“Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. We hope you’ll discover more about the wine writers you know, and learn about many others. The objective of this project is to understand and develop working relationships with journalists. After all, they are the ones that help tell our stories, review our wines, and potentially provide media coverage. You can do this by learning their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges, and pet peeves. This is part of an ongoing series that will be featured monthly by Wine Industry Advisor.
Alexandra Russell was named Managing Editor of Wine Industry Advisor (WIA) in April 2022. Prior to this appointment, she’s been a freelance writer, editor, and project manager; editor-in-chief for Spirited magazine; the editor at NorthBay biz magazine; and, well, editor, editor, editor. She lives in Sonoma County with her human family and too many cats. She can be reached at .
You describe yourself as an “Editor by Trade.” How so?
I came to editing and writing naturally. My father was a writer — short stories, novels, essays, editorials; history, fiction, opinion, biography — so that’s what I grew up around. I edited his books and stories while still in high school, and found I was both good at it and enjoyed the work. Post-college, I’ve always worked as an editor and writer. I consider myself an “editor who writes” and not the opposite.
Tell us about your deep background working on business and trade publications.
I’m a magazine person. I’ve dabbled in newspaper writing and contributed to a few books, but magazines are my preferred media outlet. I started out of college as an intern at a Northern California music magazine; when I left six years later, I was managing editor. From there I went to an independent record label, a radio trade publication in San Francisco, and an eLearning website — all in top editorial positions. After taking a “mommy break” and returning to Sonoma County, I joined a local business magazine as editor. Being employed by publications that face the working sides of various industries has given me a unique perspective on how to talk to businesspeople about trends, tactics, innovations and strategies that move them forward.
How did you land the Wine Industry Advisor’s editor position?
In 2017, I was hired to found Spirited magazine, a forward-thinking trade publication that covered wine, beer, spirits and cider as a single industry. While at Spirited, I met and became friends with George Christie, president of Wine Industry Network. We often talked about working together, especially once Spirited became a casualty of the pandemic downturn. When this opportunity came up, it was a golden ticket.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
Every job is different, in terms of pace, focus, and audience. Right now, I’m still settling into the routine at Wine Industry Advisor. Luckily, I have a great group of writers that keeps me supplied with good ideas. My challenge is to balance breaking stories with more overarching topics.
Can you advise writers how long to wait for pitch responses before moving on? What about offers for “first look” and exclusive first rights? Best way to professionally follow up?
Personally, I’m most comfortable communicating via email. It gives me a paper trail if I need to backtrack (What deadline did I give? What was the word count?). Give it a week before following up with a gentle nudge (“Just checking in to see if you’ve had a chance…”) as opposed to a full out assault (“You haven’t responded…”). As a rule, I don’t accept “first look” or prewritten articles.
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? What are the primary challenges writers face?
The primary hurdle for any freelance writer is the need to constantly market yourself. It’s hard enough to find good stories, but the pitching process can be demoralizing. It’s important to realize that even if a media outlet likes your story, it may have internal constraints you know nothing about (budget, prior commitments, editorial directives). If an editor tells you to keep pitching, believe them. If they tell you otherwise, believe that too.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
Be specific with your pitches. “You should write about us” isn’t good enough. “Family-owned” and “estate grown” aren’t enough. What makes you unique? What story do you have to tell? What innovations are you making? How can what you’re doing/not doing help other wineries in a similar position?
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
Publicists know the language. The good ones understand how editors and writers think and come with tailored pitches — not a “same idea to everyone” approach. They’re also extremely helpful in terms of scheduling, providing research and follow-up assets (such as photos, data reports, and additional sources, when needed). They make writers’ and editors’ jobs easier, and we love them for it.
What are your primary story interests?
I like talking to and about people. I would rather ask someone what they’re doing — and why — than study and analyze data. Everyone has a story to tell, and that’s what interests me.
What are your primary palate preferences?
I’m a wine drinker, not a wine taster. My favorite wines are the ones shared at a table of family and friends. That said, I have a lot of family and friends in the wine industry, so that table usually has some pretty great stuff on it.
You’re a Sonoma County, Calif., native. What has changed, and what keeps you there?
My family moved to Petaluma, Calif., the summer before I started second grade. It was the early ’70s and the county was still quite rural. I mean, I know it’s still pretty pastoral, but I’m talking about vast acres of open fields alongside Highway 101 and long stretches of nothing (OK, cows) between towns.
I moved around after college — chasing jobs, and starting a family — but ultimately ended up right back where I started. It’s not so much what keeps me here as what brought me back: Family.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m a European football (soccer) snob. I love the British Premier League — any game, any teams — but will settle for La Liga (Spanish), Serie A (Italian), or Ligue 1 (French) if the top teams are playing. During World Cup, I’ve been known to watch four games per day just to keep up on my brackets, and I can’t wait for Qatar 2022 in November. I’m picking Senegal as a Dark Horse possibility. I also watch the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National teams faithfully and am excited to see if USMNT can get beyond the quarterfinals in Qatar.
What’s the best story you have written?
It’s not wine-related, but the work I’m most proud of is a collaboration with my father on a book called Workin’ Man Blues: Country Music in California. First published in 2000, it won the Ralph J. Gleason Award for Music Book of the Year, an honor presented by performing rights organization BMI, Rolling Stone magazine, and New York University.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
My father grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., and attended Garces High School, which was run by the Christian Brothers. One of his closest friends in school was a guy named Ramey Meyer. After high school, Ramey joined the order, became Brother Justin, and studied winemaking under Brother Timothy at Greystone Cellars in St. Helena, Calif.
Long story short, Justin eventually left the order, married his wife, Bonny, and the two founded Silver Oak Cellars (with business partner Ray Duncan). He and my dad were lifelong pals, getting together regularly to catch up, reminisce, crack jokes, tell stories and drink wine. I would love to go back in time and hear those two shooting the s*** one more time.
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.