It came without warning: an email from the managing editor of Tastes of Italia saying the current issue would be its last in print. The magazine—my regular outlet since 2002—was being transformed into “a digital product that’s composed mostly of recipes,” she said.
So, goodbye to 8-page spreads with the byline “text and photos by Patricia Thomson.” The revised “product” has no place for feature stories about Italian wine, nor photographs of wine country and winemakers.
All writers know how precarious print publishing is these days. But still, it stings when you’re the one pushed out into the cold.
It’s true that 15 years was a good, long run. Being a wine journalist gave me privileges and access that resulted in encounters and adventures that are indelibly fixed in my mind.
Like my very first article for the magazine, which was then called Pasta. I wrote about the day that my husband and I bottled our own wine the way folks in Piedmont used to do: We drove to Barolo with a demijohn in the back seat and came home with it full of wine siphoned directly from the barrel. I remember laughing when Claudio consulted a lunar calendar to pick a day to bottle (this was years before ‘biodynamics’ was a buzzword), and then cleaning the bottles with newspaper and slicking the corks with olive oil so they’d slip in more easily using our antique one-at-a-time bottling machine.
In those early years, I went to a Tuscan cooking school run by four grandmothers. I had a bang-up time going behind the scenes during the preparations for Alba’s medieval festival and donkey palio. Today when I’m with our wine-tour clients in Alba, I still recite some of the things the teenaged parade queen told me as we walked around town, she pointing out a 700-year-old door of chestnut wood here, a Roman ruin there, a frescoed ceiling vault inside a clothing boutique.
In the years since, I’ve travelled to Sardinia, Puglia, Soave, Modena, and the Collio to interview winemakers, as well as the regions we regularly visit on tour. I spent time at an Amarone boot camp, trekked up the slopes of Mt. Etna to see the volcanic soils up close and climbed Mt. Sabotino on paths bloodied by WWI to better understand Friulian wine, and delved ever deeper into my adopted home of Piedmont to write about Barolo and Barolo Chinato, Gavi, Barbera, and Roero.
At the risk of sounding like a Oscar winner rattling off a list of thanks, I am pleased to have had the chance to talk at length with some of Italy’s (and California’s) finest winemakers. Among those interviewed:
Santadi’s Raffaele Cani
Bertani’s Andrea Lonardi
Ferrari’s Matteo Lunelli
Nino Negri’s Casimiro Maule
That’s why I do journalism; the job allows me to get right to the heart of the matter and ask people within minutes of meeting them about the passion that drives them and the work they do.
There’s nothing better. Or more gratifying afterwards, when you read your piece in print. As Dorothy Park once said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.”
Here's my last piece in print for this magazine, an atypical (for me) round-up: "Winter Wines: 8 wines to go with your seasonal stews, ragus, and comfort foods."
Now I reenter the freelance jungle without a home camp. I’ll do my best to keep the articles coming, but I’ll never have the same liberty to choose my own topics, to write 1700-word color pieces illustrated by my own photographs, and to be free of freelance angst knowing I'll be in every issue. It’s a tough loss.
So, back to the trenches.