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A Sneak Peak At The SF Chronicle’s New Wine Writer

By Charles Olken

For a week now, rumors have been swirling about the newly anointed wine and spirits writer at the San Francisco Chronicle. The newspaper has yet to make an announcement, but three separate sources have identified her to CGCW and it is time to let the news come out.

There will be those, and I am among them, who will be skeptical about her ability to fill the highly visible and important role she has been handed. And let me be clear, “skeptical” does not mean that I predict gloom and doom, but that I think we will have to wait and see.

Let’s start first with her name: Ester Mobley. She is, by all accounts, 24-years old and has been writing for the Wine Spectator. People in the industry who have met her have written to me, perhaps because I expressed my skepticism openly over on Steve Heimoff’s blog and clearly stated my hope that the new hire at the Chron would be a writer of proven substance. Among the names I mentioned were Jordan McKay, Tim Tiechgraber and Patrick Comiskey—all proven hands with years of knowledge and years of time ahead of them. There is a raft of others out there who could have also brought the wisdom of experience to the job. Miss Mobley does not.

But, and this is important to me, she is not to be judged on her age or on her lack of deep and broad experience alone. We will have to see the quality of her intellect and her facility with the language and concepts of wine. Just as we do not judge a wine by its label alone or its alcohol level or its “naturalness” but by its contents, so too must Miss Mobley be judged.

Referenced below are two private letters I received from valued and trusted friends in the wine business. The words are summarized, not quoted directly and the authors of those words are not identified—because their notes to me were private and intended for my edification. The sentiments expressed do not prequalify Miss Mobley for greatness, but coming as they do from prominent, knowledgeable sources, they remind me most strongly that judgment must be made based on her future work product. And the comments also suggest that these folks think that she has a chance to be very good.

And that is my hope. We need the San Francisco Chronicle to use its position as the newspaper of record in Northern California to be at the forefront of wine thinking. Anything less is an inadequate response to the very community that the paper serves.

Here then, two endorsements of sorts from people I trust—fully trust—and expect that they are not blowing smoke at me.

“Yes, she is young, but she is good and I think you should withhold judgment at this point until you see more of her writings.”

“Between us, Ester Mobley, the Chron's recent hire, is a most promising new writer. She is, yes, young, but bright and talented and was bound to move on from her entry position at the Wine Spectator. I hope she gets a fair shake, and I'm sure she'll do some fine writing and speak to a younger audience.”

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Esther Mobley - S F Chron wine writer
by Bob Henry
Posted on:8/6/2015 2:48:10 AM

Who is Esther Mobley?

A backgrounder:

"Finding a Job You Want: It Started in a Vineyard”


Her writings for Wine Spectator:


by TomHill
Posted on:8/6/2015 9:02:28 AM

" important role she has been handed."

Herein lies part of the problem, Charlie. Exactly what is her role to be??  Is it to write promontional puff pieces that will attract winery ad revenue??  Is it to write up a review of the latest Rombauer Chard that'll make the stuff fly off the shelves and earn Koerner's undying gratitude? Is it to go up to Unti and visit w/ Mick & find out why he is doing something as stupid as growing LaCrima? Is it to go interview JimCowan to find out why the heck he would make a sous voile wine? Is it to hack into Vinovation's computers and list all the folks using RO? Is it to write up something on the newly refurbished ClosPegase tasting room?? Is it to be an unabashed booster for the Calif wine industry?

   I think, you & I, would like her to write interesting stuff that would educate & engage our minds. That may not be what her management has in mind, though.

   Som of the stuff she's written in the WS is fairly decent, better than much of the stuff their hack writers put out. But nothing that would make me think she can don the mantel of SFChron wine writer. But she may very well grow into that position. I guess time will have to tell.


"andd speak to a younger audience."

OhOh, Charlie....I think we're in trouble here!!  :-)




by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/6/2015 9:23:12 AM

Yes, Tom, we do not know how much Ms. Mobley actually knows, and while she appears to be a quick and enthusiastic study, certainly she has some learning to do.

I think we will have to wait and see what direction she gets from management.

I am encouraged by the two emails I received, but the fact that two very knowledgeable insiders like her does not mean that the Chron will engage in serious wine journalism from time to time. If it does, then all is well and good. If not, then whether she is a quick study or not will be of little importance as the level of learning will not be high. And it may not be her fault in any event. It may be that the Chron simply does not see itself as the place for such learning.

SF Chron
by Ilana Howard
Posted on:8/6/2015 9:41:55 AM

Before criticizing Esther, you should take a look at your own abilities to provide comprehensive and factual information re: the basic misspelling of her name as (Ester). Please be sure to proofread your work before you post.

Thank you


SF Rookie
by Carl Giavanti
Posted on:8/6/2015 9:53:04 AM

Hey Fellas. Let's give Ms. Mobley "an even break". On the arc of successful careers, everyone has to start somehow.

Two Points
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/6/2015 10:15:54 AM

My apologies to Ms. Mobley. The misspelling was a direct quote from a friend of hers who wrote to me to praise her potential. I have said, and will say again, when a respected friend tells me that someone has talent, I am impressed. When two respected friends do it, there would seem to be strong reason to believe.

As for "starting somewhere", I will quote what I told Steve Heimoff publicly on his blog just yesterday, "One thing does stand out for me in retrospect. Both you and I were sheer novices when we got our starts. Now we are the alta kakas of winewriting."

But, we can all agree that she is very young and has a big learning curve when it comes to being an insightful, wise commentator as opposed to a good and eager and competent wordsmith. I don't know Ms. Mobley, but if my close and trusted friends have high opinions of her, then I am looking forward to meeting her and expect that I too will like her.

I remain hopeful, but somewhat skeptical, that the SF Chron will actually let its wine section rise to the level of importance in wine commentary that I believe it should--and once did.

by Mike Officer
Posted on:8/6/2015 10:18:18 AM

Charlie, I'm pretty sure Esther is 27, not 24.

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/6/2015 10:49:30 AM

Hi Mike-

I promise not to hold her young age against her if she does not hold my advanced age against me.

And truth be told, I really don't give a damn about her age. I have raised other questions, and those questions will be answered over time--as we see more of her work product in the heightened environment to which she is moving. 

theme to come
by jc
Posted on:8/6/2015 12:23:19 PM

Her alligiance will become apparent fairly quickly; whether it be the gray haired leather-loafers of Napa, or the Patagonia Vested Sommesque winemakers of the Central Coast, or the safety of the old guard producers region to region...I am sure she will do great, regardless.

Best of luck to her
by doug
Posted on:8/6/2015 12:48:36 PM

I have no idea who she is or what she has done so far. Keep us updated

Ms. Mobley
by James
Posted on:8/6/2015 1:09:57 PM

Well, we do know this much! She certainly has the ability to raise  a ruckus !

Judge her by her work
by Blake Gray
Posted on:8/6/2015 3:08:54 PM

We've read exactly 0 pieces in the Chronicle by a new writer and we want to leap to judgment? Would we even be having this conversation if she were covering cops or courts or Caltrans?

The Chronicle's editors saw in her not someone who HAD done this job, but someone who CAN do this job. Can we start with the assumption that they are correct, and go from there?  I really don't see any reason to start from the opposite assumption, so to do so is beyond uncharitable.

Blake--Do You Read?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/6/2015 3:30:47 PM

The article clearly says that she will be judged by her work.

But, Blake, as intelligent and as skilled as she is with her wordsmithing, do you really think that this is person with a long history of wine knowledge? That may well not be her remit since she is intended, in the words of a Chronicle insider who call this morning, to appeal to a younger demographic. 

So, while her contributions may well turn out to be extremely valuable, Ms. Mobley does have some learning to do when it comes to the long and deep history of this place and how we got to where we are. 

No one is judging her, and frankly, as I told the Chron personnage not more than a couple of handful of minutes ago, I believe that the Chron needs to serve several masters. There is a general wine audience, there is a geek wine audience who will read anything of merit and there is the new wine drinker. It may well take more than one writer to do all that, and I hope that the Chron does try because it is the newspaper of record here in the very middle of wine country.

Book by its cover
by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:8/6/2015 3:59:52 PM

You can't judge a book by its covers; but from what I can see, I'm liking the cover because

1.  She is a woman (really don't think there are enough women writers of influence).

2.  She is young.  Personally, I'm sick and tired of the "same 'ol same 'ol."  I crave people with new or different outlooks.

Now we get to see how the book reads.  Whee...

by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/6/2015 4:39:26 PM


Have you jumped on the "out with all the old white guys" bandwagon? Be patient. We are leaving of our own accord soon enough. :-}

Good luck
by Rebecca Gibb
Posted on:8/6/2015 5:23:31 PM

I wish her all the luck in the world and hope she will show that young women can write about wine in an interesting and intelligent manner. 

Who are you, we, to question this?
by Blake Gray
Posted on:8/6/2015 5:30:32 PM

Who are we to question a hiring decision for a non-public company? Have you ever seen a column like this about a winemaker hiring?

It makes sense for the Chronicle to hire a new, young, presumably talented voice. Experience is learned. And also, for God's sake, it's just the wine beat, and I mean that.

City hall, police, Caltrans, the state government, these things matter. For the Chronicle, wine coverage is important, sure, but it's not like the public misses out if her coverage is inferior. It's not like corruption will go undetected or our leaders unquestioned.

by TomHill
Posted on:8/6/2015 7:32:34 PM

"We've read exactly 0 pieces in the Chronicle by a new writer and we want to leap to judgment?"

   I distinctly remember, Blake, your penning a screed speculating about what Parker's sale of the WA meant and and what the new WA would look like. And this was before you had read all of exactly 0 pieces of the new WA under the new regime in HongKong (or where ever).

   No difference here that Charlie or I speculate, after reading exactly 0 SFChron articles by their new wine writer, of what the new SFChron wine coverage will look like. Her credentials, based on what she's written before, seem rather light-weight (to me, anyway) for such an important position...but I guess time will tell if she's up to the task.



Any change is welcome...
by SME
Posted on:8/7/2015 12:38:16 AM

It strikes me that she has small shoes to fill. I, for one, must be and am optimistic for the simple reason that she is NOT Jon Bonne. Welcome Ms. Mobley.

by Adam Lee/Siduri Wines
Posted on:8/7/2015 1:05:22 AM

Wow, I spend the day in the SLH checking grapes and come back to all of this!  Harvest is so distracting..... So I am confused about a few points and would appreciate clarification:

1) Charlie, you write, "So, while her contributions may well turn out to be extremely valuable, Ms. Mobley does have some learning to do when it comes to the long and deep history of this place and how we got to where we are."  Now, having been an History major, I learned the long and deep history of many things by reading extensively, studying the source documents, and asking questions of those more knowledgeable.  You say that Ms. Mobley has some learnig to do.  Is that because you know that she hasn't read, studied, and asked the questions?  Or are you assuming that she hasn't simply because of her age?

2)  There's been much speculation here about the ultimately direction of the wine coverage at the Chronicle.  But over at Steve Heimoff's blog (on Monday) apparently the Chronicle's managing editor apparently emailed Steve saying, "her team is “doubling down on our wine coverage, have a new critic/writer starting next week and plan several new publications around our wine and spirits journalism.” So are we just choosing to ignore that and speculate with wild abandon?  Or is there a chance it might be true?

3) With all of the import that seems to be being put on wine and writing experience, I have to ask how important it really is?  This topic really started last Friday, when experience wine writer Steve Heimoff wrote a blog decrying the Chronicle's coverage of wine.  Three days later he wrote a semi-retraction of that blog post stating that "I did not know that the Chron is planning on this greatly-expanded new wine coverage, because how could I? I subscribe, I read the paper every day, and I saw nothing to alert us readers to these new realities..."  Moreover, he wrote, and then deleted, that a Chronicle editor was the wine writer when, in fact, she had been working for the Chronicle for over a year.  Now this post appears, where Ms. Mobley's first name is mispelled (because it came from a quote) and her age is apparently quoted incorrectly.  So, what then exactly is the lesson that the old guard teaches?  That being a blogger is not a journalist and, as such, no level of following up or at least attempting to email a subject is required before posting a story?  Or that accuracy generally is less important than it once was and that it is okay to change a post's facts after a reader has commented on it?  Or that saying that because "a quote came from someone else", or "becuase I am just a subscriber",are sufficient excuses for not checking or fact-checking information?  Seriously, I don't really see that the Old Guard has, in this instance, covered themselves with any type of glory.  It appears to me that if better journalistic standards are followed by Ms. Mobley, or others of her generation, there will at the very least be an improvement of some sort.

Adam Lee

Siduri Wines

Why The Angst?
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/7/2015 8:53:52 AM

For those of us in the wine community, this is big news. I don't really get the "confusion" over anyone's concern for the quality of wine writing in the SF Chron. In my view, the paper ought to be a leader in framing the questions and searching for the answers to the whys and wherefores of an industry that is extremely important to the lifestyles and economy of Northern California. 

As regards the "learning" question, if Ms Mobley is to become all that I hope for in the lead wine writer for the Chron, then there is no way that she today has the knowledge and wisdom that years of searching, learning, swirling and spitting provide. This is not a judgment about her personally, but a simple statement of belief that the topic of wine, its history, its evaluation, its fullest appreciation takes more than a few years of service to become "expert". 

I was happy yesterday to be the recipient of several interactions with the Chron and its staff as regards my comments. We have all come away as friends, and I believe that is due to two things: My concerns are legitimate and my belief that this answer to those concerns cannot be prejudged, but will reveal themselves over time. 

Final note: I have been at this stand for some several decades, and I continue to search and to learn. The same will be true, I expect, of Esther Mobley, and I expect that we all in the wine community will support her fully and in friendship just as the experienced part of the wine community welcomed and supported me those several decades ago.

Well Said....
by TomHill
Posted on:8/7/2015 9:20:25 AM

Well said, Charlie. Totally agree.



by Randy Caparoso
Posted on:8/7/2015 9:50:31 AM

Hey, Charlie...

I wasn't insinuating "out with Old White Guys," although OWGs have always been a wine industry syndrome.  Then again, I've always thought fresh voices are a good thing.  I remember when CGCW came out and I thought, "how refreshing" compared to, say, Robert Lawrence Balzer.  

I'm actually an OFA (59-year-old Filipino-American).  I was the Honolulu Advertiser wine columnist from 1981 to 2002.  When I finally quit, my advice to the paper was the same:   hire someone with a fresh, new voice to take my place, which they did. 

Tastes and standards change.  Wines that used to be considered weak and simple are now considered fine and authentic.  The big and rich are now considered fat and clumsy. Hate to say it, but older guys (there's still not enough women!) are usually slow on the uptake to see that. And I'm including myself (although I now write a "Wandering Sommelier" column in a national magazine where I deliberately explore wine regions looking through the eyes of much younger sommeliers).

Change is *always* a good thing.

I'm sorry I have to explain this
by Blake Gray
Posted on:8/7/2015 3:32:36 PM

To Tom Hill: I'm sorry you don't understand the difference between questioning a young person's -- and I don't think it's insignificant that it's a young woman's -- competence to cover wine for a newspaper, and speculating about what the effect on the wine industry might be about the sale of the most influential ratings publication.


Does that help explain it? If not, I can't do any better.

No Angst....Just A Question
by Adam Lee/Siduri Wines
Posted on:8/7/2015 6:10:04 PM


I dont see how this statement,

"As regards the "learning" question, if Ms Mobley is to become all that I hope for in the lead wine writer for the Chron, then there is no way that she today has the knowledge and wisdom that years of searching, learning, swirling and spitting provide. This is not a judgment about her personally, but a simple statement of belief that the topic of wine, its history, its evaluation, its fullest appreciation takes more than a few years of service to become "expert"

goes along with this statement:

"And truth be told, I really don't give a damn about her age"

Can you help me out?


Adam Lee/Siduri Wines

Age Vs. Knowledge
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/7/2015 6:19:21 PM

Adam, why do I feel like I am being prosecuted? You are dancing on words, not detalis and there would seem to be more to your questions than the correlation between years of experience and deep knowledge and perspective. What do you know that you need to share with us at this point?



by Adam Lee
Posted on:8/7/2015 6:47:52 PM

Oh, Charlie, I don't know much at could I, because I am younger than you are.

Seriously, I read you every time you publish a new blog post.  And I read it word by word.  I figured you'd like that...and that your words have meaning.

I've read for awhile now the criticisms that you had of the previous Chronicle wine writer...and I largely agreed with them.  Those criticism were largely, from what I could tell, based on his perspective...but not his experience.  Now, it seems that you have an issue with experience, without knowing perspective.  So I guess I am trying to figure out who could navigate through the eye of a needle to fit who you would want?

And, yes, I am also very concerned about writers who break news (as you did here...big deal, IMO) but apparently choose not to reach out to those involved for a quote or perspective.  When I wrote for my high school and college papers and took journalism classes, I was taught that if you wrote a story you reached out to those involved for comment.  I am very afraid that with the world of bloggers those stnadards have gone away.  And I worry that we have gone down a rabbit hole from which we will not emerge the better (btw, for perspective on this, Blake Gray and I wrestled with this for some time a few years back, with no positive result).

Adam Lee/Siduri Wines

I Am No Blake Gray
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:8/7/2015 7:09:21 PM

Adam, to paraphrase an earlier comment, I will not hold your inexperience against you if you do not hold my longevity against me.

Beyond that, Adam, we are now dancing on the head of a pin and getting nowhere, and I don't see how that helps our long friendship.

I would refer you to my statement of this morning, " ...all in the wine community will support her fully and in friendship just as the experienced part of the wine community welcomed and supported me several decades ago".

by TomHill
Posted on:8/11/2015 6:03:57 AM

So, Charlie...has the SFChron had anything "officially" to say about this appointment?? Nothing I can find on their WebSite.



Esther Mobley
by Louis E.
Posted on:5/29/2016 6:46:32 PM

I'm surprised nobody here saw fit to dig up the fact that she was the subject of a front-page New York Times feature story when she was in high school,the author casting her as representative of her generation.

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