Douglas Blyde: Whine Wine Whine
Despite the insistence by my overpaid, non-journalist friends that they surely are ‘drinking holidays’, wine press trips can prove to be compact, intricate endurance tests. Yes, I can hear you all now as you go to your store rooms to locate the world’s smallest flight case, carefully extracting from it the world’s smallest violin to play the world’s smallest sad song. Well, micro-fiddle away. You should understand this: press trips – to quote the great arbiter of the finer things in life, Mr Frederick Mercury – ‘ain’t no bed of roses. No pleasure cruise’ (of which I hope to rant in more depth about in the next issue of Lusso).
Although this may be happily self-inflicted later on by group mini-bar raids on brightly coloured Gordon’s bottles followed by Ray Mears-esque ‘uncorkin” of samples with biros or even shoelaces, the drinks press trip often begins with a dawn flight, care of a budget airline. Naturally, little consideration is given to how to get the journalist to the actual airport – meaning some already fail the first challenge of actually turning up.
This is followed by the unravelling of an itinerary so utterly occupied that it could never, ever run to schedule. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and it often feels like the passing of the hours in freezing cellars/ogling bottling lines/ambling around half-hearted receptions-cum-gift shops is more about saving the organiser’s face rather than sating any editorial mission.
This can lead a freelancer to aspire to a desperate act. Call it ‘daspiration’. In an effort to conserve their possibly paltry fee, the few narrative scraps will later, unseen, be collaged into as beautiful a tableau as possible using the tool of over-writing as camouflage against a lack of substance or relevance. So here is my list of categories, the sore pressure points where the mythological ‘Paid For Piss Up’ can spiral down into something very much less than rarefied. The tasting menu of the prosaic, if you will.
I sometimes contemplate giving the press bus a name, considering the waste of life that is being cooped within in its bumpy, metallic womb. Inevitably the vehicle will have frigid seatbelts applying to the many seats shoe-horned in at the expense of a boot, meaning one’s crammed in laptop/camera will fall to the road at least once on opening. There is also the tyranny of cranky, dishonest SatNav. And, in the last 12 months, I’ve experienced one giddily merrily drunken driver.
Otherwise known as haters of dead air, wine and spirit students masquerading as journalists will vent their knowledge tirelessly, demanding that producers, who are more comfortable talking to their grape vines, are obliged to fully answer technical questions about the bubble size of Prosecco. But the results will never transpire in the articles they scrawl in provincial rags. Even more frustrating is when said prober adopts local language so aggressively it is to the point of caricature (complete with gesticulations). Hell can indeed be other people.
Nourishment or Punishment
Unlike glam travel features, rural drinks trips rarely see anything resembling balanced cuisine. Instead, expect the carte equivalent of a hair shirt. From airline tikka baps to foul, underpowered hotel breakfast coffees from noisy machinery. Bread knives magnetised to cutting one’s flesh. The stretched interval leading to lunch and finally the inevitable heart palpitations which tuck in with you for the night, following large, elongated, fatty, vegetable-free, anonymous brown fodder.
Having to leave potentially tasty samples/stylish (and sometimes not-so-stylish) corkscrews behind owing to there being no provision for hold baggage. Which also leads to…
Pointlessly Felled Forests
The only way of dealing with the weighty mass of expensively printed brochures, peppered with bizarre, literal translations is to conduct a ‘bin fillet’. One prays the chambermaid is not in league with the ABV producer.
Scarce-to-none/tricky-to-operate wifi contributes a feeling of being estranged from family and extracted from society – leading to a severe case of “le blues”. In rural Burgundy, no one can hear you scream …
Nunc Est Bibendum
I like to think most people drink mostly for fun, unless they are old guard trade, which possibly means they drink because of an alcoholic’s need. Perhaps, the many flaws of the press trip, seemingly arranged to ensure work can seldom be seen as play, can be overcome if the organiser has a little glint in the eye. For the sparkle need not simply be in the glass. So there you have it – I hope that now you feel some crumb of compassion for all that the tireless professional oenological scribe must endure. You don’t?
Well, then I can only conclude that you have no heart. On the upside, you probably have a considerably better functioning liver.
Douglas Blyde is wine expert, personal wine shopper and sommelier for hire. When he’s not imbibing or cogitating the grapes of his wrath, he writes about restaurants, food pairings and generally having a damn good time. He’s actually quite happy with his lot.