Shedding some light on your favorite wine writers.
Jill Barth is a writer focused on wine creators—with culture, community, ecology, and travel pivotal to the stories. She is an award-winning wine columnist for Forbes and a wine country travel expert panelist and contributor for USA TODAY’s 10Best. Her work appears in Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, Relais & Châteaux Instants Magazine, SevenFifty Daily, VinePair, France-Amérique, Palate Press, Luxe Provence, Courrier International, Provence WineZine, and Perfectly Provence.
Jill is a Provence Wine Master through the Wine Scholar Guild and received a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. She’s also the founder and author of L’Occasion, which was awarded the Best Overall and Best Writing from the prestigious Wine Media Awards and was a finalist for Millesima’s Blog Awards in food and wine pairing.
1. What was your first job as a writer?
I have a communication degree, which I’ve put to work since day one of earning it, so I’ve actually been “paid to write” in some fashion for most of my career. For the first decade of my working life, I specialized in business communication and fiction. After that: wine.
2. What led you to becoming a wine writer?
I took an interesting route to becoming a professional wine writer, a route that started with one of my true loves: books.
I’ve always been a fiction writer, and around 15 years ago I published a short story based in Provence with a winemaker as the protagonist. I wanted to develop the character and setting into a novel, so my husband and I did some research while we were in France. We knocked on doors and drove around vineyards. I used what I needed for the novel, and pitched some of the other details to magazines and publishers as freelance contributions.
I was able to take what I’d learned from writing for clients in the business world and combine it with what I’d learned about what wine lovers want to read and turn it into a career translating material into readable, valuable stories.
3. What kind of reader do you have in mind when you’re writing?
I tend to write for consumers, people that buy wine. I primarily cover the people and land that produce the drink they love, sharing the who/what/where/why/and how of wine. So when I write, I imagine a reader that cares about where their food (wine is food!) comes from and who makes and grows it. I also imagine a reader who enjoys traveling and meeting new people, and thus will spend their free time reading about the atmosphere, tensions, challenges, dreams, and efforts that are inherent to life in the wine world.
4. Where is the most magical place your wine writing has brought you?
Wow. I have wine to thank for so many cool travel experiences, both for work and with my family and friends. But let’s put it this way: the drive from Paris to Provence, through Bourgogne and along the Rhône (with obligatory stops in Beaune and Lyon, to drink and eat, eat and drink) has become part of the fabric of my wine writing history. This path has enough to keep me interested for several lifetimes. In fact, I’ve just finished a novel about friends who take this exact trip.
5. What was one of your favorite articles to write, and why?
It’s difficult to choose because I’ve been incredibly blessed to cover some fascinating people and places, but writing about sustainability and regeneration feels very substantial. I worked on the bones for a piece that was ultimately published in Wine Enthusiast’s Advocacy Issue, Beyond Organic: The Winemakers Leading a Sustainable Revolution, for a while before it came to fruition in the current form. I read books about herd grazing, soil health, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, biodynamics, and regenerative agriculture for months before I felt confident enough to even interview Craig, Jordan, and Joseph (meet them in the article). Seeing that come to life felt pretty damn good.
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6. What is the best advice someone has given you on your writing?
“Think like the reader.” The writing life is rewarding because I’m constantly learning and being granted “insider” access to the hard work of other people, but in the end it’s not about me. The reader should feel as if THEY are the one having the experience, not the writer.
7. What would you be doing if you weren’t writing about wine?
Writing novels full time. I also cover food and travel, as they relate to wine. But let’s get out of that ballpark for a moment and say I wasn’t writing at all. I always thought it would be awesome to be a librarian, or run a charming B & B. My personality assessment in high school offered me the advice to become a “flower arranger” so that doesn’t sound awful. I’m a triple Libra, so I crave harmony and balance thus am satisfied by a gorgeous bouquet.
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