Meridith May – Somm Journal & Tasting Panel Magazines

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 “Expert Opinion” series that will be featured monthly by Wine Industry Advisor.

MERIDITH MAY is the owner of two national U.S. wine and spirits trade publications: The SOMM Journal and THE TASTING PANEL Magazine. She is responsible for the publications’ branding and content. She has successfully increased each national magazine’s readership to reach over 65,000 bi-monthly for SOMM Journal and over 70,000 hospitality industry professionals 8 times a year for The Tasting Panel.

Meridith’s career in the media spans over 30 years. She began as VP Marketing for Los Angeles-based KIIS FM/KRLA radio in the 1980s working with such notable on-air personalities as Charlie Tuna, The Real Don Steele and Rick Dees.

Segueing into food and wine, she was the restaurant columnist for the Santa Barbara News Press from 1998-2001 and then took the role as Senior Editor at Patterson’s Beverage Journal where she ran the magazine until 2007, when she purchased the name, with partner Anthony Dias Blue, and began The Tasting Panel, which has evolved as the nation’s leading national wine and spirits industry magazine.

You can follow Somm Journal on Facebook and Twitter, and read the digital editions at https://www.sommjournal.com/ and Tasting Panel Magazine on Facebook & Twitter, and online at https://www.tastingpanelmag.com/

Professional Background

What are the challenges of being both publisher and contributor to your publications?

My first job is to promote the publication: through events, ad sales and other opportunities for our marketing partners. That means I have less and less time to write as the mags grow. I have a wonderful resource of fine writers and that helps us get lots of other voices to contribute.

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

I began as a restaurant columnist – and the progression was natural. But my real foray into wine writing was when I became Editor of Patterson’s Beverage Journal back in 2000. I got to interview the experts and the best in the industry!

What are your primary story interests?

Education, education, entertainment and…did I mention education? Wine and spirits brands need platforms for the trade – but hopefully the story behind every liquid can be compelling.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I was America’s First Professional Lady Monster Truck Driver back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. That was my weekend gig. During the week I was VP/Marketing for KIIS-FM Los Angeles and then KRLA/KLSX Los Angeles.

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

Spend more time in France and Italy without worrying about business. But I don’t think that will happen.

Writing Process

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

Since we write for the professional, we need to position our articles on how they can use this in their careers – whether they be buyers, importers or distributors. So, learning about production and regions is important, but also the business of wine and how-to mentor – how to educate your staff – how to work on that bottom line. For reviews, it’s obviously subjective but I am asked to do this by the wineries to help showcase their labels – I am sent hundreds of wines a month. Not many of them make it into the books.

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

We plan our layout for editorial about four months out – some features are planned a year ahead (like cover stories). We try to be spontaneous when it comes to the actual messaging, and that’s where deadlines help.

How often do you write versus assign paid articles (not your blog)?

I write 10% and assign 90%

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

DON’T TALK ABOUT YOUR SCORES TO JOURNALISTS! That’s a turn off. And talk slowly and don’t name drop – and if you do, please spell names out or explain who you’re talking about. Don’t assume the writer knows all your technical references either.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

They know their clients – they can help with direction for the writers – and make life easier for client and journalist.

Leisure Time

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

With my dog. And if I am traveling on days off, it’s either scouting out restaurants or, yes, wineries.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

South of France

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 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).

Tom Wark, Wine Industry Blogger, Pundit, Activist

Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” is a monthly 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 “Expert Opinion” series that will be featured monthly by Wine Industry Advisor.

TOM WARK is wine industry marketing and media relations specialist. He founded his Wark Communications consultancy in 1994 and has worked with numerous wineries, media firms, wine tech companies and associations. He is a founder of the Wine Bloggers Conference, the founder of the American Wine Blog Awards, and a longtime champion of alternative wine voices in the media. Wark also serves as the executive director of the National Association of Wine Retailers. He lives in Salem with his wife Kathy and son Henry George. He can be contacted via www.warkcommunications.com

You can follow Tom on Facebook and Twitter, and read his stories and reviews on Fermentation Wine Blog.

Professional Background

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

I came to wine originally through a career in marketing and public relations. My original intent was to follow my interest in how the structures of diplomacy and history impact our everyday lives into academia. However, life interrupted that plan, and I needed to leave the University and get a job. I choose Marketing, which implied public relations, which opened my eyes to the existence of wine-related PR firms. I joined a wine PR firm in 1990 and opened my own consultancy in 1994.

Ten years into my career and having invested time into the politics of wine via my work in Wine PR, I wanted to explore more deeply that intersection of politics, culture, media, business and wine. Blogging services were then just emerging and that made the creation and maintenance of an online publishing venture possible and affordable.

What are you primary story interests?

I’m primarily interested in the alcohol regulatory structure, the politics of alcohol, wine marketing, wine media and communications and the ways wine works its way into the cultural zeitgeist.

What are you primary palate preferences?

My drinking preferences are vast. I love drinking bourbon straight and have spent considerable time working to perfect a Manhattan recipe. I adore Dry Cider. I’m more partial to wines with a body and structure akin to Pinot and Sauvignon Blanc, however, give me a richly structured California Cab and I’m also happy.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I was adopted at birth. Both my parents were products of a Midwestern, protestant upraising, of the Depression and of WWII. It was a very traditional home I grew up in. Much later in my life, through DNA testing, I not only discovered I was half Jewish biologically, but I also discovered who my biological mother was via an email that arrived in my In-Box one day with a subject heading that read: “You’ve Got New DNA Matches”. That was interesting.

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

While it’s true that money talks, a large group of consumers speaking in unison can mute the voice of money.

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

There are two I like in particular. One about my mother and a manifesto for change:

https://fermentationwineblog.com/2009/05/of-memories-of-broken-glass-mothers/

https://fermentationwineblog.com/2010/03/manifesto-for-change-in-the-wine-industry/

Writing Process

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

I don’t review wine, however I do post at FERMENTATION very regularly. I’m an opinion writer/polemicist. So, I’m generally writing to convince or influence and my writing style reflects that orientation. As a result, I come off sometimes as a curmudgeon or a muckraker.

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

If I didn’t have a day job as a wine publicist and marketer, I’d probably be posting 4 or 5 times a day at FERMENTATION. So much comes across my desk each day that deserves attention or speaks to my irony detector or my bullshit detector. In addition, I often come across new voices in the wine media that really deserve a spotlight and I like to focus my attention and writing on them. So, while I don’t have a schedule for writing and posting, I’m constantly and automatically forming opinions and views on most of what comes into my line of sight and when it does, I tend to immediately get writing.

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

I use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn to push out my posts for the simple reason that this is where people’s attention is focused today.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Tell the truth first and foremost. Second, if a winery or any wine industry business uses media relations as a marketing tool, it’s critical to focus on a small set of stories to tell the media, then carefully understand which writers are most likely to be interested in and cover those stories.

What advantages are there for wineries working directly with a wine media professional like yourself?

If a winery understands how positive media coverage can bolster its sales, brand and marketing, then working with someone like myself who has spent decades forming professional relationships with writers and editors, watching how they work and understanding what kind of stories they cover, a winery can follow a much more efficient path to garnering coverage in the right media.

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

Having gotten into the wine industry right when email began being used regularly, there are a number of wine folks I’ve gotten to know via email and phone, but never laid eyes on. Among those who I’d love to sit down with and break bread are Elizabeth Schneider of Wine For Normal People, Robert Parker, Jr., Matt Kramer, and Andrew Jefford.

Leisure Time

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

I have a four-year-old boy named Henry George. So, when I’m not working I like to spend time discussing with him which types of dinosaurs or snakes we’d like to live with or exploring the architectural promise of Legos, Lincoln Logs and blocks. I’m also an avid golfer and enjoy cooking the classics.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

It’s not so much a “wine tasting experience” as it is a drinking experience. It was the first time I met my wife at Press in Saint Helena. I spent 3 hours sitting at the bar, drinking Pastis and talking with Kathy. I knew inside those three hours she was it. I only learned later that she wasn’t so impressed with me as I was with her. I eventually convinced her otherwise.

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 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).

Michael Cervin, Writer, Author, Critic

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.

MICHAEL CERVIN is a freelance writer based in Santa Barbara, California. Michael is an author and speaker focused on wine, spirits, food, water and travel. He is a contributor to multiple outlets including Bonforts, Forbes Travel Guides, BottledWaterWeb. Decanter (London), Fine Wine & Liquor (China), The Hollywood Reporter, The Tasting Panel, Arroyo Monthly, 65 Degrees, Gayot.com, IntoWine.com, and many others. He is the author of 7 books.

You can follow Michael on Facebook and Twitter, and read his stories and reviews on Boozehoundz.

Professional Background

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

Wine came into my life when I left Los Angeles and moved to Santa Barbara. I got a part time job at a winery tasting room and knew nothing. Many of the people who I poured for had traveled the world and helped to educate me, as did the winemaker. So, I started tasting everything and when I wrote my very first wine article, which was horrible by the way – about me driving aimlessly in my convertible visiting wineries in the Santa Ynez Valley. I was paid a mere $20. My third article was for Wine & Spirits so I jumped pretty quickly up the ladder.

What are your primary story interests?

I’m interested in authenticity, quirkiness, an emotional connection. That can be about a wine or winery, a place, person etc. My best wine articles have been in depth one-on-one conversations with people who hold nothing back. Though these types of interviews are more time consuming, I find that I get those true nuggets that I am mining for when me and my subject have time to just talk. I do feel like a lot of press releases these days are a kind of “forced narrative,” where they are trying to be quirky or outrageous for its own sake. But that is transparent.

Are you a staff columnist or freelance? What are the advantages of both?

For wine I’ve always been freelance. I do have columns for my Cocktail of the Month for a magazine in Pasadena, and for my reviews for The Whiskey Reviewer, as well as my wine reviews for Bonfort’s and Drink Me Magazine, and IntoWine.com. However, they all afford me complete editorial latitude. I understand the prestige of being on staff at one of the major wine mags, but I’ve also been the kind of writer who wants to do what I want, when I want and how I want. This becomes difficult because people want to pigeonhole you and for my diversity of writing, it confuses people. I write about wine, spirits, but also water issues, architecture, travel, food, history. As a freelancer I am not beholden to anything and I like that. It also allows for more transparency and honesty in my writing.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

Perhaps that I was formerly an actor appearing with speaking parts on shows like 3rd Rock From the Sun, The Young and The Restless, Grace Under Fire, and the soap opera (perhaps ironically, since this is where I live) Santa Barbara. I also did a lot of theatre and wrote and directed several plays and was Associate Artistic Director for a small theatre in Hollywood. I kinda miss it.

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

That you need to constantly explore. Rather than your “go-to” Cabernet, try another region. Don’t care for Vermentino? Try a different producer. With as many wines available to us, it’s staggering to me that most people drink myopically. I hear it all the time; I only drink Brand X Syrah; I hate rose’; I only drink reds, etc. If we limit our experiences, we lose our palate. When I was the restaurant critic for the Santa Barbara News Press I had to try foods either I didn’t like, or would normally not eat. But I was always objective and it forced my palate to be open and I can say that was one of the best experiences because I learned to compartmentalize it. I can appreciate, for example, fresh white asparagus though I would not usually eat it. With wine it’s the same. Additionally, wherever you travel, always try the local wines, beers, spirits and food. Don’t order your favorite California Cabernet if you’re in Austria.

Writing Process

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

I look for a wine to invite me somewhere. I open bottles every day and in that ritual of peeling off the foil, uncorking, or twisting off the cap I always think the same thing – please let this be a cool wine, a wine I can give a great score to so that others might try it. I love the discovery, that first sip, looking for that visceral experience of being transported. I use Riedel glasses for all wines and when opened, I slowly pour a thin stream into the glass to help with immediate aeration. Obviously, I smell it, 2-3 times, then take that first sip. And really, that first sip is pretty much all that matters. If it doesn’t grab you, take hold of your senses, intrigue you or demand your attention, then I have little use for it.

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

Probably 90% of my work is based on my own ideas and I generate a lot of stories. I tell younger writers who say, “how do you come up with story ideas?” that if you don’t have 20 ideas in your head right now, maybe you should be doing something else. Ideas are literally everywhere and you need to think beyond the confines of what a traditional story is about. Frankly, ideas are easy. Getting paid for those ideas is not.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Simple – respond. If I call or email it’s for a reason – I need information to help promote your winery. Far too many wineries (both large and small) ignore media for reasons I cannot understand. Some don’t want to be bothered. I’m weary of wineries telling me they can’t respond because they have a small staff, or have limited resources. You know what? I’m a staff of one and I work constantly, so if you hear from me, respond in a timely manner. I have, quite literally, not written about a wine or winery precisely because they chose to ignore me. Then their story goes to someone else. It’s really simple.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

Also simple – they respond. There are a number of wine PR people that I have worked with for 20 years. It can (and should) be a mutually beneficial relationship. And that’s the key word to both these questions – relationships. I’m interested in building and cultivating long-term relationship with wines, winery owners and producers. But it takes two to tango to use an overwrought phrase. Many PR firms simply want to get a score out of me as quickly as possible. I don’t work that way. I’m in it for the long haul.

Leisure Time

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

Being a freelancer, I am not beholden to time. If I want to go to the beach or have a leisurely lunch, I can. This also means that there are times I’m at my desk at 4 a.m. writing in solitude and, quite frankly, I love the quietness of the mornings – this is my best time to write. Since I travel quite a bit, that travel tends to be a “day off” for me, though the reality is that as a writer, there is never a “day off” because writing is in my DNA. I love what I do. I recall a time when I was on a cruise with my then wife (she was speaking on the cruise) and I had scheduled to meet with two hotel properties for Forbes Travel Guides in the Bahamas when the ship was in port, even though that meant I didn’t go on a snorkeling trip, but it really didn’t bother me because I love what I do, and I got to see a part of the Island that most tourists don’t.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

That’s easy. I was invited to Champagne Bollinger for their launch of their Gallerie 1829 (a kind of museum at their property in Aÿ) not open to the public. I was fortunate to taste through a structured tasting of older vintages including 1992, 1975, 1973 (in jeroboam, magnum and bottle), 1964, 1955, 1928 and 1914. It was a singular, distinct, wonderful experience and what I recall most was that at lunch after the tasting, where all the Champagnes were opened for us, I drank the 1914, all the while thinking – this was made before World War I, and here I am over 100 years later, this time in a peaceful France, drinking a wine that has survived for a century. Though the 1928 was more fresh and effervescent, I gravitated to the 1914 because of its connection to world history, and because literally only perhaps 10 other people on the planet will ever get to taste the 1914 again. Ever.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

I’m asked all the time what my “favorite this or that” is, and I have the same response. I don’t believe in favorites; be that a type of grape, a region, or a style. The wonderful thing about wine is that it is a living organism and it changes constantly. Vintage variation, warmer summers, rainfall all effect every wine region, making that vintage unique. If you want sameness, go to a fast food joint, or drink bulk wine. If you want subtly drink wines that offer a sense of place. Having traveled the globe I pretty much love every wine region I’ve been to, including off the beaten path wine regions like Crete, Nova Scotia, Switzerland, Austria. Every place offers something truly idiosyncratic.

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 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).

Ellen Landis, Journalist, Somm, Judge

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 Eric Degerman of Great Northwest Wine.

ELLEN LANDIS is a wine journalist, Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), Certified Specialist of Wine (Society of Wine Educators), professional wine judge, and wine educator, based in Vancouver, Washington. She spent four years as a sommelier at the Ritz Carlton and sixteen years as Wine Director/Sommelier at the award-winning boutique hotel she and her husband built and operated. Ellen is a moderator for highly acclaimed wine events, executes wine seminars for individuals and corporations, and judges numerous regional, national and international wine competitions each year. She travels extensively to many wine regions around the globe.

Contact Ellen at ellen@ellenonwine.com  and visit her blog at www.ellenonwine.com

Professional Background

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

It’s in my blood, my great grandfather made wine in Croatia.  As a Certified Sommelier, Wine Consultant and Professional Wine Judge, I have the opportunity to taste many wines from around the world.  In 2008 I was an invitee on a press trip to the province of Tarragona (in Catalonia, Spain). I wrote and pitched an article, which was published as the cover story for the Spring 2009 issue of the American Wine Society Wine Journal magazine.

What are your primary story interests?

1) The inside story of a winery and what makes each winery unique, 2) focus on wine regions, 3) wine competitions, and 4) the current vintage and how it measures up.

What are your primary palate preferences?

Pinot Noir, aromatic whites (Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Sauv Blanc), Sparkling wines and Champagne, Chardonnay.

Are you a staff columnist or freelance?

What are the advantages of both? Primarily freelance, nice to have the freedom to schedule my time.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? A few things:

1) Learning about wine at a young age was a passion of mine. I became particularly curious about this beverage. As a child I recall there was always wine on the table at family gatherings in my maternal grandmother’s home; my questions were endless.

3) Today, I typically judge more than 18 wine competitions a year (regional, national and international competitions). It is simply fascinating, and I give very careful thought to each wine put in front of me.

4) My colleagues and I, traveling in a posh stretch limo, spent an elegant and captivating evening with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Impressive wines and bites were served.  Her Majesty was attentive, thoughtful, and a pure delight.

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

The wine world is multi-faceted. There are vineyards and wineries all around the globe, run by engaging and talented individuals, making exceptional wines worthy of appreciation. Get out and explore what suits your palate!

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

I have a background in sales and sales management which I enjoyed immensely. My father spent his entire 50-year career in sales, so that’s in my blood, too.

Writing Process

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

I like to engage with owners and winemakers at wineries to hear their story in their words.  As far as wine reviews, in judging wine competitions that include wines from around the world and attending many trade functions serving domestic and international wines, I gain exposure and the opportunity to taste a vast number of wines every year.  Many of my wine reviews come from wines tasted at these events, as well as media trips, and winery visits I have scheduled on my own.

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

Primarily I develop story ideas as they come up. When something piques my interest, I reach out proactively to pitch my story.

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

Twice a month or so. How often do you blog? Monthly, occasionally twice a month.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Respect appointments and time commitments and don’t rush through them, and be yourself (no one can do that better!).

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

Lack of (or slow) response to questions posed beyond the interviews/appointments.

Which wine critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?

Robert Parker, it would be quite interesting to hear his perspective on a variety of international wines tasted blind.

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

President Thomas Jefferson, he was quite a knowledgeable wine appreciator and collector, and I am told he is a distant relative of mine (through my father’s side of our family).

Leisure Time

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

Visits with son Brian and daughter-in-law Julie and other family members (I have five sisters!), ocean cruising, and land trips to wine regions are among my favorite pastimes. Husband Ken and I have been on two World Cruises on the incomparable Crystal Serenity ship in the past 4 years. It is culturally enriching, educational, full of new experiences, entirely enjoyable, and feeds my passion for exploring wines from around the globe.  I had the opportunity to visit wine regions far and away from home, including but not limited to regions throughout Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, France and Italy. Land trips have also taken me to many regions internationally including France (Bordeaux, Rhone, Burgundy, and Champagne), Italy, Chile, and Argentina.  Within the USA multiple visits to numerous regions throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, New York, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan have been enlightening. Yes, this ties in with work, but it is what I enjoy doing!

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

In October 2001 in Burgundy with traveling companions husband Ken and writer Peter Smith. We met up with Becky Wasserman, at Maison Camille Giroud in Cote de Beaune, Burgundy (In 2001 she became Manager at Maison Camille Giroud, and hired young graduate oenologist David Croix, who was 23 years old at the time, who remained there as winemaker/manager until his departure in October 2016). The tasting experience included an incredible 25-year vertical tasting of the fine red Burgundy wines crafted there; extraordinary! New York born Becky found her way to France as a young woman.  She once worked as a broker for a French barrel maker, selling French barrels to California wineries.  Her wine knowledge and experience gained in France over the years steered her to opening her own business (Becky Wasserman & Co.) exporting wines from small producers in the Burgundy and beyond. It has been in operation nearly 40 years now.  She is an erudite wine professional, and simply fascinating.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world? ONE favorite?

Impossible to answer! Each region is different, and I appreciate them all for the unique expressions they bring to the table.

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 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).

Erin James, Editor Sip Northwest Magazine

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 Allison Levine, Please the Palate, Wine Soundtrack and other wine publications.

ERIN JAMES is a seasoned writer and editor in the Pacific Northwest, with a focus on drink, food and travel writing. Outside of her desk as editor-in-chief of Sip Publishing — makers of Sip Northwest, Cidercraft and Sip’s Wine Guide: British Columbia magazines — James has been published in more than a dozen regional and national publications like WINO Magazine, Seattle Weekly, Washington Wine and more. Most recently, she is the author of “Tasting Cider: The CIDERCRAFT Guide to the Distinctive Flavors of North American Hard Cider,” published by Storey Publishing in 2017. When not tasting and scribbling notes, James can be found eating her weight in cheese and loving her dog, Josie, a little too much.

You can follow Erin on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and read her beverage publications at Sip Northwest Publishing.

Professional Background

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

I was one of the many lucky graduates who entered the work force at the inception of the 2007 financial crisis. Publications large and small were cutting staff in half or retreating to web-only productions — needless to say it was hard to get a job in journalism, even with the degree to back you up. The job background I did already have at this young age was in bartending, so I slipped back into what was familiar, which turned out to be the best move I could make for my future in writing. I learned how to up-sell what I was pouring from behind the rail, realizing I had a knack for talking about beverage and already had the schooling to help me put that into written word. I started a wine blog — back before that realm was overpopulated – and it helped put me on the radar. I got my first paid wine writing gig (pennies) shortly after and narrowed my niche even further into focusing on wine and food pairings. I haven’t looked back, but I have added cider, beer and spirits to my repertoire as well.

What are your primary story interests?

To echo what I closed out with in the previous question, food and drink pairing is my forte. I really like to eat. If I can add booze to that to enhance both the meal and the drink, then I’m in heaven. Most beverage-savvy cultures have long had drink on the table to enhance the meal, but this is something Americans are slowly coming around to. I’d like to speed it up and see more of it. Outside of that, I’ve developed my journalism style to lean more toward storytelling than news-breaking, I am keen to share the passions of the folks that make the drink and eats we love, bringing a human element to something edible and commonplace.

What are your primary palate preferences?

Cheese? If I had to pick one of each beverage I cover for a desert island retreat, I’d go white Burgundy, fresh hop IPA, heritage cider and a dry vermouth-laced martini (gin, of course).

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 and hurdles you face?

Oh man, kind of? I think strictly writing one beverage is financially difficult – one of the reasons why I’ve diversified. I’m very fortunate that I have the position I do as editor-in-chief of Sip Publishing, but I also freelance for other publications and do some non-industry copywriting. I think if your heart is in it, you can make any ends meet. Primary challenges: print pubs are paying less and less, and web publications already pay pretty cheaply. I’m a firm believer that you pay for what you get, so I hope to see publications continue to pay for quality work.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I love to eat Kraft American Cheese Singles like movie popcorn (I’m an equal opportunity “cheese” lover) and I used to sing the National Anthem at collegiate and semi-pro sporting events.

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

It’s not as scary or mysterious as you think it is, eat while you do so then drink some more.

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

I’ve been really into flowers and floral arrangements – I’ve done them for four different friends’ weddings and I think I’d love running a flower shop.

How would you like the wine community to remember you?

“She sure could put it away, but she had a way with words.”

Writing Process

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

It depends on the type of article I’m writing but for wine in particular, I try to keep it approachable and easy-to-swallow. Same goes for reviews, tasting notes that reference ridiculously unfamiliar culinary ingredients cause major eye-rolling. The reader wants to equate your words to something they recognize, otherwise it goes over their head.

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

I’m fairly scheduled with our publications but certainly can develop a story as an idea forms – the internet has allowed for a lot more production flexibility there!

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

I do, and it’s extremely important because social media is where so many – especially those of a younger generation – find their news and read articles. Though you have to be clear, concise and catching, otherwise you’ll be passed up for a shinier object.

Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?

I hope what influence I do have is positive for women of all ages in beverage — an example that even a green, 22-year-old journalism graduate battling against a national recession can still build a career in what she decided was her dream job when she was 8. I think the difference between a writer and a social influencer is just that – a writer writes, an influencer posts. Both can be impactful and should do it to further their message for the better.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Everyone has a story – make sure the journalist knows why yours is worth telling. Sure, you are a former Microsoft/Nike exec, had the funding to leave your corporate desk and start your dream job. But why does a reader care and how can the journalist share that with what enticing angle? You’re not expected to sell a pitch to a writer, but you do want to grab them with a hook, uncover what makes your story special and dig in.

When it comes to samples, ask before shipping to make sure your product has a home in editorial content and, for the love of God, learn how to ship bottles correctly. That means no bottle should ever be floating in a sea of explosive packing peanuts.

What advantages are there in working direct with winery publicists?

See above about pitching journalists – publicists can hone your story, message and angle for a specific journalist, editor or publication, even specific departments and story ideas within. They can also handle the lead-up and follow-up, tasks that are sometimes uncomfortable when it is your own story.

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

Lettie Teague, the wine columnist for The Wall Street Journal. She is the reason I got into wine writing – she wrote a book called “Educating Peter,” in which she taught wine basics to Rolling Stone‘s film critic Peter Travers through a lens he could understand. I loved her approach and compelling manner in which she took something that can be so misconceived and made it completely consumable for one of the most censorious minds in media. For wine, I would have whatever she was having.

Leisure Time

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

I do and everyone should – for sanity’s sake! I like to get outdoors when I can, whether that’s a hike into the North Cascades or at a beer garden. I fill most of my off-time with my husband Nick, Son Arlo, and dog Josie, but I am fortunate to be able to see friends and family frequently as well. I love to read, cook, sing loudly in the shower, eat cheese and binge Netflix shows like any red-blooded human.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

Considering when I go wine tasting, I’m there as media so many of those experiences are quite remarkable and I always feel lucky for the cards I was dealt. There are definite highs and lows, but this is a pretty cool gig and I’m grateful for it every day. I’m big on pairing and one of my favorite food and wine experiences was something so simple and delicious: ripe cantaloupe wrapped in Bayonne ham (French prosciutto) and matched with just-chilled Provençal rosé on the patio of our rental in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. A dream come true.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

I was already smitten with Nebbiolo before but after going to Piedmont in 2015, I was deeply in love with not just the variety and its differing variations throughout the region (Barbaresco, Barolo) but I really fell for the people behind the wine there. For so many of the makers, it’s still such a generations-based farming culture with humility, craft and passion. I love that. Also, it’s hard to beat the Willamette Valley in the fall.

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 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).

Allison Levine, Please The Palate

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.

You can follow Allison on Facebook and Twitter, and read her stories on her blog: https://pleasethepalate.com/blog/

Professional Background

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.

Personal Background

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.

Writing Process

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.

Working Relationships

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.

Leisure Time

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).

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).