Rebecca Murphy, Founder of Dallas Morning News Wine Competition

Rebecca Murphy, Founder of Dallas Morning News Wine Competition

This interview is an ongoing quarterly column in collaboration with Great Northwest Wine, and “turns the tables” on Pacific Northwest wine industry writers by asking them about their own profession. The Q&As are modeled on the Wine Industry Network Advisor series, which features national and regional writers and journalists. You can also read it on the Great Northwest Wine Website.

Rebecca Murphy’s rise within the U.S. wine industry began by becoming the first female wine steward in Texas and included launching The Dallas Morning News Wine Competition, which was immediately recognized as one of the country’s most important judging and evolved into the prestigious TEXSOM International Wine Awards.

As a writer, Murphy has contributed regularly to The Dallas Morning News for decades and as well as Wine Business Monthly and Wines & Vines. She’s also written for The Oxford Companion to Wine and the sixth edition of The World Atlas of Wine. Now, she is now a columnist for Wine Review Online.

She can be contacted via email at .

How did you come to wine and to wine writing?

It came about because of a series of happenstance events. The first occurred in 1968, when I accompanied my Army husband to Thailand, where he was aide to the commanding general of all troops in Thailand. In that capacity we were exposed to VIP visitors from the military, politics and entertainment, and I came to learn about, through frequent exposure, fine wines and food.

Then, in 1973, I was back in Dallas working as a cocktail waitress at an upscale restaurant when the sommelier left to take another job. I was able to talk my way into becoming his replacement. Little did I know that I would become the first female sommelier in the state of Texas. That job led me to further educate myself about wine and advance to become the food and beverage director for a Dallas restaurant group where I put on wine events.

Some of those events allowed me to become acquainted with members of the Dallas press, where I complained about the lack of coverage about wine in the Dallas region. They essentially dared me to do something about it by providing me with a job as a wine writer for the Dallas Morning News. The rest, as they say, is history.

How did you launch the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition and how has it evolved?  

Because of my roles as a sommelier, then wine writer, I began to be invited to judge wine competitions. My first competition was in 1981 at what is now the Sonoma County Harvest Fair. That experience had two impacts on me. It showed me how a good wine competition could be run, and it illustrated how such a competition could heighten local interest in wine.

I was determined to do the same for the Texas market by founding the Dallas Morning News Wine Competition in 1984, focusing on American wines. As the competition grew, I turned it into the Dallas Morning News International Wine Competition in 1999. After organizing and running the competition for 32 years, I sold it in 2017 to James Tidwell, Master Sommelier. I still work on the competition, which is now the TEXSOM International Wine Awards.

How were you involved in wine when you were living in the Pacific Northwest?

Moving from San Francisco to Portland, Ore., in 1997 was not my choice. Rather, my husband’s work took us there and I reluctantly agreed to the move. It didn’t take long for me to realize that our move had introduced us to a new way of life. We found a beautiful, relaxed environment located a short distance from a wide array of exciting wine regions. During the following 20 years, when we lived in Portland, then Seattle, I had the opportunity to visit wineries, enjoy the vinous and culinary treats, and write about nearly all of the wine regions of Oregon and Washington. I enjoyed all of them, and still fondly recall visiting and writing about places such as the Columbia Gorge, the Willamette Valley and Walla Walla.

My husband and I were so taken with Walla Walla that we bought property there. In addition, we developed firm friendships with many in the Northwest wine community.  Among them was Joel Butler, Master of Wine, with whom we regularly tasted wine. Then, there were our annual visits to the International Pinot Noir Celebration on the Linfield University campus in McMinnville. I also fondly remember speaking at one of the annual Taste Washington events. At each of these we would bring special wines from our wine cellar to share with well-known wine personalities like wine writer Norm Roby and sommelier-turned-winemaker Raj Parr. In other words, our time in the Pacific Northwest enriched our wine life immeasurably.

Here’s a short piece I wrote about Willamette Valley for The Dallas Morning News.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I taught English to Thai police cadets at the Royal Police Cadet Academy in Sam Phran.

Tell us about some of the philanthropic organizations you’re involved in. 

Involvement in philanthropic activities has been important to me for years, beginning with my founding the Dallas Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier in 1983. The mission of the Dames is to support women who want to pursue a career in food, wine or hospitality through grants and mentoring. I have remained active with that organization to the present, having also been involved with the Seattle chapter.

I have held several positions with the Dames, including chapter president and board member. While living in Portland, I was a board member of the Portland Farmers Market, where I organized weekly cooking demonstrations by local chefs. I am also a master gardener. To become a master gardener requires taking a course put on by the organization and passing an exam. Master gardeners then maintain their title by providing regular gardening services at various public gardens in their community.

Describe your approach to wine writing.

My husband says I have to know everything. As such, I endlessly research my topic before beginning writing. Although I generally enjoy reading what I have written, the actual writing process is somewhat painful and time-consuming.

Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?

I develop my ideas as they come up, typically based on actual experiences.

You’re writing articles and doing wine reviews for Wine Review Online. Describe your tasting process — and what happens to all that wine?   

Whenever possible, I group wines by variety for tasting. When I evaluate a wine for recommendation, my process is the same as when I am a judge. I look at the color, ensuring it is appropriate for the variety and age. I smell the wine to be sure it is not corked, or has other obvious flaws, such as oxidation, brettanomyces or volatile acidity. I look for varietal correctness, and winemaking effects, such as oak aging or lack thereof, or lees contact, for example. When I taste a wine, I look for typicity and balance of fruit, acidity, and sweetness and tannins if the wine is red. If I cannot recommend a wine, I don’t write about it.  Extra wines go to a class I teach at a local college, or friends.

What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?

Tell the truth. Don’t try to impress the journalist with your creativity and innovations as they have a nose for sales jobs.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists? 

Depends upon the publicist. The good ones work to understand your needs and can provide information that might not otherwise be available.

Wine competitions have come a long way since the California county fairs of the 1980s. What’s the state and value of competitions these days from your perspective? 

Since there are so many more competitions, wineries have options to choose those that they think will best appreciate their wines. For organizers, there are now software programs that help in the organization and logistics of a competition. In the early 2000s I worked with a database expert, Will Goldring, and together we created EnofileOnline, which today is used by most competitions in the U.S.

Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with? 

Eric Asimov of the New York Times is a terrific critic. He’s knowledgeable and fair. I always learn from his columns.

Who have you mentored that you are most proud of?

When Andrea Immer (Robinson) and I are together, she tells everyone that I am the reason she chose to work with wine.

When you take days off, how do you spend them? 

Working in my garden is my go-to pastime. It both relaxes me and energizes me. I especially like it when I harvest vegetables from the garden.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

There are many. One took place in Portland at a tasting led by Peter Liem, featuring several vintages of Huet Vouvray, dating back to 1919. It illustrated the remarkable aging capacity of Chenin Blanc. The other occurred in London several years ago when my husband and I cooked dinner for the late Steven Spurrier and showed him eight Texas wines to taste.

What’s your cure for a wine hangover? 

Don’t get one. Moderate wine with food is a great preventative.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world? 

Lanzarote in the Canary Islands is wonderful. It’s amazing how such a stark environment can produce such wonderful wines.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?

Salmon and Oregon Pinot Noir are absolutely perfect.

CARL GIAVANTI is in his 14th vintage of working with West Coast wineries as a public/media relations consultant. His background includes technology sales, digital marketing, project management, and public relations for more than 25 years. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com)

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