Christopher Foulkes started drinking wine at a rather early age and writing about it in the 1970s, but it is his role as a publisher in the world of wine books that has perhaps brought him the greatest recognition in the industry today. Having published over 40 wine books worldwide, he is certainly one of the most experienced in the field. Amanda Barnes interviews him about his experience in the industry and his waterborne passions. Christopher has recently rejoined the Circle, and was previously a Committee member three times and Chairman of the Circle from 1990-92. Welcome back Chris.
What’s your earliest memory in wine?
That would be a white with dinner at a hotel in Freiburg, in Baden, southwestern Germany, when I was 12. It was fresh, bright and dry, yet fruity. You could drink it forever – a bad plan at any time, especially at the age of 12. Sadly, I didn’t take note of what it was.
What brought you into the world of publishing wine books?
Back in the late 1970s, I started writing a wine column for the group of London weekly papers I edited. I escaped from journalism into publishing when Mitchell Beazley hired me to run a team creating illustrated books. I kept my wine column going on the side, and gave Hugh Johnson a bit of help with the annual Pocket Wine Book. Soon, I found myself running the wine book department, a job I held for 11 years, over which time we created more than 40 books that sold worldwide.
What do you think are the greatest challenges in the world of wine books today?
The same as ever: wine books cost a lot to create, if they are going to be any good, and go out of date quickly. As well as talented and expert authors, you need top editors and designers, and maps, and other images – it all costs more than most publishers are used to spending.
And some of the greatest opportunities?
Get it right, and you tap into a seemingly limitless thirst for expert judgment, detail and knowledge. Wine geeks are everywhere: our latest book is selling, in bulk, from Taiwan to Iceland. This international dimension allows us to cover the heavy up-front costs. And you need to be entrepreneurial, to go out and find the readers, often through new channels.
What other markets or niches are you exploring for wine book publishing?
Ebooks are enormous fun to create: we turned Inside Burgundy into interactive eBooks on the Apple platform, and we reckon there’s much more to explore in this format. Finally, we can break free of the flat piece of paper and do things like zooming into maps and embedding video.
Then, there are translations. At Mitchell Beazley, our wine books went into a dozen languages, and I’d love to see Chinese editions of our current titles, really well done by people who understand the subject. I’d very much like to connect with other publishers and writers to see if we can build shared knowledge. Looking back, it took a decade to get wine literature into Japanese – the late Michael Broadbent worked with an expert translator in Japan to devise a vocabulary of tasting terms from scratch. I feel we need a similar effort for China, and I am quite clear it must be a collaboration – no one publisher can hope to manage it.
When you aren’t working on wine literature, what do you most enjoy doing?
Messing about with, and occasionally sailing, our elderly wooden boat. We – my partner Carrie Segrave and I – find that when sailing, you are far too absorbed to think about work.