“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.
Anna Maria Giambanco DiPietro is a writer based in Santa Barbara County, Calif. With her WSET 2 with distinction certificate in tow, she writes for Edible Santa Barbara, Wine Enthusiast, the American Wine Society Journal, Wine Country This Month and additional publications focusing on the wine and food scene.
Drawing from her experience as a beauty and wellness professional, plant-based cook and graphic artist, she aims to create approachable, educational content. You’ll likely find her tucked away among the vines, sipping sparkling wine while planning her next food pairing. Watch for her byline in Wine Enthusiast, and you can follow her on Instagram @AnnavedaBeauty
Tell us your origin story. How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
Growing up in New York, my father would make small batches of wine each year in our backyard. I have such vivid memories of picking up crates with him at a railroad siding where a boxcar filled with California Zinfandel would park for a few weeks each autumn.
After attending art school, I worked as a graphic designer for Modern Bride, Martha Stewart, and other high-profile luxury brands before switching to a career in wellness. I taught yoga and meditation and launched a yoga studio in Pelham, N.Y. Later, I began writing for a lifestyle publication out of Edinburgh, Scotland, and I toured North America teaching and writing.
When I landed in Los Angeles a few years later, I worked as a wine steward and tour guide at one of the oldest wineries in the United States. During my time there I began taking wine classes and pursued my WSET certification. This prompted me to relocate north of the city to write among the vines in Santa Barbara County, where I currently reside.
Congrats on the new Wine Enthusiast assignment. Tell our readers how this came about.
In short, I’ve literally worked my butt off for the past few years. I’ve put together a vast portfolio of my published food and wine writing, including my work for Edible Santa Barbara, Wine Country This Month, Michigan Uncorked, the American Wine Society Journal and Caviar/DoorDash. Last year, I wrote 500 restaurant profiles for Caviar, which was a great exercise in quickly researching, writing and delivering content for a glossy entity.
I also write for Coco Eco Magazine, an eco-luxe publication, and for wineries in California and Oregon, so I’ve amassed quite a lot of work. I’m thrilled to write for Wine Enthusiast — it’s been a very clear goal that I set and have diligently worked toward.
Are you a staff columnist or freelance?
I’m freelance with everyone now, and I love the flexibility it affords me. I have so many excellent clients and writing for each of them brings me great joy. Not to mention I’m always tasting different varieties, styles, experiencing new AVAs and researching a broad array of topics. It keeps things fun, fresh and stimulating.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I suppose it depends on whether they’ve met me or not.
I produced a plant-based instructional cooking series when I lived in New England, where I also learned to snowshoe. I grew up in the food and beverage industry, helping my parents with their Italian restaurants in Westchester, N.Y., so I know my way around the kitchen and I’m pretty fearless when it comes to tackling a new recipe. I’m currently experimenting with an outdoor pizza grill and hope to get that up and running this fall. And I’d love to write a book that’s part recipes, part stories, at some point.
You’re bilingual — English and Italian — were you encouraged to speak both as a youth?
Yes, we grew up speaking both English and Italian — a Sicilian dialect, to be specific — and later, I studied Italian in high school and college. These days, I try to teach my husband a few phrases here and there. To practice and maintain my pronunciation, I read Italian recipes and articles aloud in my kitchen, usually while something’s baking or simmering in the background. It’s coming in handy now, as I’ve been corresponding via email in Italian regarding the Sicilia DOC.
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I can’t imagine my life without this work now that I’m in the flow. I wake up every day excited to get to work on r&d, conducting interviews, sampling and generating pairing suggestions. But if pressed, I’d say that I’d likely be writing natural beauty and lifestyle content. Perhaps pursuing horticulture and enology studies — that would be pretty cool.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing?
I take a pretty romantic approach when it comes to wine; I like to think about the people behind every vintage, from vineyard to fermentation to label design and bottling. Each bottle contains a story, and I love to give these bottles a voice — tell the story of the grapes, the soil, the weather that year — and share that with the world.
I try to educate in a fashion that’s informative and approachable, yet not dumbed down. I have legal pads, pens and stacks of books on my kitchen table. Whenever the mood strikes, I scribble notes. Then once a day, I set about actually weaving it all together. There’s discipline, but it’s also freestyle, and it works — just ask my clients. I’ve never missed a deadline!
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a story focusing on the wines of Santa Barbara County for Edible Santa Barbara’s Fall issue, so I’ve been out tasting and interviewing all over Buellton, Lompoc, and spending lots of time on Santa Rosa Road. Simultaneously, I have pieces in the pipeline featuring various types of stemware, a local brewery, wine and natural skincare, as well as lots of food and wine pairing content for Sommsation.
What is your tasting process for wine reviews? What happens to all that extra wine?
I don’t necessarily review wine, I talk about wine. Each person will have their own experience when they taste. That being said, I generally plan a meal around whatever I’m sampling and focus on that one bottle — slowly and deliberately. In doing so, I give the wine my full attention and when I sit to write about it, the work flows from an honest, informed, authentic place.
IMO, speed-tasting and then writing about a bottle is like kissing someone once and writing a tell-all about them as a lover. These things should take some time so that the writer has a chance to dive in and generate content that rings true.
Extra wine? It’s all shared and enjoyed over food and conversation. There’s no “extra wine.”
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
I always defer to the winemakers when it comes to interviews, as I have the utmost respect for their time and talent — my time in the trenches at a few wineries has given me that bird’s eye view.
My advice? Be yourself, share your stories, taste with them and have fun. I’d say that if you like the journalist’s vibe and existing body of work, trust the process and go with the flow. They’ll most likely shine a flattering light on you and your products.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
I deal directly with the winemakers/owners and have yet to have to go through any PR entities. I like a direct line in.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
Madame Clicquot Ponsardin, the “Grande Dame of Champagne.” She passed away in 1866, but I would love to chat with her over a bottle and discuss how she developed riddling. I’d need a translator, however, as I can say perhaps three phrases in French.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
When I’m not at the computer writing, you’ll find me out tasting, testing recipes and reading every food and wine book that I can get my hands on. I was also recently awarded a scholarship via the Glancy Foundation, so I’m preparing to take several wine courses through the San Francisco Wine School. Other than that, there’s lots of gardening, yoga and walks with our rescue pups.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
I can close my eyes and picture every tasting I’ve experienced — and I’m just getting started.
From excellent al fresco food and wine pairings at my in-laws’ home to sipping Vermentino, Petite Syrah, and Amarone during my time as a wine steward in Los Angeles, there’s a long list of memorable tasting moments.
Karen Steinwachs of Sea Grape Cellars once poured her Sauvignon Blanc for me at a picnic table in a peach orchard. Jessica Gasca of Story of Soil tasted me through a flight while production equipment was delivered and installed. I love being out in the vineyards or in the mix with the wet floors, barrels, vats, hoses and, most importantly, the people.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
Most recently, I’d have to say that sipping Babcock Winery’s Carignan alongside a burger on a balmy summer night was pretty spectacular. I’m also a fan of cold, crisp sparkling wine with potato chips that are dusted with truffles, Fiddlehead’s Grüner Veltliner with spicy noodles, and Vinho Verde or Albariño with grilled shrimp. Contrapuntal pairings are my favorite.
CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s celebrating his 14th 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.