Shedding some light on your favorite wine writers.
Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher
Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher are Senior Editors of the Grape Collective, an online magazine and wine shop with stores in New York and New Jersey. They conceived and wrote The Wall Street Journal‘s wine column, “Tastings,” from 1998 to 2010. Dorothy and John have been tasting and studying wine since 1973. In 2020, the University of California at Davis added their papers to the Warren Winiarski Wine Writers Collection in its library, which also includes the work of Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. Dottie has had a distinguished career in journalism as a reporter, editor, columnist, and editorial writer at The Miami Herald, The New York Times, and at The Journal. John was Page One Editor of The Journal, City Editor of The Miami Herald, and a senior editor at Bloomberg News. They are well-known from their books and many television appearances, especially on Martha Stewart’s show, and as the creators of the annual, international “Open That Bottle Night” celebration of wine and friendship. The first bottle they shared was André Cold Duck. They have two daughters.
1. What was your first job as a writer?
Dottie knew when she was about 11 that she wanted to be a journalist. She grew up in the segregated South and her heroes were the Southern reporters and those from other places who told the stories of Black Americans to White Americans. Using words could change minds and hearts; could make the world better. So she went to the University of Missouri School of Journalism, for which she gave a commencement address in its centennial year. During college, after her hometown paper refused to hire her because she’s Black, she interned at the St. Petersburg Times and its sister publication, the Evening Independent.
John, who also grew up in the segregated South, knew from the time he was about 10 that he wanted to be a journalist. His first professional job was as an intern at The Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville, Fla.—his hometown—after his freshman year of college at Columbia.
2. What led you to becoming a wine writer?
It was an accident. We began enjoying wine and learning about it together soon after we met on our first day of work after college at The Miami Herald – June 4, 1973, at 9 a.m. We tried new wines, visited wine regions, met vintners, joined wine groups, read books – it was our passion outside of work. We had highly successful journalism careers—Dottie at The Miami Herald, Miami News, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, and John at The Miami Herald, Newsweek, and The Wall Street Journal. But we had never written a word about wine and didn’t intend to.
In 1998, when John was Page One Editor of The Wall Street Journal and Dottie was Editor for Urban Affairs, The Journal started Weekend Journal. The editor was the awesome Joanne Lipman, who had previously worked for John and knew about our interest in wine. She asked us to write a weekly column about wine in our “spare time.” We figured it might be fun. We had no idea the column would be an immediate sensation. Martha Stewart quickly discovered us. The Journal eventually had us write two columns a week (one answering questions) to accommodate all of the ads. We got a book contract. AND we were raising two demanding little girls!
So in 1990, we went to our boss, the brilliant managing editor Paul Steiger, and said we couldn’t do our “real” jobs and the wine column anymore. It was just too much. He leaned back and said, “Well, which would you rather do?” That’s how we became full-time wine writers.
3. What kind of reader do you have in mind when you’re writing?
When we began our column, we asked ourselves that very question. At that point in our wine journey, we could have written a high-brow column for people who already knew and cared a great deal about wine. But we thought that was a narrow audience unlikely to grow much. Instead, we decided to write a column that was not really about wine, but was about life, children, making the most of every day – things that everybody cares about. Wine was the guiding narrative. If it persuaded people that wine made life a little better because it made them slow down and enjoy the scenery and each other, we could be very proud of that.
Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher
Senior Editors for Grape Collective
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4. Where is the most magical place your wine writing has brought you?
We could name a million, but whenever we are in the presence of a committed winemaker who allows us a glimpse into his or her soul—in a bottle or in person—that is magic. We were once lucky enough to meet the famous winemaker Andrê Tchelistcheff, whose 1968 Beaulieu Cabernet was the greatest wine we ever had (we drank it on our honeymoon in Napa in 1979). We asked how we knew 1968 would be a great year. He gave us the biggest smile. He closed his eyes, said, “I tasted a grape,” and then reached out with his hand as if picking from a vine. He paused. It was like he was there. He brought his hand to his mouth. “I tasted a grape,” he said. “And I knew.” That memory still gives us goosebumps.
5. What was one of your favorite articles to write, and why?
Open That Bottle Night! When we first started writing the column, the question we received most often – and we believe this is true of most wine writers – was, “I have this one bottle of wine I received from my father, or from my wedding, or I bought at auction, that I’ve been keeping for a special occasion. When should I open it?” We heard that so often that we said, OK, let’s do this. We’re going to set a date when all of us together will enjoy that wine that’s always too precious to open. We called it Open That Bottle Night. It has been celebrated worldwide – from Antarctica to Prague – since 1999. It is always the last Saturday of February – so it’s Feb. 27, 2021. The Wall Street Journal nominated our first OTBN article for a Pulitzer Prize.
And you can read our current advance story at grapecollective.com. If you have plans, drop us a note at OTBNwine@gmail.com or in the comments section below our advance story. And if you celebrate, let us know what you opened.
6. What is the best advice someone has given you on your writing?
People like stories. Tell a story.
7. What would you be doing if you weren’t writing about wine?
Dottie spent most of her career writing about race and John spent most of his as a hard-news/long-form narrative journalism editor. We hope we would be doing those things.
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