After a fruitful overseas run with NBC News, I returned to Chicago where, with the support of NBC and other news operations, I created a production company to continue covering the news. At this point, it had been seven years since I’d left the U.S. and I realized a lot had changed. I discovered two publications dedicated solely to wine coverage. Imagine that. What was next? An all-sports network, or one dedicated to cooking?
As I read through those magazines, I found that a plethora of ink had been devoted to the much-heralded back-to-back ’89 and ’90 vintages in Bordeaux. While I knew nothing of this French region, review after review screamed that these were must-have wines. I had just grasped Brunello di Montalcino and was now confronted with the much larger and more complex right and left bank. Once again, I had to dive in. There was no turning back. Would it ever end?
Of course, the correct answer is no.
Once again, my professional TV life intersected with my burgeoning wine life. I was hired to produce a project on the growing wine auction business and invited to sample some of the Bordeaux and Burgundies being auctioned. There was that dirt component again from my earlier run-in with French reds. But this time, coupled with ripe fruit from great vintages, I found it was delicious. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a taste is worth ten thousand words, and after that auction project, I was a hopeless collector – with all of our available funds going into the cellar. Brunello, Bordeaux, and Burgundy would soon be followed with Napa Cabs, Barolo, Barabresco, Rioja and Priorate.
My cellar was growing and diversifying, and so too was my occupation. After decades of globe-trotting network news coverage, I was looking for television work that seemed less perilous and closer to home. I began to replace my exhausting news career with a new and popular format called reality TV. Work was plentiful and the compensation rewarding. But, I quickly discovered that there was nothing real about reality TV, and it proved to be even more exhausting than network news. It was decided. After 25 years in TV, I needed a break from television.
Living in Southern California and enjoying the fruits of my second marriage to a highly successful corporate executive who was also a fan of fine wine, I had the luxury of choosing a ‘second act’ without jeopardizing our financial solvency. We discussed a possible detour on my career path and agreed wine was my only other true passion – an avenue worth pursuing while I pressed the pause button on TV. But where to begin?
Retail shop clerk or cellar rat didn’t appeal to me, and I didn’t have the resume for the restaurant biz. Distribution or sales would be a radical departure, but perhaps something I could manage. I took a job as a sales rep for a prestigious importer and distributor with an impressive portfolio of wines. Learning the portfolio would be daunting but doable. But acquiring ‘street cred’ would be tougher. I soon found out “Emmy award-winning cameraman and producer” made for a meaningless introduction in the wine world. I had to get new credentials.
(Editor’s Note: This story is broken into four parts, please return to this website on the same weekday next week for part four, the conclusion.)
Tim Ortman is an Emmy Award-winning cameraman and producer and author of the new book, Newsreal: A View Through the Lens When… He is a certified Sommelier and member of La Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin. Connect with him on Facebook, @TimOrtmanWriter.