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In Wine We Trust
Karen McNeil:
Author of The Wine Bible and host of PBS TV Series Wine, Food & Friends


By Simone Zarmati Diament


Promoting the TV series is a full time job as it takes her from New York to Los Angeles to Houston, Boston, etc…

Karen McNeil was in Miami to launch the airing of Wine Food & Friends. "We chose North 110 in Miami to do a celebratory wine dinner for Wine, Food & Friends as well as for Fife wines which is my husband's winery. Dewey and Dale [LoSasso] were just fabulous hosts," she said during an interview at her hotel.

The multi-task red head who never lets a day go by without tasting at least a case of wines a day - "tasting, not drinking," she insists - is an award-winning journalist, a teacher, a book writer, a consultant, has spent several years as the wine correspondent for NBC's The Today Show.

She is now working on the 2006 segments of the PBS series Wine, Food & Friends. and lives in Napa Valley on top of Spring Mountain -- " The oldest mountain in Napa Valley," she specifies -- about 1800 feet above sea level at a vineyard she co-owns with her winemaking husband, Dennis Fife and their 2-year-old daughter.

A Profile

Journalist: In 1972, Karen McNeil drove to New York with $6 in her pocket "to become a writer." She never studied journalism, doesn't even have a degree but her articles have been published in more than 50 leading newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, Food & Wine, Sunset, Saveur, Fine Cooking, Metropolitan Home, Playboy, The Wine Spectator, Elle, Mirabella, Food Arts, In-Style, Travel & Leisure, USA Today, Town & Country and the Los Angeles Times. She has been nominated three times for the James Beard Journalism Award for "Best Magazine Writing in America, and is the 2004 winner of the "Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional" award from the James Beard Foundation. "Very quickly I began to focus on food, first for The Village Voice, then for women's magazines, then for Gourmet,. Bon Appetit, Elle." She now writes for Cooking Light, the largest gastronomic magazine in the world, and for Sunset, the largest and most successful magazine in the West Coast. "What I wanted most was to learn all I could about gastronomy and wine. In those days it was really hard to learn about wine in the US. There were no women wine journalists. It was quite hard to break into that world - basically a man's world. There were no classes. But I was very determined… took in a lot of tastings. It took me many years to understand wine. And after 8 years of studying I wrote my first wine article, as opposed to food articles. I'd been a very well published food authors for 10 years. It was amazingly successful. And editors started asking me to write stories about wines. I went on to write 80% of my stories about wine. And then I got very serious about it, traveling to all the wine producing regions of the world."

Author: The Wine Bible, an award-winning, comprehensive 900 + page book about all aspects of drinking and enjoying wine, took ten years to write. Now in its 10th printing it is the best selling wine book in the USA with 250,000 copies sold since it was published in 2001-- average wine books sell about 6,000 copies. It is a tremendous success." The book sort of coincided with the boom of wines in the world, at a time when many countries started producing great wines. "The WineBible took me 10 years to write and I discovered at the end that all of this research made me realize that I do know something about this field."

Educator: As Chairman of the Wine Department of the CIA Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley, Karen Mc Neil teaches wine classes and travels all around the world - lately to China, Vietnam and Thailand - to give wine seminars. "One day I was teaching a course at the CIA -- these courses are very intense 7 hours a day for 5 days. There was a man in the course who said 'You know, you ought to be on TV'. My reaction was 'yeah yeah…sure.' Doing wine on TV is very hard. It's hard to make wine come alive on TV. But it is even more difficult to get sponsors. This man ultimately became the show's co-producer and we are now in the process of doing a second series to air in 2006."

TV Host of the 13-part PBS Series Wine, Food & Friends: Finding that while the US is the fourth largest producer of wine in the world, Americans are still not on the ball and her mission is to introduce her countrymen to the enjoyment of wines, through a series of shows, very much like a reality show about the consumption of wine. "There have been several shows on how wines are made, how grapes are being grown, on the production, etc… This show will focus on the the consumer side of wine. My goal is to make people really comfortable with wines that they are likely to find in their neighborhood wine shop, or restaurants and hotels. Not the exotic wines from far away countries. Life is full of practical issues. We wanted to show real people in real situations, buying, serving, enjoying wine. It's a bit like a reality show. For instance we did a dating show: we had couples in their 30's, their 40's and their 50's all on their first date, and needing to know what to do about wine… Then we have another show that's a favorite of mine where we have a young couple that just got married and we help then set up a cellar. Or another about to get married and we help them choose the Champagne and the wines for their reception. We did a show on Pizza and wine: how to choose Italian wines and pair them with foods. Cheeses: : what are the key things to know when you're pairing wine and cheese, etc..."

Consultant/Mother/Winemaker: In addition to being the mom to a rambunctious 2-year-old Karen McNeil is also a wine consultation to large corporations. How does she find the time with a 2-year old? "How do any moms get anything done? It is a challenge, especially since I also do a lot of corporate consulting for companies like J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, American Express, plus the CIA plus the Show, anyone of these could be a full time job."

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