Some people say that I’m a Riesling Bimbo and I’m not going deny there’s something in that. I’ve been hanging around Riesling and she’s been stalking me for 30 years now. During that time wine went global, and that’s something I had no trouble embracing. There is no place on Planet Wine which doesn’t interest me and no grape variety which I reject. However, much as the enormous diversity of 21st century wine fascinates me, I always come back to me vinous homeland: Riesling. The following is the story of how I reached the point I am now. There is no obligation to take it seriously, even if it is all true…
Photograph by Bettina Keller, February 2013
Please don’t get me wrong. I’m not claiming to be entirely made up of wine. Of course, I’m flesh, blood and bone just like you. What I’m saying is if you took the wine out of me what would be left ? Probably just a boring shoe salesman in a boring suburb of London.
This is my „official“ biography, but of course you could tell this story differently. As a half-hearted Buddhist and „Gonzo“ wine journalist I have to point out that the way everything in our world looks always depends on your perspective and the circumstances of the moment. Culture is relative and always has a history.
I was born on the 26. Mai 1960 in Orpington Hospital in Southeast London and was an introverted child. It took a small eternity for me to finally crawl out of my shell. Even today I’m sometimes withdrawn and nervous, on a really bad day I feel like I accidentally scrolled back thirty years and struggle with depression. On a really good day though I don’t give a shit if what I’ve achieved is memorable and significant or magificently pointless.
My father, Peter Malcolm Pigott (1935-1987), came from the British working class, but managed to get into computing in the early 1960s. His last job was as Technical Director of the computer centre of the CEGB, the state-owned electricity utility.
My mother, Sheila Pigott (née Pratt, 1935 – ), is very middle class and was a grammar school teacher for home economics and English. She gave up her job to raise me and succeeded in spoiling me.
My first wine harvest was in 1967, the Summer of Love. Untypically courageous for me, I hung out of my first floor bedroom window and picked grapes off the vine growing against the wall of our small house. Thanks to the hot summer the berries – of the humble Trollinger grape variety – which I threw down to my waiting friends were dark in colour and tasted ripe.
My parents were often disappointed by my thoroughly unspectacular achievements at school where the only prize I ever won was for improved handwriting. What was I going to turn into ? When I was 15 it looked very much like after studying something scientific I would get a job rather similar to my father’s and commute up to London every day just as he did. However I wasn’t aware that the Great God of Wine had other plans for me.
In 1976 I was too cowardly to become a punk, though a bunch of my school friends were important figures in the punk scene. It was the same way with my ambition to become an actor, which I was rather serious about for a while. No wonder that aged 17 I had a terrrible psychological crisis and almost got locked up in a mental institution.
Back on my feet, in 1979 I began the arts foundation course at Goldsmiths College of Art in London. However, the following year I failled to find a place for a degree course, because I was an arrogant bastard. For a year I did various jobs to get by before reapplying, finally working as a wine waiter in the Restaurant of the Tate Gallery. They took me on in spite of the fact that I had zero knowledge and that’s where Riesling discovered me in a big way.
From 1981-84 I studied for BA in painting at St. Martins School of Art in London, but lost interest in painting during the process. Then from 1984-6 I took an MA in cultural history at the Royal College of Art (RCA). On the side I began writing about wine and my first article appeared in the April 1984 issue of ‚Decanter’ magazine. Quickly German Riesling became my most important subject, not least because that meant I had almost no competitors. At that time nobody was interesed in what was happening in the German wine industry.
In retrospect my studies at the RCA were important for my recent writing. From my professor, Christopher Frayling, I learnt critical thinking. (Sir Christopher Frayling retired as Rector of the RCA in 2009).
On the 6th July 1986 I successfully completed my studies, rather to my own surprise. Then began the tough uphill battle to make a living as a freelance journalist specialized in wine. Sadly, this did not stimulate my creativity, but made me play safe instead.
After the death of my father and a couple of smaller disaster around the same time I had to make a new start. In January 1989 I rented a flat in Bernkastel/Mosel, one of the famous homelands of Riesling, and my studies of German wine and Germany intensified dramatically. Slowly I drifted away from England and become a peculiar kind of exile writer not only almost unknown in my home country, but also almost unknown in my mother tongue. STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL aims to change all that.
During a press trip to the island of Madeira in the summer of 1991 my British colleague Dee Lite told me she was going to do „Gonzo wine journalism“. I was fascinated by this idea, but one again cowardice prevailed. I can’t thank Dee enough for implanting that crazy idea in my head, even if I’m not sure she or anyone else ever succeeded in this ambition. By the way, Hunter S. Thompson, the original gonzo journalist wasn’t sure if he’d succeeded either. I think this kind of uncertainty comes with the territory and either you either adjust to the suituation or you chuck in the towel and head for an early shower. As Thompson said, “when the going gets wierd, the weeird turn pro”.
My career developed slowly until I met my wife, the sommelière and restaurant manager Ursula Heinzelmann, in 1992. Today she’s a successful food and wine writer and is currently writing a history of German food for Reaction Books in England. Late in 1993 we moved to Berlin during a gigantic snow storm. I was better prepared for that than for the controversy unleashed by my first German language book, on the nation’s leading Riesling producers and their wines, published in the autumn of 1994. „Like a Wild Boar“ was the title of the article about it in SPIEGEL magazine. I’m not sure I deserved the attention, but it was a great title!
Further German-language books followed and in their wake came a slew of articles in German, British, American, Japanese Italian and Scandinavian publications. As a British writer in Berlin who dresses in Vivienne Westwood, and says what he thinks about wine and everything else, I am delighted to have frequently been considered a „ good story“.
Inspired by the American writers Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe I attempted to develope a revolutionary new style of wine writing Out of this decade long process came a trilogy of books on the subject of wine and globalisation („Schöne neue Weinwelt“ or Brave New Wine World, Argon 2003 / „Wilder Wein“ or Wild Wine, Scherz 2006 / „Wein weit weg“ or Wine Far Away, Scherz 2009). The research costs for all this repeatedly drove me to the edge of bankruptcy, but at least there was nothing in the least heistant or cowardly about this project. The fact that the sales figures were sometimes disappointing is another matter. Looking back it seems to me to be quite an achievment that in spite of my recklessness I never actually went bankrupt, the three books appeared almost exactly as I intended them to, and some people really HATED them. I take that as a sure sign that they hit some nerve with a considerable amount of force.
With the help of the photographer Andreas Durst and co-authors Ursula Heinzelmann, Chandra Kurt, Manfred Lüer and Stephan Reinhardt I produced „Wein spricht Deutsch“ or Wine Speaks German (Scherz, 2007), a standard work on the wines of the German-speaking countries looking at them today, a generation ago and a century ago. It is hopefully anything but dry and dusty although it put the wines in their cultural, historical and social contexts. It wasn’t all Riesling, but it was all done in the Riesling Spirit.
For some years I’ve felt that as an Autodidakt (a beautiful German word for someone self-taught that is !) my knowledge of wine-growing and wine-making was full of gaping holes and dogged by misconceptions. So in October 2008 I began two semesters as a guest student at the famous wine school in Geisenheim. I learnt a great deal there about wine growing and winemaking, and it was another exercise in hard-core Gonzo, even if all of this writing was never collected together in book form.
This meant commuting between Berlin and the Rheingau and to make life more interesting I decided to test what I had learnt by undertaking a practical exercise in wine-growing in the remote Tauber Valley. Christian and Simone Stahl of Winzerhof Stahl in Auernhofen/Franken loaned me 10 rows of Müller-Thurgau vines in the brutally steep Hasennest site and provided support. My dry 2009 Müller-Thurgau was officially launched in Berlin on the afternoon of Sunday, 5th September 2010.
2010 and 2011 I was very busy filming ‘Weinwunder Deutschland’, or wine wonder Germany, a 12 part TV series for Bavarian Broadcasting with director Alexander Saran and cameraman Sorin Dragoi. The first show had – what else? – Riesling as it’s theme. In 2012 we will filmed another 6 shows which will probably go out in the fall of 2013. I am currently dividing my time between Berlin and New York in order to work on STUART PIGOTT RIESLING GLOBAL plus book and film projects relating to it.