A Wine-Fueled Adventure Among the Obsessive Sommeliers, Big Bottle Hunters, and Rogue Scientists Who Taught Me to Live for Taste
Bianca Bosker is obsessed with obsession. It’s inspired her award-winning stories for outlets like The New Yorker and The Atlantic, as well as her New York Times bestseller, Cork Dork, which traces her journey from tech reporter to sommelier. Now, she speaks to why we fixate on products and experiences, and how, by engaging with all five senses—a mindset she calls sensefulness—we can both enrich our lives and inspire the same passion in others.
“I loved this book. It’s not just about wine. It’s about learning how to listen to your senses, to more deeply experience and appreciate the world around you, and everyone could use another glass of that.”— Mary Roach, Author of Gulp
Bianca Bosker traded her career as The Huffington Post’s Executive Tech Editor for a job as “cellar rat,” embarking on an unprecedented journey through the wine world to probe, firsthand, the importance of our “forgotten” senses. Inspired by sommeliers who hone their senses the way Olympians train their bodies, she plunged inside neuroscientists’ labs, underground blind tasting groups, Michelin-starred restaurants, and mass-market wine factories as she trained to become a “somm” and uncover the rewards of a more flavorful life. The result is the instant bestseller Cork Dork—an unvarnished, no-BS investigation hailed by NPR and the NYT as one of the best books of the year, and praised as the “Kitchen Confidential of wine.” To famed writer Jay McInerney, “Cork Dork is a brilliant feat of screwball participatory journalism and Bianca Bosker is a gonzo nerd prodigy.”
An astute observer of culture and cutting-edge trends—and a contributing editor at The Atlantic —Bosker has traveled the country leading talks and tastings that probe the nature of obsession and the advantages of reconnecting with our senses. Now, she speaks to the myriad of ways we can enhance our connection to the world around us through actively and deliberately engaging with it: with the people that surround us, the environement at our fingertips, and the events that are shaping our society. For Bosker, wine tasting is the perfect gateway: not only does it teach you to rely on smell, taste, touch and sight for information, it always encourages great conversation—and learning to listen with an open mind is an incredibly valuable, enriching skill.
Bosker’s reporting and analysis on tech, food, and culture have appeared in publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Food & Wine, and The Guardian. She co-founded The Huffington Post’s technology section and has received multiple awards from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, as well as the Society of Professional Journalists.
Bosker previously authored Original Copies, the first definitive exploration of China’s “duplitecture” movement and a critically acclaimed investigation of copy culture. Described as “fascinating” by The New York Review of Books, Original Copies continues to be featured in leading publications and was named one of Gizmodo’s Best Books of the Year. She is also the co-author of a cultural history of bowling, Bowled Over: A Roll Down Memory Lane.
In her NYT bestseller Cork Dork, Bianca Bosker explored the fascinating world of oenophiles—people who treat wine as a way of life, and make shocking sacrifices in its name. In some ways, this was a natural fit for Bosker, who’s hooked on studying obsessives and the things they obsess over—be it televangelists, millionaire bloggers, or weapons sleuths. She’s explored the drivers of human behavior to provide insight into why we become obsessed, what unites the things that obsess us, how obsession spreads, and the surprising feats we undertake in its name.
Now, in this keynote, Bosker speaks to the process by which we get hooked, as well as the common attributes defining the people, things, and passions that possess us—be it bottles of Burgundy or bloggers. Of course, this is uniquely different—and more valuable—than simply being “viral,” which engages large numbers of people passively and fleetingly. Obsession fuels deeper, more lasting relationships that people actively nurture. From personal experience, Bosker explains what drives this behavior (and how to be mindful that obsession doesn’t tilt over into addiction), while also showing how healthy obsession can be a path to personal success.
While researching Cork Dork, Bianca Bosker discovered a subculture of people who live for taste. And by immersing herself in their world, she went from a life of sensory deprivation to one of sensory cultivation, developing her own senses well beyond previous limitations. In the process, she realized most of us settle for “secondhand sensing”—letting price, labels, and other information substitute for our own experience.
Today, neuroscience reveals that not only can we all train our senses, but also why we should bother to do so: when we attune ourselves to flavor, we engage our more critical, analytical, and higher-order parts of our brain. We’ve all heard of mindfulness. But Bosker came to embrace what she calls “sensefulness”—the idea that it is by tuning into our senses that we truly learn to make sense of the world.
In this talk, Bosker examines what we can learn by cultivating and stimulating the senses—in business and in life, as companies and as individuals. A return to physicality, through a mindset that caters to all five senses, can create analog competitive advantages in how we create products, design experiences, and behave as humans and employees. We tend to focus narrowly on the things we can hear and see. But appealing to touch, smell, and taste provides a means to persuade, charm, solidify messages, and excel. Smell, for example, is an overlooked vehicle for communication—we subconsciously exchange social cues through odors, such that we can “smell” illness, old age, relatives, even women’s tears (the scent of which alters men’s moods). Colors can alter our perception of a food’s flavor; smells can solidify memories.
Sensefulness provides a tool and discipline to tap into our emotions more directly, completely, and effectively, while creating powerful experiences that make us better people, and bring others to our cause. At the same time, tuning into our own senses allows us to stay true to our own felt experience—and avoid being manipulated by noise.