Does Social Media Help Me Sell Wine?

The Ultimate Question. The Ultimate Answer?

Engaging in social media is like having your own PR department. I like to call it Consumer PR. You are initiating a conversation about your winery and presenting your brand to the public. For small wineries this can be a little scary due to perceived loss of control. Traditional media approaches like press releases, media outreach, advertising, and submitting wines for review are very important, but for small wineries the potential new audience reach and the economics around social media are compelling.

One of my long time clients recently said “Social Media is a waste of time.” This is puzzling to me because this is one way many people like to communicate. Interestingly, this specific winery has more social followers and gets more engagement than most other wineries. I believe that proving social media helps sell wine is the real issue. Before social media, could a winery prove that advertising, media coverage, events and festivals, or printed materials helped sell wine? Does anything other than hand selling wine help sell wine? The answer is yes and no, and proof requires vision, commitment, patience and an earnest effort to track and analyze the results of your marketing efforts. The reality is that the path to purchase is more complicated than ever and interconnected with other marketing efforts.

Brand Impressions

Brand image is incremental. Marketing professionals have long said that it takes between 7 – 13 touches to get a new customer commitment to purchase. With social media, wineries can achieve those touches and targeted impressions much faster than with traditional media approaches. Remember that the nature of social media is social, and that winery promotions typically should be a mix of informational (80%) and promotional (20%). In other words, establish your credibility before “The Ask.” Writing educational articles for your website about relevant wine topics and responding to all queries and comments is a great way to do this.

Engaging Consumers

Your DTC strategy is predicated on having a unique message – See my article What is your Voice? With social media, it’s easy to take an image based approach. Use Instagram and Facebook. Tag people, other wineries, wine industry businesses and associations to spread your message. Use photo captions and hashtags to focus on those customers who engage with brands online to expand the conversation. These customers spend more on average and have identified wine as an “Interest.” This makes targeting the conversation much easier. Twitter now allows images without character count, and using category hashtags like #wine #pinotnoir #winery #tastingroom help Twitter users search and find your posts.

Amplifying your message

Most people won’t act unless you ask them to. Include one (no more than two) call-to-action in every post, and include a link to your website or shopping cart, or dedicated landing page. You should always ask for likes, follows, comments, shares, tags, or check-ins to prompt readers to engage and help extend the reach of your message and ultimately build your base. Additionally, and unfortunately, most of your social media posts won’t be seen unless you advertise on social media, so having a modest monthly budget for this is imperative.

Consumer PR

Wineries understand the 3-Tier system. Here’s an analogy. “Social Influencers” are the distributors of impressions and a channel to new followers and potential buyers. Influencers can be print or online writers with a strong social presence and lots of followers – photo journalists; wine, food or travel bloggers; videographers or podcasters. They can also be consumers or brand ambassadors with strong wine interests and lots of followers. You can develop and nurture relationships with these influencers on a casual organic or paid basis, but it is certainly another way to amplify your message and indirectly sell wine by using social media.

The Ultimate Excuse

The ultimate excuse I hear from small wineries is – We’re just a small winery. We don’t have the staff or capacity to spend lots of time on social media, tracking and analytics, or marketing in general.

The Ultimate Response

The ultimate response is that you really don’t have any choice, and we already know the reasons – too many wineries, too few viable distribution options, limited access to on-premise and off premise outlets, and too much big money moving into your market with the wherewithal to promote their brands. And trust me; social media is just one of the tools in their arsenal. Does Social Media really help sell wine? Probably not directly, but if you stay top of mind, you will sell wine when people are ready to buy, otherwise you may easily be forgotten.

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2017 Oregon Chardonnay Celebration Review

Guest article by Neal D. Hulkower

The North, South, East and West of Oregon Chardonnay

The Seminar

The seminar which launched the 2017 Oregon Chardonnay Celebration at The Allison in

Newberg on 25 February took us on a tour. Ray Isle, executive wine editor of Food & Wine,

served as moderator and guide as we went “Roadtripping through Oregon Chardonnay Country.”

“People overlook how incredibly complex the wines can be,” Isle asserted. He quoted

winemaker Anna Matzinger who observed that a “high amount of intellectual capital is being

applied to Chardonnay in Oregon.” Five distinct examples from around the state substantiated

her claim.

Bob Morus of Phelps Creek Vineyards near Hood River represented the East. His 2014

“Lynette” Chardonnay had a pretty floral and fruity aroma and was sleek on the palate with nice

acidity and salinity.

Luisa Ponzi of Ponzi Vineyards in the northern part of the Willamette Valley advised that you

“want to catch [Chardonnay] right before it tastes great.” Her 2014 Aurora Chardonnay had a

toasty, fruity and nutty nose and a rich, balanced flavor.

Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra gets her Chardonnay from Shea Vineyard in the Western side

of the Willamette Valley. She admitted that she doesn’t “know how to pick before it tastes

good.” Instead she picks part when the acid is good then lets the clusters sit to let the flavors

develop. The 2014 Aurata Chardonnay offered complex aromas of oak and fruit in an elegant

dance. Similarly, the beautiful palate was rich and evolving, with a long, layered finish.

Heading a bit south, we heard from Ken Pahlow of Walter Scott. The 2015 X Novo Chardonnay

is from a young vineyard in the Eola-Amity Hills planted to fifteen clones. The nose was

dominated by toast and nuts but with air, spice and fruit emerged. The balance and acidity were

nice but there was little fruit on the palate. It was clear that more time is needed.

The tour ended in Southern Oregon. Bryan Wilson of DANCIN Vineyards discussed his 2015

“Melange” Chardonnay from grapes grown at an average of 1800 feet elevation. Initially muted,

the wine sat zaftig on the palate with some juicy fruit and richness but little acidity. Again, this

will benefit from additional aging.

Isle summarized the tour by highlighting the focus, tension and acidity common among the

Chardonnays featured. While elegant is a term that can be fraught since it might mean thin and

lacking power to some, these wines offered both elegance and power.

The Grand Tasting

We adjourned to the Grand Tasting. For two and a half hours, 46 wineries, including the five

featured at the seminar, poured their Chardonnays from either the 2014 or 2015 vintage.

Appetizers including mushroom popovers, deviled eggs, and smoked steelhead trout prepared by

Jory lent savor to balance the acidity and complement the richness of the wines.

In addition to the five served at the seminar, I sampled 28 bottlings. In general and not

surprisingly, the 2014s were less acidic and more fruity. In contrast, the 2015s were better

balanced, immature but showed great promise for age-ability. From the older vintage, the

standouts were the mouth filling offering from Brittan Vineyards; the lemony but lingering

Crowley Wines “Four Winds;” Chehalem’s complex Ian’s Reserve; the sleek Grochau Cellars’

Bunker Hill Vineyard; and the Matzinger Davies and the Evenstad Reserve from Domaine

Serene were two that were particularly food friendly,. Promising Chardonnays from the younger

vintage included the attractive Knudsen, the yummy Fairsing, the bright Big Table Farm, and the

juicy Willamette Valley Vineyards Bernau Block.

Reflections

It seems that Chardonnay never actually fell completely out of favor despite the now faded

“Anything But…” movement. It remains among the most planted grape varieties in the world,

second among whites to the Spain’s Airén. Naturally, as with Pinot Noir, Oregon winegrowers

have looked East to Burgundy rather than South to California in search of models of Chardonnay

greatness. What we now are seeing is beginnings of the payoff of the “intellectual capital” that is

being expended up and down the state. While there will never be a single style of Chardonnay in

Oregon, just as there isn’t in the Côte-d’Or, it is more distinguished and distinguishable from

what comes from California. No buttered popcorn or oak splinters here. Instead, balance and

acidity are king. This structure suggests greater age-ability, most recently for the vintage 2015

bottlings. The good news is that more producers around the state are embracing the grape, even

grafting over the less profitable Pinot Gris to it. If things keep up as they have been, Oregon

Chardonnay will be ready for a Cole Porter style tribute:

I love the smell of you, the lure of you

The fruit of you, the pure of you

The nose, the legs, the mouth of you

The east, west, north and the south of you

I’d love to gain complete control of you

And handle even the heart and soul of you

So love, at least, a small percent of me, do

For I love all of you

_____________

Neal Hulkower is a mathematician and an oenophile living in McMinnville, Oregon. His wine

writing has appeared in a wide range of academic and popular publications including the Journal

of Wine Research, the Journal of Wine Economics, Oregon Wine Press, Practical Winery &

Vineyard, Wine Press Northwest, and The World of Fine Wine. Occasionally, he can be found

pouring quintessential Pinot noir at the top of the Dundee Hills.

Does Media Coverage Help Me Sell Wine?

The Ultimate Question. The Ultimate Answer?

The only question more difficult than this one for a publicist is “Show me exactly how much wine I sold as a result of the media coverage you obtained for us”.

I was on the phone with a longtime client recently, and received a question I didn’t expect – Does media coverage help us sell wine? – It’s a difficult and broad discussion, and there are so many ways to respond, so instead I deferred and asked “Maybe you can be more specific”?

Let me give this a shot. Generally speaking I would say yes, although it’s difficult to quantify. But I think the question could more appropriately be – Does media coverage encourage consumers to buy wine from us eventually? – as I don’t think there is an instant and direct correlation (with the possible exception of 94+ point scores in Spectator and a few other high end publications) between media hits and selling wine. The reason for this is that people buy from brands they trust and have experienced. Short of that, consumers rely on 3rd party expert opinions to justify their purchases and loyalty. Readers respect writer’s opinions, much as they trust selected wine shop’s palates to guide their purchases.

Media coverage is one aspect of a comprehensive marketing program, and if you aren’t getting media endorsements – articles, reviews, scores – about your winery and wines, it creates an additional barrier to entry for consumers as they have too much choice and information to sort through these days. So yes, media coverage helps new customers discover your brand and wines, which should eventually lead to sales. The point is staying top of mind, and when the time is right and someone is ready to buy you should reap the harvest (couldn’t resist that analogy).

Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wine says “ I ask wineries featured in my Seattle Times column what kind of consumer feedback they got, and it ranges from a few calls and sales to the phone ringing off the hook, and a ton of sales and wine club signups. I also get feedback from wine shop owners mentioning upticks in sales when the column comes out. And if I review a wine that is difficult to find or happens to be sold out, I hear about it from the consumer.” Andy’s partner Eric Degerman adds that “Wineries can do themselves a favor by quoting and linking back to reviews of wines. Sharing on social media is important. And promoting a post for $20 will often get a lot of good reactions from consumers.”

Tracking the impact of an article via website analytics is worth the effort but tricky. You can correlate spikes of traffic within 7-10 days of an article or magazine review, but it is anecdotal at best. How many readers signed up for your email list after reading an article or review? What about Social Media follows and engagement? You can track these pre-sales actions, but you can’t track sales as easily. However, you now can market directly to those new subscribers, resultant from the media coverage, and hopefully eventually sell them wine. It is an ongoing process and requires vision and patience.

Online articles about your brand are directly track-able when linked back to the winery’s site. If you place a related ad, you can use promo codes for readers of those publications. You know exactly how many visitors came from that coverage because of the unique link or code, and if they purchased.

There are other potential results of media coverage to consider – What about retail store purchases? The wine shop or restaurant customer sees your winery on the list, and recognizes the brand, somehow. Maybe they don’t know from where or why but feel comfortable making a purchase because of some previous media impression. So no, media coverage doesn’t typically directly sell wine, but it greases the skids and removes barriers to enable new customer to find you and purchase your products.

That’s all fine and good and understood, but here is an even tougher question from said client – How do we get the writer’s audience to take action, i.e. to buy our wines? Should the writer be promoting wines that they like to their readers?

This brings us into the cutting edge realm of “Influencer Marketing” which is a hybrid of earned media and advertising, and includes both “they” (the writers) and “we” (the winery) promoting action. Where we want to be extremely careful is not to be perceived as collaborating with writers on advertorials like certain wine travel magazines offer, because people are savvy to that, and professional writers and reviewers lose credibility. There are writers for hire that are more focused on billings than investigative journalism that you can approach to promote your brand.

So how do we get THEIR readers to take action? – It is not the writers’ job to sell your wine as this is conflict of interest for any objective journalist. It is your job to leverage their content in your marketing.  See my article on using media coverage in your content marketing.

One way to leverage articles and reviews is to advertise on their site, place a banner ad or pay for a review. Take a look at Catherine Fallis’ Planet Grape website as an example – upper right hand corner are banner ads. Consumers will hopefully click, which could lead to sales. There are many other ways to pay-to-play with wine reviewers such as The Sommelier Company who will review your wines for a fee. I don’t believe the paid nature influences the actual score, although this always depends on the integrity of the reviewer or publication.

Another example are video reviewers who are paid to review wines, and will say nice and positive things, and post the video on YouTube and their social sites exposing your brand to their followers. I am also actively talking to other influencers in the wine, food and travel industries, and other outlets about doing the same. I think this is a better, superior option to simply running static print ads, and should be part of an overall advertising budget. Vetting the source, type of consumers and marketing program is a must before dedicating advertising dollars to any project.

In the end, no winery can afford not to do all the things that generate sales – either directly or indirectly – including marketing, PR and paid advertising (including Influencer marketing). It’s just too competitive out there and consumers have too much choice.

I think most of you inherently know this, so hopefully this article offers some points of clarification on the topic. Bottom line – Wineries will get more out of media coverage when they put more into it after it’s published. Please comment or email and let me know your thoughts.

Kudos to one of my long time client for continuing to ask the tough questions. You know who you are!

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 8th 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).

 

Do Small Wineries really need KPIs?

Continuous Improvement – preparing for the competitive storm

By Carl Giavanti and Aron Brajtman

If I had mentioned KPI’s eight years ago when I started doing marketing consulting, I would have been escorted out of the room, maybe even the AVA. That is not the case anymore.

Measuring your sales performance is critical, as much as we’d like to not believe it. Remember the “field of dream” days, when you could just make great wine and it would sell itself?  Until the great recession (2008-2009) timeframe you may have had this experience. We have fond memories of inventory depletions, really big Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends, and festivals and events where you sold a lot of wine. I remember many wineries saying they didn’t bother getting emails from consumers, nor doing a lot of marketing or tracking sales performance. KPIs? What?

Now we all know those days are long gone and wineries must run themselves like well oiled marketing machines to ensure their survival. I like to say that 50% of total staff time (including your own) needs to be spent on marketing – wholesale, retail, trade and DTC – whatever your channel mix.

Peter Drucker, business management guru once stated “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”, which brings us to the point of this article – Key Performance Indicators.

Don’t think these business measurements apply to your winery? Unless you are a cult winery that is fully allocated with a substantial wait list, bear with me and continue reading.

KPIs are a way for wineries to define success and measure performance, and make progress toward your business goals. For most small producers, DTC goals are selling more wine, improving sales efficiency, acquiring and retaining customers, and retaining staff and improving morale.

This article is primarily concerned with improving DTC sales performance, because the pool of high-end high-frequency consumers is limited and there are many more wineries marketing to them than ever. Additionally, we know that consumers can be fickle. They support your brand and bring their friends around when the value they get from interacting with the winery exceeds the price they are asked to pay. This is a topical issue as we are seeing early signs that the “premiumization” trend is weakening, with the introduction of new marks and second labels at lower price points.

When I query winery owners and managers about tracking and using metrics, I find that most can give me basic sales data such as total revenue by month or compared to last year, percent of tasting room versus wine club sales, DTC compared to other channels, and statistical data such as number of club members, size of email list, number of social followers, etc. However, not everyone successfully tracks total number of tasting room visitors (new, repeat, paid, comp, club), referral sources (how they heard about you), and staff performance and labor metrics.

Once you are capturing all of this data you’re ready to turn it into actionable management information that will drive business results. If you are not great with spreadsheets, or current system does not provide performance tracking functionality, find one that does.

Here are some basic winery DTC sales measurements (KPIs) to implement:

  • Sales per employee: The higher the number in the tasting room indicates whether the staff focuses on supplying the customer with value and whether staff captures a portion of that value for the winery.
  • Conversion ratios: What percentage of visitors to the tasting room actually buy? What percentage join the wine club? What percentage leave their email for further communication?
  • Average order value (AOV): Average sale per tasting room visitor? Is the trend going up?
  • Average annual wine club sales per member? What is the average add-on percentage?
  • What is the Wine Club attrition rate annually?
  • What is average tenure? What measures are taken to retain loyal customers?

Tie your winery’s goals to these measurements and clearly communicate the importance to staff:

  • Post individual, team and winery goals
  • Review and make adjustments monthly
  • Share success, and highlight team members
  • Establish a bonus program to reward staff

Continuous Improvement is the mantra for small production wineries and the key to survival in this ultra competitive environment. Start now – Create goals, track data, establish KPIs, then measure, improve and Repeat!

I track wine industry benchmarks for these KPIs. Feel free to contact me if you’d like that data.

Finally, thanks to Aron Brajtman for initiating this article, providing the KPIs from an accountant point of view and reminding me that even wineries need to be run as businesses. If you found the KPIs helpful, the next step is to understand KFIs (Key Financial Indicators) such as Liquidity, Earnings Growth, Profitability, Activity, Efficiency and Leverage. If you’d like a copy of the winery Financial Metrics white paper by Aron, please email me request at cgiavanti@mindspring.com.

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s completing his 8th 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).

ARON BRAJTMAN is a CPA and the owner of a CPA firm that deals uniquely in supplementing the operational skills and talents of entrepreneurs with accounting and finance strategy. Aron has over 30 years of experience providing accounting and business solutions to small and mid-sized businesses and nonprofit institutions. He is located in a fast growing wine region in Canada known as Prince Edward County where he provides services to local wineries and other businesses. http://www.abrajtman.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mobile Marketing is a Mindset

It’s also a Wine Marketing Strategy

Note: This article originally appeared in Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine, July-August 2016. Below you will find an introduction and excerpt. A complete .PDF copy of the article is available upon request.

It’s time to be mobile (which is to say, nimble). The marketing tactics that worked for you in the past may not be effective going forward. Don’t let the pace of technology pass you by. Yes, you’re the “publisher” of your brand stories and your wines, but consumers are the “editors” as well as the buyers you need to connect with the most — and on their terms. Amy Gross, founder of the Wine4.Me wine app, which creates unique taste profiles to match users to their favorite types of wines, offers this insight: “The wineries that meet their customers in the digital space will be the ones that thrive.” You can add “survive” to that as well.

What is being Mobile?
The acceptance of and interest in doing more on mobile devices is extremely high and growing faster than we can imagine. We’re all becoming extensions of our phones and tablets, and so should your winery’s business. In 2014, we reached the “tipping point,” where there were more mobile phones in the world than people. It’s simply grown from there. Mobile marketing is a mindset that every winery needs
to adopt because your competition already has. Being mobile also means getting untethered. Get away from the cash register or point of sale system. Get out from behind the tasting bar. Be among and interact with your customers.

Be Mobile Responsive

“Mobile responsive” is a clever term that acknowledges we live in a multi-device world, including desktops, laptops, tablets and phones with different operating systems and screen sizes. Therefore, the design of your website needs to respond to the device on which it’s displayed. But being mobile responsive also includes recognizing how people respond while on their mobile devices. For example, people are more likely to reply faster to direct messages and texting, rather than traditional e-mail, because they’re checking their mobiles all the time and messaging is immediate.

Top 10 Tips to Implement Now

You can email me at cgiavanti@mindspring.com to receive a .PDF copy of the entire article including the “Top 10 Tips” as it appeared in the July – August 2016 issue of Vineyard & Winery Management Magazine.

Engaging with Writers before “The Ask” – Part II

What do Writers really need and want?

Q&A Interview with Jim Gullo

This is the second part of a two-part series. Part one appeared in the May/June issue of The Grapevine Magazine and is available online. I continue my conversation with Jim Gullo about what it’s like to be a professional writer, and to discuss the wine business from his perspective. Jim is a self described Author, Journalist, Wine Writer, Food Eater & Pastryologist. He tweets, he writes, he eats and he’s coming back for more. His work appears regularly in the Alaska Airlines Magazine, Horizon Airlines Magazine, Oregon Wine Press and other publications. Turning to books in recent years, Jim has most recently authored “Grouch Bag,” a children’s novel about finding the Marx Brothers; “Trading Manny,” how he and his son learned to love baseball; and “Fountain of Youth,” a bittersweet novel about coming to terms with loss. He has also written 100s of magazine articles, and now writes from his perspective in the middle of the Willamette Valley wine country. You can learn more about Jim on his website and blog: http://www.jim-gullo.com/

I asked Jim to do this interview because I believe small wineries can benefit from his insights. In this section we’ll get into specifics about the mechanics of working with professional writers.

  1. How do you juggle multiple writing assignments – your books, travel and wine writing, etc?

I have been making this up as I go along for 29 years now, so am fairly good at looking for clients, pitching stories, researching and writing them and meeting deadlines. When I don’t have specific, paying assignments I try to spend my time working on book projects, which pay even worse than magazine writing but are creatively very satisfying and have a potential upside of sales. I don’t have as much time as I would like, to talk with people and explore if I don’t have a dedicated business reason to do so. Between family duties (I have two sons at home) and trying to keep my business afloat, I don’t have much time for speculative writing or research.

  1. When and how did you get interested in wine, and when was your first wine themed assignment?

I grew up in a winemaking region of western New York State and was always fascinated by the confluence of agriculture, nature and craft that goes into fine wine. I quit my job in New York in 1981 to go to France and Switzerland to pick grapes, and was exposed to lots of fine wine, and the charm of winemaking villages. Travel writing has brought me to places like the Piedmont in Italy, the Hunter Valley of Australia, the Loire Valley and the canals of Burgundy in France, and the wine regions of Oregon and Washington, and my food stories would invariably be intertwined with wine. In fact, I first “discovered” the Willamette Valley on an unrelated travel writing assignment, and knew instantly that I wanted to live here and report on the people making these extraordinary wines.

  1. Why is it important to read a writer’s articles in advance of contacting and pitching them?

It’s not one size fits all. There are lots of different writers doing different things, with different specific interests. My focus has always been to look for bigger stories to report, that fit my writing style, and I like to immerse myself and participate in a story where I can. It was perfect for me, for example, when Sokol Blosser recently invited me to attend one of their first cooking classes, and I could chop and cook and participate. Trade information about vineyard practices and clonal selections doesn’t do much for me. But I don’t think that everyone should know and have to keep up with every writer out there. Just keeping me in the loop of what you’re doing at the winery will allow me to decide if there is something I can use, or plug into an existing project.

  1. Do you think it’s helpful to subscribe to a writer’s blog, newsletter and social media sites if they are on your target media list? Why?

No…who has time for all of that reading? That’s a job for the PR professionals. I would say that if you like something you read, and it seems to fit with what you’re doing at your winery, you should note the writer’s name and make sure they’re on your contact list.

  1. Do you find that most small wineries have a unique and memorable story to tell/pitch? What makes for a strong “story hook”?

Sure, but I think that most of the stories are personal – about people. Why they’re doing this with their time and money, what brought them here, what are their backgrounds? I’m still a total believer in the Oregon paradigm of independent people coming here to craft something memorable, getting involved in the community and putting in their own sweat and tears (and money) to make great wines. The corporate and business story of rich people buying into the business and running it from afar leaves me cold. Also, there isn’t much I can do with stories about receiving scores, or vineyard practices and clonal selections, although those stories are useful to many of the wine writers and bloggers, as are Press Releases with real news.

Please keep in mind that there are now upwards of 700 wineries in the state of Oregon, 450 or so in the Willamette Valley alone. We can’t cover everybody. The people whom I wind up writing about took the time to make a personal connection, invited me to their events, allowed me to get to know them and sample their wines, and (this is important) make terrific wines. I can’t write about a winery if the wines are mediocre, even if I adore the people.

  1. What SHOULDN’T wineries do in their interactions with writers?

Oh boy, another question that I could go on and on about. For one thing, you should make sure that your website, press releases and blog are not riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. We writers have a special fondness for the language, and seeing it mangled leaves us cold. When you expound on your attention to detail in every aspect of your winemaking operation, but misspell every third word and have the grammatical awareness of a sixth-grader…well, I have to question your ability to recognize details. Having a professionally produced Media Kit is very helpful and saves writers time by summarizing the key facts they will want to know.

Also, blowing smoke won’t get you far. I once had a regional group of winemakers blather on to me on how their wines were far superior to Bordeaux – but they’d never been to France. Other people bragged about how theirs was a top tourist destination that everyone should visit…but there was limited lodging of any size in the region, and that was a casino. And the vineyard owners who bragged that they were growing “the grapes for a $100 pinot noir”…but didn’t much like pinot themselves and hadn’t tried many. Come on, people! Let’s get real.

Keep it simple, keep it honest, tell me what’s important to you about your operation and we will find some area to work together.

If you don’t have anyone on staff with the skills and/or desire to write and pitch your stories and your wines, you should consider meeting with and possibly hiring a PR professional to assist you.

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 8th 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).

Engaging with Writers before “The Ask” – Part I

What do Writers really need and want?

Q&A Interview with Jim Gullo

In this two-part series, I ask Jim Gullo what it’s like to be a professional writer, and to discuss the wine business from his perspective. Jim is a self described Author, Journalist, Wine Writer, Food Eater & Pastryologist. He tweets, he writes, he eats and he’s coming back for more. His work appears regularly in the Alaska Airlines Magazine, Horizon Airlines Magazine, Oregon Wine Press and other publications. Turning to books in recent years, Jim has most recently authored “Grouch Bag,” a children’s novel about finding the Marx Brothers; “Trading Manny,” how he and his son learned to love baseball; and “Fountain of Youth,” a bittersweet novel about coming to terms with loss. He has also written 100s of magazine articles, and now writes from his perspective in the middle of the Willamette Valley wine country. You can learn more about Jim on his website and blog: http://www.jim-gullo.com/

From the interview, Jim strikes me as a writer who has been there and done that. I asked him to do this interview because I believe small wineries can benefit from his insights. I hope this discussion demystifies the business and art of writing in general and wine writing specifically. Here we go!

  1. What has been your writing career path that led to where you are today?

Well, I’ve wanted to be a professional writer since I was in high school. I used to write articles for the school newspaper and then write parodies of those same articles at night for the private reading pleasure of my friends. I studied journalism and creative writing in college, and got my first job at New York Magazine as an editorial assistant by writing a silly parody of a resume. I quit that job to pick grapes in France and have adventures in Europe, found that nobody wanted to publish articles about those things, and then got sidetracked into doing public relations work for a few years, working for the Disney Studios in Burbank, CA. But I STILL wanted to be a writer, so at the age of 30 I quit having a regular paycheck and became a freelance writer, specializing in food, golf, culture and, secondarily, wine. I found that I could eke out a modest living and have a great deal of fun if I sold 5-10 articles every month, and my work appeared in Sports Illustrated, Bon Appetit, Saveur, Islands and many other magazines. I was sent on assignment to 37 countries for stories. Almost 30 years, 10 published books and a whole lot of magazine articles later, I’m still doing it and loving it.

  1. Who were your journalist-writer mentors or inspirations? Why?

Well, everyone, myself included, in the late-‘70s wanted to be Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist of Rolling Stone magazine. The idea of being very independent, telling the story the way you saw it and the way you wanted to, with lots of flair and passion, was tremendously appealing. Later, I came to enjoy the travel writing of Bill Bryson, who also brought his unique perspective and writing skill to his subjects, but without the over-the-top persona of Thompson. From both, and from my own early writings, I learned that I wanted to tell stories from my own firm perspective and voice, and my best work has always come from a first-person, “I did this, and then that happened” style.

  1. How has writing as a profession changed since you got in the business?

Oh my gosh, it has changed completely, and made it very difficult for anyone to make a living at this. I could go on for pages about this, but suffice it to say that 20 years ago I was happily writing regular columns and features for a half-dozen magazines that eagerly commissioned 5,000-word narrative travel stories for $5,000 each. Nearly all of those publications went out of business in the early-2000s, and now writers compete to sell 500-word blog posts for $50. The magazines that stayed in business actually pay less on a per-word basis now than they did 10 years ago. Everyone can self-publish at any time — and everyone does – so the quality has plummeted and professional writing is held in dim regard. Journalism is especially reviled these days (just watch a Trump rally and see how they all jeer at the press), and newspapers have gone out of business or cut staff down to nothing. Book publishers who would once take a chance on a beginning novelist now can’t afford to take on any authors who won’t be selling tens of thousands of copies immediately. A complete upheaval of the publishing world has occurred during my career.

Also, and this is important to a winery or marketer to note, there are no expenses paid to freelancers from publications anymore. Zip, zero, nada. Every time I travel, every bottle of wine that I buy, every meal purchased to report about the best new restaurants, comes out of my pocket and won’t be reimbursed by the publication. This means I have to either rely on comps from the people I’m writing about – tastings, samples, meals – or I have to rely on secondary information (like tasting notes). This dilutes my own strengths of reporting and information-gathering, and makes me uneasy, but outside of being independently wealthy, it’s the only way to compete now.

  1. What’s your biggest challenge as a writer (as it relates to the wine biz)?

Telling the truth and keeping the stories interesting. The wine business is a lot of fun, but the stories all begin to blur. [WINEMAKER & SPOUSE] left their jobs as [EXECUTIVE, ROCKET SCIENTIST, MARKETING SPECIALIST] to follow their passion for wine. They bought [12, 40, 125] acres in [THE DUNDEE HILLS, VAN DUZER CORRIDOR, ROSEBURG] and learned how to produce [PINOT NOIR, RIESLING, BORDEAUX BLENDS]. They think their wine is remarkable, and want to give me a tour of the vineyard. Trying to find a broader perspective and to find something unique to write becomes difficult – I’m not a trade journalist, and I don’t want to write the same story over and over, as a wine business magazine contributor would do. Also, everyone is falling all over themselves to over-describe the wines these days, and again I find that contrary to being truthful to readers and writing from an honest perspective. I am hardly a wine expert, nor do I have an educated palate, but I’ve tried wines that were borderline undrinkable, only to read later about these vast nuances found in them (notes of honeysuckle, a touch of cinnamon on the mid-palate, aromas of sandalwood, etc.). Editors and bloggers have now accepted this as a standard for wine coverage, and I think it’s wrong.

  1. Have blogs and social media impacted the market for quality writing and investigative journalism?

Yes, and it is an interesting combination of market forces, the changing nature of the writing/media business and what the readers want, which is short, quick, practical information. Media outlets that have staff positions available hire “social media editors,” not writers or journalists. Their job is to get page hits and grow readership, which is driven by catchy headlines and great images, which in turn will boost ad rates and attract paying advertisers. The quality of the writing is completely secondary, and there is no money in this business model to pay writers or photographers. For example, I used to write a travel column for a website that attracted an enormous 4 million hits/day, and they cut the column because they couldn’t afford the $50/week they were paying me for the column. Writers are also now expected to provide photographs to back up their copy…for free. At the same time, independent bloggers make zero money (not a little money, not a modest income…zero), and their blog serves as an introduction to people who will pay them for content – often the same wineries, marketing organizations and corporations whose wines they review. You will notice that hardly anything negative is ever written in the blogs or trade publications – that wine was horrible! How could anyone enter this swill in a competition?!  – because the blogger wants to build relationships WITH THE INDUSTRY, NOT HIS READERS. Most bloggers will tell you that they simply won’t write about people and/or wines they don’t much like, so that makes the stories they do write look blandly similar, with the same cast of characters featured. And look, we live among these winemakers, our kids go to school together, we are friends. I want them to succeed, and I won’t get much access to wineries or tasting events if I start ripping winemakers. Nor is there any business purpose for me to do so, since nobody is paying for this copy anyway, so for the most part I choose not to write negative things. But that takes away from providing honest reporting to the reader – another casualty of the internet age.

  1. Number one thing for a winery to keep in mind in its relations with writers?

Be there and respond to queries promptly. Return phone calls. If I’m on deadline for a piece and need some bit of information to finish it, it drives me crazy to not be able to reach someone at the winery. You’d be amazed by how many wineries don’t respond to e-mail or phone inquiries, don’t follow-up and don’t have basic information on hand – what year were you founded? How many wines do you make? How do you spell the owners’ names? How many acres are planted? – to share with reporters, or the blogosphere at large.

Well, it appears that I’ve unleashed the inner writer in Jim, so we decided to split the interview into two parts. Stay tuned for the second half of this interview in the next edition. I’ll be covering some very specific details about working with writers in next installment.

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 8th 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).