MTM: Amanda Barnes

Amanda is a British journalist and editor who has specialised in writing on wine and travel for over a decade. Since 2009 she lives between Mendoza in Argentina and Santiago in Chile and the wines of South America have become a particular focus.

Following her BA degree in comparative literature at London’s King’s College, while working in journalism, Amanda studied to become a fully-fledged journalist in 2009 through distance learning with the British Council for the Training of Journalists. A desire to travel led her to up sticks and later to wine writing and she ended up living in Mendoza. She has written widely for wine publications including Decanter and The Drinks Business, and contributed to books by Oz Clarke and Hugh Johnson, as well as to Fodor’s Travel Guides and Descorchados.

Amanda’s online projects include The Squeeze Magazine, a digital magazine with a focus on the South American wine scene, and her global project Around the World in 80 Harvests. A post that Amanda wrote for this project recently earned her the prize for Best Tourism Content with a Focus on Wine in the Born Digital Wine Awards 2016 edition, adding to a string of awards and scholarships she has received for her writing.

She has been a member of the Circle since 2012, the year in which she was short-listed for the second time for Best Young Wine Writer.

Did your family drink wine when you were growing up and were you encouraged to join in?

Absolutely. There was never a meal without wine growing up. I didn’t start drinking wine until I was 14 or 15 years old though, which coincides more closely with my food tastes maturing than the law!

My parents definitely made me appreciate wine as an element of the meal, and family holidays in Europe also taught me it was part of a cultural cuisine. Wine has been an integral part of my taste expeditions ever since.

Based on your experience, would you encourage aspiring young wine or travel writers to take formal qualifications in journalism?

Yes. I struggled through mine, so everyone else should too!

Joking aside, formal qualifications help you build your professional confidence and competence. They don’t spell success though, you need to be prepared to put in the leg work and build your portfolio.

Where I believe journalism qualifications are really important is for grasping libel law and giving you a sense of responsibility to your reader. I am concerned at the general lack of respect for the truth in some communication today, most especially by the President-elect…

How did you end up living in Mendoza, or is it Santiago?

Because of wine! After years working in local newspapers in England, I decided I wanted to try writing freelance for a year and focus on two of my great passions: travel and food. I didn’t think I could write seriously about food without understanding wine better. So I decided to move to a wine-producing region to learn.

I had fallen in love with South America from afar, through the words of Borges, García Márquez and other great South American writers. I had never been, so I bought a ticket and headed for Argentina in 2009.

And I haven’t looked back since! I split my time between Mendoza and Chile. It generally makes more sense for me to rent in Mendoza, where I have 80% of Argentina’s wine producers at my doorstep, and travel when I am in Chile because the wine regions are so spread apart. Although I’ve rented a second apartment in Santiago at times too.

The reason I stayed is because I love being at the heart of South American wine. It’s so dynamic.

And what inspired you to start writing about wine?

I started learning about wine to join the dots as such, but I discovered that it was the nucleus. Wine encompasses everything I love: travel, gastronomy, people, nature. I am inspired by the experience of discovering wine and the passion of producers.

Who were your early mentors in the wine world in Argentina and Chile?

Winemakers and agronomists. There are far too many to mention! But since Day 1, local producers have been generous with their time and knowledge and they continue to teach and inspire me today. It has been the best wine education I could ask for.

I admire anyone that can dedicate their life to something so vulnerable to nature and ultimately focused on the enjoyment of others.

Tell us more about your project Around the World in 80 Harvests.

80 Harvests is a global journey visiting 80 wine regions around the world to discover what makes each place unique. In each region I’m meeting with wine producers to share the story of their ‘terroir’ through text, photography and video. It’s a modern-day wine adventure, covering both the well-known wine regions and those that are off-the-beaten-path.

In 2016 I covered North America and South America, and in 2017 and 2018 I’ll be in Europe, Africa, Asia and Australasia. It’s a logistical nightmare (for everyone!) because I aim to arrive during the harvest. The reason being, harvest is when the year’s expectations are becoming a reality and there is no smokescreen. It’s raw and real emotion, and really wonderful to witness.

I’ve had really amazing feedback and participation so far. The producers I’ve visited have been completely on board with the project and enthusiastic to be part of something of this global scale.

Is on-line publishing the only future for wine and travel writing or do you think print will still have an important part to play?

Long live print! Personally I hope it never completely disappears, I love it. There is nothing more appealing to me than the musty smell of an old book shop, or opening a Sunday newspaper.

However I’m not going to lie, I’m used to having most things online now and print sometimes feels inconvenient. Lugging large wine books around the globe gives you serious backache! Also the opportunities in digital media are so vast and exciting.

I think it is a generation game. And unfortunately I don’t think the future generation will be as nostalgic about print as we are.

When you’re at home relaxing from your travels, what do you reach for?

G&T. Sparkling Wine. Whisky. In that order. For dinner I am unashamedly capricious. I love variety in wine, although a general rule of thumb for me is ‘big whites, feminine reds’.

What’s the most exciting wine you’ve drunk recently and why?

I’m a sucker for old vintages, it really appeals to my inner time traveller. Some of the older vintages of Pinot Noir in Oregon were definitely a highlight on my 80 Harvests North America tour.

If it’s safe to share with us, what do you enjoy doing most when you take a break from wine, travel and work?

The great thing about being freelance is I love what I do, the bad thing is that you never really switch off. So ‘taking a break’ doesn’t happen very often! I love to cook, so I guess that’s where I switch off and relax. With a glass of wine in hand, of course.


Interview and intro by Wink Lorch