redThread™ Taste Maker Exclusive: Mardi Gras in NOLA | A Conversation with Amy C. Collins of Pig & Vine

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Inspired stories about artisan wine and taste makers.

by L.M. Archer FWS, Bourgogne ML

Today’s Taste Maker Exclusive:

Mardi Gras in NOLA: A Conversation with Amy C. Collins of Pig & Vine

Amy C. Collins of Pig & Vine first caught my attention at WBC16. As a fellow presenter, she blew the rest of us away with her brilliantly hysterical, self-deprecating, seemingly effortless and extemporaneous presentation about her path to wine writing.

Mind you, she had mildly mentioned the fact that she was presenting only a day or two earlier at another event we’d both attended at M2 Wines. Mentioned, but did not elaborate. No elaboration needed. Once she hit the stage, she owned it.

As a wine writer based in New Orleans, I thought it only fitting to invite her to strut her stuff here on Mardi Gras. Enjoy – and feel free to leave your thoughts below~cheers!

r/T™:  Not many people can claim their path to wine started in Blowing Rock, NC. Any favorite memories from that time and place as you discovered your interest in wine? 

ACC: Those were the college years when everything was possible and we had our whole lives ahead of us. My favorite memory might be the feeling that I could do and be anything. Sadly, I have no memory of specific wines.

r/T™:  Any favorite wine makers, wine regions, and or memorable wines that stand out, and/or inspired you to keep going?

ACC:  There have certainly been standouts over the years, wines that have made me swoon, winemakers who’ve thrown a good party, and pretty much every region I’ve visited makes me want to go back, but also seek out others. I guess a general curiosity and pleasure as guiding principals have kept me going.

r/T™:  It seems that ‘thirst’ for wine also led you to some important mentors along the way. After college, you moved to NYC, where you eventually ended up working for Daniel Johnnes, renown Burgundy expert and mastermind behind Le Paulée NYC/SF. How did that happen? Anything you learned from him that still resonates today? Any favorite memories from time in the trenches with him?

ACC:  After 9/11 I went to work waiting tables at Blue Ribbon Bakery in the West Village. The general structure there was that you worked three doubles a week and had four days off, so with all that free time I decided to pursue the WSET Diploma. I was very fortunate to have some amazing women in my class and study group (four of them are now MWs). When I casually mentioned one day I was thinking about getting a job selling wine, they eagerly set me up with interviews. I believe it was Mark Lauber who referred me to Daniel because he’d just hired a couple of reps at Lauber Imports. I guess Daniel liked me, because when I declined his offer to take a job at Wildman instead, he called to ask me to reconsider working with him. I was flattered and said yes. 

Daniel and his then sales manager, now proprietor of his own accomplished distribution/importation company David Bowler, taught me the who’s who of upper echelon French and German producers. I was part of the team for two NYC La Paulées, though not much help I’m afraid. More decoration and punch lines than in the trenches on that one. But I got to taste incredible Burgundies with decades of age. It was mind-blowing.  I met New York’s top somms and buyers at that time, many of whom later became my customers and friends.

So much happened in the year I worked for Daniel it’s near impossible to whittle down to a single highlight or two. Though I suppose tasting 1985 Chave with Jean-Louis, Allain Graillot and the late Didier Dagenau in Chave’s cellar was pretty epic. Of course not one of them would remember me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

r/T™:  Talk about your path to wine writing in general, and http://www.pigandvine.com in particular – how did you end up leaving NYC for first Alabama, and now NOLA? Any culture shocks that stand out?

ACC:  Actually I left NYC for Buenos Aires, Argentina, then landed in Alabama. Culture shock? Yes, all of it! The first step was to move away from sales and New York. I felt that I wasn’t creating anything, just making money. I wouldn’t mind having some of that money again, but that’s another conversation. Argentina was an unwinding period for me and a welcome change, but after a year I was ready to go stateside. I’d sold all my belongings except for what I could fit into two suitcases, and didn’t have a job or apartment in New York. More important, I didn’t want to go back to New York, so I went to my mother’s in Florence, Alabama. I figured I’d take a couple of months to collect myself, then move west to Austin, Texas, or Portland, Oregon. Then she made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. She said, “You’ve been talking about being a writer for 16 years, why don’t you just stay here and write?” I lived with her, cooked our meals, did the shopping, planted a garden, made some art, read a ton, and learned how to write. Before long people started paying me to write.

I started Pig&Vine in 2012 as a food and wine blog, posting daily, cooking and writing recipes, constantly. I made it my job and was determined to make it pay financially, which I now find amusing. The blog has gone through some transformations over the years, and it’s going through another right now, which is very exciting.

r/T™:  Talk about your foray into radio on Pig & Vine  – least/most favorite thing(s) you like about doing radio vs. writing? Anything you’ve learned that surprises you? Any ‘dream’ guest you’d like to have on the show?

ACC:  The Radio element is a podcast, sort of a sister project to Pig&Vine where I can integrate my love of real conversation. Drinking wine is also a priority activity so marrying the two was a no brainer. Pig&Vine Radio is a way for me to explore subjects other than wine, like music, art, science, and how to be human, while drinking wine. I was surprised to learn that I have a natural NPR voice, or so I’ve been told. Radio is much easier than writing. In conversation, you can stumble over words and convey meaning and context with tone and delivery, especially when there’s someone on the other microphone responding in real time.

Favorite guests? Gosh, I’ll dream big and say Patti Smith, Mary Karr, Lena Dunham would be a trip…I’d like to ask Warren Buffet about balancing humanness with profit margin. But not one of those people drink alcohol, so I’ll have to figure out a loop-hole when they come calling.

r/T™:  As an admitted INTJ, “heavy on the J”,  would you say your career has been less analytical chess game, and more organic improv? How does ‘constructive cruelty’ inform your blog?

ACC:  Definitely more organic improv, gut-feeling. I’ve never had a five-year plan. But I’m also very thoughtful and deliberate about the decisions I make. Some might say I over-think the options.

Constructive cruelty was a group formed by some fellow bloggers I met at the Bloggers Conference last summer to give each other feedback on our respective blogs. I am very open to constructive criticism and they had great perspective and good suggestions. You cannot evolve as a human if you’re not willing to listen. The last thing I want to become is a fascist over my tiny insignificant corner of the web.

r/T™:  Besides Woody Allen, any other inspirations for the incisive humor that runs through your work? 

ACC:  Woody Allen is an influence more because I over-think and worry the way his characters do, and that amuses me. And my mother. She loves to give me a hard time about it. I don’t know what inspires my humor. The absurdity of life, I guess. We humans really are a ridiculous lot.

r/T™:  Besides Pig and Vine,  where can folks find your work?

ACC:  Well, I do have a “professional” writer site, amyccollins.com, and occasionally I remember to update the blog with new work. I write most of the stories for fashion designer Billy Reid’s blog, The Journal. That gig has allowed me to interview a lot of cool folks, which has certainly helped to hone my skills for the podcast. I have a few pending projects for publications I admire, but I don’t want to list them until the pieces are actually published.

r/T™:  Anything else you’d care to share with readers that we haven’t touched on?

ACC:  Yes, please subscribe to the www.pigandvine.com newsletter for regular updates on new posts and new podcast episodes. Then download Pig&Vine Radio from iTunes and leave a glowing review.

r/T™:  Finally, if your experience as a wine writer has taught you anything, it’s taught you…?

ACC:  That it’s incredibly difficult to be relevant and interesting. There’s nothing new to say about wine, so the magic has to be in the saying. Crossing the divide between non-wine people and wine people is even harder, and the risk of talking into an echo chamber is real. Since hosting a podcast has helped me to stop cringing at the sound of my own voice, I worry the melodious reverb will be my eventual demise.

All images provided and reprinted by permission of Amy C. Collins.

Copyrighted 2017 binNotes | redThread™.  All Rights Reserved.

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