COMMENTARY

Bianca Bosker

Bianca Bosker ##Photo Provided

Bianca Bosker, the award-winning journalist and author of The New York Times Bestseller “Cork Dork,” traded her career as HuffPost’s executive tech editor for a job as a “cellar rat.” Inspired by sommeliers who perfect their senses the way Olympians train their bodies, she plunged inside neuroscientists’ labs, underground tasting groups, Michelin-starred restaurants and mass-market wine factories in training to become a somm and uncover the nature of taste. She has written for publications such as The New Yorker online, The New York Times, Food & Wine and The Atlantic, where is she is a contributing editor. She is also the author of “Original Copies.”

Q: What was the “ah-ha!” moment that turned your journalistic focus to wine?

A: I used to be the kind of casual drinker who’d spend weekend nights choosing between bottled and boxed wine, not Burgundy and Bordeaux. But one evening while I was out for drinks, a sommelier happened to mention he was preparing for something called the “Best Sommelier in the World” competition. I was skeptical. How could pouring wine possibly be high-stakes? But, I started looking into it and immediately got hooked on binge-watching YouTube videos of this “Best Sommelier” contest — essentially the Westminster Dog Show with booze. 

This world of elite sommeliers and flavor fanatics fascinated me. These are people who spend fortunes chasing down a few ounces of fermented grape juice, lick rocks to train their palates and divorce spouses so they’ll have more time to study soil types. I’ve always been obsessed with other people’s obsessions, and since no one does mania like wine lovers, I became fixated on understanding what drives them. Why wine? Was it B.S.? Or was I neglecting one of life’s ultimate pleasures? I also realized that these tasters have the sort of sensory skills I associate with bomb-sniffing German Shepherds, and my curiosity quickly evolved into a more personal concern: They lived a life of sensory cultivation; I lived a life of sensory deprivation, all screens and websites. That made me wonder what I might be missing—in a glass of wine, at the table, and in life. So, I set out to figure out what that was.

Q: What was the most challenging part of writing “Cork Dork,” your 2017 New York Times Bestseller?

A: It was tough convincing friends and family I hadn’t lost my mind. After I traded my stable, full-time job as HuffPost’s executive tech editor for a position as cellar rat and started training as a sommelier, everything changed. Suddenly, toothpaste was a liability. I gave up salt, coffee, hard alcohol, spicy food and slurping anything above a lukewarm temperature. Then there was the drinking. Daytime sobriety was ancient history. I joined underground tasting groups with New York’s top somms, and “work” now meant sipping wine at 9 a.m. while getting coached by aspiring Master Sommeliers. I didn’t recognize who I’d become.

Q: When writing “Cork Dork,” what did you want to avoid? What did you discover during the process that was never part of your original vision?

A: I think “Cork Dork” deviates sharply from the wine world’s typical script. I was inspired to pull back the curtain on parts of the wine world that are rarely explored: the soul of wine and the science, the high and the low. I think the industry often prioritizes the romance of wine. And yet to me, the reality is so much messier, more complex and more interesting than the fairy tale that’s traditionally showcased. And I think for too long, sommeliers have gone overlooked. Far from being just cork pullers, they are storytellers and creators in their own right.

Q:  Having grown up in Portland and now living in New York City, what do miss most about your hometown?

A: Powell’s Books and quiet, foggy weekends on the Oregon Coast. Powell’s Books helped raise me. As an only child, I spent a lot of time alone, which meant a lot of time reading, and I passed hours in Powell’s stacks, graduating from Mother Goose to Beverly Cleary to Katherine Dunn. I love few things as much as getting lost in their city of books, and going to Powell’s always fills me with thrill of adventure and possibility. Pair a pile of books from their shelves with a cozy weekend on the Oregon Coast and a nice Willamette Valley wine, and that’s my version of heaven.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your adopted city?

A: I’m a sucker for overstimulation, and living in New York never fails to deliver a delightful pummeling of energy and ideas.

Q: Any new projects in the works?

A: Oh yes, most definitely, though some are too new to share. “Cork Dork” is gradually making its way around the world, so if you prefer to read it in Russian or Spanish or Chinese, that can be arranged.  I’m continuing to explore the world of food, wine and culture for outlets like The New Yorker and The Atlantic. While #pairdeviling on Instagram, as ever…

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