Advice to wine writers and other takeaways from The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

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“If your writing doesn’t keep you up at night, it won’t keep anyone else up at night.”

This was a comment that stuck in my head by keynote speaker, Billy Collins, U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-03), at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, held last week at Meadowood Napa Valley.

Napa Valley road sign

That was just one of many comments and useful words of advice by the impressive lineup of speakers and coaches at the intimate four-day symposium, with 50 attendees and approximately 20 coaches and speakers. I’m still blown away and honored that I was able to attend such an incredible event as a fellowship winner this year!

In a sea of wine writers and bloggers, how do you stand out from the rest? We were there to learn how, and also to work on discovering our authentic writing voices (hence the theme of this year’s symposium, “Find Your Voice and Your Value”).

Billy Collins speaking at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

Collins, a poet, compared prose to poetry. “Poetry and prose are like two different instruments… playing one instrument well is sufficient.” You don’t have to be good at everything! Find what it is you are good at and work your ass off at it (not his exact words!).

You wouldn’t expect a concert pianist to also play the cello well would you? Yet, if we look at it from a wine writers perspective, the speakers encouraged us to step outside what our expertise is and understand and appreciate the other instruments in a sense. To me, this resonated along with many other useful pieces of advice, like…


Read. Read. Read. And then read some more. Read books. Read magazines. Read everyday. Read about topics outside of wine. Read about the craft of writing. “If you want to keep your writing fresh, you need to read widely,” believes Will Lyons of the Wall Street Journal. “But don’t spend your whole time reading about wine,” he warns. Read outside your area of expertise.

Speaking of reading, see what some of the panelists and attendees are currently reading in this piece by Cathy Huyghe of Forbes in this article, “8 Books For Wine Communicators (That Are Not About Wine).”

Be Original 

Jancis Robinson speaking at The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers

“Find yourself a specialty and sell yourself on that specialty,” advises Jancis Robinson, Master of Wine, wine writer and publisher of, otherwise known as my biggest wine shero ever! She mentioned Wine Business as an example of an area where she sees a shortage of writers. I’d also like to add barbecue and wine pairing expert to that shortlist. 😉

And then, “develop your own way of writing about wine,” Robinson added.

I had a hard time accepting this idea of finding a specialty, or niche, for a long time. I love writing about so many aspects of wine, travel, and food, why limit myself? Yet, without even realizing it, a niche began to develop here at Vindulge. Barbecue and wine of all things! There is no bigger motivation for me than when I receive emails or comments from readers that they made one of my recipes and loved it, or when they email me for advice on altering a recipe, or wine recommendations outside of what I post, or when they simply take the time to let me know they drank a wine I recommended and fell in love with it. What keeps me up at night is finding new ways to encourage readers to experiment with barbecue and think differently about wine and food and wine pairing. It’s you, the readers, who help to motivate experimental and original content here, and I thank you for that.

Wine Writers Symposium panel

A very blurry shot of three of my favorite wine writers, Andrea Immer Robinson, Karen MacNeil, and Jancis Robinson, on a panel moderated by Evan Goldstein, Master Sommelier.

This idea of being original was reiterated several other speakers, including Karen MacNeil, author, The Wine Bible, when she explained, “identity can’t be invented. It has to be authentic.”

Develop your own unique style of writing 

Facts are facts – but presenting them in your own style is what will separate you from the rest. Or, as MacNeil stated, “that’s where the money’s at.”

The list of advice and wisdom goes on and on. And if you want a taste of it yourself I highly recommend you put the symposium on your radar for next year. That is, if you’re a wine writer of course.

If you’re not a writer, and are just here for wine recommendations, travel stories, recipes, and barbecue, then I hope to put Billy Collins advice to work for you. And as I continue to read and hone in on my writing voice it will be my goal to keep you up at night, even if it’s just to encourage an attempt at our latest recipe for leftover brisket, helping you find a wine for grilled flank steak, or inspiring you to travel to a new wine region. But I promise to try not to keep you up too late, as I know you have work to do in the morning!


Speaking of Billy Collins, he also gave the attendees a fun writing challenge during his keynote speech. You can read “The Billy Collins Writing Challenge: Wine Writers Taking Themselves Seriously (and Making Fun)” over on Hawk Wakawaka Wine Reviews.

Jameson Fink also wrote about “The Pleasure of Wine: A Lesson From Poet Billy Collins” on his site.

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About Mary

I'm Mary, a wine/food/travel writer, Certified Sommelier, mom of twins, former vegetarian turned BBQ fanatic, runner, founder of Vindulge, and author of Fire + Wine cookbook. Thanks for stopping by!

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