Marissa Ross is the funniest wine writer in the business. The humorist and “leisure enthusiast” went from making videos about $4 big-agro bottles at the blog Hello Giggles in the early '10s to writing about slightly more (but not that much more) expensive minimal intervention wines her own blog Wine. All The Time. More recently her work has been found on Vice's Munchies, Man Repeller, and in the pages of Bon Appétit magazine, where she works as the publication's resident wine editor. In 2017, Ross authored the book Wine. All The Time: The Casual Guide to Confident Drinking, which garnered praise for its unpretentious, amusing, and informative approach to the sometimes baffling wine world. Most recently, Ross wrote a piece in the wake of Anthony Bourdain's death, “Please Don't Drink Wine While You're Sad,” which is one of the most poignant and important wine articles I've read this year.
When Ross isn't writing, she co-hosts the Natural Disasters podcast (with winemaker / mememaker Adam Vourvoulis) and chronicles her life on her active Instagram account @marissaaross. To be completely honest, I've been following her Instagram for quite some time (her dogs are wonderful) until it all became too much, and I just had to reach out via DM. Just what it is that makes Marissa Ross tick? I hope we got close to finding out in the interview below.
The following interview was conducted over e-mail and condensed for clarity.
Hi Marissa! Your book, Wine. All The Time has everything: it's smart, it's engaging, it's hilarious, but for me what really stood out is how accessible it is. How difficult was it to thread that needle and go deep in wine without getting too geeky? And how long was the writing process for that book—how long were you working on the manuscript?
Marissa Ross: Wow, thank you so much! It's not easy walking that line between fun and educational. The information needs to feel light, but it also has to have weight and meaning to it, and also encourage the reader to explore more. Even with my work at Bon Appétit, this is still the hardest part of the job. The more you learn the harder it becomes to condense it all; to remember not to be a super heady geek and keep yourself in the shoes of the consumer.
The manuscript took about 15 months to write. It probably would have taken less time, but I got offered my job at Bon Appétit six months after I sold the book, and couldn't possibly turn it down. It was insane—I went from being a hobbyist to writing about wine 14 hours a day in less than a year. I still don't know how I got it all done.
Was it helpful to start out as a comedy writer and then get into drink writing?
For me, yes, because I never looked at writing about wine like “writing about wine.” I wrote about it from the same place I wrote comedy—to express myself and my world while making people laugh, and hopefully make us all feel less alone somehow. I also wrote about music before wine, and I think that plays a huge part in my wine writing; finding meaning and a story in something outside of yourself.
Do you know any other comedians who have followed a similar path?
I don't know too many other comedians who've gotten into writing about drinks, except my buddy Ethan Fixell, who writes about mostly beer but cocktails and wine too.
What's worse: a wine geek or a wine snob?
They inevitably go hand in hand. If you're in a group of people who are all geeking out with you, that is super fun. But let's say you're with a group of people who are into other types of wines or maybe not wine at all, they may consider that same geeking out totally snobby. I have some Amazon reviews that say I'm a snob in the book because I make fun of Napa Cabernet and the point system, and focus on natural wines. It's all relative.
But being a snob is way worse because it's mean-spirited. You're saying you're better than someone else. Being a geek is just really loving something. I'm a geek for wine, but I'm also a geek about music, Rick & Morty, and vintage magazines. None of that makes me better than anyone else, it's just what makes me happy.
Who are some of your favorite wine writers/books/magazines? Whose work—contemporary or from years past—do you find inspiring?
Outside of research, I generally don't read about wine. That probably sounds a bit blasphemous, but since I spend nearly all day every day writing about wine, the time I have to chill out I don't want to spend reading about wine. I want to watch Rick & Morty and fondle my vintage magazines [laughs]. I do love Alice Feiring and Isabelle Legeron‘s work though, and they absolutely inspire me to do more, go further, and be better—not for myself, but for wine.
How has wine drinking in America changed in the last decade? Has it?
Oh absolutely. I mean, you're interviewing me, a college dropout who never had a job in the beverage industry who writes strictly about low-intervention and natural wines. That's insane when compared to the days of Robert Parker. Wine drinking in America used to be driven by critics and status, and now it is driven much more by actual pleasure. It's less about showing off and more about having fun.
I followed your recent travels to France for La Dive Bouteille and associated events. It looked like you had some incredible foods and wines—what were some of the stand-outs?
You'd have to go out of your way not to have great food and wine in France! That trip was such a whirlwind—with La Dive and the other shows, you're tasting so much it's hard to take it all in. I absolutely love Vincent Thomas from Burgundy who is making some really fun wines, and also have to love Claude Courtouis, whose wines are stunning and elegant. La Buvette in Paris is an absolute dream for both wine and food, as is Bistro Paul Bert. I wish I could remember it all!
Is there a wine region you've yet to travel to that's high on your list? Where to next?
I really want to go to the Czech Republic and Slovakia, that whole area of Central Europe. There is so much cool stuff happening there from producers like Milan Nestarec and Strekov 1075. I can't get enough of them.
When you're not drinking wine, what do you go for? Are you a cocktail person, or a nice beer maybe?
I love sour beers, especially the Rare Barrel, and Campari soda with lime. If there's no Campari, I'll take gin.
LA is an amazing cafe city—where do you go for coffee/tea/cafe vibes?
Oh man, I hate leaving my house for coffee! I need coffee in bed! Alone! [laughs] I do spend a lot of time at Cafe Stella, but that's still mostly because they do a badass Apéro in the afternoons.
You've been drinking a mushroom elixir on your Instagram Stories. Or is it tree bark? Tell me more.
It's kratom! It's kind of controversial right now, but basically it's a plant from Thailand that has painkilling and mood uplifting properties. Like cannabis, kratom had different strains for different effects and there is no scientific evidence that it is harmful, but also I'm not a doctor so don't listen to me even though I've done a ton of research on it. I've been using it for years to treat legit debilitating menstrual cramps because I don't want to take prescription painkillers and nothing else works. Kratom has given me back a week of my life I used to lose every month to being in pain and being unable to work.
I'd love to know more about your clothing line with Adam Vourvoulis (@natural_whine). It seems really popular—what has been the fastest selling design? Can you tip us off on any upcoming releases?
My shirts with Adam were just a collaboration we did for his line. He's been making shirts for years now, and we just thought it would be fun to do a couple together. The fastest selling one has been the Gamucci, and no one wanted my Law & Order: SVU shirt but me apparently [laughs]. As for upcoming releases, I'm not sure! We're definitely going to make more but we put quite a bit of time into planning these. It took us a year to get the first four right.
I want the Law & Order: SVU shirt. You and Adam recently started a podcast called Natural Disasters. Talk us through what it's like to make an episode with Adam.
Ha! I'm so glad you like that shirt! It was my baby. And yes! We recently started a podcast about natural wine called Natural Disasters, which sums up how a lot of the wine industry thinks of us [laughs]. We're both total podcast amateurs and have no idea what we're doing, but we do know we want to be more active participants in promoting the conversation around natural wine and conversations on how to improve it. Making an episode goes pretty much how it sounds it's going [laughs]. We open a bottle of wine and just talk about whatever topic we want to cover that day. It's just us doing what we always have done hanging out as friends, but now we record it, and try to stay on point and not interrupt each other constantly. We are working towards it being a bit more structured, but we also always want it to be like you're just hanging out with your friends, talking about wine. We want to inform but we want to have fun. I feel like that point is always lost somehow, but that's why we love wine. It's fucking fun.
How many open bottles of wine do you currently have in your home?
Four. Vini Rabasco Damigiana rosé, Etienne Courtouis' Romorantin, Domaine des Marnes Blanches' Poulsard, and Nikolaihof Wachau's Grüner.
If Zissou the dog was a wine drinker, what kind of wine would be his favorite?
Ha! Zissou is a chill, old dude so I think he would drink something that you can sip on for awhile and relax, so I'm going to say Amaro or Sherry.
If you could #rosstest with any person, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Hunter S. Thompson. His work changed my work forever. Growing up, I always wanted to write and perform, but I thought those things had to be separate. His work showed me that I could be a character in anything I wrote and to be unapologetically myself. His work taught me subjectivity, which became and still is a pillar of my work, and he taught me to always explore the details in myself and everything around me. He's my hero, and even if he hated me, he'd still probably be down to chug wine, which is reassuring.
Photos by Devin Pedde for Sprudge Wine.