What are you going to do differently from the Wine Advocate?
We want to be much more interactive and engaging than most wine websites are. I want to bring in more multimedia. I want to bring in some new people that maybe you don't know yet to write about wine. I want to bring in some writers who are maybe non-conventional. And maybe they're not writers.
What kind of multimedia?
Video, podcasts, live streaming of tastings, apps. If you look at most wine websites, it's very much Web 1.0. Most wine websites are basically a digital representation of a piece of print content.
If you know exactly what you're looking for, they're very fast. But these websites don't engage you. It's not like Wikipedia with a bunch of hyperlinks that take you back and forth. They're not websites that when you get to your office, you feel like you want to check them every day. My Napa piece this year was basically 1,000 wines. Who can digest that?
How much will you charge for subscriptions?
We're still developing that. It will be in line with the industry. The classic $70 or $100 annual subscription, I'm not sure that's how to attract younger readers. With pricing there's a way to put together a model that encourages people who don't want to spend $100 a year to be a part of your community.
Can you review the same number of wines for the new site?
I'm not going to be dealing firsthand with the business issues day-to-day. Look at my track record. I was able to take over California and keep the same schedule of reviews, plus restore the Advocate's reputation in Burgundy. It's not a job, it's a lifestyle. Sometimes it's 24-7.
Will you cover the same regions?
For the short term, yes. I want to hire one or two young writers. Have them taste beside me for a couple of years, and then have them take over those regions.
Which region are you most passionate about?
I like them all. What was very fundamental was [that] my first career was music. I played every kind of music you can imagine, from opera to country music to playing in rock bands. What I learned was quality is not about style. I might listen to heavy music when I'm on deadline and then I might listen to Beethoven the next day.
I can't say I love one region more than another. The people I respect the most are the ones who have the ability to do a lot of things well.
Will you keep the 100-point scale?
I like the 100-point scale for a couple of reasons. There's an immediacy and it's simple to grasp for people.
It's not perfect. No scoring system is perfect. I spend a lot of time thinking about the scores. The 100-point scale forces me to take a position, as opposed to a 4-star or 5-star system which allows me to flub it a little. If you give a wine 4 stars, that's not terrible, but it's also kind of amorphous. The bigger question is, how do you get people to not focus on a score? The commentary is much more interesting.
Will you publish reviews of wines you score under 85?
You're the first person who's asked. I hadn't thought about it. I'll have to add that to my list.
You go out to Napa and taste 100 wines a day. What do you drink that night?
Water. I never drink at lunch and I never drink at night. To make these long trips successful you have to be able to shut off. Think about something else. You religiously spit everything. You take long breaks.
I start early in the day. I take a reasonable lunch break, an hour or more, and then taste into the early evening. I never drink at night.
When you're not on a trip, how many wines do you taste in a day?
Zero to 30. There are some times when I'm writing and there are some times when I'm tasting. Even if I taste 40 or 50 wines I can still write afterward. But I'd rather write the whole day. It's a different skill, it requires a different focus.
Is it a goal to be influential?
There's a reason why the Advocate has been the most influential. The people who work there work their asses off. People are willing to go to Burgundy for two weeks and visit 5, 6, 7 cellars a day, on your feet all day long, in cold temperatures.
The number of people out there who are willing to do that work, who are not influenced by the trade or producers, who can withstand the incredible pressure that comes from working for a publication like that, are very, very few. Why did Bob become so influential? He worked very, very hard. Harder than most people. My respect for Bob grew an entire dimension when I took over California for him. I saw firsthand what he had done. Until you do it you can't understand the enormity of that job.
I don't really think of being the most influential. A day or two ago, a winemaker said she was happy with my project because it's trying to make the pie bigger instead of taking a piece of the same pie.
Do you have a desert island wine?
They'd be wines that get high scores at the Advocate: 1996 Krug Clos De Mesnil and 2004 Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva Monfortino, that's as good as it gets. One of my criteria for great wines is that they have to improve. I just had a '97 Philip Togni Cabernet from my cellar and it was outstanding.
Montrachet from DRC is not a wine I can afford, but it's just tremendous. I like all styles of white Burgundies. Coche Corton-Charlemagne is really about tension. [Domaine] D'Auvenay [Meursault] is all about fatness, richness. To me they're both so extraordinary. They're as different as white Burgundy can be, but I love both and want to be able to appreciate both.
What's your desert island wine with a $20 limit?
It would probably be a really good Chianti Classico. It ages great, goes great with food, is varietally true, it represents a place, it represents an estate. What more can you ask for $20? OK, maybe $22.