Wine Blogger Interview: Chris Kissack of The Wine Doctor
Chris Kissack is the man behind one of the world’s first wine blogs of significance: thewinedoctor.com
Winedoctor has been published without break since May 2000!
Very few (if any?) wine bloggers can claim such both an early-adopter record and such longevity.
On his website, Kissack provides opinion on “two of the world’s great wine regions, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley”.
As he puts it: “Every week I publish a selection of articles relevant to Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, and on occasion other regions too. The majority of the articles are tasting reports, domaine profiles and updates, but there are also book and restaurant reviews and ‘weekend wine’ reports.”
But Kissack is also a man of his age, using social media to spread the word and share the experience. So well he does in fact that Chris features as #13 in the 2017 Top 20 Wine Influencers on Social Media.
So you too can get to know Chris, in a quick Q&A interview, I’ve asked him to tell us more about himself and his blog.
Meet Chris Kissack:
Q: Can you summarize who you are and what your wine blog does?
A: I am a hopeless sardine addict looking to lose a fortune.
I am not sure what my wine blog does. But what it is supposed to do is make me poor.
Q: When did you start your wine blog and why?
A: Have you ever seen Brewster’s Millions? Well I’m Richard Pryor. I’m an heir to a huge family fortune, a fortune that in my case came from my family investing in sardines. Sardine investment schemes have really fallen by the wayside these days, but they used to be a well-known route to riches. They would trade sardines on, can by can, making a profit on every one. If you’re really into wine you will probably have heard of them. Wine and sardines go together. Wine geeks can’t get enough of sardines, and some of them are really wealthy, so it’s easy money.
Unfortunately, in order to inherit this fortune of many billions, I have to pass a test. I must first spend £10 million and end up with nothing to show for it. I figured the best way to do that would be through writing a wine blog. So I started one up.
Unfortunately so far it hasn’t worked. The problem is, I made the mistake four years ago of converting my website into a subscription-based service. So now people have to pay to read it, and to my horror people keep subscribing. Almost every day I get new or repeat subscribers, and some people keep subscribing year after year. Every repeat subscription I get is a step further away from my aim, which is to lose all my money. It’s a disaster.
I started back in May 2000, so I have now been going (at this moment) for about 17 years. That’s a lot of writing. And it’s a long time to wait for an inheritance.
Q: What topic(s) does your blog cover and how do you generally describe the angle to your writing?
A: Of course, when I started out, I was still learning about wine, so I just wrote about any old wine that came my way. I live in the UK, which has also had a very open, global attitude when it comes to wine. So as well as supping away on the French, German, Italian and Spanish classics (or at least cheap battery-acid-supermarket versions of them), I was drinking wine from Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, the Lebanon and the USA, most of which tasted of either gooseberries, mango or blueberries. You guess which.
The problem was, the site was far too popular. I was getting too many page views each day. So, I decided to narrow my focus to two regions. I also figured that way I would learn more about these two regions, and perhaps I would eventually write something that made sense. I chose the two regions I enjoy drinking the most, Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Of course, this was when I could afford to buy and drink Bordeaux. I’m not allowed to spend my first £10 million on wine, by the way. That would be cheating.
So for the last 8-10 years I have written just about these two regions. As I alluded above, I write detailed multi-page profiles, histories and background information, vintage reports, château tastings, primeurs reports, two-, four- and ten-year on tasting reports (more for Bordeaux, but for the Loire as well), as well as writing about older wines. If it’s from Bordeaux or the Loire, and it’s made from grapes, and it isn’t grape jelly, or grape face mask, or some other grape-based cosmetic, or indeed a bunch of grapes, then I will write about it.
And then, about four years ago, I went subscription only. These days, about 80% of my articles are pay-to-view, the rest are on a free-to-read blog. So now I fly out to Bordeaux and the Loire as often as I can, paying my own way. Spending money left, right and centre. Air tickets, hotels, hire cars, you name it, I pay for it, trying to burn through that $10 million.
Q: What are your favorite wine events? In other words: if fans would like to meet you in person someday, where are they sure to find you.
A: Well, understandably, I have a penchant for “How to Spend It” conferences, especially if they are in far-flung destinations that are really expensive to get to. I went to one on a remote island off the coast of Puerto Rico a few years ago that was good. I picked up a black cab just outside Victoria Station in London and just said “Puerto Rico, please”. The fare was £245,000. Nowhere near high enough.
I note you specified “wine events” though. Fair enough. I am a regular at the Salon des Vins de Loire, in Angers, every February. It is a superb showcase for everything the Loire Valley has to offer. I find it disappointing that more bloggers and journalists don’t attend, because there is no other salon like it. This year I also went to Vinovision, a new rival salon in Paris, the following week. It will be interesting to see how the rivalry between the two pans out.
I also head out to the Loire at other times, perhaps three or four trips per year. Not for specific events, but so I can visit vignerons and their vineyards. Wine tastings are great, but to really understand wine you have to meet the people who make it, and the vines they make it from. Last year I bought a house in the Loire Valley, so these regular trips will continue. Sadly, this purchase can’t be counted towards my £10 million wastage, so what I have done is turn the heating on full blast, all year round. With the price of French electricity I am spending about €700 per week. Inheritance, here I come!
As you might expect, I am also a fairly regular visitor to Bordeaux. I go to the primeurs each year, and have done so for about a decade. I also visit the region at other times of the year. The primeurs are fun, but it is a bit of a circus, with almost nothing but barrel samples. I think to really know Bordeaux you have to go at other times as well, check out the vineyards, and taste some wine that has actually seen the inside of a bottle.
I also spend a lot of time tasting in London. I fly down quite regularly. I know to burn through my first £10 million I should probably fly British Airways first class, yet I always seem to end up on Easyjet. I haven’t figured out how that happens yet. I judge in the Decanter World Wine Awards each April, and participate in quite a few panel tastings for Decanter magazine, always with a Loire focus.
We are quite spoilt with tasting opportunities in the UK, if you are prepared to travel to London. I only wish the organizers of these tastings would charge an admission fee. About £75,000 per person should be about right.
Q: What are your favorite social media channels, the ones you like most to exchange and engage around your content?
A: Twitter undoubtedly. I quite like Instagram, but it is more media than social sometimes, so I probably use Facebook more. Neither channel has brought me closer to my inheritance though. People keep finding my website through them.
Q: Finally, what do you do to relax outside of wine?
A: I didn’t realize there was such a thing. I suppose if I have a spare moment, I probably dream of having the surname Foucault, never being banned from anywhere again, and having my own sardine-canning factory. Sardines aren’t just for investment after all. Nevertheless, I will finish with this one word of advice. People are always asking me about investment and Bordeaux. I always say to forget it. There just isn’t any opportunity there these days. Look at sardines instead. I might even have a can or two somewhere I could let you have.
Read more about Chris Kissack on his website thewinedoctor.com