Wines from German-speaking lands find a new champion

Two Americans are rolling up their sleeves and diving into wines from German-speaking countries, on a mission to tell the world about them. Felicity Carter speaks to Paula Sidore, the co-founder of TRINK magazine.

Paula Sidore, co-founder TRINK magazine/Steven Sidore
Paula Sidore, co-founder TRINK magazine/Steven Sidore

Paula Sidore is the co-editor and co-founder of TRINK magazine, a new, digital, English-language publication that focuses on the wines of German-speaking countries. It’s an ambitious endeavour whose goal is not just to introduce the wines of South Tyrol, Austria, Switzerland, and Germany to a wider audience, but also to showcase some of the finest writers working in the German language. The first issue went live this month.

You’re an American ex-pat living in Germany and your co-founder Valerie Kathawala is a New Yorker. How did you meet – and what made you decide to launch this magazine?
We like to tell the story of how we haven’t met. Our paths kept crossing on social media and in writings about German wine; finally at one point Valerie reached out to me directly. What we discovered is that we not only had similar interests – even attending the same very small college in northern Maine – but had led more or less parallel lives. We talked a lot about the new energy around German wine and wondered why no one was writing about it. We were supposed to meet at ProWein 2020 but…once the world opens up, we’re really looking forward to actually shaking hands!

What’s it like having a business partner in a different time zone?
The best part has been figuring out how to use the time difference to our advantage – especially when it comes to social media and the occasional breaking news. Sure, it takes planning some days, but ultimately it’s a bit like a relay race. I pass the baton to her in the evening in Germany, and she passes it back in the morning. Some days we’ve managed a nearly 24-hour coverage.  

At a time when more magazines are closing than opening, it’s brave to start a new media venture. What was the impetus to start TRINK?
There are so many exciting things happening in the German-speaking wine world, but the best of it unfortunately rarely reaches beyond the borders. It was such a relief to meet someone else who had seen behind ‘the language paywall’. We exchanged long, rambling emails about our frustration at the stories that weren’t being told and then one day she simply asked: “What would you think about starting a magazine?”

TRINK happened from there. 

This isn’t your first venture into publishing – you’ve worked in New York publishing. What was that like?
When I graduated from college, I worked as a publishing assistant at Hippocrene Books in Manhattan. We published dictionaries in more than a hundred languages, including many I had never even heard of. We had so many obscure books, but the one I will never forget was called Polish Herbs, Flowers and Folk Medicine. It was beautifully written and a fine introduction into an art that had already begun disappearing even then. But for a kid from New Hampshire, the idea that you can heal through compresses and teas picked in the forest, felt more like witchcraft than anything else. It’s a lesson that has stayed with me all this time.

How did you find working across multiple languages?
My copyediting skills grew sharp fast. Without the crutch of context, I learned to focus on form. I became really good at looking for patterns, and more importantly for breaks in those patterns. Even today, when something doesn’t fit the pattern, I know there’s probably a really good story hiding within it.

A year into the job I put together my own anthology, an anthology of Irish love poems. I worked hard to include one poem from Seamus Heaney, eventually managing to sweet talk his publisher into granting us limited rights. Heaney won the Nobel Prize in Literature the next year. 

Did you get to meet him?
Unfortunately, publisher’s assistants don’t score plane tickets to Ireland.

How did you end up living in Germany?
It was quite simple – I married my high school sweetheart. He was getting his doctorate in German and received a Fulbright to come to Berlin. I said, “Sure, let’s do it!”

Did you speak German?
I spoke exactly three words: ‘Karotte,’ ‘Wunderbar,’ and ‘Bier.’ [‘Carrot’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘beer’.]

What sparked your interest in German wines?
I had been working in the tasting room of Horton Vineyards in Virginia while I got my Master’s degree. The assistant winemaker, Mike Heny, was a huge Riesling fan and his excitement was contagious. Once in Berlin, I started selling South African wine, and then decided to pursue my wine studies more seriously. I took the IHK (Chamber of Commerce and Industry) sommelier course in German. My first class was in Koblenz and I knew I had a lot of catching up to do. That intense catch-up sent me down a Riesling rabbit hole that I’ve never wanted to crawl back out of. I received my certificate in 2010.

What’s missing from the international coverage of German wine?
A lot. Elsewhere the story of German wine and Riesling are synonymous, but once you’ve been here a while you realize the story is so much bigger than that. There’s an incredible heart in German winemaking that too often gets lost in the constant focus on rules and nomenclature. What separates Germany from the rest of the world is that it has 100,000 hectares of vineyards and winemakers who view themselves first and foremost as farmers. I grew up in the countryside and it’s this humility before nature and each other that sets Germany apart. 

You’re working with some well-known German experts, translating them into English, often for the first time. What is different about the way German-language writers approach the subject?
Context. German writers like to set a stage, as you would in a good story. They give enough background information to understand the concept without relying on too much technicality. It’s almost more of a journalistic, inclusionary approach to wine writing. They’re also not afraid to make the story about more than just the wine in the bottle, but rather all the things that got it there in the first place.

How often will each issue be released?
Every six weeks, so eight times a year.

How are you funding it?
At the moment, we’re funding it mostly ourselves, together with the generous donations of individual contributors and readers. We also have an amazing ally in the design and strategy team at Medienagenten. And we are working towards a hybrid model in which some of the original content will be behind a paywall, while select sponsors help to cover the costs of attracting and retaining top journalists and artists. Maintaining journalistic independence and integrity are top priorities in all of this.

You are living here in Germany. Valerie has lived in Austria. How would you differentiate the four German-speaking regions?
For me, to be honest, it’s less about how they differ than where they intersect. Despite their differences, they all tend to focus on sleekness and balance rather than body and weight. 

Everybody talks about the way German identity has been changing since 2006 when it hosted the World Cup and people started cautiously flying the flag with pride for the first time since the war. And you see it in the wines too. At the same time global warming was changing the status quo in German winemaking – not to mention a significant generational switch. The pioneers and legends who had put the modern iterations of German wines on the map were at the cusp of starting to turn over the reins to their children. 

One of the things I find most fascinating about Alto Adige is that it was originally a red wine land because it was considered the southern part of Austria, and then on a dime it became the northern tip of Italy and it was assumed to be a white wine land. It’s the same place. 

These questions of identity are one of the things pushing Valerie and me to look at countries that might otherwise have been marginalized on the global wine scene. No one to date has been telling their romantic ‘Year in Provence’ story, so we’re looking to try. 

Interview by Felicity Carter




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