Katie Jackson Talks With Steve Heimoff

We just had to share Katie Jackson’s interview with Steve Heimoff in preparation for The Chardonnay Symposium. Thanks Katie for sharing your fun and insightful chat!

Jul 20
A Chardonnay Symposium Interview with Steve Heimoff

Hi everyone! I hope your week has been wonderful so far!

Today I’m writing about the Chardonnay Symposium. It is only days away now, and I wanted to urge everyone who may be in the Santa Barbara County area to attend this Saturday! I love this event. I have loved the idea of an event totally centered around Chardonnay ever since I first heard about last year’s Symposium, and after attending, I knew that this was the ultimate way to learn about and truly experience Chardonnay. So, if you’ve considered attending, but haven’t yet made up your mind, please do! I know it will be an truly amazing experience.

I spoke to Steve Heimoff, the wine reviewer for the Wine Enthusiast and one of the Chardonnay Symposium’s two panel moderators, a couple of weeks ago. I asked him questions about a lot of different things, but mostly about the Chardonnay Symposium, his involvement, and why he has been a passionate supporter of it from the start.

So, what first attracted you to the Chardonnay Symposium?

What attracted me was a couple of things. First of all, I love Chardonnay, I’ve never been an ABC person, and I try to defend Chardonnay all the time. Especially on my blog when people bash it, and I tell them that they’re crazy, and if they can’t appreciate a good Chardonnay they should probably be drinking beer. And also, I have a lot of respect for Nick Miller, and it was Nicholas, I believe, who first invited me last year, but I couldn’t go because it conflicted with our annual summer editorial meeting in New York at Wine Enthusiast magazine. When Nicholas re-invited me this year we were able to make the date work. And third of all, I love this kind of thing, you know? It’s fun.

Have you done other events like this before that just focus on just one varietal?

Yeah, I’ve done Pinot Noir stuff and Alsatian varietal stuff. It’s fairly par for the course.

So, you are going to be one of the two moderators for the discussion panels?

That’s right.

Are you going to come up with a bunch of questions before the event and then ask them or are you going to just go along with the conversation?

No, I think we’re going to have some pre-planning. I’ve already reached to the people on my panel and heard from a couple of them. I don’t want this to be too rehearsed because then it becomes boring and stale. And you want as much spontaneity as you can have because then it keeps the energy up. But I think in general that the people that invited me to do it had read something that I’d written in my blog about Chardonnay, and it was a fairly long quote about how Chardonnay can go bad – I mean it can be too sweet and it can be over-oaked and it can be too flabby and so on and so forth – and they said “Well why don’t we talk about that?”. And then they posed the question of, “Can an unoaked Chardonnay be as great as an oaked Chardonnay?” So I think we’ll just put those questions out to the panelists. Of the six on the panel, several have made unoaked wines. So I think I’ll put it out to them and hopefully the panelists will have strong enough views that we’ll have good, forceful dialogues going.

Were there any other issues or questions that you were hoping to bring up at the panel?

Nothing specific. I mean, generally, the way that I like to work is to think on the spot, so as I say, I don’t want to go in there with a rehearsed bunch of questions. You know, when I first started being a reporter years ago I would go into an interview and have, like, thirty or forty questions, and I realized after a while that that’s not the best approach because the best thing is to have a conversation, and to let the conversation meander wherever it wants to go. And when you have prepared questions, if you just stick to your script, they you may miss your opportunity to let the conversation go off script and go in unexpected, exciting ways. So I don’t know where this conversation is going to go. It could go into questions of the market, and what consumers want, and if there is a marketing value in advertising that a wine is unoaked, or a marketing value in advertising that it is oaked, and how do you determine pricing if its less expensive to make an unoaked wine if you don’t have to purchase barrels, and it’s less expensive to make an unoaked wine? So there are many issues that I think are interesting, but I would prefer to let reality dictate the conversation. And if reality flags, and the conversation flags, then I will obviously stimulate the conversation.

How did you first get involved in wine writing and wine criticism?

Oh my god, how much time do you have? Umm, well, let’s put it this way. In the late ‘80’s when I was trying to have a quote unquote “real job” that involved my wearing a tie and carrying a briefcase that did not work out, because its not who I am, and I realized that I needed to do something that I loved that I was passionate about and that it would let me be myself, who I really was, instead of pretending to be somebody that I wasn’t. And the only two things I really loved were writing and wine, and so I put the two together and I said, “Well, I will be a wine writer” and I made it happen. And a lot of people who want to be wine writers call me up now and they ask me for advice, and really the thing is that when I came in, wine writing was not a really popular thing to do. You didn’t have teenagers saying, “When I grow up, I want to be a wine writer.” Today, thousands of people would love to be wine writers, and of course, as you know, we have all the wine bloggers. But in the late ’80’s when I decided to do it, there really was very little competition. So I was able to persuade Wine Spectator to hire me, and after four years, I transferred over to Wine Enthusiast, and that is where I am now.

I know that it is probably hard for you to pick out varietals which are your favorites, but would you say that Chardonnay is one of your favorite varietals?

When I open a white wine at home just for my enjoyment – and that’s usually in the late afternoon as a cocktail, which is usually my first, you know, relaxing wine of the day – it is always Chardonnay. I mean sometimes it is going to be a Champagne or a sparkling wine, but it’s really unlikely that I would open up anything besides a Chardonnay, and I mean a good Chardonnay. I just love Chardonnay, I always have. I think it is the greatest white variety in the world. And I know a lot of people would say Riesling, and that ultimately it’s just a matter of taste, but I love Chardonnay.

What do you do for fun when you are not reviewing wines or writing?

I don’t have time to do much besides reviewing wines and writing, unfortunately. I like to read. I like to cook. I like to be with my friends. And I used to have a lot of sports interests, but as I get older I can’t do sports anymore. So I just like to relax, putter around, maybe get a tattoo.

Oh yeah! I saw your new tattoo on your wine blog the other day! It looked beautiful. What is the design of?

Well, mostly its flowers, but we’ve just, in the last few weeks, been working on a tiger. Just the tiger’s head, this gorgeous, golden Bengal tiger, and he or she is just kind of poking its nose through this little tangle of orchids and grass, and its very beautiful.

Who was your tattooist?

My friend Philip did my tattoo. Philip is a wonderful tattooist. He owns a shop here in Oakland called Old Crow Tattoo. And actually Philip has been voted, for the last two years in a row, the best tattooist in the East Bay by The East Bay Express, which is our free news weekly. And that’s a pretty great honor. He’s really a wonderful tattooist. I’m trying to get everyone to get tattoos now. It has been such an extraordinary experience for me.

I think I’ve asked almost everything I wanted to ask you, except for one last question. What are you most excited about for this year’s Chardonnay Symposium?

Well, I love Santa Barbara County. I feel very close to Santa Barbara County, and people there treat me very well. So I’m excited about everything! It is a great part of my job to have the privilege to do stuff like this.

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