Travelling in Wineland – part 1: Writing about wine
(5-6 min read)
Wine. It’s a fascinating subject to learn and write about. In the era of social media, it seems quite easy to have a text published on various wine sites and shared on social media and thereby reach lots of readers all over the globe. But free and easy access makes it more difficult to differentiate one’s text from articles written by other wine writers, professionals, and amateurs.
Some published texts are highly informative, based on in-depth knowledge, while other texts are lighter, focusing more on the promotion of a place or wine than on technical details. But, apart from the quality of the content, the text must be eye catching to grab the reader’s attention and make them finish the read.
Last June I met a person whose articles on wine have kept readers interested for 35 years! Jørgen Aldrich, the former Danish journalist and co-editor of Fyens Stiftstidendes, created a column “Et godt glas” (A Good Glass) by chance and, with a little encouragement from the readers at first, he continued writing the wine column for the next thirty-five years.
Jørgen Aldrich: In the summer of 1973 I took my new car, a Citroen 2CV, and took off on a summer holiday to Germany and France. Like many adults, at a certain age I started to appreciate wine, while beer became just an ordinary drink shared occasionally with friends or colleagues. So, when I was travelling through the wine regions in Germany and France, it inspired me to pay a visit to a few wine producers. I knocked on doors in Rhine and Mosel, in Burgundy and Alsace, and in all these places people showed me the utmost hospitality.
It’s important to mention that at this time I was working as the subeditor at a regional Danish daily newspaper and occasionally, when I found an interesting subject not covered by the regular column written by my colleagues, I wrote about it. On my way back from vacation, I had an idea of telling the readers about my little adventure and it turned into three articles entitled ”Traveling in Wineland.”
I had no intention to follow the subject up, but when readers began to ask specific questions, my editor told me to go and find the answers – at that time, my knowledge on wine was close to non-existent - and write another article. While doing some research, I realized that wine is a fascinating topic (and one that was somehow overlooked by my colleagues), so I created this weekly wine column and it was published for 35 years, until I retired in 2008.
Anna – Did you write other regular columns on different subjects as well?
Jørgen – Yes, I also initiated a series of weekly columns on themes like fishing, horse-riding, food. Some years later I also became, for a while, the frontrunner in restaurant reviews. 30 years later my old colleagues still remember some of those critical articles – Jørgen laughs.
I met Jørgen in June, at a professional wine tour in Piedmont. I probably wouldn’t have had the idea of interviewing Jørgen if we had arrived at the same time as the rest of the invited wine writers. The plan of this 5-day-tour was tight and there was not much time to get to know the other members of our group. But, due to limited flights from Copenhagen and from Warsaw, Jørgen and I had to arrive in Italy a day earlier and while we were waiting for the others, we decided to visit a small town called Monforte d’Alba. While walking, chatting, and enjoying the best espresso in the world (somehow it always tastes better in Italy) we had a moment to discuss our common interest.
Anna – You have kept writing about wine for 48 years and you have witnessed many changes over the last four decades. Do you find it easier now to work, to travel and visit wineries compared to how it was 30-40 years ago?
Jørgen – No, I don’t think so. I would say that these days travelling by plane costs less and of course, it is easier to contact and stay in touch with producers. And thanks to the internet it is much easier now to find information in comparison to how things were when I began to write about wine. And I don’t only mean Google and so on, but also the fact that it’s easier to get in contact with a wine producer to check some facts and get photos to add to a column.
But in every stage of my career as a wine journalist I’ve experienced great hospitality everywhere – especially when people have realized that I’m seriously interested in what they do.
I was lucky that my wine trips were mostly by invitation – usually from a wine consortium, wine fairs or wine tour organizers. Sometimes an invitation came directly from a producer. Many of these invites I received thanks to professional relationships built over the years, in Denmark and abroad.
Anna – What about the changes from the readers’ perspective?
Jørgen - For consumers the biggest change is that information is now everywhere whenever they need it. Back in the past, newspapers were the only source of information about wine, apart from books.
However, I’m not sure that the quality of information has improved. Bloggers and vloggers pop up all the time, but my impression is that some writers haven’t studied the phenomenon of wine in detail, and they lack basic knowledge. In the last few years I have also noticed a significant difference in the way in which a journalist or an amateur writer collects information and asks questions. The worst case is when a writer finds it appropriate to teach a wine producer how to make wine.
Anna – Let’s talk for a moment about how you work, how a new idea for an article start to crystallize in your mind.
Jørgen - My “mantra” when I write is “keep your information entertaining.” Personally, I get bored reading articles on wine that are too serious. It is, of course, important to present the obvious facts, but too many technical details make readers give up – they need breaks and unexpected twists.
I haven’t changed my writing routine and style for 48 years, given the fact, of course, that I started from scratch and today I have some experience. When I travel, I take old-fashioned notes. I never carry my computer with me as I don't have to worry about a deadline - I decide for myself when to deliver the article. I give a lot of time to the creative stage: how all the information can be presented in the most attractive way for my readers. Which, of course means to reduce facts and numbers to the bare minimum. The basic rule is to immediately catch the readers' attention. When you achieve that, there is a chance they will continue reading. I must admit that my experience as an editor is very useful in the creating process.
Anna – Looking back at things with the experience you now have, would you do anything differently?
Jørgen – No, je ne regrette rien. Except maybe one thing. In 1980 I took a six-week summer French course at the University in Aix-en-Provence to increase my fluency in French which was very useful while visiting French wineries. At that time, French wines made up 2/3rds of the total wine sales in Denmark, so I often received invitations from French producers. Today, in my opinion, Italy has become the leader on the wine market in Denmark, so I regret that I never learned Italian, and I envy some of my colleagues who can express themselves in Italian much easier than I can.
Since his retirement in 2008, Jørgen has kept busy. For 5 years he took over a magazine issued by the Danish Sommeliers’ Association and, using his expertise in writing and editing, he helped to increase its quality from an amateur to a professional publication.
Jørgen – I didn’t expect to be paid for this job, so they made me a member of honour of the Danish Sommelier’s Association. The Queen’s husband, Prince Henri, received honorary membership at the same time. We were both the first members in the history of the Association who weren’t sommeliers.
Today Jørgen keeps writing about wine – con amore (for the love of wine), as he describes it – for a digital publication www.vinbladet.dk.
Pictures taken in June 2021 during a wine tour in Piedmont organized by I Vini del Piemonte
 Fyens Stiftstidendes - one of the biggest regional newspapers in Denmark