Tim Atkin MW
Firstly it is a further diminution of the place of wine in the UK’s national papers. Richard Ehrlich’s column in the Independent on Sunday was axed two or three years ago, then Joanna Simon’s Sunday Times column was taken in-house after a run for 22 years. Now Tim’s award winning weekly column will be shrunken almost to invisibility. This leaves only Jancis Robinson MW in the Financial Times and Anthony Rose in The Independent as trenchant and interesting writers with regular wine columns in the UK quality papers.
As an aside it is a further mark of The Observer’s descent into mediocrity and irrelevance. When I first heard about the fate of Tim’s column I tried without success to think of the name of the current editor of The Observer. Not a clue – a long way from the era when this paper’s editor was a national figure! There was a time not long ago that the first part of my Sunday mornings were spent propped up in bed reading The Observer – not anymore. At well over £2 a copy now, it does not merit the price of admission, particularly as the few interesting features left can in any case be accessed on-line.
But the fate of The Observer is not pertinent to this blog. Of more interest is that this is yet another symptom of the decline of Vin Britannia – the fading of the golden age for both UK wine writers and the country’s claim to be the most important, varied and influential wine market in the world.
From the 1970s and for much of the latter part of the 20th century the UK could make a realistic claim to have virtually all of the most influential wine writers – Hugh Johnson, Michael Broadbent, Clive Coates, Jancis Robinson MW, Andrew Jefford, Oz Clarke to cite some of the leaders. All this backed by a vibrant and adventurous wine publishing sector. How many now committed wine drinkers were inspired by Hugh Johnson’s Wine and then his World Atlas of Wine?
It is sad to see UK wine publishing’s current timid and sclerotic state. I can’t remember the last ground breaking book produced by a UK publisher. Instead they are wedded to either new editions of old classics or the promotion of ersatz wine celebrities. Anything new or daring has to be self-published.
Perhaps a nadir was reached late last year when it emerged that Matt Skinner, Mitchell Beazley’s celebrity wine writer, hadn’t tasted all of 100 wines selected for his Juice 2010. No wonder this is called ‘the easy guide to the best wine’! No work involved just a touch of imagination. The most regrettably aspect of this tawdry affair was that a once fine publishing house attempted to defend the indefensible. One should not be surprised as they still list Matt Skinner’s Thirsty Work that is so littered with ludicrously elementary howlers that all remaining copies should have been pulped long ago.
But perhaps it is a question of Gallic humour since Mitchell Beazley is now owned by the Hachette group and they were probably amused that their UK arm chose to publish Rosemary George’s Wines of The South of France with a picture of the hill of Corton on the front cover.
Now if you want lively, interesting and new wine book publishing in English you have to cross the Atlantic.
This sharp decline is mirrored in the once much vaunted UK wine market. I don’t know if anyone still has the gall to trot out the old boast that the UK is the market where everyone wants to be present. In the past it was a valid claim but no longer as the UK supermarkets have become ever more powerful and less adventurous. Once wedded to innovation, they are now fixated by cut price promotions and the never-ending scrabble for market share and profit.
I’ve lost count of the number of good and excellent producers, who have sensibly decided that trying to export to the UK is not worth the effort. Why would they want to cut prices when there are other markets willing to pay a fair price for quality?
One bright spot amid this gloom is the number of vibrant small independent UK wine merchants. But unfortunately just the sort of business that is likely to be hit by the axing of Tim Atkin’s Observer column.
Can the net and, in particular wine blogs replace this level of exposure and are the independents canny and switched on enough to try to exploit this relatively new resource?
(c) Jim Budd
More info: Tim Atkin on wine critics: click here