Paul Gregutt Interview, Wine Enthusiast 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 with 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. The first interview in the series features Paul Gregutt, Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

Paul Gregutt is a Contributing Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, a founding member of the magazine’s Tasting Panel, and currently reviews the wines of Oregon and Canada. He writes a monthly column on wine in Walla Walla’s Lifestyles magazine. The author of the critically-acclaimed ‘Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide’, he consulted on the Pacific Northwest entries in current versions of ‘The World Atlas of Wine’, ‘The Oxford Companion to Wine’ and Hugh Johnson’s 2019 Pocket Guide. He is a frequent guest speaker on cruise ships and at industry symposiums. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie – a terrier/Chihuahua (a genuine terr-hua!) – in a renovated 140-year-old cottage in Waitsburg, Washington. In his spare time, he writes songs, plays guitar, sings and performs with his band, the DavePaul5.

 

PROFESSIONAL BACKGROUND

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

I grew up in a family of writers, but set out post-college intending a career in music. In my 20s I worked multiple radio jobs (on-air) and wrote for a start-up alternative publication, the Seattle Weekly. My interest in wine began while tasting some good wines with friends in the business. In my 30s, while working in broadcast television, I began writing a freelance weekly wine column. Once in print I was able to get assignments from several other publications, including Wine Spectator. One thing led to another. I signed on with Wine Enthusiast in the summer of 1998. I’m the second longest-serving writer on staff. In these three decades I’ve written six books, contributed to many others, penned thousands of wine columns, and reviewed tens of thousands of wines.

What are your primary story interests?

Of course, my interests have changed over the years. But my interest as a writer is always how to communicate with an audience. And the way to do that is to find topics of genuine interest to me, and share the excitement of exploring them. Wine is about as perfect and inexhaustible a topic (as far as writing) and playing and performing music has been for me through all these decades.

What are your primary palate preferences?

For me personally, I like high acid, unoaked white wines and reds from Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and unusual blends.

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

I’ve worked as a freelance writer during my entire wine writing career.

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?

I started out with published writing credentials, having reviewed pop music, theater, film and restaurants before ever writing about wine. I focused on the emerging wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest, which was almost completely unknown at the time. I was fortunate in the timing, and have been able to grow my portfolio as the region’s wines and wineries have gained international recognition. I also made it a point to write about wines from all over the world, and to travel to many of the major wine regions and wineries of the world, so as to avoid “tunnel palate.”

PERSONAL BACKGROUND

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I don’t think most people know that I’m a pretty decent guitar player, singer and performer. I’ve written hundreds of songs over the years, and honestly many are quite polished. Back in the ‘70s I signed a songwriting contract on Music Row in Nashville, and before that I worked as an assistant engineer at Electric Lady Studios in New York.

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

Explore! Don’t get stuck in ruts. And remember – it’s always better to drink that special bottle now, rather than waiting for “the right moment” which may never arrive.

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

I’d be writing about something else. I’ve always written for a living.

How would you like the wine community to remember you?

For the love of God, don’t say “he will be missed”!!!

WRITING PROCESS

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

These days a lot of my work is simply reviewing new releases. I taste daily, write notes daily, re-visit wines daily. If I’m working on a story, I do online research, jot down ideas and just dive in when a deadline looms. I have never had writer’s block.

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

I am always jotting down ideas, but working so closely with a single magazine I’m also on a schedule, which helps any writer I believe.

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

Always. I blogged for about five years, and it’s still online (paulgregutt.com) but writing for free was not for me!

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

I post links on my Facebook page. Most of my 2700 or so “friends” are in the wine business, so it’s helpful to keep my work in front of my main audience.

WORKING RELATIONSHIPS

What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?

Be brief, be original, be reliable, be accurate, and be up to date. I am especially unhappy when I read a winery news release in my focus region (Pacific NW) in some other publication or website, and that winery or PR person has neglected to send me the same publicly-distributed information.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

When they do their job well, they can provide information that I could not easily find any other way.

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

When required information about retail pricing, release dates, etc. is not provided as requested, and I go to the winery website and it’s hopelessly out of date, that’s frustrating.

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

I don’t do competitions for multiple reasons.

LEISURE TIME

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

I garden, play with my dog, play guitar, cook and occasionally travel.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

There are far too many to choose from, and I hope many more will follow. But one extraordinary moment was during a visit up the Douro to Quinta do Vesuvio. We arrived just as the grapes were coming in, and joined a group of locals’ foot-crushing them in an old-fashioned lagare. They were playing Yellow Submarine and dancing while we stomped. A couple years later, when the wine was released, Karen and I bought a case. We drink a bottle on our anniversary every five years.

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background, 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).

 

Oregon Wine History Archives Interview

I was recently interviewed by Rich Schmidt of Linfield College in McMinnville, for the Oregon Wine History Archives. The Archive project includes oral video history interviews and storage of archival materials such as articles and artifacts dating back to the Oregon “Pioneer” wineries such as Erath, Amity, Ponzi, Sokol-Blosser, and includes many contemporary winemaker and winegrower interviews. If you are interested in the history of Oregon wine and specifically Willamette Valley, I would encourage you to use the archive as a source for your research.

In this interview, we discussed my 10 years of winery consulting; my start in the wine business; the transition from DTC Marketing Consulting to Winery PR & Media Relations consulting; and my view of challenges facing Oregon wineries in the future.

For more information and interviews go to https://oregonwinehistoryarchive.org/ 

How to Taste with Professional Reviewers and Critics

Sampling your wines is important. Writers will not review your wines unless you send and they taste them. Even better than just sending samples? Invite professional reviewers and wine critics to visit you at the winery. How better to understand your dirt, special sense of place, the facility where wines are produced, and to meet you, the winemaker in situ?

What to do, what not to do?

If you assume that most small producers have a plan for such visits you would be wrong. I’ve found many wineries that rely on personal interaction to engage consumers and casual wine media do not necessarily know what to do with professional reviewers. This article is based on a conversation with Rusty Gaffney aka Prince of Pinot (www.princeofpinot.com) who has been writing his eponymous Pinot Noir devoted newsletter for over 15 years. Rusty accepts shipped samples of Pinot Noir from around the world, but what I find compelling about his program is that he actually makes it a point to visit wineries and taste onsite whenever possible. Also, Rusty has received winemakers in Orange County where he lives. Feel free to contact him if you’re working the market or if you’ll be in Southern California.

Our interactions were intended to demonstrate how to receive a wine critic and what to do specifically to make the critic’s limited time useful and leave the most favorable impression possible. As Rusty says “This is the kind of stuff they don’t teach at UC Davis or OSU”. Here’s what we discussed and Rusty’s candid and detailed responses.

Conduct a focused tasting that is well prepared in advance

Rusty: Organize the tasting – either finished bottles or barrel – based on the time of year and how you can best show off your wines. It can’t be emphasize enough that the winery needs to be prepared ahead of time and well organized so the reviewer is comfortable and can perceive that preparations have been made in advance.

Rusty: I believe the winemaker should be prepared ahead of time with some idea of how he/she plans to utilize our time together. They can give options but should have planned the options ahead of time considering when wines were bottled and what wines in barrel are appropriate to taste at that time. If it is a sit down finished bottle tasting, the tech sheets on each wine each wine should be available at the tasting so I don’t have to keep asking details including MSRP. Prepare and hand out appropriate information about the winery/yourself. Water should always be available as well as spit cups/receptacles.

Rusty: The winery should dictate the tasting and not ask the reviewer what they want to taste unless the reviewer demands certain arrangements.

Carl: I was just at a long standing professional wine conference with 30 wineries pouring. There were 2 dump buckets in total, both became immediately full. There were no water pitchers or stations anywhere near the event space. How is it possible to miss those details?

Sit down Versus Stand up tastings

Rusty: Have a sit down venue available if possible with proper glassware, water, spit cups, pen, paper, and wine tech sheets that include the date of release and MSRP.

Consider giving writer time to taste alone and then discuss the wines. The last time I went to Willamette Valley, one of the wineries had five vintages of the same wine lined up with glasses and allowed me to taste in private before discussing. And they didn’t interrupt. I liked this. It is hard to adequately taste wines when the winemaker is hovering over you and engaging you in conversation. On the other hand, it is very helpful to have the winemaker’s insight and comments, and general impressions about the vintage and wines are welcome information to the reviewer as long as they are not obviously over enthusiastic.

Carl: Offering a private space to accommodate writers that to taste privately is an excellent idea. You can show them what you’ve setup when they arrive and ask if they’ like to taste alone. If so, revisit the wines with them after and answer questions they may have.

Create a Relaxed Meeting Experience

Rusty: Make yourself available over a generous time period. The writer should determine how long the encounter will be. The mood should be relaxed and not rushed. It is important to talk personally beyond the wine and winery discussion to give the writer insight into yourself and provide background info for a write up.

Carl: If the tasting takes place in a public space such as your tasting room, have someone there to take care of other guests during open hours. I know this sounds obvious but I’ve seen winemakers dashing between tasting guests and media and it makes a negative impression.

What to Say/Not to Say to Writers

Rusty: Do not discuss finances of the winery or how difficult it is to get distribution.

Rusty: the winery should know in advance how much time the reviewing critic plans to spend at the winery. The winery or publicist should inquire ahead of time about the time frame of the visiting reviewer.

Carl: Upbeat and heartfelt personal greetings matter. Show the writer what you have prepared and planned for their visit. See if the setup meets their expectations. If you are working with a publicist they will typically know how the writer likes to interact and taste through the wines. If you are uncertain of their schedule or if they are running late, ask how much time they have allowed and keep to that schedule unless they would like to extend.

Carl: Be sure to have some key brand points of difference ready to share at the right time. Although this is a formal tasting, personalities and relationships matter. They may love your wines but may not make the extra effort to write if you don’t make a personal connection and if the experience is somehow uniquely not memorable. No, it’s not all about the wine.

Carl:  There is no need to tell the writer your opinions before they taste. Your personal preferences for a specific vintage or style of wine are not necessarily theirs.

Wrapping Up

Rusty: Offer to give the writer opened bottle(s) as they may wish to re-taste later. Also, giving an unopened bottle is a nice gesture for the writer’s time and makes an impression.

Rusty: Always send the writer a follow-up email within 24 hours thanking them for the visit and offering any further information or samples needed. Invite them back anytime if appropriate.

Carl: If you are not working with a PR firm or have communications staff, be certain to let the reviewer know you have bottle and label images and any other winery asset they might need. High resolution photography is not optional (yes, I mean no iPhone bottle shots!).

Rusty: It also is critical that the winery uses the reviewer visits in all their social media (take a photo of reviewer at winery) and on their website. The fact that a reviewer spent the time to come to their winery is a Huge marketing ploy. Be sure to give the reviewer who visits recognition in every way possible. No reviewer who chooses to visit should be minimized.

Remember, reviewer visits are a FREE marketing advantage and I cannot overemphasize the importance of the reviewer’s impression after the winery visit. I receive many inquiries from readers asking advice about what wineries to visit, and the impression winery’s earn will have a major impact on what wineries I recommend. Those that reach out to me to receive recommendations are serious wine buyers and these are the type of customers that wineries want to embrace.

Carl: If you are successful getting important wine critics to visit your winery, and if they like the wines and review them or write a feature article about your brand and wines; please be certain to get the article or wine review online links; a copy of the article if in print and use the content in your marketing. Be sure to tag the author, and use proper hashtags so others see the content. This will drive up the value perception of your brand, and we all know how difficult it is to get attention in today’s marketplace, so be sure to leverage the opportunity.

WILLIAM “RUSTY” GAFFNEY, MD, aka the “Prince of Pinot,” is a retired ophthalmologist who has had a love affair with Pinot Noir for nearly forty years. Upon retirement from medicine, he devoted his energies to writing the PinotFile at princeofpinot.com, an online newsletter that was among the first wine publications exclusively devoted to Pinot Noir. Rusty tastes Pinot Noir almost daily, reads about Pinot Noir constantly through all of the available resources on wine, and visits Pinot Noir producing regions frequently. He also leads wine tours, organizes wine tastings and wine dinners, and participates as a judge in wine competitions. He can be reached by email at prince@princeofpinot.com.

CARL GIAVANTI is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background. He’s going on his 9th 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).

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).

 

Engaging with Writers before “The Ask” – Part II

What do Writers really need and want?

Q&A Interview with Jim Gullo

This is the second part of a two-part series. Part one appeared in the May/June issue of The Grapevine Magazine and is available online. I continue my conversation with Jim Gullo about what it’s like to be a professional writer, and to discuss the wine business from his perspective. Jim is a self described Author, Journalist, Wine Writer, Food Eater & Pastryologist. He tweets, he writes, he eats and he’s coming back for more. His work appears regularly in the Alaska Airlines Magazine, Horizon Airlines Magazine, Oregon Wine Press and other publications. Turning to books in recent years, Jim has most recently authored “Grouch Bag,” a children’s novel about finding the Marx Brothers; “Trading Manny,” how he and his son learned to love baseball; and “Fountain of Youth,” a bittersweet novel about coming to terms with loss. He has also written 100s of magazine articles, and now writes from his perspective in the middle of the Willamette Valley wine country. You can learn more about Jim on his website and blog: http://www.jim-gullo.com/

I asked Jim to do this interview because I believe small wineries can benefit from his insights. In this section we’ll get into specifics about the mechanics of working with professional writers.

  1. How do you juggle multiple writing assignments – your books, travel and wine writing, etc?

I have been making this up as I go along for 29 years now, so am fairly good at looking for clients, pitching stories, researching and writing them and meeting deadlines. When I don’t have specific, paying assignments I try to spend my time working on book projects, which pay even worse than magazine writing but are creatively very satisfying and have a potential upside of sales. I don’t have as much time as I would like, to talk with people and explore if I don’t have a dedicated business reason to do so. Between family duties (I have two sons at home) and trying to keep my business afloat, I don’t have much time for speculative writing or research.

  1. When and how did you get interested in wine, and when was your first wine themed assignment?

I grew up in a winemaking region of western New York State and was always fascinated by the confluence of agriculture, nature and craft that goes into fine wine. I quit my job in New York in 1981 to go to France and Switzerland to pick grapes, and was exposed to lots of fine wine, and the charm of winemaking villages. Travel writing has brought me to places like the Piedmont in Italy, the Hunter Valley of Australia, the Loire Valley and the canals of Burgundy in France, and the wine regions of Oregon and Washington, and my food stories would invariably be intertwined with wine. In fact, I first “discovered” the Willamette Valley on an unrelated travel writing assignment, and knew instantly that I wanted to live here and report on the people making these extraordinary wines.

  1. Why is it important to read a writer’s articles in advance of contacting and pitching them?

It’s not one size fits all. There are lots of different writers doing different things, with different specific interests. My focus has always been to look for bigger stories to report, that fit my writing style, and I like to immerse myself and participate in a story where I can. It was perfect for me, for example, when Sokol Blosser recently invited me to attend one of their first cooking classes, and I could chop and cook and participate. Trade information about vineyard practices and clonal selections doesn’t do much for me. But I don’t think that everyone should know and have to keep up with every writer out there. Just keeping me in the loop of what you’re doing at the winery will allow me to decide if there is something I can use, or plug into an existing project.

  1. Do you think it’s helpful to subscribe to a writer’s blog, newsletter and social media sites if they are on your target media list? Why?

No…who has time for all of that reading? That’s a job for the PR professionals. I would say that if you like something you read, and it seems to fit with what you’re doing at your winery, you should note the writer’s name and make sure they’re on your contact list.

  1. Do you find that most small wineries have a unique and memorable story to tell/pitch? What makes for a strong “story hook”?

Sure, but I think that most of the stories are personal – about people. Why they’re doing this with their time and money, what brought them here, what are their backgrounds? I’m still a total believer in the Oregon paradigm of independent people coming here to craft something memorable, getting involved in the community and putting in their own sweat and tears (and money) to make great wines. The corporate and business story of rich people buying into the business and running it from afar leaves me cold. Also, there isn’t much I can do with stories about receiving scores, or vineyard practices and clonal selections, although those stories are useful to many of the wine writers and bloggers, as are Press Releases with real news.

Please keep in mind that there are now upwards of 700 wineries in the state of Oregon, 450 or so in the Willamette Valley alone. We can’t cover everybody. The people whom I wind up writing about took the time to make a personal connection, invited me to their events, allowed me to get to know them and sample their wines, and (this is important) make terrific wines. I can’t write about a winery if the wines are mediocre, even if I adore the people.

  1. What SHOULDN’T wineries do in their interactions with writers?

Oh boy, another question that I could go on and on about. For one thing, you should make sure that your website, press releases and blog are not riddled with spelling and grammatical errors. We writers have a special fondness for the language, and seeing it mangled leaves us cold. When you expound on your attention to detail in every aspect of your winemaking operation, but misspell every third word and have the grammatical awareness of a sixth-grader…well, I have to question your ability to recognize details. Having a professionally produced Media Kit is very helpful and saves writers time by summarizing the key facts they will want to know.

Also, blowing smoke won’t get you far. I once had a regional group of winemakers blather on to me on how their wines were far superior to Bordeaux – but they’d never been to France. Other people bragged about how theirs was a top tourist destination that everyone should visit…but there was limited lodging of any size in the region, and that was a casino. And the vineyard owners who bragged that they were growing “the grapes for a $100 pinot noir”…but didn’t much like pinot themselves and hadn’t tried many. Come on, people! Let’s get real.

Keep it simple, keep it honest, tell me what’s important to you about your operation and we will find some area to work together.

If you don’t have anyone on staff with the skills and/or desire to write and pitch your stories and your wines, you should consider meeting with and possibly hiring a PR professional to assist you.

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).

CONTENT Drives Winery Recognition; Now More Than Ever

Leveraging all three types of content is critical for small producers

Let’s face it; brand building was easier 20 years ago. Small production wineries today are in an extremely competitive environment. There are close to 9,000 wineries and growing in the U.S. alone. International brands are flooding our markets with good quality and aggressively priced imports. Add to that the consolidation of U.S. distributors, and you have lots of boutique wineries desperately seeking attention and representation from far fewer distributors. Twenty years ago it was not uncommon to be 100% allocated to wholesalers. Today, this is not a realistic model. Here are some wine market facts to consider:

  • 1995 – 2,600 Wineries and 3,000 Distributors*
  • 2008 – The Great Recession starts. Distributors consolidate their books and themselves, and focus on larger, well-known brands
  • 2015 – 8,800 Wineries and 700 Distributors*
  • Today – Distributors work hard selling major brands, and are not necessarily looking for small producers with premium-priced wines
  • Today – five or six national beverage distributors control 65% of all wines wholesaled nationally
  • Today – Large retailers have monopoly power. Retailers with private labels are proliferating and call the shots (Total Wine, Trader Joe’s, Costco)
  • Today – There are fewer print publications with paid staff journalists and wine columns to discovery and report your winery story, and review your wines
  • Today – Wine journalism as a whole is moving from print to a digital medium. How will these outlets generate revenue? They will be looking to you for advertising and/or sponsorship dollars
  • Today – Online wine writers continue to proliferate. Which ones are in your strategic markets? How many are credible and have impact?
  • Today – Wine publications are starting to screen your wines in advance of permitting submissions due to sheer volume alone
  • Today – Wine publications may want you to pay for high scores with label placement and ads in their print and online editions
  • Today – It’s a pay-to-play world and getting consumer mindshare and media recognition can be difficult and expensive
  • Today – Wine consumers are overwhelmed with the sea of wine available
  • But – All is not lost! Please read on!

Today’s challenging marketplace requires small wineries to take control of your own destiny – both DTC Marketing and Wine Media Outreach are the key. Distributors are (for the most part) not going to help you “build your brand” unless there is a quick ROI and minimal risk. It is essential for small producers to tell their own stories, and get their brands and wines to market and be recognized by consumers. I talk specifics on how to get coverage for your brand in this article: Winery PR in a Pay-to-Play World.

All of this brings me to the point of this article—the critical importance of Content. Let’s review the three types of marketing content: owned, paid and earned content.

Owned Content is what you’ve created and actually own—your website, social media platforms, winery blog and news, photos, videos, etc. Paid Content is exposure you purchase—advertising, label placement, etc. And finally, Earned Content is the most important if you want to expand your reach beyond the subscribers and followers you already have and are already marketing to.

Earned Content or Earned Media are third party endorsements by wine writers or other media outlets —media coverage for your brand that results in accolades like feature articles, media mentions, wine reviews and scores. This is also why brand building through media outreach is imperative, as there are too many wineries for writers to discover unless you are being proactive. Can you still be a wine media darling just by making exceptionally good wine? Maybe, but don’t count on it. Put a media program in place to ensure your news and Your Voice is heard.

This area of Earned Content or Earned Media is important because it contributes to the library of content your winery can use in its marketing efforts. Wine is still an esoteric luxury purchase for many consumers, and they rely on expert opinions to support their buying decisions. Links to articles, podcasts, and video interviews about your brand are great marketing content. Share your scores, medals and other achievements in your general interest and wine club newsletters, and on social media. These are the bragging rights that you’ve earned, and that makes a huge difference in today’s wine world. On the flip side, garnering media attention but not doing anything with it, such as mentioning and linking to it on your website, blog and social media pages, is a terrible waste of a precious resource.

Despite our new 21st Century challenges, these are actually sunny days for the premium wines category. Get your Marketing and PR game on now, and bank enough Earned Media content to help you weather the more difficult times to come.

*Source: SVB 2015 State of the Wine Industry

CARL GIAVANTI 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. Carl started by focusing on DTC Marketing for wineries 7 years ago, and formed a Winery PR Consultancy over 4 years ago (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media). Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, the Carneros, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge.

Winery PR in a Pay-to-Play World

Where have all the Wine Writers gone?

I recently bumped into Karen MacNeil at the 8th annual Wine Bloggers Conference. She was scheduled as the keynote speaker. We had just arrived from Chicago into Elmira, a small regional airport that services visitors to Corning and the Finger Lakes wine region. While waiting for our bags we got to talking.

I learned that Karen will soon release the 2nd edition of her “Wine Bible.” It has taken four years to update and is very comprehensive. I asked her “How many ‘A List’ writers are still working today in the U.S.?” Her response was “Around ten,” which gave me great pause.

I took Karen’s response to heart and decided to do some research during the conference. With so few “A-List” print outlets sporting a wine columnist these days; to whom does a winery publicist turn to promote their clients? At lunch I asked Tom Wark, an industry commentator and publicist, and Bill Ward of the Minneapolis Star Tribune how many serious wine writers they thought were still around. Their consensus was about 30-40. The last time I checked, I was tracking 100+ “A List” writers in my database. But… come to think of it, Bill St. John of the Chicago Tribune retired; Jon Bonne’ is no longer at the San Francisco Chronicle (although still writing); and Katherine Cole is writing infrequently for The Oregonian. Whatever the number of pro writers may be, getting quality endorsements and media coverage has become more challenging.

So what’s a winery to do?

With wine writers dwindling and journalism moving from print to the digital realm, your earned media options (coverage, accolades, and endorsements) have changed. There are costs associated with gaining recognition for your winery, but think of it as an investment in brand building. Do it wisely and you will be rewarded. I’ve always been an advocate of taking a balanced approach – in other words not putting all your wines in one basket. Here are some Pay-to-Play channels to consider from most obvious to least:

o Advertorial – I’m not a big fan, but the lines have been blurred and we’re living in a pay-to-play world. Touring & Tasting Magazine is a beautifully produced publication that is unabashedly pay-to-play. You pay, and they will write an article with photos to be published in its glossy magazine. Many consumers realize this is advertorial, some don’t. There are many other print publications whose editorial and placement may be influenced by those wineries that advertise. Again, I’m not an advocate but this has become a reality.

o Competitions – I have to wonder about the popularity of wine competitions with consumers. Do medals hanging on bottles collecting dust really impress? Do they influence purchase decisions? It seems like some competitions are moving to pay-to-play and everyone-is-a-winner approach. Winning categories may include Platinum, Double Gold, Gold, Silver, Double Bronze, Bronze… maybe I exaggerate but you get the point. But really, would you hang a Double Bronze medal on a bottle in your tasting room? I can just hear the urban wine sophisticates now: “Is that all you got?”

To be fair, I think that competitions are a reasonable starting point for developing wine regions, or small fledgling brands. Judging at state fairs and local competitions will help weed out poorly made wines from the rest of the lot. As always there is a cost – to enter and to advertise your winning medals, typically by paying for label image placement on the competition website. In my opinion, this is not worth doing unless there is residual marketing value provided by the competition sponsors, and there are only a handful of decent competitions that do a good job of promoting award winners and have reach. Competitions are also worth considering as part of your retail strategy. They are good content for retailers to feature in signage and shelf talkers if this is part of your overall marketing plan.

o Wine Scores – Everyone wants to be highly rated by the “Big 6” publications, and the reach and impact can be significant. However, because of growth in the number of wineries submitting (Wine Advocate estimates 1,000 wines per month), it has become so competitive that some publications are screening wines prior to acceptance (current Spectator and Advocate policies). Additionally, getting an 88 or 89 point score from one of the “Big 6” wine publications used to mean something. Today, with score inflation to consider many wineries don’t bother to promote scores below 90. Scores of 92 or above are now considered achievements, but to stand out you probably should consider paying for label placement (if offered as an option).

o Online Reviews – Pitching your story and identifying and sending samples to national, regional and local wine writers is important, especially in those strategic markets where your wines are available. There are many print journalists now writing or doing podcasts for their own sites, and many more serious online writers to consider, including the “Wine Bloggers” community. These influencers are the largest and most approachable source for 3rd party endorsements. After all, quality writing hasn’t changed, but the medium has, and in this case the lines are blurred but in a good way.

Traditional print journalists and online writers are equally and simply wine writers. Do they have a palate preference for your wines? Do they have a story interest in your brand? Do they write often? What is their reach? If they have a significant following and can influence brand awareness and sales, are they worth considering? By my estimation there are 200+ such online writers worth getting to know who write about U.S. wines.

A note about the Wine Bloggers Conference – About 225 wine writers and industry folks attended this year’s conference. Over the years, the seminar topics and conversations have centered on questions such as “Are we bloggers or writers?”, “Should there be wine writing certifications for bloggers?”, and “How to monetize your blog?” Today we have several success stories of the more prominent writers getting assignments for print publications, being hired as writing consultants, or by wineries in marketing, etc. This is a serious wine community that has continued to gain respect, and will achieve future prominence as editorial continues to move online.

Proof of their commitment to wine is that most write despite not being paid. Find those that write well, write often, and have significant visitors to their website and social platforms. There is the cost of shipping your wine to consider, but this seems a reasonable Pay-to-Play scenario. Online writers must disclose that they have received samples, and will not write unless they are compelled by the wines or something in the media kit triggers a story idea.

o Onsite Visits – invite local and visiting wine media to tour, taste and interview a winery spokesperson onsite. Giving a writer or group of writers (organized Media Event) exclusive and private access is the best experience you can produce, and with the correct follow-up should result in some form of winery publicity.

o Market Trips – Tastings with local writers in your hotel room, their office or over lunch. Yes, there’s a cost, but why not maximize time in market when not doing ride-alongs with your distributor?

Although these channels for earned media have crossed the line (in some cases) to pay-to-play, taking a diversified and cost effective approach can make sense. Aggregate total impressions from a variety of different sources – did the media hits drive website unique visits, page views, sharing and comments? Track and determine where you are having success. Keep a running tab of media hits, reviews and accolades and the concurrent bumps in newsletter signups, social follows and sales. Eliminate what is not working and update your PR plan often. Compare your Earned Media results to Paid Media (advertising) and Owned Media (content you produce on your website, blog, newsletters and social media) to determine the correct marketing mix. As one of my clients is fond of saying “We’re in this for the long haul, and every little bit helps.”

In my opinion, the end-game for earned media is to substantially increase your winery’s visibility and sales by placing the winery in front of the media, which in turn will increase awareness of the brand to consumers, which will organically translate to increased sales.

CARL GIAVANTI 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 marketing and media relations consultant. Carl started by focusing on DTC Marketing for wineries 7 years ago, and formed a Winery PR Consultancy over 3 years ago (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media). Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, the Carneros, Willamette Valley, and the Columbia Gorge.