Ellen Landis, Journalist, Somm, Judge

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 Eric Degerman of Great Northwest Wine.

ELLEN LANDIS is a wine journalist, Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), Certified Specialist of Wine (Society of Wine Educators), professional wine judge, and wine educator, based in Vancouver, Washington. She spent four years as a sommelier at the Ritz Carlton and sixteen years as Wine Director/Sommelier at the award-winning boutique hotel she and her husband built and operated. Ellen is a moderator for highly acclaimed wine events, executes wine seminars for individuals and corporations, and judges numerous regional, national and international wine competitions each year. She travels extensively to many wine regions around the globe.

Contact Ellen at ellen@ellenonwine.com  and visit her blog at www.ellenonwine.com

Professional Background

How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?

It’s in my blood, my great grandfather made wine in Croatia.  As a Certified Sommelier, Wine Consultant and Professional Wine Judge, I have the opportunity to taste many wines from around the world.  In 2008 I was an invitee on a press trip to the province of Tarragona (in Catalonia, Spain). I wrote and pitched an article, which was published as the cover story for the Spring 2009 issue of the American Wine Society Wine Journal magazine.

What are your primary story interests?

1) The inside story of a winery and what makes each winery unique, 2) focus on wine regions, 3) wine competitions, and 4) the current vintage and how it measures up.

What are your primary palate preferences?

Pinot Noir, aromatic whites (Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Sauv Blanc), Sparkling wines and Champagne, Chardonnay.

Are you a staff columnist or freelance?

What are the advantages of both? Primarily freelance, nice to have the freedom to schedule my time.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? A few things:

1) Learning about wine at a young age was a passion of mine. I became particularly curious about this beverage. As a child I recall there was always wine on the table at family gatherings in my maternal grandmother’s home; my questions were endless.

3) Today, I typically judge more than 18 wine competitions a year (regional, national and international competitions). It is simply fascinating, and I give very careful thought to each wine put in front of me.

4) My colleagues and I, traveling in a posh stretch limo, spent an elegant and captivating evening with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Impressive wines and bites were served.  Her Majesty was attentive, thoughtful, and a pure delight.

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your wine writing?

The wine world is multi-faceted. There are vineyards and wineries all around the globe, run by engaging and talented individuals, making exceptional wines worthy of appreciation. Get out and explore what suits your palate!

If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?

I have a background in sales and sales management which I enjoyed immensely. My father spent his entire 50-year career in sales, so that’s in my blood, too.

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?

I like to engage with owners and winemakers at wineries to hear their story in their words.  As far as wine reviews, in judging wine competitions that include wines from around the world and attending many trade functions serving domestic and international wines, I gain exposure and the opportunity to taste a vast number of wines every year.  Many of my wine reviews come from wines tasted at these events, as well as media trips, and winery visits I have scheduled on my own.

Do you work on an editorial schedule or develop story ideas as they come up?

Primarily I develop story ideas as they come up. When something piques my interest, I reach out proactively to pitch my story.

How often do you write assigned and paid articles (not your blog)?

Twice a month or so. How often do you blog? Monthly, occasionally twice a month.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Respect appointments and time commitments and don’t rush through them, and be yourself (no one can do that better!).

What frustrates you most about working on winery stories or wine reviews?

Lack of (or slow) response to questions posed beyond the interviews/appointments.

Which wine critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?

Robert Parker, it would be quite interesting to hear his perspective on a variety of international wines tasted blind.

Which wine personalities would you like to taste with (living or dead)?

President Thomas Jefferson, he was quite a knowledgeable wine appreciator and collector, and I am told he is a distant relative of mine (through my father’s side of our family).

Leisure Time

If you take days off, how do you spend them?

Visits with son Brian and daughter-in-law Julie and other family members (I have five sisters!), ocean cruising, and land trips to wine regions are among my favorite pastimes. Husband Ken and I have been on two World Cruises on the incomparable Crystal Serenity ship in the past 4 years. It is culturally enriching, educational, full of new experiences, entirely enjoyable, and feeds my passion for exploring wines from around the globe.  I had the opportunity to visit wine regions far and away from home, including but not limited to regions throughout Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, France and Italy. Land trips have also taken me to many regions internationally including France (Bordeaux, Rhone, Burgundy, and Champagne), Italy, Chile, and Argentina.  Within the USA multiple visits to numerous regions throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, New York, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan have been enlightening. Yes, this ties in with work, but it is what I enjoy doing!

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

In October 2001 in Burgundy with traveling companions husband Ken and writer Peter Smith. We met up with Becky Wasserman, at Maison Camille Giroud in Cote de Beaune, Burgundy (In 2001 she became Manager at Maison Camille Giroud, and hired young graduate oenologist David Croix, who was 23 years old at the time, who remained there as winemaker/manager until his departure in October 2016). The tasting experience included an incredible 25-year vertical tasting of the fine red Burgundy wines crafted there; extraordinary! New York born Becky found her way to France as a young woman.  She once worked as a broker for a French barrel maker, selling French barrels to California wineries.  Her wine knowledge and experience gained in France over the years steered her to opening her own business (Becky Wasserman & Co.) exporting wines from small producers in the Burgundy and beyond. It has been in operation nearly 40 years now.  She is an erudite wine professional, and simply fascinating.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world? ONE favorite?

Impossible to answer! Each region is different, and I appreciate them all for the unique expressions they bring to the table.

Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s 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).

Winery Trade-Show Strategies

Trade Show Attendee Strategies

Rise to the challengeTradeshow season is coming up soon. Conferences usually last more than one day, so how to come out of the conference energized with ideas to grow your business? Unless you are visiting to purchase something specific (more on this later), here are three things to focus on during winery trade show – Promote Yourself and Your Brand, Market Research and Networking.

Promote Yourself and Your Brand – establish yourself and your winery business as a leader. You do this by offering information and assistance to your peers, and being participative during the trade show. This will also help you get Media exposure if it arises; requests to be a future panelist, which highlights your areas of expertise and further promotes you/your brand; and opportunities to participate in winery and industry associations. The other benefit of being active versus passive it that you’ll feel energized and recharged with new ideas and initiatives.

Market Research – you go to these shows and so does your (winery) competition. This is a prime opportunity to gather intelligence and best practices ideas. The payback for offering info is getting new ideas, techniques and emerging trends in return. Issues with stuck fermentations? Treatments for blights and bugs? POS and inventory issues? Thoughts on new legislations? How are they selling so much wine online? Is social media still working for you? How are you getting those scores and wine writers reviews? You get my point; now be sure to ask.

Networking – make friends with other winery principles and managers (also wine industry suppliers) that can help you. Don’t be afraid to initiate conversations – “First time at this conference?” “What do you hope to accomplish?” – that’s why people attend these types of events. Give some thought to your 20 second (or less) elevator pitch. Who you are, where and what you do, and what you’re hoping to get out of the trade-show. Note on boorish self-indulgent conversations – they happen! Don’t be afraid to gracefully leave. Your time is valuable. Make a nice comment about them or a comment on the conversation, then exit stage left. But, never burn bridges. I’ve been amazed over the years how someone of little interest has come back around in a valuable way.

Why not conduct business meetings during show breaks? Find new dealers and vendors to establish long term relationships. You will eventually need their help, products and services in the future. I find it helpful to immediately make notes on the back of business cards as follow-up reminders.

Note to Winery Staffers: if you are an employee being sent to the conference, this is not a paid holiday, but an opportunity to learn, network and report back to management. Establish up front goals for research, education and market intelligence. Setup a meeting to report back your findings and recommendations.

Logistics and Tactics – download and print the show agenda and attendees lists. Identify and highlight (yes, use a marker pen if you must) which “must do” classes and sessions to attend and which speakers you want to talk to. Schedule yourself and stick to the schedule. Download the trade-show mobile app. Use it to automate what’s noted above, identify attendees to seek out, initiative chatroom and feedback conversations using appropriate confab #hashtags. Our nature tendency is to kibitz with established wine business friends, taste wine and relax. Resist this and stay on plan. This is your investment of time and how you outpoint your competition. Take an end row seat in the middle of the room. This enables you to see the entire audience for influential and information contacts. It also provides easy regress when you need it.

Who else is attending the show? Highlight those contacts who have the most value and make a short list to refer to. What is it that you’d talk to them about? You’ll see them throughout the show and can spontaneously strike up a conversation. To do that, arrive early in the morning and hang out at the coffee and water stations. People will arrive relaxed and conversations are easy going. Be there early for breakfast and introductions. Look around the room and see who you want to speak to and sit with them. Stay late for wine tastings and social activities to make more connections. When “winesense” turns to nonsense, beat feet back to your room and get some shut eye in prep for tomorrows events. Review your contact notes and action items while memory still serves. Working out early in the morning and arriving top of the day’s agenda puts you one step ahead.

Plan on purchasing something? Consider your most pressing problem or need. Is it related to grape growing, wine making or marketing and selling your wines? Once you identified 1-2 business needs, decide if you have budget and what the time frame is to acquisition. This will help you have a business discussion with vendors, and acquire good and competitive information about their products and services. Should you make a purchase commitment at the show? This can vary based on whether you are offered a “Trade-show Only” deal that evaporates as soon as you depart the floor. Having spent many years in sales I know that these deals can be reconstructed or re-negotiated later. My strategy is to politely decline but give the salesperson your card and ask them to follow up after the show. It’s their job after all to do so. This puts you in a better negotiating position and not subject to artificial “sense of urgency”. You can also evaluate and leverage competitive offers without the strain of show deadlines.

Trade-Shows can be fun, educational and insightful. It’s one of those times during the year when we can visit with and learn from our peer and subject matter experts. It’s up to you to make the most of the opportunity. Oh, and if you see me at an upcoming conference, please be sure to say hello and ask what my goals and strategies might be!

10 years of Winery Consulting – What I learned

A Wine Marketing & PR Perspective

I was asked recently how I got started in the wine business. My experience is not unlike many small producers who transitioned from other business lives, learned on the job, but had the determination necessary to be successful. I am fortunate and appreciative to have worked with over 50 wineries in some capacity, initially as a DTC marketing consultant and starting in 2012 as winery publicist.

Marking 10 years doing anything is milestone, especially in the wine business given the pace of change we’ve seen. Wineries continue to recreate themselves by embracing marketing best practices and technology innovations. The pace of change has picked up with no end in sight. The one constant we can all bank on are relationships. If you’re a publicist, it’s the relationships you develop over a long period of time with writers, media outlets, winery and travel associations and occasionally with other publicists and marketers. If you’re a winery, relationships that matter most are with your customers, staff, wholesalers, other service providers, and the wine community. Going forward I’m guessing that people will continue to matter most, followed by product and wrapped in good marketing and brand promotion. Here are some general observations related to small production wineries in Oregon, over the past 10 years.

2009 – The way things were

  • DTC marketing – a relatively new channel for small producers with little distribution. Focus on tasting room openings and wine clubs, starting mailing lists, email marketing and social media
  • We’re farmers – most common response to queries about marketing plans
  • Marketing plans and consulting services – those were for real businesses! And, we used to sell out in past years!
  • Paid Content – print advertising is still widely used for winery promotions
  • Wine clubs – not as prevalent – 70% had some form, many needing revision
  • Websites – many wineries upgrade to WordPress and other content self-management systems
  • Social media was a new thing – common responses included – It’s not for us. Do I need to do this?
  • Holiday weekend sales were legendary – reports of $15,000-$20,000 weekends were common
  • Staffing – Few hospitality managers and very few digital marketing managers
  • Brand Building – relied on distributors. Distribution mix to DTC was 80% to 20%
  • Distribution consolidation – started with 2008-2010 recession. Small Wineries phased out of markets. Focus turns to smaller cities and regional markets. Much effort expended on market trips
  • Wine quality – still varies by producer. Collaboration on techniques is improving uneven quality
  • Media Coverage – wineries are occasionally being discovered. Active media outreach is minimal
  • Great recession ceases in 2010-2011. U.S. stock markets reach record high. Confidence, optimism and new investment returns

2012 to 2018 – It’s getting competitive

  • Owned Content – wineries focus on updated websites, blogs, social media, news, photos, videos and designed collateral
  • Regional, AVA and Tourism Associations – emerge as marketing organizations with enhanced budgets from new member dues, grant funding, fundraising
  • Experiential marketing – became a thing around 2015, which leads to hiring of hospitality, tasting room and club managers as the new standard in tasting room staffing. Multiple “experiences” offered
  • Winery specific software – facilitates target marketing and customer relationship management. Development of applications and technology create opportunities for hospitality staff to customize customer experience and interactions. Website analytics allows tracking of activities and results
  • Competition – new vineyard planting and winery brands proliferate due to factors including changing weather, quality and integrity reputation, and significant outside investment
  • Channel Mix – is evolving to 20% Distribution and 80% DTC
  • Wine quality – quality is a “point of entry” for consumer sales, and is widely accepted due to production experience, collaboration & technical advances
  • Media Coverage – wineries recognize the need to stand out in a crowded marketplace, and recognize brand building as their responsibility, although take a passive approach to promoting themselves. Winery associations offer members exposure to media activities, contacts and inquiries.

2019 until?

  • Branded versus Grower-Producer – the influence of winemaker personalities will diminish as well-funded large wine groups out-spend, out-price, and out-market small brands
  • Consumer visitation – becomes longer and more focused. Extended visits equate to less tasting room traffic, as people stay longer, visit fewer wineries but have higher quality experiences. Conversion rates increase, although less traffic equates to fewer opportunities for club sign-ups and new digital subscribers
  • Wine Club Retention – remains as issue as consumer have much choice and are gaming the system. Loss prevention becomes strategic for DTC management
  • Online Sales – this DTC sales channel has much underrealized potential. More wineries will activate eCommerce programs as an additional revenue source, and to manage customer contacts, interests, transactions and history. The overall customer relationship will be highly managed
  • Staffing – scarcity of trained and qualified staff is an issue, whether within the wine industry or hospitality industry. This calls out the need for sales automation and technology investment
  • Digital Marketing – 2019 and beyond will see the hiring of digital marketing managers as the most important role, in coordinating all marketing functions with a focus and emphasis on e-commerce.
  • Media Coverage – the need to develop “Top of Mind” awareness becomes apparent. Wineries will begin to add communications professionals to staff, at least in a part time role. Active media outreach and brand promotion campaigns will be coordinated with digital marketing staff
  • Channel Mix – some producers give up on distribution and moved to 100% DTC

These are halcyon days for the wine business. Who knows what the next economic cycle will bring? Consumers have disposable income and purchases of $80-$100 bottles are not uncommon. Update and invest in your business now, while the going is exceptionally good.

 

 

Eric Degerman, Editor Great Northwest Wine

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 Karen MacNeil, Author of the Wine Bible.

ERIC DEGERMAN is president/CEO for Great Northwest Wine — an award-winning news website that covers the wine industry of Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Idaho. He co-founded Wine Press Northwest magazine in 1998 and resigned from the Tri-City (Wash.) Herald in 2012 to launch Great Northwest Wine with Andy Perdue. Eric lives in Richland, Wash., with his wife, Traci, and their pride of rescue cats. He has judged the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition since 2005. For more information on Great Northwest Wine, go to https://greatnorthwestwine.com.

You can follow Eric and Great Northwest Wine on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and read their editorial and wine reviews at https://greatnorthwestwine.com

Professional Background

How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?

My interest in wine started with Dad’s love of golf and his desire to leave the Idaho Panhandle during the winter months. He and his wife became snowbirds in Southern California, and when they weren’t playing golf, they would visit tasting rooms in Temecula. This led to their subscription to Wine Spectator. During the holidays of 1997, I looked over the year-end issue. There wasn’t much about wines of the Pacific Northwest. Then again, there wasn’t much being written in the Northwest about the industry. I remember Tom Stockley at The Seattle Times, Cameron Nagel’s culinary-focused Northwest Palate magazine in Portland and the erudite John Schreiner in British Columbia. Cole Danehower had not yet rolled out his Oregon Wine Report.

At the same time, I wanted to transition from the Western Hockey League beat at the Tri-City Herald to write a regular outdoors column and take on an editing role. Meanwhile, Andy Perdue was a copy editor at the Herald, and his duties at the time included overseeing our food section each week. Longtime agriculture reporter Bob Woehler’s weekly wine column helped anchor that section, so Andy was learning about wine, too. Andy and I often found ourselves kibitzing about wine while we were waiting for the press to start at night, and when I mentioned to him about the lack of Northwest content in Wine Spectator, I said something along the lines of “someone needs to start a magazine that’s dedicated to Northwest wine.”

Andy mulled it over, met with the Herald publisher the next morning and told him, “We want to start a wine magazine, and we want you to pay for it.” Remember, this was 1997. You could do that as part of the fourth estate in those days, and Andy had earned the trust of management by overseeing the newspaper’s niche publications and spearheading the newsroom’s groundbreaking move into pagination. He became Wine Press Northwest’s editor-in-chief and did about 95 percent of the work for the first seven years. I served as associate editor until 2005 when I left the sports desk to help Andy run the Herald’s interactive media department.

When it came to the wine part, we had some great mentors to help us develop our sensory skills. We had good fortune to be introduced to Coke Roth, a distributor-turned-attorney who lived in the Tri-Cities and was among the country’s most sought-after wine competition judges. One of the Herald’s veteran editors, Ken Robertson, had been tasting wine on a serious level since the late 1970s. And “Bargain Bob” Woehler prompted us to think about wines with newspaper readers in the back of our mind. We also attended a sensory evaluation seminar at the University of California-Davis. Historic figures such as John Buechsenstein, Ann “Aroma Wheel” Noble and Roger Boulton served as instructors. It wasn’t an inexpensive class — $500 at the time — but it was a worthy investment.

What are your primary story interests?

Much of our coverage stems from the evaluation of Pacific Northwest wines under blind conditions. We track about 50 wine competitions staged around the world for Wine Press Northwest’s annual Platinum Judging, and in our two decades as wine journalists, we have come to know many of the palates on the panels of these top competitions. Wineries that show consistently well in these judging attract our attention. In addition to organizing a number of U.S. competitions, including four for Great Northwest Wine and our non-profit partners, we also regularly convene tasting panels in the Tri-Cities to evaluate recent releases sent to us by wineries. We don’t charge wineries for those reviews, and we don’t publish negative reviews. If there’s a wine that we can not recommend, we simply do not write about it.

What are your primary palate preferences?

My palate has changed during the past 20 years. At home, I find myself often reaching for sparkling wines, food-friendly whites and Rhône-inspired reds. My appreciation has grown for wines that are lower in alcohol with minimal oak and backed by vibrant acidity. I’ve also come to appreciate reds that offer a bit of herbaceousness.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

Folks seem to find it somewhat fascinating that I was a sports writer for most of my career. However, as my friend Bill Ward, the James Beard Award winner at the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, points out, wine critics such as Dan Berger, Linda Murphy and Bruce Schoenfeld also began in the sports department. https://www.cjr.org/the_feature/sports_writers_wine.php

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?

Don’t think of wine as merely an alcoholic beverage but rather as an ingredient at the dining table as well as an agricultural product rooted in history and science. A large Texan in a cowboy hat once told me, “After all, viticulture is agriculture.”

If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing? 

I grew up in the golf industry, and I’ve thought about leading golf and wine tours. (I put one together in the Lewis-Clark Valley a couple of years ago for the Northwest Golf Media Association.) My wife and I share an interest in conservation and protecting the environment, so working for an agency or company supporting those efforts is intriguing.

What’s the best story you have written? Please provide a link.

Perhaps the most compelling story that I’ve ever shared has been that of Clearwater Canyon Cellars winemaker/co-owner Coco Umiker and her remarkable victory over ovarian cancer at the age of 11. I spent a couple of heartrending days interviewing her and husband, Karl, at their winery in Lewiston, Idaho. What was most difficult for her to revisit was the bullying she endured at a Boise elementary school while she was undergoing chemotherapy. It’s a story that could resonate with any parent and any child. I know of at least one school that brought in Coco to talk with its students. https://www.idahostatesman.com/living/treasure/article40861260.html

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?

Early in our career, Andy and I were encouraged to stay away from scoring wines on a 100-point scale (which is more like a 15-point scale these days) so we chose to use a rating system that’s akin to a wine competition. A gold medal equates to “Outstanding!” in our vernacular, while a silver is an “Excellent” and a bronze is “Recommended.” If we can’t recommend a wine after opening two bottles, then we don’t write about it – aka “no medal.” In the back of my mind, would I want my brother to spend $20 on that bottle of wine? If my response is “no,” then I won’t recommend it or give it a bronze medal. When it comes to generating a review, they typically run 80 to 120 words. We include a handful descriptors, share our impressions of the structure, mention the winemaker, list the vineyards and try to provide some food pairing ideas. In essence, it’s a short story about that wine. I wish I was more proficient at generating them because many of the wineries seem to appreciate the effort that I devote to our reviews.

Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?

There most certainly is an editorial schedule for our freelance work and the Northwest Wine column that we self-syndicate to more than 20 regional newspapers. As for com, we need to re-establish an editorial schedule. That fell apart in the fall of 2016 when Andy suffered his first series of strokes, but he’s working hard on his rehab and continues to improve. The Seattle Times recently cut back on its wine coverage to branch out into beer, spirits and cider. As a result, Andy is relaunching our Great Northwest WineCast, which is available on iTunes. The effort that he’s put into the painful occupational speech therapy is remarkable.

Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?

Ugh. This is an area that I need to work on. Wineries see real value in sharing third-party endorsements such as profiles, reviews and competition medals. As 20th century newspaper reporters, we were trained to eschew self-promotion. Perhaps that’s why I’m not any better at this than I am, but feeding social media channels is critical. It’s difficult these days for someone else to promote your work if you don’t toot your own horn at least a little bit.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Make it easy to write about your wines by providing a robust “media/trade” section on your site. I routinely get frustrated when I want to write about but can’t immediate access to high-res bottle/label images and tech sheets. Also, I realize that we all want immediate gratification, but it often is several months before our tasting panel will get to your wine. That’s why I encourage wineries to send us samples soon after they get bottled. And before I forget, please include on that media/trade section downloadable rights-free, professional images of your winemaker, your winery, your cellar, your tasting bar and any vineyard that you routinely source fruit from.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

When I learn that a winery has invested time and money in a publicist, it tells me ownership is serious about its approach to media. Agencies such as the Washington State Wine Commission, Oregon Wine Board, British Columbia Wine Institute and Idaho Wine Commission perform remarkable work on behalf of their region as a whole, but no winery should rely on those organizations to promote their brand. It’s no coincidence, however, that some of the top winery publicists on the West Coast are alumni of these agencies, alliances or tourism/convention bureaus. During the course of their career, they’ve developed many of the best practices for dealing with national and international media and wine trade. They’ve learned what types of winery experiences these wine writers and travel writers are looking for. And in many instances, the itineraries created and developed by a publicist helps a writer with story ideas to pitch to editors. Publicists constantly network with writers and know who to reach out to with particular topics. After a trip, they routinely circle back with writers to learn what parts of the tour worked for them – and what didn’t. And I can always count on a trained publicist to make sure that I have access to the rights-free images that my editors need to illustrate a story. Publicists also follow industry trends, track wine competitions and monitor news feeds in order to help with their client’s social media. Bottom line, if a winery with quality juice in its cellar retains the services of a savvy publicist, that connection will generate news, grow a following and help move wine. If I owned a winery of any scale, I would budget for a publicist.

Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?

Lucky me. I recently judged the New Orleans International Wine Awards and had the honor of being on a panel with Heidi Peterson Barrett and Doug Frost. I won’t deny that I suffered from what golfers know as “the first tee jitters” because Heidi is one of our country’s most famous winemakers, and Doug is one of four people in the world to earn both Master of Wine and Master Sommelier titles. However, Doug is a kick in the pants, and Heidi is remarkably kind and humble. Both were extremely thoughtful judges, and Heidi deserves the credit for championing the Gewürztraminer from New York that came off our panel and went on to win the sweepstakes for best white wine.

Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?

My degree from the University of Washington is in history, with a focus on the U.S., so Thomas Jefferson would be at the top of my list. I’ve read a fair bit about Lewis and Clark — I graduated from LC High School in Spokane — and the Corps of Discovery traveled through the Columbia Valley, so President Jefferson had a significant influence in the Pacific Northwest. I would hope that he would enjoy seeing our vineyards and tasting our wines, although some of them might be a bit “hot” for his palate.

Leisure Time

If you take days off, how do you spend them? 

My wife works at Mount Rainier National Park, so I head over there, particularly if I want to cool off in the summer. My dad lives on a golf course and always is willing to sponsor my rounds with him – particularly if I bring him some wine. Spring and summer, I’m watching Major League Baseball, so I try to make it to Seattle once or twice a season. I look forward to the time when my hometown of Portland gets a franchise. In the fall, there’s fantasy football.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

This doesn’t qualify as my “ah-hah” moment, but the DeLille Cellars 2013 Chaleur Estate Blanc ranks as the most remarkable. And that experience came in 2016. Typically, I prefer to drink Northwest whites earlier, but that experience has me using a bit more patience.

Pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner.

I will fudge on this one and reach for pink bubbles by Jay Drysdale and his natural ancestrale rosé program at Bella Wines on the Naramata Bench. For the white, no one can go wrong with the Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling by Bob Bertheau and his team.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Favorite recipe/pairing?

My Match Maker series for Wine Press Northwest magazine now is 20 years old, and the pairing that immediately jumps to mind is the Rabbit Cacciatore by chef Francesco Console at Larks in Ashland, Ore., and the Folin Cellars 2013 Estate Tempranillo made by Rob Folin, who started at Domaine Serene and recently took over at Rogue Valley showpiece Belle Fiore.

Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s 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).

Karen MacNeil, Author Wine Bible

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 Erin James, Senior Editor of Sip Northwest Magazine.

KAREN MACNEIL is one of the foremost wine experts in the United States. Karen is the only American to have won every major wine award given in the English language. These include the James Beard award for Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year, the Louis Roederer award for Best Consumer Wine Writing, and the International Wine and Spirits award as the Global Wine Communicator of the Year. TIME Magazine called Karen “America’s Missionary of the Vine.” In 2018, Karen was named one of the “100 Most Influential People in Wine.”

Karen is the author of THE WINE BIBLE, the best-selling wine book in the U.S., with more than one million copies sold. She is the creator and editor of WineSpeed, the top digital newsletter on wine. Known for her passion and unique style, she conducts seminars and presentations for corporate clients worldwide. The former wine correspondent for NBC’s Today Show, Karen also hosted the PBS series Wine, Food and Friends with Karen MacNeil, for which she won an Emmy. And finally, Karen is the creator and Chairman Emerita of the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America, often called the “Harvard” of wine education.

More information is available at www.karenmacneil.com You can follow Karen on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Professional Background

How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?

I began writing about food for many national magazines and The New York Times in the early 1980s. Through that I realized that what I loved was gastronomy as a whole, including beverages. There’s no more compelling beverage than wine, and so I began studying wine intensely, and eventually writing about it.

Was it difficult breaking into the wine writing business back in the 1980s? What specific challenges did you face?

I actually began to try to work in wine in the late seventies in New York. At the time, the city had 7 million people and there were three women in the wine business. It was impossible to break-in especially if, like me, you were also young. And there was no way to learn on your own. Back then there were no wine schools, no degree programs like WSET, no public tastings. Wine writing and communications were controlled by a small coterie of five men who wrote for every newspaper and every magazine from The New York Times to Vogue. Eventually (it’s a long story), these men let me taste with them on the condition I didn’t talk. I took the “deal.” And I didn’t talk for 8 years even though I tasted with them almost once a week.

What are your primary story interests?

Everything related to wine and wine and culture.

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 primary challenges and hurdles you face?

It’s much harder than in the past. But both then and now, it helps to be a really good writer. I work as hard at writing as I do at understanding wine.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you?

All of the things I’m tempted to say really shouldn’t be said unless it’s at night and everyone has some wine.

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?

That wine exists in a rich context of people, places, history, culture, and food. And also that reading about wine can actually be enlightening and fun, as well as educational.

If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?  

I’d probably be a linguist studying ancient languages or an anthropologist studying ancient food systems.

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?

I have a full-time staff of three and an extended staff of six more. We research wine worldwide and do so with a lot of rigor. We taste in our offices in St. Helena 2 to 3 times a week, usually from 4 pm to 6pm. Winemakers sometimes bring their wines in and join us. We discuss (and sometimes argue about) the wines and take notes of course.

Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?

Both.

Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?

I post lots of short pieces on social media. I think keeping a wine conversation going in the culture at large is helpful to wine consumption and wine enjoyment.

Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?

I am a writer and have written about wine for 35 years. I usually taste at least 3,000 wines a year, and I’ve visited most wine regions in the world. I think of myself as a good researcher. I HOPE all of this means that I have some influence. But I would not call myself an influencer. I don’t actually know any “influencers”, so I don’t know how much they know about wine.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Send emails with helpful specific information and facts, rather than sweeping marketing messages like “we are trying to make the best wines possible.”

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

They understand how to be concise and they are time sensitive.

Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?

I would have liked to have known and tasted with Frank Schoonmaker, Alexis Lichine, Gustave Niebaum, Rosa Mondavi, George Yount, and Napoleon (the latter to discuss the impact his laws had on the evolution of French vineyards and wines).

Leisure Time

If you take days off, how do you spend them? 

Exercising, cooking, drinking wine.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

Too many to write about!

Pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner

I already drink a glass of Champagne every night (and have for 20 years). I can’t give that up. Let’s see, for a red every night for a month—a top Willamette Valley pinot noir.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Favorite recipe/pairing?

Madeira and chocolate chip cookies.

Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s 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).

Erin James, Editor Sip Northwest Magazine

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 Allison Levine, Please the Palate, Wine Soundtrack and other wine publications.

ERIN JAMES is a seasoned writer and editor in the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on drink, food and travel writing. Outside of her desk as editor-in-chief of Sip Publishing — makers of Sip Northwest, Cidercraft and Sip’s Wine Guide: British Columbia magazines — James has been published in more than a dozen regional and national publications like WINO Magazine, Seattle Weekly, Washington Wine and more. Most recently, she is the author of “Tasting Cider: The CIDERCRAFT Guide to the Distinctive Flavors of North American Hard Cider,” published by Storey Publishing in 2017. When not tasting and scribbling notes, James can be found eating her weight in cheese and loving her dog, Josie, a little too much.

You can follow Erin on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and read her beverage publications at Sip Northwest Publishing.

Professional Background

How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?

I was one of the many lucky graduates who entered the work force at the inception of the 2007 financial crisis. Publications large and small were cutting staff in half or retreating to web-only productions — needless to say it was hard to get a job in journalism, even with the degree to back you up. The job background I did already have at this young age was in bartending, so I slipped back into what was familiar, which turned out to be the best move I could make for my future in writing. I learned how to up-sell what I was pouring from behind the rail, realizing I had a knack for talking about beverage and already had the schooling to help me put that into written word. I started a wine blog — back before that realm was overpopulated – and it helped put me on the radar. I got my first paid wine writing gig (pennies) shortly after and narrowed my niche even further into focusing on wine and food pairings. I haven’t looked back, but I have added cider, beer and spirits to my repertoire as well.

What are your primary story interests?

To echo what I closed out with in the previous question, food and drink pairing is my forte. I really like to eat. If I can add booze to that to enhance both the meal and the drink, then I’m in heaven. Most beverage-savvy cultures have long had drink on the table to enhance the meal, but this is something Americans are slowly coming around to. I’d like to speed it up and see more of it. Outside of that, I’ve developed my journalism style to lean more toward storytelling than news-breaking, I am keen to share the passions of the folks that make the drink and eats we love, bringing a human element to something edible and commonplace.

What are your primary palate preferences?

Cheese? If I had to pick one of each beverage I cover for a desert island retreat, I’d go white Burgundy, fresh hop IPA, heritage cider and a dry vermouth-laced martini (gin, of course).

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 primary challenges and hurdles you face?

Oh man, kind of? I think strictly writing one beverage is financially difficult – one of the reasons why I’ve diversified. I’m very fortunate that I have the position I do as editor-in-chief of Sip Publishing, but I also freelance for other publications and do some non-industry copywriting. I think if your heart is in it, you can make any ends meet. Primary challenges: print pubs are paying less and less, and web publications already pay pretty cheaply. I’m a firm believer that you pay for what you get, so I hope to see publications continue to pay for quality work.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I love to eat Kraft American Cheese Singles like movie popcorn (I’m an equal opportunity “cheese” lover) and I used to sing the National Anthem at collegiate and semi-pro sporting events.

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?

It’s not as scary or mysterious as you think it is, eat while you do so then drink some more.

If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing? 

I’ve been really into flowers and floral arrangements – I’ve done them for four different friends’ weddings and I think I’d love running a flower shop.

How would you like the wine community to remember you?

“She sure could put it away, but she had a way with words.”

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?

It depends on the type of article I’m writing but for wine in particular, I try to keep it approachable and easy-to-swallow. Same goes for reviews, tasting notes that reference ridiculously unfamiliar culinary ingredients cause major eye-rolling. The reader wants to equate your words to something they recognize, otherwise it goes over their head.

Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?

I’m fairly scheduled with our publications but certainly can develop a story as an idea forms – the internet has allowed for a lot more production flexibility there!

Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?

I do, and it’s extremely important because social media is where so many – especially those of a younger generation – find their news and read articles. Though you have to be clear, concise and catching, otherwise you’ll be passed up for a shinier object.

Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?

I hope what influence I do have is positive for women of all ages in beverage — an example that even a green, 22-year-old journalism graduate battling against a national recession can still build a career in what she decided was her dream job when she was 8. I think the difference between a writer and a social influencer is just that – a writer writes, an influencer posts. Both can be impactful and should do it to further their message for the better.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Everyone has a story – make sure the journalist knows why yours is worth telling. Sure, you are a former Microsoft/Nike exec, had the funding to leave your corporate desk and start your dream job. But why does a reader care and how can the journalist share that with what enticing angle? You’re not expected to sell a pitch to a writer, but you do want to grab them with a hook, uncover what makes your story special and dig in.

When it comes to samples, ask before shipping to make sure your product has a home in editorial content and, for the love of God, learn how to ship bottles correctly. That means no bottle should ever be floating in a sea of explosive packing peanuts.

What advantages are there in working direct with winery publicists?

See above about pitching journalists – publicists can hone your story, message and angle for a specific journalist, editor or publication, even specific departments and story ideas within. They can also handle the lead-up and follow-up, tasks that are sometimes uncomfortable when it is your own story.

Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?

Lettie Teague, the wine columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She is the reason I got into wine writing – she wrote a book called “Educating Peter,” in which she taught wine basics to Rolling Stone‘s film critic Peter Travers through a lens he could understand. I loved her approach and compelling manner in which she took something that can be so misconceived and made it completely consumable for one of the most censorious minds in media. For wine, I would have whatever she was having.

Leisure Time

If you take days off, how do you spend them? 

I do and everyone should – for sanity’s sake! I like to get outdoors when I can, whether that’s a hike into the North Cascades or at a beer garden. I fill most of my off-time with my husband Nick, Son Arlo, and dog Josie, but I am fortunate to be able to see friends and family frequently as well. I love to read, cook, sing loudly in the shower, eat cheese and binge Netflix shows like any red-blooded human.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

Considering when I go wine tasting, I’m there as media so many of those experiences are quite remarkable and I always feel lucky for the cards I was dealt. There are definite highs and lows, but this is a pretty cool gig and I’m grateful for it every day. I’m big on pairing and one of my favorite food and wine experiences was something so simple and delicious: ripe cantaloupe wrapped in Bayonne ham (French prosciutto) and matched with just-chilled Provençal rosé on the patio of our rental in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. A dream come true.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

I was already smitten with Nebbiolo before but after going to Piedmont in 2015, I was deeply in love with not just the variety and its differing variations throughout the region (Barbaresco, Barolo) but I really fell for the people behind the wine there. For so many of the makers, it’s still such a generations-based farming culture with humility, craft and passion. I love that. Also, it’s hard to beat the Willamette Valley in the fall.

Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s 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).

Top 5 PR Tips for Small Wineries

Why is Winery PR so difficult?

It’s difficult, because it’s about relationships. And reading. Yes, lots of reading. And research, planning, tracking, analysis and follow-up. The fun stuff, right? And things change. Just when you think you have good contacts, well planned schedules and best known methods, things change – people retire and writers move on, wine columns are canceled, writers get hired to work for savvy wineries that understand the importance of professional writing and content development – and I’m just talking about my job as a winery publicist!

What about the small family-run wineries that face the challenges of growing, producing, wholesaling and DTC marketing their wines, and with limited resources? Incorporate these five focus areas to ensure successful media outreach campaigns, and keep your brand top of consumer’s minds.

  • Planning – create a target media list, content and communications calendars, and a samples calendar. Track your accolades as they come in and use them in your content marketing. Please establish a budget for samples, shipping, shows, market trips, writing, PR consulting, etc.
  • Targeting – identify your brand POD (Points of Difference) and key messages. Align these with writer story interests & palate preferences, and their readership’s interests; Determine writing frequency, outlets, and best contact methods. Categories of writers should include wine, beverage, food & wine, travel & leisure, business and the trades.
  • Sampling – Wine Scores & Wine Competitions are still important. I once heard a writer say “I can’t review their wines if they don’t send them to me”. Same thing for the rating publications, competitions, online reviews, etc. Get your wines out there. The impact of receiving strong ratings is huge and will drive traffic to your online store and tasting room.
  • Pitching – it’s about relationships – following, commenting, sharing and obtaining their editorial calendars. Pivot your story pitch to align with their upcoming stories and interests. Give the writers what they want and need. Make it easy for them to do their jobs. Provide Media Kits, Tech Sheets (not tasting notes) with your samples; Include website and photo gallery links (with attribution) in all your communications.
  • Tracking – Interviews, samples (to publications, writers and competitions), and pitches must be followed up. Writers are too busy and circling back helps them keep you top of mind. Use your website analytics to determine the result of media hits – within close proximity to the article or wine rating being published – did it drive traffic to my tasting room, website, social sites, and email subscriptions. Was there any form of engagement, commenting, sharing that took place. How about sales? How did those new visitors hear about you? Are the results quantifiable?

Wrap up – in summary, its lots of work but must be done because the days of being “discovered” by the media are long gone. We have too much competition for the attention of wine savvy consumers. When you do receive an accolade (feature article, mention, wine review, scores, ratings, and medals of note), are you using that “Earned Media” effectively in your Content Marketing? 3rd party endorsements are hard to come by, so don’t waste that precious resource, and do let the world know that experts like what you are doing and so should they.

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 11th 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).

USE THIS CONTACT FORM TO REQUEST THE TOP 5 PR TIPS CHECKLIST