant that there is less terroir-driven qualities, which I think is a shame.
[Q] What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?
[A] Well, I think it’s the international distribution network that has grown over the last decade. It’s more cost effective to move wines from anywhere in the world than anytime in the past.
[Q] What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?
[A] Vintage Champagne and potato chips. I am a red-neck epicure.
[Q] What are your interests outside of the wine business?
[A] Raising penguins and kickboxing. I used to raise sea otters, but they were too tasty to be kept as pets, and too expensive to raise for food.
[Q] Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?
[A] In the biz, I have three folks who inspire me, mostly because they represent a vanguard of misfits who are changing the face of the industry: Gary Vaynerchuk, Eric Orange [Local Wine Events], and Eric Arnold [First Big Crush].
Keith just got his “Book Deal,” and will be writing about wine, doing his own thing, as as you’ve read through his Q&A, you probably would agree that it should be pretty entertaining. Can’t wait for this one!