Thursday, June 2, 2011

Expertise (fish, ponds, size)

A comment from wine writer, reviewer and maker Nick Stock at the recent ANU Wine Symposium is still rattling around in my head. Among a diverse range of arguments, observations, provocations and fripperies was a comment about how some sommeliers and other people in Australian wine were focussing on alternative grapes and wines because it was easier to be an expert there - easier to be a big fish due to the small size of the pond.

Nick named no names, so the comment floated free of any yoke to specific examples, but it got me thinking. I probably would not disagree with Nick that there will be some people who have a focus on the alternative and the rare because it is an easier path to expertise than say mainstream French varieties and wine styles. But I could not honestly say I know who these people are, that I could name them and would do so publicly.

Most wine people I know, in and out of 'the industry', even where deeply involved in the alternative or the rare, would hesitate to call themselves 'expert'. For me, the more I know, for instance about the grapes and wines of Italy, the more clear to me become the gaps in my knowledge, its limits and constraints.

If I disavow a desire to be 'expert', where does that leave me? As an 'enthusiast', an 'amateur', 'dabbler', 'dilettante', a 'practitioner' because I work with Italian vines and wines... (certainly not a 'professional' as that's tantamount to expertise)?

For my writing and blogging, I think I am happiest with 'student'. My knowledge is less than 'expert' in wine or in Italian wine, and suspect it will always be the case that there is more left to learn than I will ever know. And I think I'd rather share my learning than my expertise, whatever size this pond is.


  1. Glad the words resonated Paul, your observations are important and that last sentence is important. Sharing the learning is all-important but in what form is equally so.

    I started typing a comment that quickly went into a bit of a rant and you've basically inspired me to write a piece on my new blog as a result:

    Many thanks,

    Nick Stock

  2. Thanks Nick. To be clear, my reference to being focused on sharing my learning rather than expertise was about wine writing and blogging - not a comment on winemaking. I would set a quality bar much higher for any wine I make and then release to the public. Which I have done (my whole make of sagrantino in 2007, from Chalmers fruit, didn't make my quality cut, so was dumped rather than bottled and sold).

    I'll provide further comment on your blog, Nick. Should have had a chat with you at the Symposium, but was scared off by the moustache.