Skip to content

The Personal Pursuit of Balance

2014 August 26

winebalance 2
This blog has been on a summer hiatus. After four years of devoting the bulk of my free time to this effort, I decided it was time to take stock of how much effort it requires, how little I am receiving monetarily from my writing and what else I could be profitably doing with that time.

I was also realizing I’m significantly heavier than I was when I started the blog, in much worse shape physically, and that I’d been spending precious little time in recent months with friends, or potential new friends, because I was so focused on getting to tastings, wine-related travel and meeting deadlines.

It’s also been clear to me for some time that I’m not really a blogger at heart. I don’t live to opine on the same things others in the wine blogging community are writing about. I like to write about things others aren’t exploring. I also like to take the time to be thoroughly conversant with my subject and get all my facts right.

This site has evolved in the four year since it started into more of a collection of long, reference quality pieces about producers, regions or varieties. Those pieces on a weekly basis have run from 5-12,000 words, are thoroughly researched and, usually, supported by extensive tasting notes. There’s no other wine blog that has had that kind of content, on a regular basis. I’ve started to see there’s a very good reason for that.

I’ve also been doing a condensed version of my weekly pieces here—less than 1,000 words—for the Huffington Post. That seemed like a great opportunity to reach a more general audience when it was first offered, and I am proud of the pieces I did for HuffPo.

HuffPo pays virtually none of their bloggers, me included, and after briefly highlighting wine related columns in their own Wine section, and promoting many of the pieces I wrote in their daily emails to subscribers, columns like mine eventually got relegated to the Taste section, where the main emphasis is on food, dieting and recipes. So my pieces have received significantly less traffic there than they did in the first year and a half or so on the site. And yet they require a lot of effort to condense, punch up for a general audience and completely reformat for HuffPo. I expect to still do some on occasion when I think it’s a particularly newsworthy topic for HuffPo, but not with my prior frequency.

Aside from the writing, tasting and research required as background for the writing, there’s been all the time required to set up and maintain a blog.

Initially I had to learn WordPress to get the site going. WordPress and its thousands of plug ins keep changing and expanding—which is a good thing, but also requires one to keep up.

When I was disappointed by my rankings on search engines after the first several months of writing for this site, I also had to learn about search engine optimization, which ultimately required weeks of re-doing my site, and its “metatags.”

Pictures are also vital to a successful blog, so I have spent a lot of time editing and uploading photos over the past four years too. Unfortunately, the site that had hosted my thousands of pictures for 10 years decided to go out of that business, so I lost the hundreds of photo links on my site overnight and had to spend weeks of time I could ill afford uploading my photos to a new site and rebuilding my photo links on Flickr, which I hope will be around for awhile.

In the last few years, I’ve enjoyed an unexpected opportunity that came to me as a result of my writing here: being invited on media press trips to wine regions in various parts of the world.

The invites started to come pretty regularly after pieces I did on trips to places like Rioja and Uruguay, and I had begun to set aside all my vacation time from work for those trips—trying to do one of these trips nearly every other month.

Two particularly arduous trips this year, however, made me rethink the wisdom of taking advantage of those opportunities.

RJ with circa 1960 Citroën convertible that was provided for a day of winery visits in Cahors

RJ with circa 1960 Citroën convertible that was provided for a day of winery visits in Cahors


The organizers typically overschedule us media types, and on my last couple trips, not only were we going at a breakneck pace, from early in the morning to very late at night, but also nearly half the time was spent on activities the organizers insisted we attend, even over protests, that were not something of interest to me or my readers. Traveling for an entire day each way, as was required to get to Israel or Cahors, in Southwest France, is also pretty arduous in itself. Between that and the non-stop pace when one gets there, I was feeling completely exhausted when I got back (after taking a week of “vacation” time).

Although I have particularly enjoyed and learned a lot on well organized trips to places like Rioja and Champagne, in the future I will mainly organize my own trips focused on the producers and topics that most interest me. I’m still open to a particularly interesting wine press trip, where I’m clear on the itinerary in advance (and said yes last week to an October trip to Tuscany that promises to be very well organized by the Chianti Consorzio), but will otherwise be turning down these opportunities in the future.

So what else have I learned in my several weeks off from the weekly grind of banging out pieces for this blog and HuffPo?

I am thrilled to have started to get in shape again. I’ve lost over 25 pounds so far, and am now working with a professional bodybuilder as my personal trainer to help me take off another 20 or so and to take advantage of all the new science of bodybuilding that seems to have developed since the last time I had a trainer.

working out, photo by James Hurst

working out, photo by James Hurst


I am going to fewer tastings, and being much more selective and strategic about what I attend. I continue to receive a lot of samples for tasting, many of which are quite excellent, and I’m trying to keep up with that flow and my reviews on CellarTracker without it negatively impacting my weight and health.

I’ve also begun to experiment with formats for reaching other and younger audiences with messages about wines of note. That means I’m now on Instagram and Tumblr, learning how to best take advantage of those apps. And I’m still trying to keep up a presence on Facebook and Twitter, which have helped drive traffic to my site and other writing efforts in the past.

Ironically, in this hiatus period, I’ve been interviewed/profiled by a couple of online wine websites. The first to appear was my responses to Jameson Fink’s very thoughtful questions for Grape Collective, where I also did a Top 10 list of wine and food destinations in the greater San Francisco Bay area. The second was Snooth.com, for which I wrote on assignment on a paid basis for about a year and a half, before they lost their budget for those assignments.

And I’ve been reconnecting with friends and family members, as well as making at least a couple nights a week “date night.” I’m thoroughly enjoying the time being social again.

So what’s ahead for me as a wine writer and this site, now that I’ve taken some time to think about it and put some balance back in my life?

I don’t plan to try to keep up with a weekly grind of pieces of the length and thoroughness that I was doing. It’s simply not sustainable, not if I want to continue to lead a balanced life, and I’m not sure there’s that much of an audience for them anyway.

Instead, I will be revamping this site from a blog into a wine reference website, with sections that highlight quick recommendations for some amazing, characterful and reasonably priced wines. That revamping will take several months to finish, including making my full database of tasting notes finally available on the site. I’m looking forward to the changes and creative process though.

I will also continue to work on longer pieces, but will do so with an eye to publishing them as eBooks on wine regions. I’ve got close to enough material on the wonderful Santa Barbara County wine region to make that my first eBook, to test out the format. I would probably follow that with an eBook on the terrific but still relatively low profile California wine region I happen to live in: the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.

RJ getting a pump on at Gold's Gym, photo by James Hurst

RJ at Gold’s Gym in Santa Clara, photo by James Hurst

Now that I’m feeling much healthier again, I also want to explore wine as a part of a fit lifestyle—how to get the health benefits of wine without the negative consequences of overindulgence. And I will pitch stories to print and online publications on some of the regions and producers I’ve become expert on—something I’ve had little time to properly do while I was churning out my lengthy “blog” pieces.

I continue to be enthused about wine as a topic, and as one of the major delights of life. I also remain fascinated by the stories of artisanal winemakers and of wine regions and traditional types of wine. And I want to do a better job than I’ve done to date of highlighting excellent, reasonably priced wines that display exceptional character. By writing at such length here, I think I’ve buried the lead on occasion about some of those amazing wines. It’s time to shorten my coverage and punch it up, so those wines can hopefully benefit from greater attention.

I am thankful to my readers, wine writing colleagues, and the many whose work in wine continues to inspire me. Now that I’m feeling more fit, more balanced and clearer about how I can help get out the word about worthy wines, I look forward to doing a better job of that in the coming months.

28 Responses leave one →
  1. Kort van Bronkhorst permalink
    August 26, 2014

    Congratulations on your epiphany, as well as the new balanced, healthier lifestyle. I have always admired your writing for its detail and completeness, and marveled at how you did all this while also having a “real” job and (I assumed) a life. I was already well-aware that you weren’t doing it for the money, because, as we all know, there is none. Your passion has always been commendable, and now your dedication to a more balanced life is even more so. Thanks for writing this piece and updating all of us, and good luck on the gym regimen. My door is always open in Napa when you happen to be nearby.

    All the best,

    Kort

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 27, 2014

      Kort,
      Thank you for your incredibly kind comment. I very much appreciate it, and hope to see you in Napa in the coming months.
      All the best,
      Richard

  2. August 26, 2014

    RJ,

    I have been thinking a lot about balance, too, lately in exactly the way you define it: diet, lifestyle, and doing “non-wine things”.

    I applaud your efforts–and results–on this front.

    Best,

    Jameson

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 27, 2014

      Jameson,
      Many thanks for your comment. Thank you again too for such great questions for the Grape Collective piece.
      –Richard

  3. Christopher O'Gorman permalink
    August 26, 2014

    This is the best piece on “balance” I’ve read yet! Congratulations on regaining your health, Richard. I look forward to reconnecting down the wine trail…

    Cheers,
    Chris

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 27, 2014

      Chris,
      Thank you so much. I’m definitely inspired to write more on the topic, and share experiences that are coming in from others who’ve been doing similar things that I’ve received over the past day.
      All the best to you,
      Richard

  4. Blake Gray permalink
    August 26, 2014

    Who is that powerful looking fellow in the gym?

    Your work has always been a donation to the world of wine lovers. Thanks for it.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 27, 2014

      Blake,
      That means a lot coming from one of my favorite wine writers (and true journalist). And thank you for empowering me to prepare my own sashimi. It’s become my favorite dinner at home, at least a few times a week.
      –Richard

  5. August 26, 2014

    Probably the wrong time to remind you about the Mount Veeder Appellation Tasting on Sept 6 at The Hess Collection, eh? No, seriously, I’m with Blake, the work you put into this was and is astounding, and you know you’re always welcome here. Thank you for spending some time with our wines, it’s been very much appreciated.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 27, 2014

      Jim,
      Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to make that tasting, which is usually a favorite of mine. Great wines there. But it does conflict with a “date” day that I’m also very much looking forward to.
      Thank you for the kind words and I hope Saturday’s event is spectacular.
      –Richard

  6. Carl Mostert permalink
    August 27, 2014

    Good for you Richard! …its not so easy to stake stock of your life and get things back in some sort of balance
    Also, thank you for sharing your reviews and wine knowledge, something I appreciate and enjoy.

  7. August 27, 2014

    Hi Richard, it was great to meet you when you came to Cahors in June, it was certainly a well structured visit with a lot of visits planned in, aimed to get the time here definitely.
    I am so glad to hear of your improved health and the photos do show a slimmer, healthy you now! Well done, and look forward to hearing from you as and when you do post.
    Take care and best wishes from Cahors Malbec.
    Jennifer

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 27, 2014

      Jennifer,
      It was good to meet you.
      I really enjoyed the wines in Cahors, but felt the trip was quite overscheduled, including two mandatory morning lectures in the vineyard from a dogmatic idiot who wasn’t telling us anything about Cahors–just about his ridiculous and unfounded theories about the need to move wine roots around to be next to rocks and the like. That was a huge waste of everyone’s time.
      What made the trip particularly arduous for me was that I was housed and traveled with 9 sommeliers, instead of with the rest of the media contingent. Many of those somms were party animals, who insisted on closing down every dinner after 1 am or so, when I and the consultant responsible for our group (and the bus driver) were ready to leave at 11 pm. And then some of them couldn’t make it down for the morning departure, delaying us, because they were out partying on the patio under my room until after 3 am. I will never, in my life, agree to travel with a group of somms again.
      –Richard

    • Blake Gray permalink
      August 27, 2014

      Jennifer: Writers don’t generally complain about press trips, for the obvious reason that we sound like jerks. Some of the ones I have been on have been overscheduled and that makes it harder, not easier, to do our jobs. Some of us have to write while on the trips, because work doesn’t stop. And even if we don’t, we do better work with a few in-depth visits, not a lot of driving around and short sessions.

      But I rarely say anything about it privately, and never on my blog. And I’m a guy who’s rather known for saying things others won’t.

      Richard, on the other hand, is one of the nicest, hardest-working, most self-sacrificing people I’ve ever met writing about wine. If Richard complains, publicly, that your trip was overscheduled, you really ought to listen. We know the region has needs when it brings us over, but writers have needs too, and adequate rest is one.

  8. Randy Caparoso permalink
    August 27, 2014

    Way to go, Richard — looking forward to more missives! R

  9. August 28, 2014

    Great work Richard. I am starting the gym on Monday. This read was an inspiration for me.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 28, 2014

      Wow, congratulations Sean! That’s awesome. You’re going to be very glad you did.

  10. Philip permalink
    August 28, 2014

    Well, Rich, we missed you, and we look forward to your next VACATION in Europe.

  11. August 28, 2014

    This was an incredibly inspirational blog post. thank you. I think you have delineated one of the most ubiquitous challenges for true wine enthusiasts. We are passionate. We have drive. We have brains. We are SO passionate about wine that we give way too much of ourselves. Congratulations on finding the balance in life. I look forward to your e-book. I worked as an enologist in that area for a few years at Sanford Winery. I don’t know that much, but offer what I do know.
    Natalie

  12. sao anash permalink
    August 28, 2014

    Great, inspiring article on what balance can mean in the world of wine. Much more meaningful way of talking about it in this article.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      August 29, 2014

      Thank you my awesome friend. I look forward to us enjoying each other’s writing and company for years to come.

  13. Michael Martella permalink
    August 31, 2014

    Congratulations! This industry is seductive. Thanks for writing about your readjustment. You put to words what others like myself are experiencing.

  14. Steve permalink
    September 1, 2014

    Yeah I used to drink alot of wine and now I need to cut back. I still drink about 4 glasses a day. I am at the gym tryyyyying to lose weight but after 2 months no change. Any ideas what is going on? I eat healthy. no fatty stuff.

    • Richard Jennings permalink*
      September 8, 2014

      Steve,
      Have you tried counting calories using an online tool or app, like MyFoodDiary.com? That’s really helped me be clearer about the calories and nutritional make up of what I’ve been eating. I’m eating per the regimen my personal trainer gave me and losing 2 to 3 pounds per week. Four glasses a day is a pretty substantial amount of wine. According to MyFoodDiary.com, a 5 oz. glass of red wine amounts to about 105 calories, so four glasses would amount to 420 calories. I also find when I drink more than a glass or two of wine, that my appetite increases, so I end up eating a lot more than I do when I keep to a glass or so. At any rate, congrats on the gym regime. I would recommend really looking at the calories you’re consuming.
      –Richard

  15. Matt Mauldin permalink
    September 14, 2014

    Richard,
    I’ve always enjoyed the comprehensiveness of your writing and have considered you a great source of information. I’ll look forward to your future endeavors in whatever form they may take!
    Matt

  16. dmil permalink
    September 19, 2014

    “I don’t live to opine on the same things others in the wine blogging community are writing about.”

    This IMO makes you such a great wine commentator.

  17. October 7, 2014

    Hi Richard, finally got to reading it. Makes sense. I came to similar conclusion in my own blogging pursuit quite some time ago, and dramatically cut down on amount of blog posts, and instead focused on tweeting. I have always been amazed at your productivity as a wine blogger. Also, I think even if I were 100% retired, still I would be unlikely to go on press tours of wine regions because someone imposes on you where to go. I’d rather pay my own money and do it my way, as you said, go to places you are actually interested in, at the pace that is comfortable (for me, it would be maybe 2 in-depth appointments per day, max). Still, one day I hope to see a NY Times wine best-seller from you! (Maybe Santa Cruz mtns – I really think we got something here, particular Lu emphasizing how well they age). Overall, congrats, you are looking good these days! Hope to see you in person more often!

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

%d bloggers like this: