a few glorious months as food editor at SF Weekly. When that happened, I know a few restaurateurs, a reader or three, and a bunch of non-readers did a little jig or opened a bottle of sparkling wine. And I've taken a buyout from a wine writer/editor position at a major publication, the San Francisco Chronicle. As with any position like that, some people were happy then too.
Of course I don't know exactly how Jay Miller feels today, after leaving a position as one of the three most influential critics in the wine world. Miller leaves the Wine Advocate within a week of Jim Budd's blog posts (here's the one that broke it; here's a key one following up) detailing arrangements made for Miller to visit Spanish wineries for a large fee.
But I can guess how it feels, from how I felt each time I left a job I loved. Dazed. Vulnerable, and aware of it. Trying carefully to make all the small and bureaucratic but crucial decisions about dental plans et al. Should I travel? I shouldn't make any big decisions. I should bounce back quickly.
I'm worthless. I mattered yesterday. Today I do not matter. That's the worst thing. There, I have been. It is not pleasant. It is an opportunity to exercise the kind of emotional strength I aspire to and admire. And another such opportunity, tomorrow.
Another thing that sucks is going to events when you're suddenly less important. You've always realized people love you for your column inches, but still, people who begged to buy you dinner now give you their elevator smile and look away to chat up one of "these bloggers," as Robert Parker put it.
Here's one that's very hard: You used to be able to try any wine you wanted, just by asking. That is such a gift. Today, from now on, you cannot. It is, maybe, like no longer being able to fly.
I have been where Miller is. But I haven't been where Miller was, nor have few other people in the modern era. Miller has wielded power more akin to an African dictator than a food or wine writer.
I call Miller the third most influential wine critic in the world, after his now former boss, Robert Parker, and Wine Spectator's James Laube, because these are the only three writers who have changed the style of winemaking at many wineries. There are many better critics, but those go to the wine stylistically, rather than making the wine come to them.
Maybe Miller is the third most influential critic of any kind. Do filmmakers change their style for any critic? How about playwrights? Do automakers make their cars differently to please Car & Driver?
The kowtowing Miller received, the depth of insincere worship around him, perhaps only kings know.
Yet there is tragedy in a boy without the strength to be king, and that would be most of us.
I do not know how my palate would fare in the spotlight of the throne of the Wine Advocate. I do not like the wines Jay Miller likes. But what if I had the power to make all Viogniers light and floral, because that's how I like them. Would the world disdain me as the guy who ruined the grape? How would any of us fare?
I want to see the soul behind the 100-points granted to syrups. But in the context of the history of the wine world, this is a great day. It could be an epic drama's climax, with bells ringing and attractive young people running in the streets to lock hands, sing, dance and pour unfiltered wine from refillable jugs into each others' mouths.
In Spain, we may see the end of Vinos Expresivos, those huge oaky wines made from international varieties, where some of the best grapes go to rot. Did anyone other than Miller ever like them? In Washington, perhaps Syrah will less often taste like blueberry pancake syrup. For me, and for many others, it is a day of liberation.
Hours before I heard this announcement I attended a large sommelier-only tasting. One of the presenters casually said of Spanish wines, "You know how the wines that get the highest ratings aren't the best wines or even good wines. They're certainly not wines we like." Nobody disagreed.
The ethical scandals made Miller easier to criticize and ultimately
precipitated his departure, no matter whether he jumped or was pushed.
As bad as they may have been, they weren't really the problem. Jay Miller, as a critic, was against the concept that wines should fit into a meal. The bigger and louder the wine, the better.
I know something of how Jay Miller feels today. Yet he is like the pitcher for the team I have rooted against my whole life, limping dejectedly off the mound after giving up a walkoff home run.
And I am one of those road-team fans. I see the slump of his shoulders. I do not wish him this pain. But I do not share it.
So I cheer. Loudly. Sorry Jay, but hurray. Hurray!