In this case, Clarice Members submitted questions to Wine Writer Extraordinaire Jeb Dunnuck (www.jebdunnuck.com). And, boy, did Jeb deliver the goods with his replies. Here’s what was asked and what was answered!
1) How has the COVID-19 crisis changed your travel and review schedule? How does it alter the work that you are doing and what are you doing to adapt?
The Coronavirus has pretty much canceled all travel, which means no trips to wine regions. I was forced to cancel a trip to Bordeaux and postpone my 2019 Bordeaux en Primeur report, as well as cancel a trip to Sonoma and move that tasting to Colorado. I’m still planning a trip for the Central Coast in June and trips to Europe for the fall, but certainly, things are in flux now and editorial calendars are little up in the air.
2) How do you approach a new region? Is it different than writing about an area with a historic pedigree?
I do my best to approach each tasting, whether its First-Growth Bordeaux, Rhone-like blends from the Sierra Foothills, or Pinot Noir from Sonoma, with the same open mind. I don’t change how I view wine based on region, variety, or pedigree.
3) Have you ever visited or tasted any Texas wines?
I’ve tasted some enjoyable sparkling wines from Texas, but I’ve not tasted many wines nor visited wineries in Texas.
4) What have you discovered over the years that helps keep your senses sharp when tasting through a large group of wines?
There are really no tricks, and each person has their methodology. I drink lots of water and eat sparingly on tasting days.
5) When flying do you drink wine or spirits? Have you ever discovered a wine you didn’t know on a flight? What airlines have the best wine selections?
I’ll often have a bourbon in the Minneapolis airport (they have a great selection) on my way home from Europe, but other than that, I don’t drink alcohol during flights.
6) What are your views on the “In pursuit of balance” dialogue and to his mind what is balance in wine?
I think it might have been a good way to sell wine, but I found the whole concept completely bullshit. I also think it resulted in worse wine. I always described it as “giving up on greatness”. Anyone can harvest their grapes early and make a simple, fresh wine, all while claiming everything is about balance and spewing nonsense about minerality. Guess what; it’s not all about balance. Water can be balanced, and wine should aspire to be more. Great wine offers intensity, depth of flavor, complexity, and richness, all while staying weightless and elegant. That’s the hard part.
7) Scores – some writers seem to be more liberal in their scores and others stingier. How does this come about and how do you see yourself in this area?
Everyone scores how they score. I’ve often referred to scoring being like driving on a highway; the person in front of you is going too slow, and the person flying by you is crazy. Being consistent in how I view and describe wine is much more important than trying to match someone else’s idea of scoring. My goal is to help subscribers find wines they like.
8) Climate change and wine? What differences are you seeing in the wines you are tasting?
At a high-level today, I think we can say climate change has resulted in better wine, especially in Europe, where grapes were grown on the limit of where they could achieve good ripeness. However, climate change is unquestionably starting to change what we view as great vintages. In the past, it was always the hot, dry vintages that produced the best wines. Today, I think we might describe great vintages as being more warm and even, than hot and dry. Nevertheless, it is still these warmer, drier vintages that produce the best wines.
9) Do you find yourself drinking much other than wine when you aren’t working? Or are you tired of alcohol?.
I drink wine every night.
10) Assuming your job has a lot of calories involved, how do you keep yourself in shape?
The job itself does not involve a lot of calories. However, it does allow you to overindulge, and the travel can be hard, so it takes a lot of discipline and self-awareness. While I’m a hedonist, I always say everything in moderation… including moderation. Your health is incredibly important, and I try never to forget that, so I book hotels with gyms, bring running shoes on trips, and do workouts while traveling and tasting. I’m lucky to live in Boulder, CO, and have access to incredible hiking trails and mountain biking, so when I’m home, it’s a steady stream of hikes and bike rides with Traci (my wife) and our pup, Ella.
11) What’s the worst part of your job?
Anything you do at a certain level has challenges. Running a small business, making sure subscribers are happy, keeping the website updated, arranging travel and visits, and spending weeks on the road can all add up. Nevertheless, I still love just about every aspect of the job.
12) What would you tell a younger person who wants to be a wine critic?
Work hard and add value. And don’t write stupid opinion pieces.
13) What appreciable differences, if any, do you generally see in wine quality between larger and more boutique producers?
There are plenty of tiny, boutique producers making shit wines, and there are large estates producing brilliant wines. I could never classify quality or wine style based on the size of the producer.
14) Is there an expiration date on being a wine critic? We all know that senses dull a bit over time and with age – does this mean that being a critic has a timeline/limitations?
It is not an easy job, and I would imagine the travel itself would become too much at a certain age. However, mental clarity is more important than any degradation in senses or the ability to taste. Imagine someone claiming a movie critic isn’t a good reviewer because his eyesight isn’t 20/20. Having done this job for close to 15 years now, I think a certain level of experience and maturity makes for a better critic, and I think I’m a better wine critic today than a decade ago. There are no hard/fast rules here, and you should judge the quality by what’s written, not by the age of the writer.
15) What trends in winemaking are you seeing that you find interesting?
There are tons of exciting trends in the wine world today. Looking specifically at California, we’re seeing a certain level of stabilization and consistency in the winemaking styles from estates today. Winemakers aren’t chasing scores or fads and are making wines in a style they like as well as trying to make the most of what the soils and climate give them. That’s a great progression. Nevertheless, there will always be some new, shiny toy in wineries, and the pendulum of wine style is always moving.
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