Tasting Notes is a work of fiction, loosely based on my professional life. It is first and foremost meant to entertain.
I have always wanted to write and to write a novel but I did not know what to write about. The idea of setting my story in the wine world came to me after yet another dinner party when the other guests plied me with questions about wine and the wine business, and kept on saying how marvellous it all sounded. I may at one point have suggested to my audience that they consider learning more about wine. I may even have given them the details of the Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET). I have done so thousands of times over the years. Only one of my non wine professional friends, to my knowledge, has ever taken me up on it. Why? Because learning about wine is arduous. It may be a wonderful product but it is also fiendishly complex and few people have the level of dedication, genuine interest or the time and money required to invest in its study. Yet a lot of people love talking about wine, preferably glass in hand, and be fed amusing stories related to it.
When most of the profession used to bang on about ‘educating the consumer’ I always thought the consumer did not give a hoot and would only take bitesize chunks of knowledge, if served with a big dollop of entertainment. Which is exactly what modern-day wine influencers do. I was and remain a firm believer in edutertainment when it comes to wine. So I decided to set my story in the wine world as it appeared to strike a chord with potential readers but to go easy on wine knowledge. One of my writing tutors urged me to ‘put more wine in’. He was keen on the stuff. Conversely one of the reasons agents have given me for rejecting my manuscript is that there is too much wine in there and that wine is too much of a niche subject.
But what about the story?
I have worked for four of the largest and best-known French wine producers in my thirty-plus-year career. I have met and worked closely with the founders of these companies: all visionaries, all remarkable, if not all likeable, all consumed by their jobs, or should I say missions? These guys fascinate me. They have huge charisma and boundless energy. I admire them but also find them a bit scary. I have adored being one of the foot soldiers in their cult-like teams, especially when I was younger, but I have also found the level of dedication required borderline unhealthy and impossible to sustain.
While working for these industry titans, I have witnessed or been told of slightly dodgy deals and minor abuses of power, nothing major. But being blessed with a vivid imagination I have often wondered how far they would go to protect their business. How much would they lie? Would they cover up a murder? What or whom would they be prepared to sacrifice if put on the spot? And it is not just the top guys, it is their henchmen, far more dangerous than those to whom they are devoted.
That is the story of Tasting Notes: a tragic blunder, buried for years and unearthed through a set of unlikely circumstances. Tasting Notes is as much about lying, from little white lies to serious deception, as it is about wine. It explores the casual disrespect for truth prevalent in business, and how it forms and deforms people.
Being French and having lived in Great Britain for over thirty years, I have also coloured my story with my experience of living most of my adult life as a foreigner, and more specifically a ‘frog’ in ‘rosbif’ country. That’s for the light hearted bit. Chris, the main character, is not me but she could be the little sister I never had. Christine is my middle name.
2 thoughts on “On Tasting Notes”
Although writing is primarily about entertainment, I personally dislike things/subjects to be ‘dumbed down’. There has to be an expectation for a reader to ‘trade up’ or ‘read around’ the subject matter. I recently took on Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’ during lockdown- as I’d always meant to read it – but had to segue into Frank McGlynn’s bio of Napoleon for the Russian campaign. Incidentally the best illustration of the ‘old’ wine trade – I joined, back in the day – didn’t come from a wine writer, but from the art critic Brian Sewell, writing about his time at Christies in his autobiography ‘Outsider’ – which incidentally is a brutally honest book. Keep writing Anne, it seems you’re good at it.
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Thank you Julian! It’s long been an ambition of mine, a dream. I tried to make the dream come true when I studied for my MA but had to return to paid work afterwards. Writing doesn’t pay much. Hopefully I can now keep it going while working freelance on other projects.