Put down your Franzia and pick up Bianca Bosker’s new memoir, Cork Dork
interview by Sheila G. Miller
Admit it. If you’re like most of us, you have no idea what peppery, jammy or dry means when it comes to wine. You may like drinking wine, but maybe you’re not sure quite why. In Cork Dork, Portland native Bianca Bosker walks us through the world of wine. Bosker, a tech journalist, quit her job to immerse herself in the elite sphere of sommeliers and their super sensory abilities.
You spend a lot of this book talking your way into events and groups that you have no business being part of. You must be the most persistent person in America!
Panic and desperation will get you very far. I think a good part of how that happened was quitting my job and finnding that I had no option but to move forward. I had burned that bridge, closed that door, and the only way to not end up a failure drinking copious amounts of wine and tastings on Tuesday mornings was just to be dogged. Also, I want to tell people’s stories who want their stories told, who will let me in, who will give me access and who will share their time and what they know. So part of it comes from persistence and part of it was pairing up correctly with people.
Did you have a book deal when you started this project, or were you just drinking and hoping?
I knew I was going to write something. I have what is sort of a blessing and a curse that plagues a lot of journalists, which is that it’s hard to do anything without thinking about how it may inform a story. Nora Ephron has a great quote, “Everything is copy.” That’s not so far from my heart. So I went into this knowing I was going to write a book, but it was also something I was going to do one way or another, in the sense that, as I write about in the intro, this world of cork dorks really turned my life upside down in a very personally powerful way. If I had to spend another month at a screen writing what happened on other people’s screens, or looking over someone’s shoulder at a cell phone, I would have had a pretty public temper tantrum breakdown.
Whenever I read a memoir I wonder how friends and family react to seeing themselves in print. Was it at all awkward for you?
I was very up front and open with people about the fact that I was there in a reporting and research capacity. I think it’s very important to make that clear, and in general you have to be fair, period. You have to let people know what you’re there to do, and also at the same time a journalist’s role is understandably different than a publicist’s role. I’ve been really touched by some of the responses I’ve gotten from people who are in the book, who have said that even though there was maybe a quote here or there that they cringed at … they were so grateful and had so much admiration for the lens that I brought onto this world, by the fact that I shed light on an industry and culture that is very misunderstood.
How did the greater wine world react to this book? I’ve seen some controversy surrounding it.
Cork Dork deviates from the wine world script. The wine industry has some very romantic stories and some very entrenched, inherited wisdom that has existed for a long time, and that has served the industry quite well, that I tackle head-on in the book. I’m coming at it from a different perspective as someone who was a curious, open-minded, and in some cases, skeptical, outsider who became an insider. That allowed me to take a more objective stance. I brought a perspective that combines the soul of wine with the science of it, that looks at the high end and also the low end. And I think if calling BS makes some people uncomfortable, then so be it.
One of the things you mention in the book is how as you trained, you were pretty much constantly intoxicated. Has that changed now that you’re done with the book?
The book came out [in April], and I hadn’t expected to resume a lot of my heavy day-drinking or, I should say, day wine tasting. But I’ve been doing some interviews and a lot of people think they’ve come up with a very unique idea—“Maybe we should drink wine during the interview!” So there have been days where I have consumed, god, a dozen glasses of wine by 1:30 p.m. Of course, I’m not drinking full glasses, but it’s a new challenge to figure out how to be coherent while being interviewed on the record. Before all of this, all I got out of wine was a little buzzed. Now it’s emotional, it’s intellectual. I have deep curiosities about certain boles that I can’t wait to try.