This month we talked to the editor-in-chief of Falstaff magazine, Anne Krebiehl MW. We talked to her about her motivations to join the Falstaff team and launch a print publication in the midst of a dramatic decline in print sales – and to explore the origins of her wine story. As expressive as you could hope a writer to be, Anne reveals the influences which have brought us to where we are today, including Martha Stewart, Birkbeck College and her school English teacher. The latest edition of Falstaff is out now.
What brought you to wine?
I did not grow up with wine – but I grew up with a lot of flavour.
There is a kind of sensuous inclination in me. As a child I was brought up with nature and was already baking a lot, as an adult I was cooking a lot.
When I then as a young adult came to wine – because I was a bit of a puritan when I was a teenager, a bit scared of drink – it was very much the recognition that wine is so much more than just booze. It then took me quite a while from just enjoying it to finding out more about it.
That [investigative, academic] interest was sparked on a camping holiday in my very early twenties, travelling with the Sotheby’s wine bible in the car – of course! The key moment happened in Tain-l’Hermitage at the shop of Chapoutier where I was given two glasses of a white wine. I was told: ‘this glass if from old vines, this glass is from young vines. It’s the same vintage and the same grape’. I didn’t believe it could be possible. This was the trigger which made me find out more about wine.
It prompted the realisation that wine is the intersection of so many things – of a place, of a climate, of topography, of geology, of politics, of culture, horticulture, of so many things. That has always appealed to me and throughout all my studies where I nearly lost my mind! It still appealed to me, that beauty. That is wine’s fascination for me. The nuance and variety available – the transformation of grape juice into wine is a miracle.
You are, of course, German. What’s it like to write in your second language – and study for your MW in the same? What sort of impact, if any, has this had on your career?
I grew up in a small village – a small world. I was never really made aware of how big the world is. But, somehow, I cottoned on very early that learning a language was a passport of sorts. I also always found it really easy to learn English.
I had an English teacher, an Austrian woman who was the first really intellectual woman I had ever met. She made such an impression on me. She showed me the nuance of language. I left Germany to become an exchange student in the US for a year which completely exploded everything I had thought before.
And then I learnt about Birkbeck College: that was my gift from the gods. That college has always been seen as a ‘workman’s institute’. It was created for people who worked in the day and went to school at night – which suited me down to the ground. I wanted to study English Literature even though I knew it wasn’t career oriented, but I had an undergrad in Business so I could come to London. And I did. I arrived with two suitcases and a rucksack and I started working in a dull back office in a bank. Really mind numbingly boring. But at night, I went to school and studied English. And really, Birkbeck College and London have made me.
Studying alongside a full-time job was hard but I’ve never lost that love for words, for poetry, that love for language and nuance.
At a time where print circulation for Decanter, perhaps the world’s best known wine magazine, is in steep decline, we think it’s incredibly brave and confident to launch a new print publication. What made you think now was the right time?
Well, the decision wasn’t mine! I was contacted by Wolfgang Rosam, the publisher and owner of the Falstaff publishing company in Vienna, for the first time in March 2020 – and I thought he was a crank. And then we spoke again in July – really spoke – and I ended up going to Vienna in August 2020 where we spoke non-stop for two days by which time I could see and share his vision.
I am aware this is counterintuitive [to launch a new print publication at a time of print decline]. But it was interesting for me that when our first edition came out in summer how positive the reaction was. Of course, we did a lot of competitor analysis and we believe we’re in a sweet spot, in Wolfgang’s words, where we have the ‘holy trinity of wine, food and travel’. Because you cannot really separate one from the other.
Yes, there is wine in the magazine, it is my field of expertise. But, you know, I’m also in the kitchen and in the garden; I’m in the world, so wine, food and travel and that inherent pleasure which is flavour, taste, and experiencing something viscerally, something real and undeniable is as much a part of me as any wine.
Falstaff was originally founded as a rather old-man’s wine journal in the 1980s. Since purchasing the publishing house, Wolfgang turned Falstaff into the most successful Wine-Food-Travel magazine in German-speaking Europe – so there was already an international drive and ambition there. But by keeping it in German it was confined. By putting it out in English, it is unfettered. It is a big task, but it is exciting.
My counterpart, the Managing Director, Jana Schiedmantle, is a born digital generation whizz kid. It’s really interesting the different angles we approach this publication from. I grew up with physical magazines and I still love them. I think there’s something so special about holding a beautifully photographed and laid out magazine in your hands. I think the photography and beauty of it will make people want to touch it. I think there is still appeal there and that appeal will translate. And it is certainly exciting to be part of something so counterintuitive and counter-cyclical.
What is your aim with Falstaff? Is your aim to bring wine out of the geeky closet? It is a unique publication in its broad focus on epicurean delights which takes a broad view of wine.
When I spent my exchange year in the States, Martha Stewart’s publications were still going strong and I lovedthose layouts, I loved the photography. I still have clippings, (I am one of these people who keeps clippings). I am just in love with print and with paper and layouts and fonts. I want to create beautiful things in this way.
Life is life and it brings us what it brings us. But there are things which just make life good. We talk about the greatest wines of the world, and the prestige cuvees, but they are more than just prestige cuvees: they are pinnacles of culture.
Last night I was interviewing a wine maker in Patagonia and he showed me a video of the southern winds beating the landscape. I thought ok yes there is somebody trying to grow something in a place that is so difficult. They’re bringing forth something that is then just so touching. And the same thing – if I am stressed out and I go into my kitchen and cut up some basil, to have a nose full of that I think: wow, how is that possible.
I want to bring real things to people – because they are real, they are not the added extras of life. The pandemic taught us to really respect the everyday experiences which can elevate us. This summer I went to the sea. Boy, was it wonderful to smell the sea after being landlocked; to feel the wind and the sunshine. Whatever life throws at us there are things that are always real and they ground us and make us feel human.
That’s what I want Falstaff to bring to people. Escapism and beauty.