Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. I expect you’ll discover more about wine writers that you know, and learn about many others. The objective of this project is to understand and develop working relationships with journalists. They are after all, those that help tell our stories and review our wines. What better way to obtain media coverage than to learn their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges and pet peeves. This is also part of an ongoing series that is being featured monthly by Wine Industry Network. Last month’s interview featured Virginie Boone, Wine Enthusiast, who once covered the NFL for ESPN, wrote travel guides for Lonely Planet, and now mostly covers the California wine business.
Joe is a consultant, musician and professional wine reviewer in the greater Philadelphia area. He authored a freelance wine column for Playboy.com and was previously the wine expert for Answers.com. Joe holds Level 2 and Level 3 Certificates in Wine & Spirits from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) in England. He’s a member of the U.S.-based Society of Wine Educators, holding their Certified Specialist of Wine CSW) qualification. He also holds the Wine Location Specialist (WLS) qualification from the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), and is a member of the Wine Century Club (but that last one’s just for geeky bragging rights, really).
Joe has contributed to and/or been quoted in the L.A. Times, New York Times, CNBC.com, The Washington Post, Mutineer Magazine, Publix® Grape Magazine, Palate Press, Mint.com, Parade, Wines.com, SOMM Journal, The Guardian UK, Table Matters, Wine Nabber, Wine4.Me, Nomad Editions’ Uncorked and Chester County Cuisine & Nightlife. His unique wine mini-reviews (composed in 140 characters or less via twitter) have been used in popular iPhone and PDA wine applications such as Sipp, Hello Vino, TedRec and Pocket Wine Assistant. He’s also been a judge in wine competitions (such as the Critics Challenge International, the San Francisco International, the Lake County Wine Awards, California State Fair Commercial Wine Competition, the Wines of Portugal Challenge, and the Argentina Wine Awards), wine writing competitions, and award programs (such as the Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year Award), and authored the freelance wine column Wined Down for Playboy.com.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I was an avid consumer. Not a collector, just someone who fell off the deep end in terms of geeking out over wine’s combination of hedonistic pleasure, geography, history, chemistry, agriculture, etc. The blog was started as an adjunct to a business idea that never took off. The blog, however, gained influence (for reasons I still don’t fully understand), and 11+ years later, I’m still doing it (and other wine-related stuff).
What are your primary story interests?
Well, for other outlets I’ve done… pretty much everything under the sun. For 1WineDude.com, however, I tend to focus on wines and regions that don’t get a lot of media play. Consequently, I’ll get asked to visit off-the-radar wine regions, and I almost always say Yes.
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? If so, how have you succeeded? If not, why not? What are the challenges and hurdles you face?
No. It’s not really possible; not with just writing, anyway. You HAVE to segue your reputation into media/writing/competitions/speaking gigs/what-have-you. Income pooling, in a freelancing world. The number of real opportunities isn’t that large.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I still cry sometimes when watching really poignant movies.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your wine writing?
You’ve succeeded when you can vehemently disagree with someone like me and make your own informed choices about wine without having to have them validated by me (or someone like me).
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I’d either still be doing the senior management grind in corporate America, or clawing out some kind of living as a full-time musician.
How would you like the wine community to remember you?
Great question. I’d like to be thought of as someone who was able to crack the traditional mold around “ivory tower” wine writing, and thus was able to empower people inside and outside the wine biz towards more independence, and, hopefully, increasing their love for the stuff overall.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
When I get hired to write, it’s at the discretion of the editor; I can do any style that someone might want. For my website, it’s all about getting to the essence of something quickly and quirkily. For features on 1WD, I decided to take the “traditional” elements of how those stories have been structured for what seems like forever, and explode them into a huge mess; then I go through the mess, pick up the elements that I like best, and rearrange them into… something. Usually it works, though sometimes it’s like the writing equivalent of experimental jazz…
Do you work on an editorial schedule or develop story ideas as they come up?
Generally yes to both; I aim for two posts a week on 1WD (a mini-review roundup, and some form of feature). I often have NO idea what I will write about during a trip, and story ideas present themselves often after when I am reviewing notes, etc.
Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?
A writer gets paid to write. An influencer has influence on others who make decisions (usually related to purchasing) within a given field. I’m fortunate enough to be/have been both. I tend to influence the influencers within wine, which I find kind of odd because that was never an intention and I write on 1WD for my own pleasure and generally more geared towards intermediate consumers. Obviously – and, I suppose, luckily – I failed.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Do your homework. Sh*t, do ANY homework. Blanket PR pushes don’t really work anymore in a world that’s increasingly online and increasingly niche-focused. Have a specific reason as to why you are contacting a journalist, and it needs to be better than “I want to get my crap in front of as many eyeballs as possible.”
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
I’m not sure that I understand the question. And I am sober as I write this. 🙂 I actually find that the better PR folks don’t work for wineries, but have them as clients (so that each party can focus on what they do best).
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and wine reviews?
By far the most frustrating thing is being banal. No one really cares about your marketing material, they want to connect with you on a human level. There’s a lack of that vulnerability in the wine world sometimes.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Napping. Hanging out with my kiddo. Teaching myself new things. Adventuring with my girlfriend. And of course playing Rock Star for real in my band.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
Probably that time that time I visited Madeira, and the folks at D’Oliveiras suggested that, since we were going back to the old stock, we might as well taste the 1850 Verdelho because of how well it was drinking. No one has ever been more right in the history of good suggestions!
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Favorite recipe/pairing?
Right now, it’s pecan pie with the oldest Tawny Port possible.
CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background, going on his 10th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years – originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).