Melanie Ofenloch, Dallas Wine Chick

Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. I expect you’ll discover more about wine writers that 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 and review our wines. What better way to obtain media coverage than to learn their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges and pet peeves. This is also part of an ongoing series that is being featured monthly by Wine Industry Network. Last month’s interview featured Michelle Williams, who writes for Forbes, Snooth, USA Today and may more consumer lifestyle publications.

MELANIE OFENLOCH is the founder and editor of Dallas Wine Chick, a blog focused on the experience of wine, which has been named in the top 100 global wine blogs by two separate entities.  She also has been named LUX Magazine’s Top Wine Blog in Texas and is a guest contributor to Snooth.

You can read her stories at www.dallaswinechick.com, and follow her on Twitter @dallaswinechick, Instagram @dallaswinechick and Facebook @Dallas-Wine-Chick

Professional Background

How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?  

It all comes down to a simple thing. I didn’t want to be known as “Sleepy Bill” at work.  Back in the early days of my career, we had an executive vice president named Bill who sat in his office and read the Wall Street Journal.  None of us ever saw him do work.  Fast forward about 12 years, and I sat with the same title working for Weber Shandwick.  With social media exploding.  I knew I had to “get it to get it” and I signed up for a Twitter account (under the generic @melanie) and stumbled my way through using it.  After 45 days of posting my random musings on marketing I realized I had only 60 followers, most of them worked for me, I decided to switch to writing about my passion – wine.  I jokingly told my husband when I hit 1,600 followers on Twitter, I’d start a blog.  That was 9 years ago in January.

What are your primary story interests? 

When it comes down to it, it’s simply about telling my story of wine. I don’t consider myself a wine expert – just an everyday person with a love for the grape. I am not a sommelier, winery owner, wine marketer or wine expert.  But I love to tell stories – so if it’s about a winemaker or a vineyard or a family or a special wine, that is in my wheelhouse.

What are your primary palate preferences?

That’s such an interesting question.  Like with food and the seasons, my palate is constantly changing.  It depends on the food I’m eating, where I am traveling and the shifting of the weather (especially in 100 degree Texas).  I used to love big reds, but I’ve found that today I am leaning toward wines with higher acidity and lower alcohol content.  I’m always on a journey to find new things from new regions.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am the Fight of the Night recipient the first year that women could box in the Golden Gloves in 1994. I started boxing on a bet from my then fiancé (now husband) that told me that I was too much of a wimp to start boxing (he says he was joking) … and well, just don’t double dog dare me J

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your wine writing? 

Wine is fun. It’s a journey and experience. It’s about raising a glass with friends. It shouldn’t be intimidating.  Just smile.  Enjoy.

What’s the best story you have written? Please provide a link.

In 9 years, I’ve had the opportunity to interview some amazing people. While I’ve had several opportunities to interview Peter Mondavi, Jr., this year was special with it being the winery’s 75th anniversary where I was lucky enough to attend a retrospective tasting and then had a follow up visit to the winery, https://www.dallaswinechick.com/generations-in-a-glass-celebrating-the-75th-anniversary-of-charles-krug-winery/

How would you like the wine community to remember you?

With the recent passing of my friend and blogger (Brix Chicks Liza) Liza Swift, this is a question that weighs on my mind. I hope people remember me for my humor, my sense of fun and my ability to go rogue. I hope they remember my passion for wine, my loyalty to my friends and readers and how much fun I had in this journey. And, I hope they remember me for being a great mom and wife.

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?

My approach to wine writing is how can I tell a story differently. There are great critics out there – another one isn’t needed. While I do periodic sample reviews (about 6 per year), that isn’t my focus. I really want to give a close up, behind the scenes view in my stories.

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

I develop story ideas as they come up. Dallas is a hotbed for winemaker visits and I usually see at least three a month. Throw in the Twitter and Snooth tastings, winery seminars and press trips and that gives me great base content.

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

Yes. I find that is a great driver of not only extending the reach of my articles but increasing engagement with a number of different audiences. I find all of my social channels – Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest have different audiences and there is not as much crossover as you would think.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists? 

Please ask to send samples before sending them. I can’t tell you how many boxes just show up that I never expected to receive. Please check addresses when you are sending.  I left my last job almost four years ago and samples are still coming to that address. And finally, please send spec sheets and your contact information. I contact every winery that sends me a sample to let them know if it will or will not be featured. It would be fantastic if I didn’t have to track down your information.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists? 

I love working with great winery publicists. They always ask about samples, they always include the spec sheets and I know how to contact them with questions. A good PR person is worth their weight in gold.

What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews? 

See question number 11. I’ll add not being able to get an answer to a question for a story that I’m working on in a timely fashion.

Leisure Time

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

As someone that owns their own marketing consulting business, that’s a hard task. I love to travel, I work out daily and love to spend time with my family. You are likely to find me on a beach with a glass of wine in hand if I have my way.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience? 

I would have to say my first solo winemaker sit down for the blog came over a casual Mexican lunch in Dallas. I set up lunch with the head of marketing of Mollydooker who I had been communicating with on Twitter. She told me there’d be some others attending and they’d meet me at Gloria’s. Naively, I didn’t ask who else would be coming and assumed it would be a larger team of PR and marketing folks from Mollydooker and maybe a few folks from the Texas distributor.

I was wrong.  When I arrived at the restaurant, I noticed a team of three people in branded Mollydooker shirts bearing bottles of their top labels. As I got closer, I realized that aside from Krissy, none other than Sparky Marquis, co-owner and winemaker and his mum, Janet were joining us. He told me the story behind the story of the winery … being down to their last $17, asking the growers to forego payment and how Robert Parker almost missed the meeting that saved the winery.   https://www.dallaswinechick.com/mollydooker-the-story-behind-the-story/

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

Tuscany.  Need I say more?

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 10th 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).

Michelle Williams Interview

Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. I expect you’ll discover more about wine writers that 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 and review our wines. What better way to obtain media coverage than to learn their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges and pet peeves. This is also part of an ongoing series that is being featured monthly by Wine Industry Network. Last month’s interview featured Joe Roberts, 1 Wine Dude, who has written for many consumer and industry national publications including Playboy Magazine, and has one of the longest lived and prolific wine review sites in the U.S.

MICHELLE WILLIAMS is based in Dallas, Texas. Michelle is an award-wining freelance writer of wine, food, and travel. She has been named one of the 15 Most Influential People in Wine, and her work appears in numerous publications, including Forbes, Snooth, The Daily Meal, and USA Today’s 10Best Eat, Sip, Trip, Hook & Barrel Magazine, Plano Profile Magazine, and Basil & Salt Magazine. As a passionate wine geek, Michelle travels extensively to wine regions around the globe in search of the story inside the glass.

You can follow Michelle on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and read her stories on Rockin Red Blog and Forbes.

Professional Background

How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?

I began drinking wine in my early 20’s. Like many, I started with boxed wine and white Zinfandel. Several of my girlfriends invited me to a wine pairing dinner at a brewery in downtown Dallas. This Kendall Jackson event was my introduction to wine and food pairings. I was sold and been an oenophile ever since.

My entry into wine writing is much longer. I was completing my master’s degree and entering a discernment period of whether or not to continue into a PhD program. Thanks to a professor insisting our class join Twitter I had already become an active member of the online wine community. As graduation loomed, I was approached by a couple of wineries asking if they could send me samples to review. Review? Where? How? I did not know what to do. My Millennial daughter suggested I start a blog. Although I knew nothing about blogging and did not read any blogs I knew I needed to keep writing during my discernment period so I followed her advice. The blog, Rockin Red Blog, took off, and the rest, as they say, is history.

What are your primary story interests?

My primary story interests are wine, food as it pairs with wine, and travel.

What are your primary palate preferences?

I have an “old world” style palate, preferring to drink wines of restraint with balanced fruit and earth qualities. When able I opt for well aged wines with tertiary notes, over young wines. I have a cellar to prove it.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

Very little, I suppose.

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?

I would like readers to learn not to be intimidated by branching out and trying new wines. We all fall into wine ruts, but the world of wine is vast and there are so many great wines available in all price ranges. I would also love it if readers would embrace online wine purchasing, either through retailers or direct to wineries. Distribution and shipping laws in US are not consumer friendly, buying wines online is a great way to branch out. Get your friends together, place an order, and split the shipping costs. There is much to explore.

If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing? 

I love to teach and at one point was strongly considering a PhD. If I were not writing about wine, I would be teaching it. As the Texas Brand Ambassador for Franciacorta, I am afforded the opportunity to provide some wine education. I really enjoy it. Perhaps someday, I will take on a larger role in wine education.

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?

I see myself more as a storyteller than a wine reviewer. I seek out the story inside the glass to provide the reader with a personal connection. Wine is not just a beverage, it is real people engaging in challenging work, when, more often than not, they could be making a better living doing something else. It is a labor of love, I want readers to see beyond the beverage in a glass into the people, history, culture, place, etc.

Although I am WSET Advanced certified, I prefer not to critique wine. I provide my tasting notes and let the reader decide if it sounds interesting. I save the scoring for someone else, it does not interest me.

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

I am highly organized – an editorial calendar is a must. My current calendar runs six months in advance. However, since I control it, there is room for flexibility.

How often do you write assigned and paid articles (not your blog)? How often do you blog?

I write at least five articles each month for Forbes, between six and ten a year for Snooth, and freelance additional articles for a variety of digital and print publications as I am able and/or assigned. I try to add original content to Rockin Red Blog at least twice a month. I wish I could write more for the blog, but I currently don’t have the bandwidth for it. I do share all my other articles on the blog, as well.

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

It is important to reach as broad an audience as possible.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Ask before sending samples and don’t expect coverage because you sent samples or provided a trip to your winery. Wineries/publicists often have very different wants and expectations than editors, but the writer works for the editor. Personally, I don’t want follow up emails asking if I am going to write about something, pitching me article ideas, etc. I am a professional, I do what I can, when I can, as it fits with my editorial calendar, my readers, and my editor.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

The publicist knows more about marketing and often communicates well with the journalist, I am thankful to work with many great PR agencies, but this is not always the case. There are many lazy publicists.

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

Meeting Jancis Robinson would be amazing. Her work is paramount to my wine education.

Leisure Time

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

As a wife and mother, many of my days off are spent doing chores and errands, or spending time with my family and friends. Not glamorous. As much as I travel on wine research trips, my favorite way to spend my free time is traveling with my husband. I have an unquenchable thirst to experience the world and he is my best travel companion.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

This is an impossible question for me to answer. I am blessed to travel to some of the world’s greatest wine regions, as such, I have had a bounty of memorable wine tasting experiences. To list one or two would diminish all of them.

Pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner.

Easy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Both allow for bubbles as well as still wine, and as still they both are crafted into a wide variety of expressions. They are both food friendly, and Pinot Noir would also allow me to enjoy Rosé.

 

Does Media Coverage Help Me Sell Wine?

The Ultimate Question. The Ultimate Answer?

The only question more difficult than this one for a publicist is “Show me exactly how much wine I sold as a result of the media coverage you obtained for us”.

I was on the phone with a longtime client recently, and received a question I didn’t expect – Does media coverage help us sell wine? – It’s a difficult and broad discussion, and there are so many ways to respond, so instead I deferred and asked “Maybe you can be more specific”?

Let me give this a shot. Generally speaking I would say yes, although it’s difficult to quantify. But I think the question could more appropriately be – Does media coverage encourage consumers to buy wine from us eventually? – as I don’t think there is an instant and direct correlation (with the possible exception of 94+ point scores in Spectator and a few other high end publications) between media hits and selling wine. The reason for this is that people buy from brands they trust and have experienced. Short of that, consumers rely on 3rd party expert opinions to justify their purchases and loyalty. Readers respect writer’s opinions, much as they trust selected wine shop’s palates to guide their purchases.

Media coverage is one aspect of a comprehensive marketing program, and if you aren’t getting media endorsements – articles, reviews, scores – about your winery and wines, it creates an additional barrier to entry for consumers as they have too much choice and information to sort through these days. So yes, media coverage helps new customers discover your brand and wines, which should eventually lead to sales. The point is staying top of mind, and when the time is right and someone is ready to buy you should reap the harvest (couldn’t resist that analogy).

Andy Perdue of Great Northwest Wine says “ I ask wineries featured in my Seattle Times column what kind of consumer feedback they got, and it ranges from a few calls and sales to the phone ringing off the hook, and a ton of sales and wine club signups. I also get feedback from wine shop owners mentioning upticks in sales when the column comes out. And if I review a wine that is difficult to find or happens to be sold out, I hear about it from the consumer.” Andy’s partner Eric Degerman adds that “Wineries can do themselves a favor by quoting and linking back to reviews of wines. Sharing on social media is important. And promoting a post for $20 will often get a lot of good reactions from consumers.”

Tracking the impact of an article via website analytics is worth the effort but tricky. You can correlate spikes of traffic within 7-10 days of an article or magazine review, but it is anecdotal at best. How many readers signed up for your email list after reading an article or review? What about Social Media follows and engagement? You can track these pre-sales actions, but you can’t track sales as easily. However, you now can market directly to those new subscribers, resultant from the media coverage, and hopefully eventually sell them wine. It is an ongoing process and requires vision and patience.

Online articles about your brand are directly track-able when linked back to the winery’s site. If you place a related ad, you can use promo codes for readers of those publications. You know exactly how many visitors came from that coverage because of the unique link or code, and if they purchased.

There are other potential results of media coverage to consider – What about retail store purchases? The wine shop or restaurant customer sees your winery on the list, and recognizes the brand, somehow. Maybe they don’t know from where or why but feel comfortable making a purchase because of some previous media impression. So no, media coverage doesn’t typically directly sell wine, but it greases the skids and removes barriers to enable new customer to find you and purchase your products.

That’s all fine and good and understood, but here is an even tougher question from said client – How do we get the writer’s audience to take action, i.e. to buy our wines? Should the writer be promoting wines that they like to their readers?

This brings us into the cutting edge realm of “Influencer Marketing” which is a hybrid of earned media and advertising, and includes both “they” (the writers) and “we” (the winery) promoting action. Where we want to be extremely careful is not to be perceived as collaborating with writers on advertorials like certain wine travel magazines offer, because people are savvy to that, and professional writers and reviewers lose credibility. There are writers for hire that are more focused on billings than investigative journalism that you can approach to promote your brand.

So how do we get THEIR readers to take action? – It is not the writers’ job to sell your wine as this is conflict of interest for any objective journalist. It is your job to leverage their content in your marketing.  See my article on using media coverage in your content marketing.

One way to leverage articles and reviews is to advertise on their site, place a banner ad or pay for a review. Take a look at Catherine Fallis’ Planet Grape website as an example – upper right hand corner are banner ads. Consumers will hopefully click, which could lead to sales. There are many other ways to pay-to-play with wine reviewers such as The Sommelier Company who will review your wines for a fee. I don’t believe the paid nature influences the actual score, although this always depends on the integrity of the reviewer or publication.

Another example are video reviewers who are paid to review wines, and will say nice and positive things, and post the video on YouTube and their social sites exposing your brand to their followers. I am also actively talking to other influencers in the wine, food and travel industries, and other outlets about doing the same. I think this is a better, superior option to simply running static print ads, and should be part of an overall advertising budget. Vetting the source, type of consumers and marketing program is a must before dedicating advertising dollars to any project.

In the end, no winery can afford not to do all the things that generate sales – either directly or indirectly – including marketing, PR and paid advertising (including Influencer marketing). It’s just too competitive out there and consumers have too much choice.

I think most of you inherently know this, so hopefully this article offers some points of clarification on the topic. Bottom line – Wineries will get more out of media coverage when they put more into it after it’s published. Please comment or email and let me know your thoughts.

Kudos to one of my long time client for continuing to ask the tough questions. You know who you are!

CARL GIAVANTI is Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 8th 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).

 

‘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.

Get to Know Your Wine Blogger: They’re the New Media

By Alan Goldfarb

We in the wine public relations trade are witnessing the evolution of how we conduct our business. As liaisons between the wine industry and the nation’s media, many of us are realizing that we have to change the way we engage with writers and radio hosts; while identifying who those entities are. As the influence of the Wine Spectators and the Wine Advocates of the world begin to erode, it’ll take hard work to put eyeballs on your wine because wine writing and communication is entangled in an amorphous and ever-expanding sphere. Woe be it to those that don’t try to rein that world in and comprehend it. Otherwise, you’ll be left in the ashes as your brand tries to gain traction with the media, as concurrently wineries are running in place in the miasma of brand proliferation.

When my partner, Carl Giavanti and I began our media relations consultancy a few years ago, we boasted of a database (our strongest asset after our media relationships) comprised of about 800 media members – 75 percent of which were traditional print or broadcast radio people. Today, that list has grown to approximately 1,200 names – 65 percent we estimate, is made up of online writers , aka wine bloggers. What an unfolding development.

With that in mind; as well as intuitively understanding that online/blogging media members are rapidly and exponentially becoming our target audience, we set out in July for Buellton, north of Santa Barbara, for the Wine Bloggers Conference or as it’s known in the blogosphere, WBC.

That’s right, wine bloggers, for the last seven years, have been gathering in ever-increasing numbers in various wine regions for an annual confab where they meet and greet, listen to tales of how to conduct their craft (or hobby, as is often the case), and engage with each other in speed dating-like sessions in which tastings of wine – within about 15-second windows – are tweeted to anyone in the world who might be out there. The WBC, I suppose, enables wine bloggers to feel a part of something bigger than themselves, to revel in like-minded camaraderie, and to give a sort of legitimacy to their endeavors.

To those of us flack types; it was an arena in which 250 wine writers were gathered in the same place for three days with almost unfettered accessibility, to engage these new-world media members. The idea was to put a face in front of and to build relationships with those writers with the hopes that they’ll post something, sometime, about our clients.

Additionally, it was another opportunity for us – and the astute half-dozen or so other winery PR consultants who were also there working the room – to vett the writers in order to separate the more serious types from the hobbyists. The latter obviously have realized that writing a word here or there about wine, which is not larded with monetary rewards, does come with extraordinary perks. Or, as I witnessed at one seminar in which a professional blogger — who by a show of hands saw that no one(!) in the room was making a living writing about wine — suggested there were other ways to line one’s pockets. To which about half the participants, in unison and sotto voce giggled, “W-i-n-e”. Meaning: the opportunity to receive abundant free samples of wine. The requisite apparently, was to post a few words once in a while – sometimes superficially or lacking in original thought – in order to have samples delivered to one’s door.

That’s part of why it’s so difficult to know which writers will bring your winery the most rewards and why it’s imperative to try and grasp who is doing what on the vast Internet. Carl and I go through an arduous series of vetting protocols and hierarchies to understand with which writers we want to put our clients and their wines together.

It’s a Sisyphus’s task to collect any real data on how much traffic a writer’s blog or site attracts. Numbers from multiple sources vary wider than a pitcher’s curveball. But if one is paying attention and digs deep into where a blogger may have some penetration, a pattern emerges as to whose stories, reviews, and mentions have meaning.

How many people read Justgimmethewine.com? Does I’mawinebloggerandyou’renot.com have impact? Does IknowwhatI’mtalkinabout.com know what they’re talking about? They most decidedly don’t have the cachet and gravitas of Jim Laube or Robert Parker and while it would be folly to ignore those arbiters of wine, the websites and blogs of a rapidly growing and important new kind of media – collectively – are too many to dismiss. In fact, you now must embrace them, nurture them, and realize – this is the future and they’re fast becoming the present of what constitutes wine media in the nascent stages of the 21st century.

I saw one of these bloggers at WBC shopping for dresses and shoes online while three seasoned (read: traditional print writers) tried to impart their wisdom on the new media members in the room; while another leaned over to me to comment, “It’s time to move on” in an admonishment of traditional journalism. This is our new reality.

Amateur wine writers might be proliferating faster than krill, while bloggers who choose to dismiss journalistic wine history, are commonplace and often shallow, there is a small cadre of worthwhile bloggers who are emerging. You would be remiss to discount an opportunity to engage with them.
Get to know the new online wine media; and love them. You’ll sell 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.

Alan is 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.

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.

WE LOVE THE MEDIA

Co-Authored by Carl Giavanti with Alan Goldfarb

This figurative memo to the Wine Media is from these winery publicists and does not represent the opinions of all publicists, but might resonate with a few. Let us start by saying that we love, respect and appreciate what you do; really… we mean it!

Is there room for improvement? You decide… here are 10 suggestions:

1. After you’ve engaged with our client, let us know if you decide NOT to write about your experiences – we’re grown-ups. All status updates are good; and this way, we won’t bother you with follow-ups seeking the status of your engagement.
2. Let us know if you DO decide to write — we’ll post the results on our clients’ various platforms and in turn, we’ll make you an even bigger star than you already are.
3. We’d love to have you visit our client. We’ll be happy to handle the logistics – it’s what we do — so that you can focus on the personalities and the wine. Tell us what you’d like to accomplish in order for you to get a good piece, and we’ll try to make it happen.
4. Communicate what changes you might need early and often during your trip – there may be lots of moving parts that we don’t wish to burden you with, and so that you’ll be free to concentrate on your story.
5. Why not look at ours, as a long-term relationship? In turn, we’ll stay in touch even when we don’t have a story to pitch.
6. We pledge to not waste your time by submitting wines or to pitch you on a story that might not fit your palate preferences or your journalistic agenda. Let us be a resource for you. We’ll strive to find educational topics and story ideas that may be of interest to your readers
7. Share your editorial calendars – let us know your editorial needs and we’ll sincerely try to provide content.
8. Tell us what you don’t want or expect from our clients. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time or energy.
9. We promise to keep our client on point but if it’s the idiosyncrasies that you’re after, we’ll “coach” our client to be who they truly are in front of you.
10. We’ll give you all the help you may need in terms of tech notes and media kits. And we promise never to furnish you with tasting notes or scores from your colleagues. We know you have your own interests and palates.

So, dear media friends, this is not meant to be a manifesto but a conversation about working together. We need each other and the wine industry need us, clearly not a zero sum game, but win-win-wine, right?