Letters – Issue 28

Not so blind

While Paul White in “(Not) to the consumer’s taste (New Zealand Books, March 1997) substantiates much of his interesting criticism of wine writers, there are a couple of points on which he is factually incorrect.

He states the has not seen “one single review from any of the six classic regions of France, Spain, Germany or either American continent” and also “during my three years here I have yet to read a wine column that has focused on either French or American wine. The only mentions of either country have been in offhand comments quoted from British wine writers”.

Publishing an article so full of sweeping generalisations is damaging to wine writers. In fact, from my reading, many columnists in this country do (though not very often) write about wines from other countries and in the past three years I have seen many such pieces in print. As a weekly wine writer myself, I regularly write on wines from other countries and Mr White actually commented to me favourably on one of these pieces.

I also take issue with the quote from France’s one-eyed wine writer, Michel Bettane, who admits that he can’t “even understand” Australian wine makers. First, I do not see how this is relevant to New Zealand wine writers. Second, this seems the very tunnel-vision that Mr White is accusing New Zealand writers of. In a recent issue of the British magazine, Wine, another influential wine writer, Robert Joseph, praises Australian winemakers for their open-mindedness to the world’s wines.

Joelle Thompson
Wine writer, Capital Times


Paul White replies: I respect Joelle Thompson’s work (although I have not seen all of it) and did not have this actively in mind when I wrote “(Not) to the consumer’s taste”. The single word I would have changed in my piece would have been that word “single”.

No doubt, it would have been safer to have offered an estimated statistic gathered from a three-and-a-half-year random sampling. In that case, I could have safely said that fewer than 5% (more probably closer to 1%) of the article I have seen in New Zealand have covered non-Australasian wines.

The flip side to this is that the number of New Zealand wineries and their product are miniscule (less than 1%?) compared with the wine regions of Africa, South and North America and Europe. Toss in 2000 years of wine history and tradition v 30 years and the distortion increases.

Although I cannot have seen all the wine articles written in New Zealand during this period, I believe the randomness of my sample suggests that what I have missed does not alter ratio significantly, if at all. The fact remains that commentary on non-Australasian wine is strangely absent in New Zealand and the overtly obsessive navel-gazers could do well to put down the magnifying glass.


Place, precisely

I would like to point out a careless error in the introduction to An Anthology of New Zealand Poetry in English edited by Jenny Bornholdt, Gregory O’Brien and Mark Williams.  The editors refer to my anthology of nineteenth century verse as The New Land. In fact, it is The New Place.

The title was deliberately chosen. When I was a boy growing up on Banks Peninsula, we never spoke of “Smith’s farm”, “our farm” or “Granny’s house”. It was always “Smith’s place”, “our place”, “Granny’s place”. Blanche Baughan’s poem, The Old Place, summed up the end of an era and the poetry of settlement. When the new place becomes the old place, then settlement has truly taken place.

Harvey McQueen

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