“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.
Julia Coney is a Washington, D.C., and Houston, Texas-based wine writer, speaker and consultant. Her writing includes stories on wine, winemakers and the intersection of race, wine and language. Coney is the wine consultant for American Airlines in partnership with the James Beard Foundation. She is also founder of Black Wine Professionals, a resource for wine industry employers and gatekeepers, professionals and the food and beverage community. Coney is the recipient of Wine Enthusiast’s 2020 Social Visionary Award Winner for her work in writing and speaking on diversity, equity and inclusion in the wine industry. Wine Industry Network named her one of Wine’s Most Inspiring People for 2022. Check out her website and her newsletter.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I came to wine through working at a law firm. One of my bosses paired California wines in 1999 with Texas BBQ and I was immediately hooked. I couldn’t understand what I was tasting. The majority of my family doesn’t drink. I studied abroad in Paris, and wine is everywhere there. It was through food pairing that I learned about wine. Wine writing is my third career. I started out working as a legal secretary and legal assistant, then started a beauty blog in 2006 that became popular. I left corporate America in 2010. In 2016, after 10 years, I decided to stop writing about beauty and move to wine.
What are your primary story interests?
I like writing about wine as it relates to our everyday lives. I want you to drink champagne with your chicken nuggets or a salad from Sweetgreen. I want to write about wine as being fun, engaging and how it relates to our lives.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
There is no “best wine.” The best wine is the one in my glass at that moment, shared with people I like.
What are your primary palate preferences?
It depends on the day. Primarily, I love sparkling wine because it’s so food-friendly, but give me a dry, super tart, acid-fueled wine, and I’m your girl.
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today?
I don’t believe it is possible to make a full-time career as a wine writer anymore. I think you have to diversify, which I do. I do speaking engagements, I consult and I’ve built a great private wine community. I am now focusing on building that community, so I’ve recently launched a Substack newsletter where I share specific wine writing such as wine and fragrance pairings (very similar to wine, but I don’t wear it to taste wine in public) and my travel guides. I also host wine and food trips, and I recently co-founded a new wine travel company that I can’t wait to tell everyone about. It’s going to be a game changer in the wine tourism space.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I can sit and do absolutely nothing. One of my favorite things to do is sit on my patio and just be. No books, no phone, no tv. Just listening to the sounds of my neighborhood.
Tell us about your being named as a Wine’s Most Inspiring Person in 2022 ?
That was so bittersweet. My mother, who was pivotal to my start in wine, passed in 2018 and didn’t get to see all the accolades. The day the nomination came out, I just sat for a minute and thanked my deceased parents and family who made me who I am. I like to think they know what the nomination meant to me. It meant a lot of my peers understood my purpose in making the wine world more inclusive. We still have a long way to go, but we are progressing. It’s still hard and an uphill battle.
Help us understand your personal and professional experience during 2020 and #BlackLivesMatter? Why did you decide to start Black Wine Professionals, and what’s next?
I started Black Wine Professionals because I saw this huge focus on bringing Black people into the wine industry, but nothing that was trying to promote Black wine professionals who had already been in the industry. It’s better, but there is still more work to be done. We still need more Black wine professionals in distribution, importation and the support that goes along with that side of the wine business.
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I love hotels and I would be a luxury hotel inspector. It’s never too late, right?
Can you describe your approach to wine writing?
My approach is thinking of what I’m curious about: wine, the people, the region and their stories. I’m always thinking about pairings and how consumers want to drink wine.
For your wine reviews, describe your tasting process. What happens to all that extra wine?
For my own reviews, I like to taste first thing in the morning when I am fresh. I am a big believer in using a Coravin wine preservation system. The majority of my family doesn’t drink, so opening up an entire bottle of wine to review doesn’t make sense for me because there aren’t people to share it with.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas and wines come up?
I love a schedule and a to-do list. An editorial calendar helps me see story ideas ahead of time. But sometimes, the wine ideas pop up — and that’s always a good thing.
How often do you write assigned and paid articles (not your blog), and for whom?
I’m 100% freelance now. But recently I launched my own subscription newsletter where I can write stories I am passionate about. Right now I am in a transition and focusing on my newsletter, which has a paid component, and my blog, which has free content.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
I wish wineries updated their website trade section with updated tech sheets as new vintages are released, and I wish they had a personal component to their wines.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
Winery publicists have a hard job, and I try to make it as easy as possible for them by doing my own research of the wines they represent. An advantage of working with them is knowing it’s a mutually beneficial relationship.
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?
Sometimes the stories actually take time. I may visit a region as a media guest, but that doesn’t mean the story has to come immediately. It takes time for the pieces to come together to write a compelling story.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
I’ve been fortunate to meet and taste with my idols Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brescher, but I am still waiting to meet and taste with Jancis Robinson.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
I love being near water and reading. I love to lose myself in a thriller or mystery while hearing waves.
What is your most memorable wine or wine-tasting experience?
The aha! moment I had was with Champagne in 2016. I had lunch paired with grower champagne, and it made me want to study Champagne and sparkling wine forever.
What’s your cure for a wine hangover?
LOL. Knowing when to stop sipping the night before. Also, I’ve found as I’ve gotten older, the recovery is just not the same. For me, I’ve learned to take two Tylenol, two Tums and drink a big glass of water.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
This is hard because I’m a naturally curious person and travel is vital to my overall well-being, but I’m going to say nothing beats waking up in Champagne.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?
I love sparkling wine and crawfish etouffee, gumbo, or a Texas brisket sandwich. I’m Southern and it’s always Southern food.
CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background, going on 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, the Columbia Gorge, and Walla Walla. @CarlGiavanti (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media)