Simon J. Woolf is a well known-commentator on natural, organic, biodynamic and, of course, orange wines. His book “Amber Revolution” covering the fall and rise of orange wines was hailed by The New York Times as one of 2018’s top five wine books.
But did you know he used to be an IT consultant before taking the plunge into a wine career? Read on for his advice for someone taking that same step now, how mediocrity is a death sentence in the wine business and his take on which trends are here to stay.
What’s your favourite place in the entire world to enjoy a glass of wine?
Simon Woolf: At home with friends.
If you were to mentor someone just starting out in the industry, what piece of advice would you give them?
SW: Read as widely as possible, both within and outside the wine world. Find your niche or point of difference. Remain humble, rejoice in learning something new as often as possible.
What do you believe to be some of the most pressing challenges in the industry’s near future? How could we go about solving them?
SW: Writers and journalists have to accept that we are part of a dying breed – social media and crowd-sourced content have displaced 90% of traditional media. And yet, people still want exciting, quality writing – it’s just that the bar is now much higher than before. Anything mediocre will vanish without trace. There’s also a segment of the wine industry that seems determined to eat itself, endlessly debating why wine isn’t relevant any more, or why “we” are not marketing it properly – not realising that the discussion has already moved on to pastures new. There is still relevance, enthusiasm and sales potential – but it’s moved on without leaving a forwarding address. Thinking about wine in general, it will increasingly have to justify its existence alongside an ever-increasing range of high quality, “craft” products – microbrewed beers, artisanal spirits, small production vermouths, and cannabis. As with writing, the space for the mediocre is being squeezed.
And which trends are here to stay?
SW: Natural wine isn’t an obscure niche anymore; it’s how wine has become relevant to the millennial generation. And its roots lie in sustainability, which is becoming ever more vital for wine’s survival. Dry farming won’t be a choice in the future; it will be the only option in drought-ridden parts of the world such as South Africa or Portugal’s Alentejo.
What do you work towards in your free time?
SW: Expanding my repertoire as a cook, whilst trying to avoid expansion in other areas.
How did you first fall in love with wine?
SW: My mum served me most of the classic European styles of wine when I was just of drinking age, without pretension but with enough information to understand what differentiated them. I had that moment of fascination that everyone has when they realise Rioja actually tastes of vanilla.
If wine wasn’t your career of choice, what would you be doing?
SW: Something fiendishly complicated with blockchains or Linux servers (I was an IT professional in a previous life).
Which fellow speaker are you looking forward to hearing from the most at MUST 2019?
SW: Eric Asimov, whom I’ve never met.
We hope you’ll join Simon J. Woolf and other 16 world-class speakers at the third edition of MUST – Fermenting Ideas, happening June 26th-28th in Cascais, Portugal.