“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.
Dr. Liz Thach, MW, is a freelance wine writer, wine market expert, researcher, educator, and consultant based in California’s Napa and Sonoma counties. She is an award-winning author and educator, specializing in wine business strategy, marketing, leadership/executive development and wine lifestyle. Her passion is wine, and she has visited most of the major wine regions of the world (across more than 65 countries). She has published more than 200 articles and nine books, including Call of the Vine, Best Practices in Global Wine Tourism and Wine Marketing & Sales. A fifth-generation Californian, Liz finished her Ph.D. at Texas A&M and now lives on Sonoma Mountain where she tends a small hobby vineyard and makes pinot noir wine. She also works as a wine judge in various competitions, and has served on many non-profit wine boards. Liz obtained the distinction of Master of Wine (MW) in May 2011.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
During college, a girlfriend took me to Napa Valley to celebrate my 21st birthday. I fell in love with wine on that visit. The beauty of the vineyards, the magic of winemaking and the exquisite taste of the wine all came together in a trilogy of enchantment for me. From that point on, I began reading about wine and all the places it was grown in the world.
The wine writing came later, when I began my career at Sonoma State University as a wine business professor. At the time, there were no books on wine business, so I ended up writing the first edited book on the topic, as well as many research articles on wine business. Later, I transitioned into writing consumer-focused wine articles in addition to trade journal writing.
Tell us about your journey to MW?
After I published my first wine business book, I was encouraged by two MW friends, Peter Marks and Tim Hanni, to apply for the MW. It was one of the most exciting and challenging processes of my life. In 2011, when I passed the exam and dissertation, I was surprised to find that I was the first female MW on the West Coast. I was very humbled and honored when the State Legislature of California granted a Resolution in my name for being the first California female MW.
What new projects do you have coming up in 2022?
I’m starting to teach an online wine business class for Stanford Continuing Education thisLiz Thach spring. I’m also writing some wine research articles and doing presentations with my colleague, Dr. Monique Bell at CSU Fresno, on black wine entrepreneurs and the impact of the Black Lives Matters movement on wine sales for black wine businesses. It’s fascinating work. Dr. Bell completed 43 in-depth interviews with black wine entrepreneurs, and we have more than 2,000 pages of transcripts to analyze.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I grew up in Idaho and New Mexico. My father was a wildlife biologist specializing in sandhill and whooping cranes. We often raised orphaned sandhill cranes in our house. They were 4-feet tall and would steal pancakes from my breakfast plate. I wrote a children’s book about this called Tarsi, the Sandhill Crane.
What haven’t you done that you’d like to do?
There are still many other countries to which I’d like to travel. So far, I’ve visited 67 different countries and my goal is to visit 100 by the time I’m 80.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
I really want readers to recognize all the hard-working and talented people who make up the wine industry. All of the work in the vineyards, cellars, hospitality, sales and distribution is done with such great passion. Wine is part art and part science, and very close to nature. People who choose to work in this field are interested in all three. I want to help them receive the recognition they deserve. And I want readers to understand the positive impact wine can have when consumed in moderation. It helps to bring people together and to enhance life.
What are your primary wine story interests in general? What’s your focus for Forbes?
I enjoy writing about wine business entrepreneurs, the land and the artistry that goes into making wine. Matching food and wine, consumer trends and identifying new occasions to enjoy wine is also fun. For example, once I had someone tell me they enjoy drinking wine in the shower.
Forbes has requested I focus on the business of wine, so that includes writing about brands that have been successful and entrepreneurs that have done innovative things in the wine arena. Additionally, the topic of sustainability and the impact of climate change on the wine industry is of importance to readers. Consumer trends, earnings reports from publicly traded wine companies and new wine research findings are also of interest.
I read Wine Marketing & Sales back in 2009 and it had a significant impact on my winery consulting career. How did you come to that project assignment?
I’m glad the book helped you. Basically, we wrote the book for two reasons. One was that we really needed a textbook for our SSU wine marketing class; Paul Wagner also needed one for his class at Napa Community College. Therefore the three of us, including my friend, Dr. Janeen Olsen, decided to team up and write the book together. It’s now on its third edition, has been translated into other languages and is still selling well all over the world.
What are you working on now?
This past month, I focused on female wine business leaders to celebrate International Women’s History month. I’m also doing research on wine’s carbon footprint. It turns out that the weight of the wine bottle (producing it and the cost of transporting it) makes up almost 60% of wine’s total carbon footprint. Just by reducing the weight of wine bottles, the wine industry can make a big impact on reducing its carbon footprint. Also adopting alternative packaging, such as cans and boxes for some wine brands, can help the industry to become more climate positive.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
Focus on what’s unique or different about your wine brand, vineyard, wine making process, employees or anything that makes you stand out from the pack. Share both challenges and successes, as well as lessons learned.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
I enjoy working with winery publicists because most are very responsive and professional. They pitch a story, and if it includes a novel concept and I haven’t recently written about it, then they are very helpful in arranging visits, interviews and sending wine samples. I also appreciate it when they provide photos with photo credits, and answer any follow-up questions quickly. However, sometimes I receive so many email pitches that it’s not possible to answer all of them.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
How do you spend your free time?
Hiking with friends, traveling whenever possible, yoga, meditation and trying to watch the sunset every night. Also spending time with my family, friends and dog, Merlin.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
There are two. The first was a five-hour lunch on the island of Madeira, where we paired every course with a different Madeira wine. We were sitting outside on the balcony with a view of the ocean — truly memorable. The second was a six-course dinner at Schloss Vollrads in Germany. Every course was paired with a different Riesling. It was then I truly realized the immense complexity and perfection that can be found in a glass of Riesling. It can be paired with appetizers, salad courses, fish, dessert and even veal!
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
Pretty much any wine region in France, and the many diverse wine regions of North America.
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.