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 Melanie Ofenloch, Dallas Wine Chick and other wine publications.
ALLISON LEVINE is owner of Please The Palate, a boutique agency specializing in event planning for the wine and spirits industry. She also holds a WSET Level 3 Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), an Italian Wine Specialist Diploma from the North American Sommelier Association, a Certified Meeting Professional Certificate (CMP), and is BarSmarts Wired certified.
As a freelance writer, Allison is a columnist for the Napa Valley Register, as well as a regular contributor to California Winery Advisor. She is the host of the podcast WineSoundtrack USA, interviewing winemakers and winery owners who share their stories, insights and some humorous anecdotes. Her work has also appeared in Wine Industry Advisor, ATOD Magazine, Drizly, WineTouristMagazine, Thrillist, LA Weekly, LAPALME Magazine, BIN (Beverage Industry News), FoodableTV, Drink Me Mag, WeSaidGoTravel.com, Wine Country This Week and The Tasting Panel.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
Wine became part of my everyday life when I lived in Italy shortly after college. I lived in a small town in Piemonte. While the town I lived in is the rice capital of Italy, it was surrounded by all of the great regions of the area. At the time, I did not know this, but I was drinking Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo and, of course, Brachetto, on a daily basis. When I returned to the U.S., I moved to Washington DC for grad school. I decided to go to a wine tasting one night and left more confused than I started.
I moved back to Los Angeles and a friend of a friend taught wine classes as a hobby. I started attending them, bringing friends with me each time. And then I got laid off from the dot.com world when the bubble burst in 2001. With lots of time on my hands, and a background in marketing communications and event planning, I offered to help the friend build his hobby into a business. I never looked back.
I have run a wine education company focused on consumers; I have sold wine for an importer/distributor; I worked for a wine critic, doing marketing and events for the wine trade. Throughout it all, I have been on a personal quest to learn anything I can about wine. After writing a lot of research papers, I had never thought about writing about wine. But, at one job, I helped launch a national trade magazine and began writing for them.
When I launched my own business in 2011, I decided to start a blog to share my experiences. Since friends always asked me where to eat or drink and where to go, I thought it was easier to write down what I was doing. I focused on my blog and would occasionally write for a couple trade magazines and along my travels, I have met some editors. Through casual conversations, I pitched a few story ideas and began writing for other outlets.
What are your primary story interests?
I am an experiential writer and I think that people connect with the stories more than wine notes. One of my great passions is exploring different cultures. I got my Masters’ Degree in International Communications with a focus on Cross-Cultural Training. While did not pursue a career in cross-cultural training, I love that I get to interact with people around the world. Across cultural boundaries, every winery owner or winemaker has a story to share. I like to listen to the stories shared by the people at the winery and get my inspiration for my stories from what I hear.
What are your primary palate preferences?
As I developed my wine palate in Italy, I have a preference for “old world” styles. I prefer lower alcohol, high acid wines. I like minerality and earth. But I am open to trying anything and, in the end, a balanced, well-made wine is always appreciated.
Are you a staff columnist or freelance? What are the advantages of both?
I am a freelance writer. I have a weekly wine column in the Napa Valley Register, but I am not on staff.
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? If so, how have you succeeded? If not, why not? What are the primary challenges you face?
I do not think it is possible to make a living exclusively as a wine writer. My primary job is working with wine regions to organize trade events. Writing is something that I enjoy doing on the side, although at times I think it consumes a lot of my time.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I am a third generation Los Angeleno, on both sides. A real unicorn! I am also a third-generation flautist, following in the footsteps of my grandma and mom who were/are both professionals. My mom and I play in a band at our synagogue. The band only plays together once a year, but we have been doing it for 18 years!
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your wine writing?
I hope that I am able to open up the world of wine to people. I hope that the stories I share inspire people to try to wine, go to new places and be open to the world of wine. There is so much out there and I think it is great to be open to everything and anything.
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I am lucky to be doing what I love for a living. I organize events for wine regions around the US, I travel around the US and internationally to write about wine and I have a podcast in which I interview winemakers and winery owners, another great way to share their stories. I cannot imagine doing anything else, unless I could just travel the world full time.
How would you like the wine community to remember you?
I plan to continue to work in the wine community for a long time still. But ultimately, I hope people remember me for my joy for life, my love for meeting people and my excitement for travel and exploration. And I hope it is infectious.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
I love sharing the stories of people and places. I do not think anyone really cares what I think of a wine, although I do include my notes on wines, because everyone has a different palate. I hope that when people read my stories, they are inspired to learn more and taste for themselves.
Do you work on an editorial schedule or develop story ideas as they come up?
I am an event planner by day, so organization is my middle name. I keep a weekly list of tasks, listed by project. Each event I am working on, the story ideas I have developed and which outlet they are for and the podcast are all written out weekly. I schedule dates and try to stay ahead of myself as I have a lot of content. But there are always new stories to add to my daily lists.
How often do you write assigned and paid articles (not your blog)? How often do you blog?
Ideally, I write 3 original blog posts per week, plus repost my other articles on my blog as well. I also write a weekly wine column for the Napa Valley Register. The stories I write for other outlets are usually 1 or 2 per month, or as assigned.
Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?
Absolutely! I hope to reach as many people as possible.
Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?
I do not like the term “influencer”, at least how it is used today. I think influencers are defined by quantity and writers are defined by quality.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Please do not send samples without warning and always include tech sheets and any other info. It is fair to ask if there may be coverage one time, but there is never a guarantee. And, sending unsolicited samples is not a guarantee of coverage.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
I have developed many relationships with winery publicists. The relationship is such an important part of our industry. There is better communication and openness when there is a relationship. There is an understanding from both sides…the publicist understands what I am looking for and what I need and can be honest with me about their needs and goals.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Luckily one of the things I love to do is eat and drink and that is a requirement of my work. I also love to travel, which is also part of my work. My work and my lifestyle are intertwined. But I make free time to swim, run errands and some personal care. I go to the theater and enjoy chilling in front of the tv when I need a break. I love spending time with my family, especially my nephew and niece who I am crafting into young foodies.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
I have been blessed to have more than one memorable wine tasting experiences. On a trip to France with an importer, we were visiting different properties in different regions each day. Standing in the cellars of Champagne Gosset was a dream come true. I had always dreamed about touching the chalk walls and when a few pieces crumbled into my hand, I stuck them in my pocket. Today they sit in a little bag on my desk. That was the culmination of the trip until they surprised us with a visit to Domaine de la Romanee Conti. A quick, unexpected visit turned into a 2-hour visit in the cellar, tasting the entire 2016 vintage in barrel. A once in a lifetime experience.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
The next one I visit!!! Seriously, there are too many to choose from. Piemonte will always have the most special place in my heart. Madeira is one of the most magical islands. New Zealand might be one of the most beautiful places in the world because everywhere you look is better than the next. Santorini, Greece was one of the most unique. I would love to go back to every region I have visiting and there are so many more still to explore.
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).