Last year, when we held our DrinkLocalWine conference in St. Louis, one of the first people I called was Joe Pollack. Joe was not only one of the best wine writers in the state, but an honest, fair and open advocate for Missouri and regional wine. His help would be invaluable in putting on the conference, and he hosted the winery tours we did on the third day of the event.
As such, he has been an invaluable member of DrinkLocalWine, and has been with us since the first conference in Dallas four years ago. In fact, Joe and his wife, Ann Lemons Pollack, were going to attend this year's event in Denver, and he had just sent me a particularly Pollack-ian email asking about the hotel arrangements. I answered his email, and the reply came from Ann: Joe, who was 81, had died the night before.
Joe had a full career as a newspaperman, sports publicist, and raconteur before I met him. He knew A.J. Liebling, one of the great social critics of the 20th century, and could drop names as disparate as Harry Caray and Jack Ruby when telling stories of those days. A friend of mine, who grew up in St. Louis in the 1970s when Joe was the lead reviewer for the Post-Dispatch, was introduced to him at our event last year. "I can't believe it," he said. "I got to meet Joe Pollack."
I knew Joe as a wine writer, and he was a fine one -- honest, critical and fair. He wrote clearly and he wanted his audience to understand what he was saying. Joe was too much a newspaperman to write to confuse, which has been the style for the last decade or so. And he had a fine palate, too; sometimes, the best way to learn about wine is to shut up and listen to others, and Joe was one of the others that I listened to.
He was also one of the first and one of the best regional wine writers; he started writing about the Missouri industry almost before its re-birth in the early 1970s. Too often, regional wine writers are boosters, who find it easy to overlook flaws because they want to be liked, or so snarky that it doesn’t matter what the wine is like, because all they care about is being clever. Joe was a professional, first and always. He understood that truth is regional’s wine best friend -- even if regional wine doesn’t always want to hear the truth. Joe isn’t the only reason Missouri wine is so well made and so well respected, but he is one of them.
And, lest anyone think he was an old school crank, know this: When UrbanSpoon named St. Louis Eats and Drinks, the blog that Joe and Ann wrote, as the best wine and food site in St. Louis, Joe was proud and impressed. He may have started with carbon paper and typewriter, but that didn’t limit his approach to his work and how he did it. You can't have a better epitaph than that.