Thu 22 Oct 2015
I received over the past few weeks email press releases from The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, announcing the opening of the application process for 30 fellowships for the conference that occurs February 16 to 19 in the Napa Valley. The symposium is a collaboration among the Napa Valley Vintners; Meadowood, the fine resort; and the Culinary Institute of America. For 2016, under a new executive director, Julia Allenby, the SPWW shifts to an all-fellowship model from a fee-based model, meaning that for those who could not previously cover the cost of the symposium registration and fees as well as air travel and car rental, there would be a chance to attend on a competitive basis.
Here’s how the conference describes itself on its website:
The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers, founded by Meadowood Napa Valley, the Napa Valley Vintners trade association and The Culinary Institute of America, draws top wine book authors and editors, wine magazine writers and critics, newspaper wine columnists, bloggers and other editorial wine content creators to Napa Valley to speak, listen, debate, explore themes prevalent in contemporary wine writing and network with their peers for four days. A combination of lectures, panel discussions, group and individual writing sessions, wine tasting and fine dining make the symposium an unmatched career enrichment opportunity for editorial wine, wine-food, and wine-travel writers.
The keynote address for next year’s event will be delivered by legendary author, the venerable Hugh Johnson. Also on the faculty will be Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for The New York Times; Ray Isle, executive wine editor for Food and Wine magazine; and Jay McInerney, novelist and wine columnist for Town & Country magazine, as well as other noted writers and sommeliers.
You’re thinking: “Sounds like fun! Let’s all go!”
Not so fast, my friend. As they say in television credit card commercials and gift promotions, restrictions apply. And notice, in the paragraph quoted above, the word “editorial,” used twice. That’s important.
Here are the rules for applying for a fellowship to next year’s symposium, again, from the organization’s website:
Please note that attendance is limited to professional editorial writers and editors on wine, wine and food, and wine and travel. Public relations and marketing personnel, winery owners and employees and other non editorial people cannot complete registration. Qualified registrants must demonstrate two paid, published byline articles or similar paid writing in the 12 months prior to registering.
And: Attending writers and editors must be professionals who can demonstrate their active working status.
In other words, if you write about wine for a personal blog, you’re not professional. If you provide editorial content, as the phrase goes, submitting articles for acceptance or on assignment for print or online entities, undergo vetting by an editor or publisher and get paid for your efforts, then you are considered professional. The implication is clear. “Citizen bloggers” need not apply.
Well, perhaps that’s not completely the case.
I asked Jim Gordon, director of content for the symposium, what the relationship between the organization and bloggers was. Gordon is well-known in California and beyond as editor of the industry magazine Wines & Vines and as a contributing editor of Wine Enthusiast.
Here is his reply:
Bloggers are encouraged to apply just as self-employed writers and authors are encouraged to apply too. In the fellowship process we are emphasizing the writers’ professional status, and this will be weighed along with quality of writing submitted and letters of reference, etc. A blogger who has no revenue stream from their blog, and does not do other types of paid editorial writing won’t score very high on the professional scale, but bloggers with subscribers and/or ad revenue, etc. are professional writers in our view and very welcome to apply.
It has always been a symposium for professional wine writers, not beginners or would-be professionals. The goal going forward is to make it an even higher level forum where wine, wine-food, and wine-travel writers and editors can learn, network and discuss issues important in wine writing and publishing.
So, it seems that independent bloggers can submit applications to the SPWW, but, as Gordon candidly points out, they will be considered pretty far down the aspirational ladder. And you can’t fudge the requirement to submit “two paid, published byline articles or similar paid writing in the 12 months prior to registering.” I wonder how many bloggers derive revenue from their efforts; I certainly don’t, and I rarely write about wine or the wine industry for established editorial entities. On the other hand, I have been writing about and reviewing wine since 1984, first for a nationally distributed newspaper column as a full-time journalist — back when I was a professional! — and since 2004 online, when, apparently, I reverted back to amateur status.
Still, I encourage my colleagues in the blogging game to go to winewriterssymposium.org and give it a try. The deadline is November 1.