DEBORAH PARKER WONG DipWSET was appointed National Editor, USA for the Slow Food Slow Wine Guide in 2020. As global wine editor for sister publications the SOMM Journal and The Tasting Panel magazines, she has been writing about the beverage alcohol industry for these and other outlets since 2004. Parker Wong teaches as an adjunct professor in the wine studies departments at Santa Rosa Junior College and Cabrillo College and owns a Wine & Spirit Education Trust school, offering Level 2 and Level 3 certifications. In addition to writing and speaking about wine, she consults with producer groups and judges wine competitions. Her motto is: To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach. A partial archive of her published work can be found at www.deborahparkerwong.com You can follow Deborah on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.
WRITING PROCESS & CURRENT PROJECTS
What is your latest project readers should look out for?
During the pandemic, I’ve been obsessed with producing the 2021 edition of the Slow Wine Guide USA which is now available in print.
The Slow Wine movement evolved as an offshoot from Slow Food some 11 years ago and operates under the Slow Food ethos of “Good, Clean, Fair.” The USA guide is now in its fifth year and has now grown to include four states: California, Oregon, Washington and New York. While many of the wineries listed are certified organic and biodynamic, many are not and we have a set of criteria that is used to qualify those producers with the defining criterion being absolutely zero use of synthetic herbicides. As the only eco-friendly U.S. wine guide, each year our field coordinators visit the wineries to taste with the winemakers and update their guide entries. Twenty-twenty-one was a tipping point for the Slow Wine Guide USA, as we published our first stand-alone print edition (which was by all accounts a pandemic miracle) and Slow Food USA promoted the guide to their nationwide membership which has embraced us.
In addition to writing guide entries and editing, my role as national editor is to collaborate with and provide leadership for the talented team of coordinators who are out in the field making winery visits and to represent Slow Wine USA. Everyone who contributes to the guide or buys a guide and supports a winery is an advocate for the producers who are working with the health of our planet and ourselves in mind.
Other than my SOMM Journal sensory column and the Slow Wine Guide USA, I’m only writing on assignment until I’ve finished my master of science in viticulture and enology at California State University, Fresno.
What is your personal approach to wine writing?
At the expense of sounding like a tea bag philosopher, my process can be summarized in a motto that I adopted early on, “To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach.” I began writing about wine when I began studying wine in-depth and writing has become an essential part of my ongoing journey towards mastery. Writing effectively plays an essential role in teaching and consulting work and now in my efforts to publish peer-reviewed research papers.
“To learn, read. To know, write. To master, teach.”
I’ve since adopted a second motto, “A goal is a dream with a deadline.”
In regards to wine reviews, describe your tasting process. And…what happens to all that extra wine?
I collaborate with Master Sommelier Catherine Fallis as a panelist for Planet Grape Wine Review. We have what’s called “the three-taste rule” which means I taste a wine three or more times: upon opening, later that day with food and over the next few days as the wines permits before weighing in with scores and notes. This is a time-consuming and thoughtful process. That said, I also judge wine competitions which requires a very different approach. Because I’m teaching students year-round in academic wine classes and my WSET school, I frequently make up tasting kits with the extra wine. For example, I had three cases of wine from Piedmont to taste and my WSET Level 3 students had 36 wines from the region to taste and explore.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I chose wine as my second career but I came to know wine through food. I was working as a farm-to-table cook before I was of legal drinking age and part of the job involved managing a 5,000-bottle German wine cellar. It took months before I realized that I needed to taste the wine. So, German wines were my first fine wines. I began writing about wine in 2004 as a way to further my understanding of this vast subject when I began my WSET path to the diploma.
What are your primary story interests?
I’ve always been interested in writing about the underdogs—emerging regions, overlooked producers, mechanization and most recently, sensory science. I carved out a niche covering winery technology with a nine-year run at Vineyard & Winery Management until they stopped publication. I’m currently pursuing a master’s Degree in viticulture and enology with a focus on sensory science.
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? How have you succeeded and what are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?
Full-time jobs writing about wine are few and far between, and they are usually reserved for the most talented writers but even some of the best wine writers are moonlighting. I engage in a range professional activities in the wine industry—teaching, writing, speaking, consulting and judging—which are highly interdependent; journalism informs teaching which inspires speaking which attracts consulting work and so forth. Writing is and has been a reliable if not lucrative revenue stream for almost 20 years now. The biggest challenge I face is blocking out the necessary time to write when I’m multitasking across all of these areas of practice.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
In my opinion, most independent wineries are doing a fine job when it comes to being responsive and helpful when a journalist comes knocking. There is nothing I find more frustrating than corporate wineries that, for whatever reason, do not provide contact information for their marketing and communications folks or PR consultants on their websites. I will reach them regardless, but in not doing so they cost me valuable time and energy.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
There are advantages when you’re working with publicists who act as facilitators, not as gate keepers. As a former public relations executive myself, I know “good” PR when I experience it. I try to be transparent about my process so they can work efficiently and I make a point to acknowledge most inquiries and show appreciation for any assistance.
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories or wine reviews?
I wouldn’t call it frustration but pragmatism. There are times when I feel everything that can be written about a region like Burgundy or a grape variety like Pinot Noir has already been written. From the beginning that pragmatic attitude pushed me to write about lesser known regions, emerging technologies, sensory science, the environment and the underdogs as a way of differentiating my voice and not rehashing content that’s been covered ad nauseam.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Like most self-employed professionals, there’s rarely a day that goes by when some work is not being done. That said, when I have free time I’m usually walking the dog—at the beach if the weather permits, occupied with some home improvement project or cooking something that takes longer than 30 minutes to prepare.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
There are wines that I drink for sentimental reasons, but my favorite wine moments are all built around unforgettable experiences—drinking Sauvignon Blanc and dancing under the stars along the Awatere River in Marlborough, New Zealand; savoring Chenin Blanc during al fresco meals in the Loire Valley; being warmed by Malbec after freezing on the pampas in Patagonia, Argentina. I have the generosity of the producers to thank for those indelible experiences.
What is your favorite wine and food pairing?
Wine and food are inseparable, but cooking is both an everyday chore and an exercise in creativity. I shop daily when I can, and I don’t own a freezer. I prepare lots of Cantonese dishes, but I never let my French classics get rusty. I love a fish soup (call it a riff on bouillabaisse) souffles, gougeres, vegetable terrines, the occasional madeleine for tea, and any wine that pairs well with them. I do believe that with some exceptions, most wines go with most foods and I like to test for the exceptions all the time. If whatever is open doesn’t work, I’ll just move on and return to it the next day. Tasting is happening but when it comes to wine as food, I prefer to drink what I enjoy.
“Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” is a Q&A series profiling wine writers. We hope you’ll discover more about the wine writers you know, and learn about many others. The objective of this project is to understand and develop working relationships with journalists. They are, after all, those that help tell our stories, review our wines and potentially provide media coverage. You can do this by learning their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges, and pet peeves. This is part of an ongoing series that will be featured monthly by Wine Industry Advisor.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”