Ray Fister, Life Between the Vines

Ray Fister, Life Between the Vines

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. They are after all, those 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.

RAY FISTER is the creator and producer of the podcast, Life Between the Vines, which has been in production since 2008.  He can be referred to as chief-cook-and-bottle-washer as he writes, interviews, records, videos, edits and produces each program. Mr. Fister was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio with a love for Indians baseball as well as watching Jim Brown play football in the 1960’s.  He has been a musician since his early teens and still performs in bands to this day.  Ray is a professional audio engineer for over 40 years and is owner of 5th Floor Recording Company which is located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, his current home. 

Wine is a great passion for Ray.  His first trip to Napa Valley back in 2001 took that passion to higher level.  He started Life Between the Vines podcast in 2008 and has recorded interviews with over 600 wine industry professionals.  The podcast focus has always been to make wine “less scary”. Ray wanted to let winemakers tell their own stories in their own words, humor and style.  Podcast #400 will run in mid-summer of this year. Ray is the wine contributor to Milwaukee’s NPR station WUWM Lake Effect program. He has hosted countless charity tastings and wine events. Ray lives with his life partner Kathryn, on a horse ranch, south of the city of Milwaukee. When he is not enjoying his humble wine collection, he writes songs, chases his cats and dog and does a bit of editing.

You can follow Ray and Life Between the Vines on Facebook and Instagram, and watch and listen on his YouTube site. 

Professional Background

How did you come to wine, and using video and podcasts as your medium?  I learned a bit about wine in the late 70’s working at a grocery store in the beverage aisle.  From there, wine got it hooks in me.  You never stop learning and wine provides a fun and educational challenge.  As an audio professional, I wanted to let winemakers and vintners tell their stories.  On two occasions I was able to work for a week during crush (Napa Valley and Anderson Valley) to peek “behind the curtain” and document what that life is all about.  

What are your long-range plans for “Life Between The Vines”?  To grow the podcast and videos while becoming a household name in wine.  I am living my dream producing this podcast.

Is it possible to make a living as a wine videographer today? If so, how have you succeeded? If not, why not? What are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?  I have to say it would be difficult to make a full time living as a videographer in this industry seeing how the tools are accessible to most everyone these days.  I have succeeded because I have been in the production industry for over 40 years. As well as producing the podcast for 12 years.  Experience pays off.   I genuinely like people.  The major challenges are lighting, noisy set and airplanes on outdoor interviews.  

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you?  First, I engineered all the audio for the Jeffrey Dahmer trial for Court TV.  Second, I am a rabid Beatles fan and collect records and memorabilia.  Third, I’ve recorded segments for the Simpsons and Family Guy tv shows.  Fourth, I play the ukulele…poorly.

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

Meet George Harrison 🙁

What’s the best video you have done?

Please provide a link. My favorite videos are from Premiere Napa Valley.  I’ve attended PNV 10 times and I do brief interviews with as many as 30+ winemakers during the barrel tasting.  I shoot video with an SLR camera, record audio on a Zoom unit all while trying to keep the same wine glass I started the morning with.  It keeps me on my toes and I have more fun than I can say doing these.  I usually choose a subject and main question which sets up the video.  Fours hours and I’m knocked out.  Here is the link to PNV 2020:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6GshUzgNIQ8&t=20s 

What’s your primary business occupation? 

I own a small commercial post production audio studio and yes, it is my intention to transition to wine full time.

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to doing interviews?  

I love interviewing winemakers.  I am a people person and that gives me the ability to communicate easily.  I do minimal prep so I can make the interview a conversation.  It is super important to listen to my guest’s answers!  I will be self-deprecating to have a bit of fun as we go and get my guest to open up with more interesting and fun stories.  I can be a bit silly.

There are many winery podcasts & videos. What makes your’s special?

We focus on top audio quality recordings for all our programs.  That is a high priority.  We maintain that attitude for every single program.

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

Generally, no.  Some of my guests are referred and some I find after I’ve tasted their wines.  I am lucky to have a great support network of PR folks that are simply fantastic and help find interesting people for me to chat with.

Do you post your content on social media? Why is that important?

Yes, I use social media constantly – Facebook and Instagram and YouTube.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with media? 

Have fun and try not to take an interview too serious.  Don’t ask for questions in advance so you can be spontaneous. Be sincere.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?  

Many of the PR firms I work with do a great job of setting up interviews for me in advance.  They solve location issues as well as introduce our podcast to prospects.

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

Robert Mondavi.  John Daniel Jr.  Andre Tchelistcheff.  Gerald Casale.  Sam Neill.  Steven Spurrier.  Gustavo Brambila.  

Leisure Time

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

Writing music, bicycling, reading and recording music.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?  There are so many.  Tasting Mouton Rothschild with friends for the first time…that was nice. Really, the best is with some dear friends who live in Napa and are in the industry.  We eat, we laugh, we make fun of each other.  Life is good.

What’s your cure for a wine hangover? 

Sleep and Tylenol.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world? 

Napa and Sonoma.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?

Favorite recipe/pairing? Best pairing, Sauvignon Blanc and scallops.  Fav recipe, home-made pizza and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 12th 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, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

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