For those who are wondering what I was doing in the New York Times Garagiste story, I was wondering the same thing. So, I thought I'd share a little backstory. (itals are actual emails)
Hey there, I'm a journalist, working on a piece for the NYT about garagiste. I'd love your take/input. Any chance we could talk on the phone?
I initally thought I was being interviewed. But when D. Duane and I did speak, and he seemed to have no idea who or what I was or where he was going, I assumed (wrong. never do this) that I was a scouting call and so I gave him fellow journalistic courtesy and thought I was supplying him with industry background and leads.
Though, looking back, this other email from him should have tipped me off.
Just a straight profile of Rimmerman, at least right now. I'm early in the reporting, no particular axe to grind, looking for context.
We talked. He asked me if Jon was a tastemaker. I went on about how he was a great business man who was being true to his own tastes. I likened Jon's business to the flash sites--like Gilt. Even better, Century 21 (bargains for millionaires). Jon offers wines at discounts to those with taste. Most importantly, I said, "Everyone wants to be Jon and have his success, no one else does." After our talk, D. Duane sent me this email.
Hey, I noticed the following text on your website: "With this messiah thing going on ..." Can you unpack that for me? I'm asking because I've heard Rimmerman use the term "messiah" in terms of wine, too. Is this term bouncing around the wine blogosphere right now? Does it have a distinct meaning?
Low and behold, last week I got a call from the fact checker at the Times.
"I didn't know I was on the record," I said, feeling a little sick about what would be read back to me. "I'm in it?"
"Oh you're in it, all right," she said.
I asked if the tiny piece I wrote in same Food issue should eliminate my quotes from the piece. Unfortunately, my tactic didn't work.
The fact checking commenced, and thank goodness. "You're a Los Angeles blogger?"
No! I am not. New York-based wine writer, please, author of The Battle for Wine and Love.
"He stole ideas from your blog?"
That one made me feel ill. John never stole anything from me. I never said he stole anything from me. The nuance between taking a lead and stealing is the kind of word choice a writer can make to swing a piece towards the drama, conflict, tension they seek. After all, it's that thing that keeps a piece ticking along at a fast clip. But, Los Pilares didn't belong to me, it wasn't up for steal. Good for Jon for picking up on a great new winery, even if he did read about it first, here.
After I got off the phone I immediately wrote to Jon to voice my concern. He confessed that he had the same fear, believing that the writer was trying to pit us against each other. He also had some problem with Superhuman powers. Not exactly a word he would use about himself. In addition, he told me that he never said we coincidentally found Los Pilares.
Joan Didion said "Writers are always selling someone out." I would always and add sometimes.
Sometimes quotes and situations fall in our lap. What are we going to do? Ignore the gift?
A few years back I was covering the Bouilland Symposia for Forbes. At the first dinner, a snakeskin boot wearing newbie from Seattle started crowing about the Screaming Eagle he bought for $800 (back in 2002). This was the wrong crowd. No one was impressed. But me. I thought, what a fantastic piece of luck for my story. (In fact checking the gentleman claimed he never did that, and threatened to sue. However my claim was supported by several witnesses. The story stayed.)
I was likewise thrilled when Michael Mondavi told me with pride that he looked forward to making wine on the moon. Ditto Jean Michel Cazes (Lynch-Bages) told me with a grimace, "We're all going to have to go organic sooner or later, whether we like it or not." No, those were great pieces of luck that fell into my lap to make a better story.
Remember that fabulous fabulous piece Dana Goodyear wrote for the New Yorker about Two-Buck-Chuck's Fred Franzia. I was plotzing with appreciation over her good luck when he said,
I wish that owl would've shit on you. You'd have something to talk about the rest of your life." He laughed until tears came into his eyes.
I've a thin skin and I've got great difficulty when people are angry with me. But in the adrenalin of the story, the story wins. Goodyear didn't have to embellish on what an ill-behaved bastard Franzia was, his actions and words told it all. Franzia will never speak to her again, I imagine and I imagine, that's okay with her. Afterall she had the ournalism/writing Gods on her side.
But in this piece, with this writer, I had the sense that he was hunting the wrong story.
In the end that word steal ever made it into the article. Disaster avoided through fact checking (thank you, NYT). However the quote cobbled together for the piece made me cringe. My name was attached, but my meaning was lost. I come off snarky and I have no reason to be snarky with Jon.
Even if the writer positioned Jon as a massive ego with self-confessed superhuman tasting and business powers to suit his piece, it doesn't make a difference. Jon makes lots of my friends happy! A 3000 words story is a tremendous coup. And do I wish I had gotten the assigment?Absolutely. Could I have written as energetic a piece as this? Probably not.
So, congratulations and just know that maybe you didn't use superhuman, but to your devoted fans, you just might be.