David Ransom, The Connected Table

David Ransom, The Connected Table

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 who 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.

Along with being co-host and partner at The Connected Table, David Ransom is editor-at-large for two hospitality-focused national wine and spirits print magazines – The Tasting Panel  and The Somm Journal – writing columns, feature articles and cover stories. He also serves as chair of the prestigious Wine Media Guild, a U.S.-based membership of wine writers and wine educators.

Outside the winery business, Ransom has been involved in the education, promotion and marketing of wines and spirits across the country for more than 30 years. As a wine and spirits consultant for various hospitality-related companies, his involvement in the industry also includes wine competition judging and wine event production for M. Young Communications (his wife, Melanie Young’s, former company), during which time he served as wine manager for the James Beard Foundation Awards from 2003 to 2006.

How did you come to wine and wine writing? 

At a young age, my father got us interested through sips at holiday gatherings. Then in 1986, at a professional crossroads, the entire family decided, probably against all better judgment, to buy a recently defunct winery in New York’s Hudson Valley, which we renamed Rivendell. Tolkien fans will recognize the name as the house of the elves in Middle Earth, considered the “last homely house east of the sea.”

From there we were off and running and, in short order, became the top award-winning winery in the state (out of what was then 150 wineries). Numerous accolades, visionary winemaker Jim Moss, and firsts that included first Best Buy for a New York wine in the Wine Spectator and first non-California wine to ever receive a double gold medal in San Francisco International Wine & Spirits Competition went a long way to helping put N.Y. wines on the map. Though we eventually divested ourselves of Rivendell, that run cemented a legacy that still garners respect to this day.

My road to wine writing must be credited to my wife, Melanie Young, who pitched an idea for an article on Vinos de Madrid, the D.O. surrounding Spain’s capital city, to The Tasting Panel magazine as part of a press trip she was organizing through her PR agency at the time, M. Young Communications. Knowing I liked to write, she asked that I attend the trip and cover it. That was in 2009. I’ve been on the masthead ever since.

What are your primary story interests? 

I think it’s ever-evolving, really. As an editor-at-large with The Tasting Panel and The Somm Journal (which share a publisher), I write mostly about trends and products I find that I think will resonate with our readership. Sometimes that includes wines, sometimes profiles, sometimes unique ways a producer is working to make their wine or spirit. I think that if you can provide a story and sense of place to a wine, it goes a long way to selling that bottle to the customer, be they wholesale or retail buyers.

With The Connected Table, which includes a live weekly radio show/podcast and weekly newsletter and blog, we like to dive deep with our guests to tell the story behind the wine and winery, interviewing founders and owners to hear where their inspiration comes from and how they create a vision for their wines (or spirits). We also interview chefs, cookbook/wine/cocktail book authors along these same lines.

What inspired The Ransom Note, your reviews and musings in The Tasting Panel?

My publisher gave the nod for a column and said, “You can write about whatever you want.” Melanie came up with the name. I found the column’s voice was best dedicated to my travels and meeting producers and tasting their wines with them. Hence no scores, no writing from received samples or press releases. It keeps the column genuine, and I have feature articles that cover the rest.

How did you and Melanie develop the concept for The Connected Table?

It was an organic evolution of our event production experience, rolodex of industry members, and our wish to create a platform where we could call all the shots. We both loved telling the story of wine, but only I had an outlet. We knew that if we were going to do something together, it would have to be our own. I had been co-hosting AM radio shows in Phoenix and Las Vegas with our good friend and James Beard Award winner Jennifer English for a couple of years. At one time, she took a vacation and I asked Melanie to fill in as guest co-host. That was it. The on-air chemistry led us to launch The Connected Table shows and website in 2014; we just celebrated 10 years on-air.

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

Melanie says I have a photographic palate. I think my most unique trait is my official signature, which is written right-to-left in English. It’s on my passport. I learned in High School art class that Leonardo daVinci, a fellow southpaw, wrote all his notes backwards in Latin. I took it upon myself to teach myself to write backwards and eventually mastered it. Righties write away from their bodies, why shouldn’t Lefties?

Your marriage proposal to Melanie Young at The James Beard Awards in 2006 took some chutzpah. 

It did. I wanted to take the ability for her to say “no” out of the equation. Proposing in front of 2,000 of her close friends and colleagues was the best way I knew how. But there was also a more selfish reason: the James Beard Foundation was rocked by scandal in 2004 and almost went under. Melanie single-handedly saved the Awards, though could not save her role when the Board of Directors was forced to resign and a new board was installed. Knowing it was her last ceremony as Awards Director for a program she built from scratch, I wanted to make sure everyone remembered how much she did to nurture and grow them. Getting legendary journalist and food writer Johnny Apple to bring her out for a bow and hand her off to me was part of the plan — Johnny and Melanie were best friends and she idolized his relationship with his wife Betsy (hence the reference in my proposal that made her melt).  Sadly, he was feeling ill from cancer treatment and decided to head back to Washington, DC that morning, but not before briefing Corby Kummer on what to do.

How long did you plan it? 

Two years. The first year, 2005, I had to cancel it as the stage director thought it was not a good time to do it (because of the scandal). The following year we got it done.

Was she really as surprised as it seemed? 

You can clearly see in the Youtube video that she was a puddle.

What haven’t you done that you’d like to do? 

Traveled to Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.

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

One of the highest honors in writing for a magazine is getting the nod to write a cover story. I’ve had five of them, but the first will always rank highest on my list. Ironically, for a wine writer writing for a wine magazine, it was on bottled water!  Oh well, the other four made up for the auspicious start.

That said, an article I am very proud of was an article on Brunello di Montalcino in The Tasting Panel. Montalcino is my most visited place in Tuscany and I have known its producers intimately for 20 years. Many are personal friends. The article came together perfectly through interviews, research, and writing.

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

I don’t think of myself as a wine reviewer, more of a wine finder and wine storyteller. People love a story. Stories sell wine. For both of my platforms, it’s about getting to know the subject and gleaning intel to inspire the given audience to reach for the product I am covering. Visiting regions and producers help provide that type of intel, and I/we rarely cover a product that we didn’t connect with at its source.

What happens to all the extra wine samples you review? 

Extra wine samples? Please explain…

I turn down more offers than I accept, as I only want wines I can cover in my writing or those of a confirmed guest on our show. I almost never receive unsolicited samples. Everything gets put to good use.

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

A bit of both. In my magazine writing, I try to cover seasonality in products when possible (whites to drink in spring, summer reds, etc).  However, most of my content comes on the heels of travels to visit producers, which is sometimes gathered over the course of multiple trips in order to find a viable angle.

For The Connected Table, we work two ways. First, The Connected Table LIVE!, our live weekly show and newsletter, is about storytelling. The second, our sponsored content platform called The Connected Table SIPS!, is marketing-focused and discusses products, techniques and sales. Both reach the same audience and are promoted on our website and through social media.

Do you consider yourself an influencer? 

I would say more influential or inspirational, than influencer. The Connected Table reaches a global audience, many of whom are in the industry and follow our travels and writing. Former guests listen regularly to our interviews, as do consumers around the world (the beauty of podcasts being accessible anywhere/anytime). We regularly receive comments that we inspire our audience through our unique storytelling.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists? 

In-house publicists are singularly focused on their brand and have a direct line to the owners, which tends to be easier as it requires less steps. That said, a good publicist, regardless of in-house or agency-based, can meet needs and goals with ease. We are lucky to work in an industry where so many are so capable. It may be because we all love wine and the passion it presents.

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

Not visiting the winery is a hindrance. Getting to interact at the source and see the place, terroir and production facility makes all the difference.

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

Dr. Konstantin Frank, who taught N.Y. producers that vinifera could indeed be grown in cold climates such as the Finger Lakes. Over a glass of Riesling, I’d thank him for proving everyone wrong and kickstarting the state’s wine industry as we know it today.

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

Outdoors. The beauty of nature never ceases to amaze me. Thankfully, Melanie feels the same way — though my hopeful suggestions of ski trips seem to always fall on deaf ears.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world? 

As a veteran of the East Coast wine industry, where small family wineries make up the bulk of production, I’m especially fond of regions that are built on the dreams of people who had a calling. So, any region where families own and work the majority of the wineries…and Italy.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?

My bottle of wine and my mother’s cooking.

Carl Giavanti is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s celebrating his 15th 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.com/Media)

2 Responses

  1. Had I known the Rivendell story, David and I could have geeked out about Tolkien on those long winding bus rides in Abruzzo! What an amazing life and career!

    1. Hey Robin, many writers were inspired by Tolkien. I look forward to our next press trip with you and Michael.

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