“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.
Cindy Lowe Rynning is founder of the award winning wine blog, Grape Experiences. She holds the WSET L3 certification and her writing is inspired by national and international wine travel, genuine interactions with those in the wine industry, luscious food and wine pairings and a good bottle of grower Champagne. Currently, Cindy and her husband live in Paso Robles, Calif., where her thirst for all things wine continues to be satiated.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
The first wine I fell in love with was Sancerre while in Sancerre, France. At the time, I was spending the summer in Paris as an exchange student. My host family took me to the Loire for a magical few days, and sipping Sancerre outside at a small café was the “ah-ha” moment that made me want to learn more about wine. Years later, I began writing about it. I’ve always loved telling a story — any story — through words. Once I passed my WSET L2 and L3 and started my blog, I made a conscious effort to write about wine in a way that others are able to understand and appreciate.
What are your primary story interests?
I usually share the backstory of the wine including the history of the winery and region, interesting anecdotes about the winemaker and/or winery owner, how the wine tastes from my perspective, foods for pairings and a winery’s efforts towards sustainability.
What are your primary palate preferences?
In general, my go-to wines are food-friendly reds such as Grenache/Garnacha, Sangiovese and Right Bank Bordeaux. I also crave snappy whites such as those from Vinho Verde, Alentejo, Chablis and northern Italy. I mustn’t forget a well made Provence rosé as well as my newer rosé discoveries, Chiaretto di Bardolina and Cerasuolo. Perhaps “primary” isn’t accurate: I prefer any wine that makes me happy.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I have an education degree from the University of Richmond and taught second grade for two years. I also have a master’s in library science from UNC-Chapel Hill. During my 15 years as a law librarian for law firms in Chicago, I penned articles for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin. When my daughters were in elementary school, I returned to teaching for 18 years. A few years before I left teaching, I passed WSET L2 and L3 after which I started my blog. Now, I’ve been writing consistently for 12 years. Through it all, teaching content using a variety of educational strategies remains at my core.
What haven’t you done that you’d like to do?
I’ve always wanted to sing on Broadway, but that stage door has closed. Besides exploring more wine regions in the world and sharing their stories, I’d like to learn how to successfully drive and dock our boat on Lake Michigan. I’m not sure my husband would like to know that, though, so I may have to keep this article under wraps.
What’s the best story you have written?
My “best story” was inspired by the first person in the industry to believe in my writing. In the fall of 2011, I received an email from Julie Kodmur, a publicity and marketing consultant in St. Helena, Calif. She read my blog and loved it (I was shocked and honored). She asked if I could interview a Napa Valley winery owner who happened to live about 20 minutes from my house in the Chicago area. Of course I said “Yes,” and it was my first interview with someone in the industry.
Later I found out that Julie is married to Stu Smith who, along with his brother, Charlie, are co-founders of Smith-Madrone Winery. After tasting their wines, learning more about both of them and diving deep into this fascinating place on Spring Mountain, I wrote a piece which was a finalist for the Millesima Wine Blog Awards – Wine Travel category in 2018. I will forever be indebted to Julie for inspiring me in so many ways. Was it the “best story” I’ve ever written? You can decide, but to me, it was one of the most meaningful.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing?
I try to find a hook that may resonate with the reader, and that hook becomes the center of the piece. I then outline the article and do relevant research. My end goal in each article is to address the interest levels of the wine newbie, the curious wino and the seasoned wine lover with hopes that there’s a “takeaway” for everyone. That’s not as easy as one might think!
What are you working on now? For your own site, or which other outlets/publications?
I continue to post articles on my own site every four to five days and pitch stories to other publications from time to time, especially if those stories may be of interest to a wider audience. I’m also continuing my in-person or virtual television segments as well as planning a few virtual wine travel webinars in 2023 … stay tuned for those!
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
I have a content calendar in which I schedule articles based on my experiences at virtual tastings, wine travels, winery visits, Q&As with winemakers, food and wine pairings, and more. However, I always leave room for “ah-ha!” moments or unexpected opportunities that warrant coverage. I have a plan, but I’m always flexible.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
Just be authentic. Tell us your story by not sounding like you’ve done it hundreds of times before. Share something that very few know. And get to know the journalists, too. We look for elements that will resonate with readers and inspire them to understand, learn and seek the wines.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
For me, working directly with a winery publicist gives me access to wineries that I may not have thought about or have felt uncomfortable contacting on my own. A winery publicist also gives an “insider’s look” at the winery before I even get there. A good relationship with winery publicists is key and should be nurtured by both the journalist and the publicist.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?:
I’ve been fortunate to have met many notable wine personalities. However, I wish I had been able to have had a conversation with Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin-Cliquot and a wine dinner with Thomas Jefferson so we can taste through American and French wines of today.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Yes, please! My usual choices are to read a good book (latest reads were Hamnet, American Dirt and a re-read of Rebecca), binge a Netflix series, visit a winery or two here in Paso Robles or somewhere close by, talk on the phone with good friends for a catch-up, or go to the gym. Of course, travel is my favorite extracurricular, so I fit in as many trips as I can. My most recent trip was to Valle de Guadalupe with three dear friends.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
That’s a tough question since there have been so many. Anytime I can meet a winemaker or winery owner at their location, taste their wines, perhaps pair the wines with food and learn the story in their own words are memorable experiences. There’s nothing like having “boots on the ground” when it comes to learning about wine. For me, that’s the most authentic way to inspire my writing.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
My favorite dish to make and taste is any appetizer (don’t ever ask me to make dessert). One of my go-to choices is smoked salmon blinis with capers. My pairing? Cava or Albariño is always at the ready!
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 Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.