While Bordeaux and Burgundy winemakers and the wine industry world over eagerly awaits to see how Neal Martin’s tastes will influence the wine scene, he himself is nonchalant of all the attention showered on him post his appointment as the successor of US-based wine critic and President of The Wine Advocate, Robert Parker for the prestigious en primeur tastings. In an exclusive interview with Rojita Tiwari of Drinks & Destinations, Martin talks about his new responsibility, what it entails and why it’s business as usual for him.
How does it feel to be one of the most powerful voices in the wine industry?
It feels the same as when I wasn’t one of the most powerful voices in the wine industry. It is not a good idea to crave power, for it to be your objective. If you happen to become powerful that just means people like your work and appreciate your advice. Power is a vindication of doing something right.
At a time when the relevance of “en primeur” is questioned by many Bordeaux producers as well as the wine industry worldwide, what do you think of the future of this annual event?
I think en primeur will continue although it will probably shrink to a smaller number of properties. Some seem to be holding back part of their production, which has implications for the entire system. And if they pursue such a strategy, which is their legitimate right, I think consumers have a right to know what percentage that represents if they have to make a buying decision.
Tell us in brief about your journey from working with the Japanese Importer in London to now becoming the successor of Robert Parker.
I bought wine for 10 years as part of a Japanese company and started Wine-Journal in 2003. It became a huge success and made my name. I joined Robert Parker in 2006 and continued Wine-Journal as part of his website and then over time I have started to cover more regions for The Wine Advocate, including Bordeaux and Burgundy, which were always the mainstays for Wine-Journal. So in a funny way, I have come back to what I was originally doing.
Besides Bordeaux, you also taste a lot of wines from other regions. According to you, which are the most underestimated wine regions at the moment?
South Africa and Hungary. Perhaps Bandol and definitely Rivesaltes/Banyuls.
Your book Pomerol has received many awards and recognitions? Any new book in the pipeline?
There is always a book in my head. Yes, I would like to do one in the not too distant future.
You have been writing on wines, wineries, and wine makers for a long time. According to you, what’s the best way to tell a great wine story?
Depends on how you want to tell it. Do you want to relate the facts? Do you want to entertain? Do you want to challenge preconceptions, the status quo? Do you want the reader to feel some emotion? Anyone can tell a story, some do it better than others.
What are your views on the Asian wine industry and Wines of Asia, including India?
I am afraid I don’t have much experience of Indian wine but my mind is always open. If you include China as part of Asia then that is quite interesting and we have a new reviewer for The Wine Advocate who has just published his first report on that country.
As a wine critic, what, according to you is the best and most efficient way of handling criticism?
Ignore personal attacks but take on board any that you feel are objective and might benefit your work. You have to have a thick skin.
What are the steps to become a successful wine critic?
I think it’s just dogged perseverance. It takes a long long time to build an audience, to obtain their trust, to form some kind of bond between you and them. Also, wine critics need to have a personality that people can relate to, interests outside wine. If you are essentially a robot churning out numbers then your shelf life is limited. People expect more because of the Internet. You have to ask yourself why a stranger would invest their precious time in you and not somebody else.
How important is a wine degree or certification from a wine institute if someone wants to be a wine writer and critic?
I don’t think it is important at all. I learned the basics doing a WSET course and it was very useful, a great way to start. More important is experience, both tasting wine and visiting vineyard/wineries, hard work and determination, maybe a clear vision of how you are going to contribute to wine writing.
What would be your advice to your daughters if they decide to become wine writers or critics when they grow up?
Marry someone rich.
Finish off this piece of Château Giscours for the August issue and then pick the girls up from school and a cup of tea.
Read more about Neal Martin here .