I was at a conference in Cincinnati a while back, and there was an independent bookstore with a café a few doors down from the hotel. I felt something of an obligation to buy something there, even though I needed to be mindful of being able to zip my carry-on bag closed. I had no idea what I was going to buy, but I saw a display table of recommended reads, and picked the most interesting looking book off it. After reading it, I’m in two minds about Cork Dork. First, it’s really informative about how people who work with wine learn and work, and about wine itself. It’s also easy to read, as in all the technical stuff is explained in way accessible to someone who’s not a wine-fanatic. Journalist (or former journalist? since she quits her job to focus on her wine research) Bianca Bosker tells us how, after deciding she was going to research and figure out why some people get obsessed with wine, she immerses herself in the subject, the history, the people, and how to work in the oenophile world. I love how informative the book is in a largely unpretentious way. But….
Even though the author isn’t shy about showing her mistakes, misunderstandings, and ignorance, while having a sense of humor about it all, the narrative voice still comes off as stuck-up and privileged enough to get off-putting at times. Not in the sense of a wine know-it-all, but in the sense that “I can get access almost instantly to these supposedly impossible to get admittance to events or people”, and “I’m such a quick learner or just so naturally talented that I passed this test on the first try that apparently a lot of people have to try repeatedly for”. I don’t mean that I think that’s the author’s personal voice or personality or even just her good luck; I suspect it’s because a lot of the mundane research work that had to have gone into the book was kept out because most people probably don’t care. I recognize this, and for most of the book Bianca is just a researcher who really goes down a research rabbit hole, to the point of getting sucked into becoming a part of the world she’s investigating.
But then there’s times like when she explains an event called Le Paulée de New York. It’s a weeklong wine and food (mostly wine) festival, that is impossible to get into because “Demand is so high, you can’t pay your way into La Paulée. You have to know someone who knows someone.” Who does Bianca know at this point? Not the right someone, but she gets into a few of the events by somehow getting a hold of the festival’s creator and trading away “an article for a luxury travel magazine, as well as my pride”. This makes it seem way too easy, when there had to have been a lot more work going into getting into this thing. The sense of “I can do what most people can’t because I’m special” is hard to describe, but I still can’t shake that feeling in places. It probably doesn’t help that the event she describes as an orgy, bacchanal, etc involves tasting wines worth more than a house, really famous chefs literally crowd surfing, and hints of a lot of sexual hook ups. While she admits to all the “waste and gluttony”, it’s all ok because “I had found the sensory connoisseurs I’d anticipated.” This is probably what bothered me most about the episode, and about the eventual conclusions of the book. Any kind of off-putting behavior or choice is acceptable as long as it fits into the culture she describes and is done in service of gaining a wine experience. By the end, here’s a sense that she’s become no longer a researcher but one of those sommeliers who looks down on you because you want to stick with something familiar and not get the adventurous thing she wants you to try. You say you want to share knowledge and experience? That’s fine, but what’s wrong with people having a different perspective from yours? Isn’t that why you started the project to begin with?