“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.
Kathleen Willcox is a freelance journalist whose work covers wine, beer, food and culture. She writes for Liquor.com, Wine Searcher, Wine Enthusiast, and other publications (including Wine Industry Advisor). She lives and works in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., and travels as frequently as she can to learn more from wine growers and makers, brewers, distillers, and farmers all over the world. She is also the author of Hudson Valley Wine, found on Amazon. You can follow her on Twitter @SustainableKW
How did you come to wine and to wine writing?
I grew up traveling and in a family that is passionate about exploring different places, people and cultures. Wine was introduced to me from a young age as a bridge between people, places and time. I have always made a living as a writer, but it was a long, slow process to get to the point where I could make writing about wine my primary focus.
What are your primary story interests?
I am passionate about sustainability in all of its forms: environmental, social, and economic.
Are you a staff columnist or freelance?
I am freelance, and it works better for me. I can pitch stories I’m genuinely interested in covering, and I can live wherever I want and travel as much as I can logistically and financially afford to. It also gives me maximum flexibility as a parent — I can work when I can and need to, and take random Wednesdays off as needed to spend time with my family and manage the day-to-day realities of parenthood (teacher conferences, doctor’s appointments, etc.).
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? What are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?
If you are willing to work really, really hard, then yes. But you also have to be lucky and resourceful. And, if you’re freelance, it will be much easier if you have a partner with health insurance. The way our country’s health insurance system is set-up is not conducive to full-time creative work — one of many reasons the health insurance system needs a complete overhaul. (But that’s a different story).
What would people be surprised to know about you?
That I love exploring beer almost as much as I love exploring wine.
What haven’t you done that you’d like to do?
Professionally, I am hoping to see more terroirs in person in the next few years. I learn so much more on the ground. When my kids were younger, this was a lot more challenging, but I am now ready to travel to learn with intention in a serious way. Personally, I would love to hike the Adirondack trail.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
I’d like them to think more deeply about the implications of their own purchasing choices on wine culture writ large.
Describe your approach to wine writing.
I do as many interviews as I can, review any relevant data, and then sketch out a lede, and outline. Then I just write and rewrite. And rewrite.
What are you working on now?
I’m always working! (Seriously. Even on vacation. Is it a problem? Depends whom you ask). I am fascinated by the evolution of wine science and how our approaches to climate change are always in flux. Here’s a recent piece I wrote for Wine Industry Advisor on Space Grapes: https://wineindustryadvisor.com/2022/08/08/will-space-grapes-change-the-future-of-agriculture
Do you work on an editorial schedule or develop story ideas as they come up?
I work on the fly. If I hear something interesting or newsworthy (from my perspective), I pitch.
How often do you write assigned and paid articles? How often do you blog?
I try to write four or more paid articles per week, but not just about wine. I write about real estate and do product round-ups to pay those pesky bills!
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
Be yourself, whoever that is. I always have my best conversations with people who shoot from the hip, and that often involves off-the-record comments that help me understand a subject more broadly. (I of course respect their off-the-record status, but having the background information is invaluable).
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
You can actually get the winemaker. They’re often so busy. Without publicists, it would be very difficult for me to do my job.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
Does Madame de Pompadour count? Also: Barbe-Nicole Posardin Clicquot, Louis Pommery and Isabelle Simi.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
“Trying to relax.” Which often involves strenuous hikes, excessive French fry consumption and overly ambitious day trips with my (generally willing) children in tow.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
The Willamette Valley auction. It was incredibly fun and such an education to dive into so many stunning Pinot Noirs from one region.
What’s your cure for a wine hangover?
Giving birth. Having kids cured my desire to over-indulge for the most part. High-pitched shrieks make any hangover 300 times worse and my children only operate in the high-pitched shriek tempo.
Final Question. How would you like wine culture to change?
I would like people who make, sell, buy, love and consume wine to make purchase decisions not simply based on taste and preference, but with the future of the planet and winemaking in mind. If that sounds dramatic, read this https://wineindustryadvisor.com/2021/09/16/climate-change-global-winegrowing and this https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2022/06/glass-fire-climate-change-impact-wine/661396/. It is dramatic, but it’s also reality. If we don’t change the way we do things, wine as we know it now will no longer exist for our children.
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, Walla Walla, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).