Katherine Cole has authored five wine books, including her newly released book Sparkling Wine Anytime. Between discussing Bon Jovi’s rosé and wine podcasts, in this Meet the Member interview broadcast live over Instagram, Amanda Barnes learns about Katherine’s penchant for unique Italian wines and how she forged a career as a wine journalist, author, editor, communications manager, and producer.
What are your early memories of wine and what sparked your interest?
I don’t have one of those ‘aha’ stories that so many people do. It’s so strange because my family’s from Montana, so you probably think we’re a bunch of cowboys! But my mother’s family owned a brewery, called Highlander Brewing, and then my father helped start up a brewery called Redhook Ale.
I grew up in Seattle, Washington, during a kind of renaissance of food and wine. The Washington State wine industry was starting up as well, so people were buying vineyards, drinking and talking about wine. It was just sort of always around. It seems strange that I grew up in the west of the United States, but I also kind of grew up in this sort of European culture. So I never had an ‘aha’ moment because I was one of those kids that would taste wine at the table, and always thought it was part of everybody’s life.
What was your first career step into the wine industry?
I went to journalism school after college, and all of my friends wanted to go to Bosnia and be war reporters and I said I think I want to do arts and culture. Then I got a job as a magazine editor a year or two later, and I just loved editing the food and beverage section, and specifically wine.
It tapped into the geek in me – I just love history, geography, and the whole botany and biology side of it. It scratches that intellectual itch that I know all wine writers have. I thought, oh wait I can do this, and be sipping delicious wine at the same time!
After I was a magazine editor, I moved to Portland to freelance and I started writing columns for different publication and that turned into the wine column for The Oregonian newspaper, and it just kind of went from there.
In researching your new book on sparkling wine, Sparkling Wine Anytime, did you have any great discoveries or surprises?
Yes, these aren’t going to sound too exotic but as with Rosé All Day, my previous book, I rediscovered a fact that every town in Italy seems to have its own kind of private style of sparkling wine, as it did with rosé, which is funny as Italians aren’t big rosé drinkers. I just ordered as many wines as I could from various importers and received the most curious wine samples.
From other parts of the world, you kind of knew what you were going to get, but I would get these wines from Italy and would wonder why no one has ever written about them. There’s one that was that rare and quirky – a spicy, dark red wine that tasted like Christmas spices. It was like a Dickensian Christmas, and it was sparkling.
Italy blew my mind which I didn’t think it would, as I knew a fair amount about Italian wine, and then Germany also. I had no idea how big sparkling wine was in Germany. We don’t get a lot of those in the US. Germany is the third biggest producer and consumer of sparkling wine in the world. We’re not aware of that in the US.
Did you come up with any unusual pairings?
While you’ve got me on Germany, sparkling Rieslings can be very rich and interesting, and you can pair them with rich, heavy food. That was an eye-opener for me. I think I need to do a lot more exploration of German and Austrian sparkling wines, but I definitely got the bug.
Having written Rosé All Day, do you think that the rosé bubble in the US is bursting or do you see it still growing? How do you see the rosé market in the US at the moment?
First of all, I have to apologise to everyone. When everyone hears the phrase ‘Rosé all day’, they roll their eyes. It seemed like a great title at the time. I think what’s happened with rosé in the US is that it’s finally been discovered and validated. Sales were just crazy – sales growth was 65% a year for a couple of years. That will not continue. However, I think it has now been accepted as a mainstream style of wine. We know that rosé is the second most consumed style of wine in France after red, and above white, while the US has accepted that rosé is here to stay.
Will the growth slow? I hope so, because it was out of control. It was causing a lot of not so good wine to be shoved into the market, because the demand was there. I’d prefer to see the demand slow down and for producers to focus on quality rather than quantity. And too much is being spent on marketing.
How have you seen wine clubs evolve during lockdown and will they grow beyond the pandemic?
It’s interesting that you ask that as my day job these days is working for a creative agency, and we create websites for fine wineries. I think people are starting to see through some of these wine clubs that maybe aren’t as discerning as they claim to be and the wines aren’t as interesting as they supposedly are, but I do think that DTC (Direct to Consumer) sales via winery wine clubs have taken off and I think they’ll continue to grow. In the US, those kind of general wine clubs that are organized around a theme, which are very popular right now, I think are going to dip as the pandemic fades out. The need to make a personal connection to the producer is going to grow, and people want more honest, authentic experiences. I think wine clubs can facilitate that.
What’s coming next for you?
I think like you, Amanda, that if I want to do this wine thing, then I have to have like four different jobs! I’m excited because I have a podcast, called The Four Top, a James Beard award-winning podcast, and we’ve decided to launch a wine-focussed season. We’re recording it right now and it’s going to come out in the fall. The concept, Four Top, is like a table for four in a restaurant and it’s a roundtable discussion. I just love listening to roundtable discussions, and so far it’s been really fun.
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You can order Sparkling Wine Anytime online.