Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, two former Wall Street Journal columnists who helped usher in a new era of wine writing in the United States, have donated a comprehensive collection of materials related to their well-known wine column, “Tastings,” to the Warren Winiarski Wine Writers Collection at the UC Davis Library.
A significant addition to the library’s collections on leading wine writers, Gaiter and Brecher’s materials include:
- 67 albums of labels and tasting notes from every wine the couple tasted and wrote about in “Tastings,” which ran in the Wall Street Journal from 1998 to 2009, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize;
- Nearly three decades of labels and tasting notes that the couple saved prior to writing the column;
- Select pieces of art that accompanied the column;
- Materials related to the four books they wrote together: The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine (1999), The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine: New and Improved (2002), Love by the Glass: Tasting Notes From a Marriage (2002), and Wine for Every Occasion: Red, White and Bubbly to Celebrate the Joy of Living (2004);
- Recordings of their appearances on national television;
- Letters from readers; and
- Materials related to Open That Bottle Night, an annual tradition they created that has been enjoyed by wine lovers the world over for more than 20 years.
“We are grateful to Dorothy and John for choosing the UC Davis Library as the home for their personal papers,” said University Librarian and Vice Provost of Digital Scholarship MacKenzie Smith. “We are excited to have the opportunity to give researchers and students a behind-the-scenes view into the creation of a column that was influential for so many wine lovers for so many years.”
The library will process the Gaiter-Brecher collection over the next year with the near-term goal of digitizing portions of the collection for widespread access. To request access to materials from the Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher Papers, contact Archives and Special Collections at SpecColl@ucdavis.edu.
The acquisition and preservation of the collection is made possible by an endowment from Napa Valley vintner and philanthropist Warren Winiarski that established a Fellow position at the library. Winiarski’s gift created a program at the library dedicated to acquiring the collections of influential wine writers who re-elevated the status of California wines in American life and guided improvements in modern American winemaking.
“For many, many readers, Dorothy and John, with their direct and helpful talk about wines over so many years in this important newspaper, provided the first steps to true friendship for wine,” Winiarski said.
Wine writers are a growing area of prominence in UC Davis’s wine library, which has been called the greatest wine library in the world. The Gaiter-Brecher collection joins the work of renowned wine writers including Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Charles Sullivan, Bob Thompson, Roy Brady, and Leon Adams.
A love story
Gaiter and Brecher’s relationship with wine has been intertwined with their life together from the beginning. The two met at the age of 21 “on June 4, 1973 at 9 a.m.” on their first day as reporters at the Miami Herald. “It was love at first sight,” according to the couple.
John’s brother gifted the couple a wine tasting book, The New Signet Book of Wine, by Alexis Bespaloff, which inspired them to start exploring wines together. As their courtship blossomed, Gaiter and Brecher — journalists that they were — scribbled down notes capturing the nuances of their preferences about the wines they drank. Over the decades, they recorded notes on thousands of bottles tied to various moments in their life, from romantic evenings on the beach in Miami, to the births of their children, to simple dinners at home.
“Every label was a memory to us, so we started keeping them,” Brecher said. “If you were to pull one of those books out and pick a label at random, I bet we could tell you the story behind that wine.”
After keeping tasting notes for 25 years in their personal life, Gaiter and Brecher decided to integrate wine writing into their professional lives as part of a new weekend section in the Wall Street Journal. In 1998, Gaiter and Brecher began writing “Tastings” while Brecher continued to work as the newspaper’s page-one editor and Gaiter as news editor covering race and urban issues, for which she received two Pulitzer Prize nominations. “Tastings” quickly became a success. The column made wine approachable and the writing was engaging and fun. Gaiter and Brecher rated wines “Yech,” “OK,” “Good,” “Very Good,” “Delicious” or “Delicious!”
“One of our favorite types of letters we got was from people who don’t drink wine but just loved the column. They loved the way we wrote,” said Gaiter, who also worked as a reporter for The New York Times. “A lot of people said we felt like their next-door neighbors who knew something about wine and whom they could talk to endlessly. That’s really flattering.”
After two years of writing both hard news and about wine (while raising two daughters, Media and Zoë), the couple decided to dedicate their professional time solely to wine writing.
“We were in a situation where we had created something special. It was going strong. It was our own,” said Brecher, who later worked as an executive editor at Bloomberg News and USA Today Network. “And I could work full-time writing about wine with my wife! That’s pretty hard to beat.”
The couple often wrote the column together at the dinner table and reading it can feel like eavesdropping on a dinner conversation. Their descriptions of wines are interwoven with stories about themselves and their life together.
“We think that one of the things that made a difference with our column is that we were a couple, and we really weren’t writing so much about wine as we were writing about important things in life — romance, love, family — and using wine as a way to tell that story,” Brecher said.
Gaiter added, “I don’t think a lot of wine writers talked about wine in those terms until we did.”
Capturing the American Wine Experience
“John and Dorothy’s writing encouraged a larger population of Americans to view wine as a pleasure and a part of everyday life. Their expertise, passion, diligent research and record keeping, and skill as storytellers formed a new genre of wine writing that democratized wine,” said Jullianne Ballou, Warren Winiarski Wine Writers Collection Fellow. “Their collection, rich with information in the form of tasting notes, labels, prices, letters, articles, fine art and doodles, is a researcher’s dream.”
Gaiter and Brecher, who still write about wine for the online wine magazine Grape Collective, said they were thrilled to give their collection to the UC Davis Library.
“It’s just great to have it in a safe place where people who are curious about this time in American wine drinking and wine writing can see what the Wall Street Journal did, and what we, as a couple, did with it,” Gaiter said.
Written by Sarah Colwell for the UC Davis Library
- Jessica Nusbaum, UC Davis Library, 530-752-4145, cell 415-548-5377, firstname.lastname@example.org