“Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. We hope you’ll discover more about the wine writers you know, and learn about many others. The objective of this project is to understand and develop working relationships with journalists. After all, they are the ones that help tell our stories, review our wines, and potentially provide media coverage. You can do this by learning their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges, and pet peeves. This is part of an ongoing series that will be featured monthly by Wine Industry Advisor.
Cathy Huyghe is a writer, entrepreneur and mindfulness proponent. She writes about the business and politics of the wine industry in her column for Forbes online. It was during that work, six years ago, that she recognized the need for more business intelligence applied to the abundance of data in the wine and spirits industry. That’s when, in partnership with her husband and business partner, Chris Huyghe, Enolytics was formed. (She’s the “Eno-,” he’s the “-lytics.”)
She also co-creates content for wine-and-wellness site A Balanced Glass in collaboration with founder Rebecca Hopkins.
All three ventures have been recognized for their innovative contributions and, in 2021, Huyghe was named one of the industry’s Most Inspiring People by Wine Industry Network.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I’ve always known I was a writer. Writing about wine, though, meant turning on every sense, one by one, as I wrote. That changes not only the composition but also the chemistry of writing. It’s more visceral. I came to wine through a sommelier named Jeff Eichelberger at Bouchon in Las Vegas, where we were both working about 15 years ago. He took the time to line up some bottles and walk me through tasting them, one by one.
After my kids were born, we moved back to Boston and I started writing about wine every day in a blog called 365 Days of Wine. I also started a small business called Red White Boston, where I wrote about local wine events and we created a community called the Red White Tasting Crew. From there, I started getting assignments from local media, then regional and national publications. Eventually, I became a columnist at Forbes.com because, as the editor who hired me said, my writing “is about interesting people, not boring tasting notes.”
What are your primary story interests for Forbes?
For Forbes, my focus is the business and politics of the wine industry. I’m particularly interested in macro trends, whether that’s public health or labor or gender inequality, and how they play out in the world of wine.
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? What are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?
Make a living as a wine writer today? Personally, I’ve never been able to make the math work on that. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, and I respect those who do it successfully. It’s challenging, but it’s possible.
I’m also continually curious and inspired by the creative expansions of “wine writer” beyond the traditional outlet/columnist model. It depends on what the writer wants to spend the lion’s share of their time doing. For me, it would mean a lot of pitching story ideas, which I don’t particularly enjoy.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I think people would be surprised by how “into” the physical body I am. It probably seems like I spend every hour of the day in my head, between writing and data and meditation. I do dedicate time to those things. But I’m also entirely, and on a daily basis, fascinated by what the human body can do.
I love getting a read on someone through their physical presence. It’s more than reading body language. It’s how someone carries themself, whether their posture is about confidence or fear or equilibrium. It’s about their center of gravity, and where their eyes land, and what’s flowing beneath the surface of their skin at any particular moment. We are all giving ourselves away, physically, all the time. It’s just a matter of reading that message. (My Dad taught me how to play poker and look for your opponent’s “tell.” That practice helps too!)
Growing up, we were a very athletic family. My dad is in the Pennsylvania state Hall of Fame for football, and my mom wanted to be a gym teacher. All of us (my brothers and sisters and I, that is) racked up a lot of varsity letters in high school. I ended up with 12, in cross country, basketball and track. I rowed crew in college, and today my exercise includes yoga for flexibility and balance, strength training with weights, pliability workouts with bands, tabata workouts for cardio and dance for the simple joy of movement and music.
The “body” part of mind-body wellness was deeply ingrained since I was super young. Our physical accomplishments were how we earned respect, and how we shaped our identity. The “mind” or the cerebral part of mind-body wellness came much later, and was (is) largely unknown territory.
What haven’t you done that you’d like to do?
Write novels. Write poetry. Play an instrument. Live in an olive grove. Learn nature. Provide therapy. Coach.
What’s one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
Wine is a lens. It’s a way of seeing the world. Not the only way, certainly, but an interesting and pleasurable one. It can be a passport, an access point and a conversation starter all at once — to the entire world.
Describe your approach to wine writing.
“When everyone else zigs, you zag.”
That’s journalism school in one sentence, and it’s the most valuable piece of advice I took away. If everyone’s already looking over here, then it’s too late. The story’s done and dusted. That’s why it’s important to look over there, where no one is yet. That’s the story waiting for you to find.
If I’m struggling with an article, I take a few minutes to sit at my computer, close my eyes and take a few breaths. I ask myself, “What does this article want to be? What does it have to say?” Then I wait for the answer, which almost always comes. Another (admittedly more fatalistic!) suggestion is to ask, “If this were the last thing I ever wrote, is it something I’d want to be remembered for? If not, how can I make it so?”
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
For Forbes, I’m on a schedule of five articles per month. For A Balanced Glass, Rebecca Hopkins and I recently shifted to an every-other-week cadence. Enolytics posts weekly. In addition, there are custom reports and projects, the largest one currently being the enhanced Annual Report in partnership with WineDirect.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
It’s very transparent when a winery (or its marketing agency) has cast a wide net for media attention. Unless I’m somehow at a desperate shortage for content ideas, I’m unlikely to take the time for those pitches when the outreach hasn’t been reciprocally thoughtful.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
Winery publicists are, in some ways, the opposite of what I just mentioned. They’re dedicated to a specific story, rather than a general one, so the communication tends to be similarly personal. It doesn’t need to be customized, but it does help to have a sense of where the other’s coming from, both in terms of the publicist and the writer.
Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to share a competition panel with?
I love tasting with Patrick Comiskey and Sao Anash; they’re both “writer’s writers,” meaning I’d read anything they put to paper, wine-related or not. They don’t write words. They craft them, with specificity and range somehow at the same time.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
With my nose in a book. Or in the yard with pruning shears in my hand. Or at the farmers market. Or in the kitchen. Or taking a class or workshop.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
It was a 2005 Trimbach Muscat, tasting with Cat Silirie in Boston in Barbara Lynch’s tiny kitchen workshop called Plum. It was the first time I tasted a wine that was all the things — it unfolded over time, literally, as it passed through my mouth. It was different with each millisecond. Cat taught me about the words to use to describe that experience with that wine. She’s a legend.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
I’d love it if the answer to this question could be, “Be sure you have a glass of wine in your hand as you cook!”
The whole experience is better, for you as the cook, for whoever else is in the kitchen and for whoever ends up eating the food.
Cathy Huyghe will be speaking next month at the 2022 Wine Industry Sales Symposium – a free virtual online conference – on the session topic “Maximizing Holiday Sales; The Data Tells Us When, and How”. Learn more about this session and the other wine sales topics being presented on August 24th.
CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s celebrating his 14th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 25 years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla, Columbia Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.