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The author

Where I Am Now

June 4th 2013

Girlfriend became wife became mother twice over. City became countryside, South London became Guildford; pokey flat became pokey house with pokey garden. Hair got greyer, but grey is better than none at all. I put on a bit of weight, mostly foie gras and KFC, though unfortunately never at the same time. The Dell was consigned to recycling bin thanks to Steve Jobs. The IKEA kitchen table turned desk has survived, but like the brood of a Dickensian working class family, all but one of its chairs died in infancy. Both items of office furniture remain thanks to my masochistic theory that you write better when feeling uncomfortable, like hot-desking for one, except you always end up with a shitty chair and chronic backache.

No longer do I ship containers laden with Carruade de Lafite to serve as Japanese restaurants' house red, nor do I complain to merchants because a sixty-year old bottle of Mouton had a small nick in the label. Life hurtled at breakneck speed down an unexpected avenue.

Somehow I became a wine writer/critic of purportedly international renown.

People know who I am. They stop me at tastings and sidle up to my table at restaurants (apart from "Giraffe" with the kids.) They recite tasting notes verbatim and scores I dished out in the last issue of The Wine Advocate. My peripatetic life has seen me visit Toro, La Mancha, Stockholm, Bordeaux, Baltimore and New York this year alone. Whilst you are reading this, I am probably on Eurostar heading down to Beaune. My diary is chock full of extravagant dinners and wines that could write off the Greek debt crisis. My in-box is filled with entreaties to mouth-watering verticals and my Blackberry has speed dial for Robert Parker, just in case he needs a musical recommendation. A stack of samples waits impatiently in Styrofoam boxes hoping to curry favor with my workaholic palate. On my bookshelf amongst the wine literature, is my own self-published tome on Pomerol that was bestowed an Andre Simon award just a few weeks ago. I have just blown the entire winnings on an obscenely priced hi-fi that is still incapable of making One Direction sound anything but shite.
Life is a merry-go-round with no brake. It has been the norm since I started Wine-Journal.

Wine-Journal took over my life and perhaps for that reason it seemed active for longer than its 40 month lifespan, from June 2003 until November 2006. People often tell me that visiting Wine-Journal was part of their daily routine and it stands guilty of inspiring several to pursue their own career in wine, whether writing or selling. Occasionally, they quote a line from an article that I can barely recall, usually quite libellous but hey, you can get away with things when you are unknown.

Thinking back to those early days, those writing on the Internet were the minority and generally treated as second-class citizens by the wine establishment. There were one or two exceptions, most notably HRH, a.k.a. Jancis Robinson (whose nickname had been coined in my "blog" entitled "Diary of a Wine Writer".) We were geeks glued to computers. Credibility derived from whether or not you had a newspaper wine column or contributed regularly to Decanter or Wine magazines. I remember lunching with Jamie Goode bemoaning the fact that nobody treated us seriously, but in retrospect, I think we both knew that in 2003 it was better to have a rapidly growing if barely profitable website than a paid gig in a newspaper.

Whilst seeking acceptance like a petulant child, the site's traffic rocketed month by month as the deity that is Google ensured that every syllable I typed would materialise at the top of search lists. I remember one the UK's most notable writers adamantly refusing to believe that a website could attract so much traffic (this former cynic is now a social media guru...I guess he changed his mind.) The one article that changed perceptions towards Wine-Journal was my interview with the towering figure of Michael Broadbent and as far as I am aware it remains as one of the few insights to the man. It created ripples beyond my usual readership. Michael himself later sent me a handwritten letter commending its perspicuity whilst admonishing one or two oversights. What he did not know was that a glitch in my Dictaphone had erased a couple of seconds of speech every 10 seconds through a two-hour interview. I had to spend endless hours filling the gaps.

Chateau Lafleur tasting group

Right: at a vertical of Chateau Lafleur in September 2004 when it was engineered for me sit next to HRH and muster the courage to ask her for an interview. To the left is Michael Broadbent, probably discussing the Cruse bottled 1945.

During those halcyon days, Wine-Journal prospered from the burgeoning off-line scene that exists to this day. Apart from the constant flow of official events, the capital city thrived with off-line dinners, some of which I organised myself at La Trouvaille in Carnaby Street. In tandem were organisations arranging regular tastings that fed content to the site. Most notably was Linden Wilkie's aptly titled "Fine Wine Experience" held monthly at the Institute of Directors. Some of these tastings now seem mythical: numerous First Growth verticals back to the 19th century, 1945 horizontals and Tokaji back to the Royal Saxon Cellar of the early 18th century. These tastings were open to the public and cost a pittance compared to now. It is perhaps telling that over countless tastings, off-lines and informal dinners, not once have I ever seen witnessed an established wine writer deign them with their presence.

Wine-Journal rose to prominence rapidly thanks in no small part to my friend Joel Hopwood, who created such an eye-catching design in return from a few bottles of vino. To my pleasant surprise and thanks to hours of hard work, it became the go-to website for fine wine, especially for a younger demographic. It soon reached over 500,000 pageviews per month and sommeliers in Japan began quoting my notes to my employers who thought I was sorting out bills of lading instead of editing the next article for Wine-Journal. Indeed, I was still running the website from my employers' hard-drive and even by the end of its independent life, my total monthly outlay for Wine-Journal was about 12 pounds per month.

When I was invited to become a contributor to The Wine Advocate, well, that was an easy choice to make. Wine-Journal had come as far as it could whilst holding down a full-time job. It was a chance to move things up a level. So the first thing I did was delete everything I had written over the last three years. I wanted to reboot, start afresh and feel impelled to start building a new library of articles. As a free website, Wine-Journal had been the perfect vehicle to learn the skills of writing, a continuous testing ground to see what worked and what failed. If something did not come up to scratch the you would receive an e-mail to let you know. Now that subscribers were paying for content, then articles would have to meet expectations.

The announcement that I would be joining the Wine Advocate as a "critic-at-large" and taking Wine-Journal behind a pay-wall was met with impassioned responses from jubilation to vituperation. Readers had come with me on a journey from an unknown, leftfield nobody to someone on the cusp of hitting the big time. Those that felt betrayed forgot that a free website doesn't support a family and the comments from "disgruntled from Holland" were so vile that I could have contacted the police. Those that followed me to eRP or already there were soon assured that the spirit of Wine-Journal was fully intact by the first tongue-in-cheek articles that featured a photograph of Bullseye's own Jim Bowen. As expected, the new environ allowed Wine-Journal blossom and achieve more than it ever could moonlighting.

In its own small way, the fact that the first European contributor to The Wine Advocate came from a medium that was still not taken seriously made the wine writing fraternity sit up and assess their sometimes dismissive attitude of the Internet. If you think I am exaggerating, consider that just a few months before joining The Wine Advocate, my application to join the Circle of Wine Writers had been rejected because the medium was not perceived as a valid form of communication.

Those early-adopters of the Internet have forged successful careers, partly down to hard work and talent, but also through prescience and being ahead of the pack. The advent of software such as "Wordpress" and "Blogger" was a sea-change. It democratised the Internet allowing everyone to communicate about wine whilst simultaneously rendering it almost impossible to cement your reputation and gain a large, dedicated following whose attention is now splintered in so many directions. The Internet is a chimera that offers a world of possibilities, few of which genuinely exist.

Neal in McD

Over the last ten years, I hope readers have been entertained as much as the correspondence received suggests you have. I hope not to have patronised my audience by dumbing down articles and skimping on technical detail; stood for something, right or wrong, but at least nailed my opinion to the wall. I hope that through visiting dozens of wineries a year (last year over 150 in Spain alone), it brings the wines themselves to life. Those that have stuck with me through the years, well, I cannot thank you enough.

Pictured left - working hard writing up my en primeur tasting notes in my mobile office - McDonalds, just on the outskirts of Libourne.

Since publishing the first Wine-Journal article on erobertparker.com in April 2007, it has been joined by 784 more, some of them quite epic in length. That figure excludes the reports written for the Wine Advocate. There are now 31,924 tasting notes and counting (don't worry...I did not count them all...there is a running count on the eRP homepage.) Wine-Journal continues as an integral part of eRP, a private playground where I am free to let my imagination run wild when necessary, add surrealism or humour, flex my creative muscles whenever I have the urge to write something that is just...different. I am grateful to Robert Parker for allowing me to do that, something very few bosses would do. I hope that risk has been repaid with a multi-faceted website that despite much of what I read on the Internet, is doing quite nicely, thank you very much and is only going to get much better.

Will the next 10 years be as exciting and magical as the last? Well, that is up to me to make sure it is.