My Greek grandfather was a home winemaker, using grapes he'd grown in his own backyard. His wine was pretty awful, but as a kid I thought it was pretty impressive that he could take this fruit from the garden and make it into something to drink at the table.
Since then, I've had a casual interest in wines, but I'd never been much of a connoisseur and had mostly bought by price. I think like a lot of people I'd ceded knowledge of wines to a select priesthood. We don't want to know more about wines because we think you have to be a well-trained expert just to understand wines a little bit.
I think my real passion for wine started when I lived for a while in Geneva in 2002 and Lisbon in 2003. I was completely unaware of the domestic wines available in Switzerland and Portugal. I really loved picking up inexpensive vinho verdes at my local stores, and doing port tours in Porto. And you can get decent wine in the stores in Switzerland for just nothing. Finding out that drinkable, inexpensive table wines were a staple for Europeans was a real eye-opener; it made it seem like a big secret that I now knew about.
I think wine knowledge is something people can pick up iteratively. By which I mean, that you can take some time to study Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or Merlot from the Central Coast of California, without worrying about every other wine in the world. If you concentrate on some small wine subject, later it can be easier to learn about other wines and regions. You don't have to learn everything all at once in one big gulp -- going from wine bonehead to sommelier in one step.
I also think that when we learn about wines we "accidentally" learn about a lot of other things: geography, toponymy, geology, botany, languages, economies and governments. It's pretty valid to look at the world through a wine glass; there's a lot to see there.
So one of the main reasons I started Vinismo was to give myself a chance to learn more about wines from remote places, and to go into other regions that I thought I knew about already in more depth. I think that's one of the great things about wikis: it gives us a chance to teach each other. And I've learned a lot already in the time that Vinismo's been up and running.
What brought you to Wikipedia?
In the fall of 2002 I was writing a novel and I needed a good way to procrastinate. I'd remembered Everything2, which I'd edited back when it was just "Everything". So I went back and edited some more in 2002. I posted a few stubs on various subjects I was interested in at the time that didn't have articles on E2 -- I remember Paul Auster in particular. Just one- or two-paragraph glosses on each subject.
They were all deleted within 24 hours. On top of that, I got a mean message from an admin, saying something to the effect of, "You obviously underestimate the kind of work needed to write an E2 entry, and you should reconsider contributing here." I was pretty mad; I felt like the something I'd added was better than nothing.
In 2003 my wife Maj and I took a trip to Thailand and Viet Nam, and we were really frustrated with the accuracy and quality of the printed travel guides we had. Remembering my experience with Wikipedia, I thought that we could do something similar with travel guides: have people who were on the spot edit and update the information in the guides. We started Wikitravel that summer, and it really started taking up all my time.
Well, most of the editing that I do is on Vinismo, not on Wikipedia. But the type of articles that I find most interesting are geographical ones -- articles for wines of a particular country or region. It might be an American's fascination with the mysterious foreign concept of terroir, but more likely it's a holdover from the immense amount of geographical work I did on Wikitravel.
I also try to add pages on wines and wineries on Vinismo whenever I drink a bottle of wine. Unlike Wikipedia, Vinismo has articles on each and every bottle of wine we can find -- each year of each wine by each winery in the world. So that means that every time I drink a bottle of wine, I've got something new to write. We estimate that there are probably >200K possible articles for Vinismo -- in each language -- and it's good to keep writing them.
What non-wine related activities do you also enjoy on Wikipedia?
I've always loved writing about 19th-century American history and American geography. It's probably been the work that I've enjoyed most out of the encyclopedia. But I think the greatest part of my work here is piecemeal -- I correct grammar, spelling, and clumsy constructions when I see them. A few times I've re-structured an entire messy article, but it's rare that I have the time or courage to do it.
I have spurts of doing admin work, and I continue to work on MediaWiki, although most of my contributions nowadays are as extensions.
What is your favorite wine? Least favorite wine?
Right now I'm trying to learn more about Burgundy, so I'm poking around at, for example, Mercurey. I'm also really into Greek wine, like Naoussa. I think there are a lot of bargains in Greek reds right now. I also am working on Rieslings from Germany and Alsace.
I'm not sure if I have a least-favourite wine. It's probably easy to be "ABC" and kick poor ol' Chardonnay, but I actually enjoy Chardonnay, even when it's really oaked up. I like "easy" wines, if only because they make people think a bit about what they're drinking. I think when people take that first step and say, "I like this wine," that's when they start trusting themselves to learn more about wines.
What is the most under-appreciated wine, in your opinion?
I can't say. I think there are really just giant swathes of land with longtime traditions of making good wines that North Americans and Europeans don't know about because they're made for domestic markets. We see it in places like Spain or even Eastern European countries like Bulgaria.
I'm going to Argentina this week, and I'm looking forward to digging into their domestically available wines. I think there's a whole lot there -- people like to turn up their noses at Argentinian wine, but I think there's lots to discover in that country.
What efforts on a wine related article are you the most proud of to-date?
Uh... Hmmm. Again, on Vinismo, I like our article on Yarra Valley, which is our appellation of the month. I also like the start I gave to Spain and Italy, as well as a few others.
Know any good wine jokes/quotes?
I know it's really déclassé, but I really like what the character Maya in the movie Sideways says about wine: I like to think about the life of wine. How it's a living thing. I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing; how the sun was shining; if it rained. I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it's an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, because a bottle of wine is actually alive. It's a nice sentiment.
Have you ever had a "Wine snobbish" moment? If so, tell us about it.
Here in Quebec, where I live, we have two kinds of wine. The official provincial store, the SAQ, is the exclusive seller of most wines. Except, that is, for wines bottled in Quebec itself, which can be sold in grocery stores and corner stores called dépanneurs. "Dep wine" is typically shipped in in bulk and repackaged here, and it's mediocre at best.
Anyways, my wife brought home a bottle of dep wine late at night when the SAQ was closed, and I got real angry. "We can't have dep wine in the house! C'mon! I'm a wine guy now!" My wife wisely pointed out that she was the only one who'd see the bottle, but I burst out, "What if the neighbours see it in our recycling bin?"
Yeah, it's pretty bad when you get to that point.
What area of the wine project would you like more editors to focus on?
I think probably the big thing for me would be to see more collaboration between Vinistos and Wiki Winos. I think that the two projects have a great complementary synergy: because WikiProject Wine is part of Wikipedia, it shares the authority of the project as a whole. But I think that because Vinismo is concentrated solely on wine and wines, we can be a little more focused. Our requirements for notability are nowhere near as high as Wikipedia's; I think that it'd be unlikely to have an article about a single wine in Wikipedia (I could be wrong, though...), but it's de rigeur on Vinismo. And we cover things from more of a wine-drinker's perspective: tasting notes, prices, that kind of thing are pretty important for us.
So, I guess what I'd like to see is more interactions between the two projects. Could we use dual-licensing to make transitioning text and images between the two projects easier? What about more inter-linking? Vinismo uses the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.5 license, which is very similar to the GFDL in spirit but technically incompatible. I think that as those two licenses become compatible, based on Wikimedia Foundation work on the matter, we can hope for easier portability of content between the two projects.
What are some wine related reliable sources (i.e. a wine book or web site) that you like using when editing wine articles?
Well, I know that there are about 4-5 right answers on this point in terms of wine books, but I'm going to go out of the way to sing the praises of national and regional wine board Web sites. Although the surface layers usually have empty, promotional language and meaningless Flash videos, I've found some amazingly deep, complex statistics about wine production in different countries on their sites. Once you start digging into the parts of the site that are only for statisticians and wine importers, you can get some real nuggets of data that are very useful.