This interview is syndicated from the bi-monthly column for Oregon Wine Press, and “turns the tables” on Oregon wine industry writers by asking them about their own profession. The Q&As are modeled on the Wine Industry Network Advisor series, which features national and regional writers and journalists. You can also read it on the Oregon Wine Press Website.
A.J. Weinzettel, a technologist by day and an Oregon wine writer by night, has earned a level 2 certification from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust. He writes a weekly email newsletter, Oregon Vino Country, and has created Winederful, a social winery locator app (iPhone). An e-book detailing Weinzettel’s most recent winery experiences, “WeinNotes: Oregon 2020,” is available at www.sayhey.to/aj
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
Moving from Tennessee to Oregon in 2001, my exposure to wine was next to nothing. I was a little confused about what all the commotion was. Wine tended to have a focus at every event I attended. It took some time, but I finally came to appreciate the appeal of it all.
When I got serious about exploring all the different wineries, I researched where to visit, and I couldn’t find one source to give me the information I sought. I decided to create a weekly long-form newsletter providing insights about the winery and the people along with an iPhone App, Winederful, to help organize those visits.
What are your primary story interests?
Being a fan of memoirs, I cherish stories of life. The same holds true for wine. Tasting a wine while having the luxury of talking with the winemaker, I learn details such as “Yeah, I used a loose-grained barrel instead of a tight-grained barrel.” I also bask in sitting down to chat with someone in hospitality to take in their story to learn why they moved from the East Coast to the West Coast. Wine is a magical potion. Sprinkling in life stories, along with the geeky logic of winemaking, is fascinating! Give me these two elements, and I will have fun for months!
What would people be surprised to know about you?
Get me around a group of fellow southerners, and my Southern accent comes out faster than Bugs Bunny saying “That’s all folks.” Growing up in Tennessee with a few years in North Carolina and Georgia, it is easy to take the man out of the South, but taking the South out of the man is a horse of a different color. I’m also a fan of tequila.
How did you come to live and write in Oregon?
I was born in Missouri, but Tennessee is where I grew up. While working for McKee Bakery, aka Little Debbie, I attended a tech conference in Salt Lake City. Reading about all the tech in Silicon Valley, I wanted to move out west. Six months after departing Salt Lake City, I was presented with an opportunity to move to Oregon.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
Pinot is king in Oregon, and everyone under the sun knows this fact. Bring up Chardonnay or Riesling in a conversation about wine, and most people will say, “Oh, I don’t like Chardonnay. It’s too buttery.” or “Riesling is too sweet.” And the most common phrase, “I am a red wine fan.” These preconceived notions about Oregon Chardonnay and Riesling need to be debunked. Winemakers are knocking it out of the park using other varietals beside Pinot. I want my readers to have a desire to leave their warm fuzzy security blanket of Pinot in front of the fireplace and venture into depths of the unknown.
What’s the best story you’ve written?
Last year, I visited a winery, and it was, hands down, the best experience I have ever had. It started with what seemed like a typical tasting, and it [veered] off in a direction I couldn’t have even imagined. I was conflicted writing about this experience because it felt like I was ruining a surprise, but I had to get it down on paper. I spent way too much burrowing down so many rabbit holes, but it’s so rewarding when you surface with so many backstories. The hospitality Andrew brings to Abbott Claim is going down in the record books for years to come.
Read the story here: Abbot Claim
Can you describe your approach to wine writing?
I have seen so much new tech over the past 28 years. There appears to be a trend in tech where the “human element” is going by the wayside. Everyone in the process is worried about staying on two-week sprints and checking off digital boxes instead of following some basic logic. We get so caught up in the process people often take a back seat. When I sit down to write about a winery or a wine, people are at the forefront of the story. We can never have too many connections. Every week, I sit down to create a bond with the reader to the winery.
What are you working on now (for your own site or other outlets/publications)?
I am constantly polishing up rough edges in my iPhone app, but my next big update will be launching in August. There are more and more sparkling programs launching in Oregon. I want to highlight sparkling wines I feel others will enjoy.
If you review wines, describe your process. What happens to that extra wine?
I pay for 99% of the wine I review, but it’s not uncommon for me to have two to three bottles at a time. One, it’s nice to have the variety consistently. I’m not particularly eager to rush through a process. Taking notes on days one, two, and three is an incredible process of getting to know a bottle of wine. When a bottle is absolutely singing on day three, I make a note to hold onto the other bottles for a splendid occasion 10 years down the road.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
I don’t consider myself a journalist. I am more of a storyteller. When I visit a winery, I politely listen to the “check off all the boxes you’re instructed to tell customers” speech, but that’s not where you get the real meat and potatoes. Having the ability to sit at a table or walk a vineyard to have an authentic conversation builds trust and rapport for a lasting working relationship. It isn’t easy at times. Plus, it’s time-consuming! It’s worth it in the end when both parties take the time to invest in each other.
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?
There isn’t enough time in the day to explore all the nooks and crannies of a story. I spend way too many hours listening to the incredible interviews of the Oregon Wine History Archives and other podcasts!
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Between a full-time job, being a parent, writing a weekly newsletter and building an Oregon wine platform, days off are few and far between. On lovely sunny days, you will find me on my road bike, cycling the hills of Wine Country while listening to an audiobook or a podcast. Every year, I enjoy doing a weeklong 500-mile ride with Cycle Oregon.
What’s your cure for a wine hangover?
Wake up. Take two Aleve. Order a Venti Coconut Milk Chai Tea Latte with no water at 190 degrees. Catch up on blogs and eat a big breakfast with three glasses of water.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
Oregon, hands down!
CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s celebrating his 12th 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, Walla Walla, Columbia Valley and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.