‘PASSION’ SHOULD NOT BE A NOUN BUT A VERB

By Alan Goldfarb

So, Mr. Doclawyer, I’ll be conducting this interview so that we can tease out your winery’s story so that we’ll be able to entice some poor schnook of a wine writer out there to pay attention to your wines, even though there are a million others out there like you and yours.

May I call you by your first name? Do you go by Robert or Bob?

Here goes: What is the first word that comes to mind when you think of what it is you’re trying to achieve here; and to separate yourself from the ocean of wine that is getting higher (and not just due to climate change)?

Oh, I see… You have “passion”. Should I write that with two or three exclamation points? Passion. I’m so glad you used that word because it tells me something about yourself and your, well passion. So, does that mean that you have devotion to the business of wine? Or maybe it’s fervor? Would enthusiasm get it? Are you enraptured with wine? Or are you enchanted, infatuated, or is it that you merely adore wine?

Because I want to tell you Bob, I’d like to have a sawbuck for e-v –e-r-y winery owner who tells me he’s got p-a-s-s-i-o-n. The fact that you have passion is the oldest cliché in the annals of wine clichés. And the media – at least those that pay attention– have had it up to here. And so have I.

Do you think I want to read, yet again, from that wonderful muckraker Ron Washam – the blogger who calls himself The HoseMaster of Wine – excoriate us flacks that he’ll never again drink a passionate vintner’s wines if the producer uses the P-word again? I’ve long before The HoseMaster wrote about it, tried to break the yolk of platitudes in my clients.

The point is Mr. Vintner or Mr. Doclawyer or Ms. Technick, mean what you say and don’t spout all that overused, hackneyed pile of arble-garble such as “wines are made in the vineyard” or my wines are “balanced” and “we practice minimalist winemaking”. Chances are none of these vacuous words have much meaning, especially as they pertain to your wine. It’s like using “natural” or “sustainable”. They’ve been used so many times, for the purpose of making things sound better than they actually are, they’ve become useless.

But more important, it is my job as your publicist, your representative – to instruct you and to offer you alternatives to this tired, empty jargon, signifying nothing.

When you declare that your wines are made in the vineyard, prove it. Prove that you do nothing else to the grapes in the cellar but squeeze the juice – gently, of course. Prove that there’s minerality in your wines by explaining why and pinpointing those aromas and tastes. When you talk of your terroir, tell me how that manifests in my glass. Can I taste the wind? Is there evidence of your obsidian-laced soil?

Finally, really show me your passion; don’t tell about it. From here on, passion is not a word that lays there like a lox without substance. If you’re going to be my client, passion is no longer a noun, but a verb; as actionable evidence. I want you to cry in your vineyard, the way the late great André Tchelistcheff once did one afternoon when he stood in front of me in the Beaulieu Pinot Noir vineyard in the Carneros, holding a wind-ravaged broken shoot in his hand.

Or, when Josh Jensen had me smell the limestone in his vineyard in one of his Calera vineyards in the Gavilan Mountains of central California. I really did taste the white chalk in his Pinots. And when loveable crazyman Gary Pisoni almost killed me as he raced me around his property in his beat up, open-topped green jeep; all the while pointing out the nooks and crannies of his Pisoni vineyard, while in the other hand, he held a blunt.

Now, that was passion. That was real. That was exciting and in every case, those ethereal moments manifested in the glass. These men made wines of passion, idiosyncrasy, and difference. They all did so well in the marketplace because the media gathered around them like the flocks of seagulls that hover over the SF Giants’ ballpark every night.

So, as a publicist – while it’s easy to tell the stories of these dream clients – it’s my challenge to show the world that you too, Mr. Stockbroker, really do possess the passion to transfer your zeal and bravado into your wine. Only then and with that, will your wines be truly unique and recognized.

THE CARE AND FEEDING OF THE WINE MEDIA

By Alan Goldfarb

Before I began working on the other side of the aisle from where I am today as a winery media relations consultant, I was a 25-year wine journalist, writing for national and international publications. Some would call it crossing over to the “dark side”, that is, from scribe to flak. But I believe I took with me a set of skills that have aided me in getting pretty good at this PR stuff. Namely, that I carry in my marrow the DNA that journalists must possess (and the best PR people have): Excellent writing/reporting skills, a good dose of cynicism (in order to cut through the clatter), and the ability to tell stories. And, of course, a good knowledge of wine itself.

Sadly, those skills I see wanting in many publicists today. Oh, they may be superficially good at being a PR person – in possession of a good personality, an attractive countenance, and a certain feel for the gift of schmoozing – but it’s imperative to possess a thorough knowledge of wine and an intuition to know what a writer wants and needs.

In other words, have a good sense of caring and feeding of your target audience – the wine press; and the desire to stoke a wine writer’s requirements. Which in the end, means the necessity of building media relationships. They just won’t come to you (unless of course, you’re fortunate to rep a great wine that has an equally compelling story). Otherwise, let’s face it, many winery stories will have to be cultivated, cajoled, and circulated, by you.

Toward that end, over lunch the other day with a veteran wine writer – who has been a longtime colleague and friend, and who until recently, was considered among the most influential critics in the country, confessed that the outlets for whom he writes, are fast beginning to dry up. Relating to him as I did, I took the opportunity to offer some publications (outlets), both in the traditional media world (read: magazine), and new media, i.e. online wine publications, which are proliferating faster than my friend realizes; and for whom he might have a forum to place his articles.

The point is: by having lunch with this once highly regarded journalist, I was cultivating our personal relationship (in a real sense); and by extension, I was offering him what hopefully would be a lifeline. In turn, perhaps he will continue to be a real friend, and he’ll think of me and my clients whenever he’s working on a article (perhaps even for one of those publications which I recommended). It was at once a genuine moment with a good friend I’ve admired for years, and a sensible business strategy. That afternoon over a salad, a pizza, and of course, some of my client’s wines, I was prepared to put into effect, a skill set that is sometimes overlooked – or not available – to some winery PR folk.

So, if you’re a winery, looking to put a media relations campaign in place, and are looking for the right person(s) to do the job effectively, and who has deep and intimate contacts with the wine media, seek one who knows how to nurture those who will bring recognition to your brand.

Original, Critical-Thought Wine Writing – Why It Is Imperative to Your Brand

By Alan Goldfarb

“Originality is how we separate ourselves, including you, from the pack”. Who said that? I said that. I meant it as it pertains to the good folks that write about wine. But, of course, if you – Mr. & Ms. Winery Owner – are fortunate to have an original, unique story published about you, you’re almost guaranteed to separate yourself from the morass of wine brands that seem to pop up every day of the week. So, for our purposes here, let us concentrate on the (wine) media: those members of the so-called fourth-estate, be they traditional print writers (magazines and newspapers), new media involved with posting on the Internet, or members of the electronic media (radio & TV).

It is these folks with whom you must figure out how to engage, and who will disseminate your winery’s stories to the world – and mostly for free(!). We call this “earned” media, as opposed to “paid advertising” or “pay-for-play” and advertorial articles, which will cost you dearly. Third-party endorsement I’m sure you’ll agree, is the goal.

So, whom to engage and enlist in your public relations (we prefer the term media relations) campaign? Whom to target to get the most meaningful benefit from your efforts? Well, we all know – and much to the curdling of my printer’s ink-infused blood – traditional print media is shrinking faster than a guy in cold water. Newspaper and magazine wine writers are being excised as though they’re mold on cheese. Nonetheless, traditional media offers audience targeting and is measurable, and therefore is not to be dismissed.

Streaming wine radio or podcasts however, are proliferating at an unprecedented rate, as well as is wine coverage on the web that is spreading rapidly. But, a word of caution: While wine coverage is reaching critical mass, the vast majority of media still lurk out there without real journalistic or writerly experience; and for whom perks such as food and wine, and seeing their name in print, is the primary lure; and for which an original or creative thought was not part of their SATs.

So, my advice to you, is to go after those few members of the wine media who think for themselves, harbor authentically singular and distinctive thought; and oh, who know wine and what they’re talking and writing about. It is these individuals who are apart from the chaff; albeit far and few. The task is to identify those idiosyncratic members of the wine media.

As a wine journalist myself for the last quarter-century or so, I learned years ago that it was imperative to find my own voice as a writer. That construct is not meant as a platitude, but is offered to writers who I believe must find their own voice, identity, and style. It is what makes readers take notice. It’s amazing – and sometimes disheartening – to read a writer, whose work contains no critical thoughts, no original ideas, uses your website copy or is devoid of creativity.

It manifests now for me when I have my winery public relations hat on; when I read a review or story from a writer, who has posted or published an article about one our clients. Pieces are often predominated by words from our media kit that we furnish to writers in order for them to get a better understanding of our clients.

It’s flattering and rewarding, of course – especially for the winery – to see an article written about them. But to me as a media consultant, it’s disappointing when I read something that has been regurgitated almost verbatim from our press materials.

We are always truly grateful that the writer thought enough of our client, and by extension, enough of our press information, to warrant an article on the Internet or in a magazine or a newspaper. It means we’re doing our job.

But we’re only human and when I see a piece that’s chock full of original thought with compelling turns of a phrase, we’re automatically drawn to that journalist; and we will try to get placements again and again with that writer on their blog, or in their newspapers. Because it’s meaningful and valuable, no matter the readership of the writer.

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Elaine Chukan Brown

Some writers that stand out for us are Fredric Koeppel out of Memphis with his whimsically named Bigger Than Your Head ( http://biggerthanyourhead.net) blog, or Elaine Chukan Brown from California and her imaginative Lily-Elaine Hawk Wakawaka website (http://WakawakaWineReviews.com).

Also, check out Pennsylvania’s Joe Roberts on his 1WineDude (http://1WineDude.com) site or Jon Bonné writing in the San Francisco Chronicle (http://sfgate.com). How about Leslie Sbrocco with her restaurant-centric show, Check, Please! Bay Area (http://blogs.kqed.org/checkplease), on the PBS KQED-TV series that is shown in the San Francisco Bay Area. A wine writer first and foremost, Ms. Sbrocco always makes sure to devote a segment to talking about wine; a rare occurrence for a TV show or even a restaurant review to spend some time on wine.

So, the point here is: Just as the wineosphere becomes more cluttered everyday with a plethora of brands, so too is the Internet becoming overrun by mediocre wine writing. In the end, original, well-thought out writing will reap ever bigger rewards, for everyone.

In turn, it’ll be much more meaningful for you, your winery, and your brand. Hopefully, in time, it’ll add up to selling more wine.

ALAN GOLDFARB has been on both sides of the media-relations aisle, first as a 25-year wine journalist, and now as a winery media relations consultant. His writing has appeared in Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, and he was the wine editor at the St. Helena Star in the Napa Valley where that assignment was not unlike covering Catholicism at the Vatican.
Now, Alan has partnered with Carl Giavanti (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media) in their winery media relations consultancy. Their clients are or have been in Napa Valley, the Carneros, Dry Creek Valley, Willamette Valley, and Columbia Valley.

Turn the Radio On – To Internet Wine

Guest Article by Alan Goldfarb, wine journalist and media consultant

I’ve always, since I was a kid, loved radio. To this day, when I can, I fall asleep listening to radio; and uncannily, manage to shut it off as I’m dozing off. That’s why I’m thrilled to be able to tap into an emerging tentacle in a wine publicist’s media outreach database – streaming, online, wine radio.

Interestingly, as traditional and print media shrinks seemingly every day, the recent proliferation of web-based wine-related radio shows have come on the scene, seemingly emanating from every market. A flack would be remiss if he or she didn’t tap into this resource that I think will prove to be invaluable to winery clients.

I myself, used to have wine radio shows that were broadcast in the San Francisco/Sacramento region. Notice, I used the word “broadcast.” These were disseminated through the AM and FM dials. Some wine radio still lives on broadcast radio frequencies, but like their print counterparts, those too are quickly drying up. Thus, wine radio lives, breathes, and proliferates on the Internet in the form of streaming.

We’ve recently had several of our clients appear on a variety of these shows – whether in the form of one-on-one interviews with the host, or a chat room tasting with a panel of wine experts and consumers. They prove to be fun for the client, and invaluable toward reaching a wider audience, which in turn, helps build a brand.

I used to love to pull the cork under the mic so the listeners could hear a bottle being opened, and then pouring it – up to the mic – into the glass. Swishing the wine in mouth, also close to the microphone, lent a sense of action. I also enjoyed having the likes of Andre Tchelistchefff and Georg Riedel in my studios. Before Riedel glasses hit big, I conducted a comparison tasting with my own glass (which I thought was perfectly serviceable) and one of Riedel’s Pinot Noir vessels. Guess which one blew the other away?

I received lots of comments on that show – broadcast on a dinky little 1,000-watt station. Imagine the listeners you’ll garner now on Internet radio.

The Times, They Are a-Changin’

The 2013 vineyard land rush in Willamette Valley

Yes, that Bob Dylan song is still relevant today after almost 50 years since its release. The jury is still out and will be for some time, on how the vineyard land rush in Willamette Valley will affect the wine industry and culture here. I’m hopeful that large corporate players will acclimate to our collaborative way of doing things. I have a vested interest in that as I’ve been making a living for over 5 years now in Willamette Valley and like things the way they are. I have some concerns longer term however.

I can’t help but wonder about the optimism expressed by many in our community about all of the outside investment we’re experiencing in 2013. I want to believe that things won’t change. Vineyard and Winery owners said the same thing 40 years ago in Napa Valley. Yes, this is certainly a confirmation of the legacy that has been built by many pioneers and folks committed to growing grapes and producing wine in Oregon. Yet, Oregon vineyard land is still a value play, and an opportunity for large producers to add high priced niche brands to their portfolios.

I decided to seek the studied opinions of wine industry people that I know and respect. I tapped Alan Goldfarb for his view from Napa Valley (full disclosure: He’s my partner in our media consultancy business). Alan is a 25 year wine journalist and publicist who covered Napa Valley for the St. Helena Star and AppellationAmerican.com amongst many others. I also reached out to several local wine industry folks for their thoughts and opinions. You’ll find some areas of concern and lots of reasons for hope. Keep your eyes on this dynamic region, and fingers crossed for the best. Bob Dylan offers lyrical advice that may be relevant for all of us in the wine industry here. “You better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, because times, they are a-changin’”.

One perspective from Napa Valley

“It’s an old story” say Alan Goldfarb, “I’m guessing that 75% of Napa winery brands are corporate owned and of those, 25% are internationally owned. That leaves 25% that are true family wineries. Is Oregon headed down this path? In Napa, prices were driven up over time – for property, grapes, wine and labor. Locals say it’s not a small town any longer. As Napa moved toward mono-culture (less Ag diversity), small farmers were put out of business, there were adverse impacts to the land; including singular types of bugs and disease”.

Goldfarb says, “One of the reasons why many of the wines seem the same in Napa is that terroir is being mitigated by what is happening in the cellar. Can this happen, and how long before it does in Willamette Valley? It may take a generation, but it’s beginning to happen. This is a manifestation of the success of Willamette Valley, and we all know that money and the political clout chases success. That said, what is there to be done about it?”

Opinions abound from local growers and winemakers

Note – the proceeding is a compilation of winery owners and growers in Willamette Valley that expressed opinions and agreed to be quoted on the subject (full disclosure: several of the folks quoted here are clients of my wine marketing and/or PR services businesses).

David Adelsheim, Adelsheim Vineyard

Regarding the Domain Drouhin venture into Oregon in the late 1980’s – “It raised the bar for the wineries, it raised the bar for other looking in at what Oregon was doing, it gave gravitas, seriousness, to the industry, which up until that time had been a bunch of people who had been underfinanced”.

Ken Wright, Ken Wright Cellars

“This is another incredible validation of the quality of Pinot Noir coming from our region.  The fact that Jadot, a venerable producer from Burgundy, chose Oregon as their first purchase outside of their homeland says everything about their respect for our wine. As we did with Domaine Drouhin, they will be welcomed with open arms and embraced in our community”.

Don Hagge, Vidon Vineyard

“Corporate wine investors need large tracts of land, to yield enough wine to satisfy the requirements of large retail outlets, and to make an impact on their bottom line. Kendall Jackson went to South Willamette Valley for that reason – three 500 acre parcels. In North Willamette the subdivisions and parcels are much smaller and have many individual owners so they will be harder to assimilate. The land is also more expensive for that reason and attractive to life style investors”.

John Grochau, Grochau Cellars

“I think it is a good thing.  While we have made a lot of headway in the last decade, we are still a ‘niche region’. These new investors have large distribution networks and deep pockets to push Oregon Pinot Noir further into the consumer’s mind”.

“That said, this will make it harder on wineries that are my size (less than 5,000 cases). A lot of vineyard land has been purchased, land that has supplied many wineries with grapes. Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris have become harder to find and the prices are going up. All of this puts more pressure on small businesses, as we run on thinner margins and don’t have buying power. Relationships with growers are more crucial than ever in this type of business climate.  I count myself lucky to have been working with many of my growers for 5-10 years”.

Tom Feller, Artisanal Cellars

“You know this is the classic question. As we become more successful and more highly regarded as a wine growing/making region, more outside groups enter the market.  This both grows our market and leads to some producers being forced out, both small and large”.

“In some ways I think the bigger question is, what is the future of the wine industry in general? It seems we are seeing more big producers acquiring wineries in wide number of global regions – Chateau Ste. Michelle or the Jackson Family for example. Couple this with the national distribution market being controlled by two major companies and I think this outside investment could make it more difficult for small producers to compete in the national market. The issue of wine market consolidation and shrinking of distribution channel is happening whether new groups enter Oregon or not”.

“But on the upside, I believe that with this increase in national visibility, these companies can help the region in terms of tourism. I think for a small producer, building a more direct relationship with consumers is the key to our long term success. We are still a very tiny part of the national wine production and we need to grow to be more present in wine consumer’s minds. If these investors leverage the uniqueness and quality of the place then it can only help the region’s visibility nationally and globally in the long run”.

 Wayne Bailey, Youngberg Hill Vineyards

“In summary, I would say it will put us on the map. That may seem like a strange comment, but it continues to surprise even me how few people across the country and across the world know that we have a thriving wine industry in Oregon, let alone world class Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley. Even a wine blogger like Snooth, clearly feels the NW does not produce wines worth seeking. And because we produce such a small amount of wine, exposure to Oregon Pinot Noir is still quite limited.

Therefore, the investment of Jackson Family Fine Wines and Louis Jadot (in addition to Chateau St. Michelle and DDO) will bring much need awareness and marketing clout to our wine community. In addition, a producer like Jackson will bring a different scale of production that will get more Willamette Valley Pinot Noir to the masses, bringing much needed exposure”.

“Will it affect the culture? It won’t change the mindset of the hundreds of us that are small family farmers, considering each other as neighbors, and working together to further our cause. Hopefully, the new players will acclimate to the culture of grape growing and production here and, at the same time, change our myopic marketing mentality”.

Mark Huff, Stag Hollow Vineyard

“Size really does matter in this case. Oregon wine industry has over 400 wine producers, and a majority are small, and many are thriving.  Unlike many other U.S. industries, consumers seek out small family run winery operations because they still have direct access and can connect with us, hear our stories. As the Oregon wine industry continues to grow, there will be a natural evolution to larger and larger operations dominating the face of the Oregon wine industry and its marketing arm.  As a result, the share of the marketing spirit that small producers bring to brand “Oregon” will be at-risk of slowly shrinking away unless a unified effort is put forth to develop specific long-term marketing strategies directed at small and even moderate size family producers. Hopefully the unique community culture we’ve built in the Oregon wine industry will survive.”

Kevin Johnson, DION Vineyard

“Well, you should probably get someone who buys Southern Oregon fruit on record, but, in a nutshell, Southern Oregon fruit should costs less – ton for ton – than Willamette Valley fruit.  Southern Oregon land prices are generally cheaper and the sites are generally warmer, which means they can ripen more fruit.  Smaller numerator, bigger denominator. Their transportation costs will be somewhat higher – but not so much as to overcome the cost/ton advantage over the Willamette Valley”.

“To compete with that difference in fixed costs – i.e. mortgages – Willamette Valley growers will likely try to find a way to increase the prices paid for their fruit. Those of us in the sub-AVA’s – Chehalem Mountains, Dundee Hills, etc., will probably continue to emphasize their AVA’s, a shift that is already underway. For all the growers outside the sub-AVA’s however, the only differentiation available is the Willamette Valley AVA.  So I would expect an effort to emphasize the difference that those growing regions have and new AVA’s as well”.

“This works in France – Burgundy to Cote de Nuit to Vosne-Romanee to La Tache – as an example – of price stepping up with differentiation. I’m not sure how well it’s going to work for Oregon – yet”.

Vetting those Wine Bloggers is NOT like taking care of your dog or cat

Guest Article by Alan Goldfarb, wine journalist and media consultant

With apologies to Lettie Teague’s recent column of March 29, Wall Street Journal

I must be blogger No. 1451, according to Lettie Teague’s latest count of the number of wine bloggers out there. I attended the Wine Blogger’s Conference last year in Portland, Oregon. Given my media credentials, they put me all the way in the back of the conference hall which was inconvenient, but not as scary or difficult as it was getting to my hotel room in Gresham.

Anyway, I got there, I got to taste a lot of wine (some of which I stuffed into my computer bag), and got to meet a lot of you folks, the movers and shakers of the wine industry. I never had so much attention paid to me, at least not since December 2012, when I began writing my blog which I call “Freeloading in Wine Country”.

People. You’ve gotta pay more attention to vetting these bloggos; and by that I don’t mean making a special trip to your veterinarian. If you want to get your name out there in the blogosphere, you’ve got to quality online writers (just not me). To ignore them is to miss out – big time – to what’s happening out there, apropos the media. That’s not to say you should overlook the traditional guys (and you already know who they are. They’re the ones who make the big bucks whilst I struggle making about $15.75 a week writing Freeloading).

When you do vett us, look at the content of our writing. How often do we post? And most important, how many followers, hits, and readers we have. Me? I have two people who even bother to open their computers to look at site every so often – my mom and dad – and they have one machine between them, a Commodore Pet. But maybe since I’ve been to the Bloggers Conference, you’ll begin to read me now, too; and even send me samples. Thanks for the invite to the conference and all that free food and wine. Ergo, the name of my blog.