What Do Wine Writers Want?
by Jim Gordon
When I returned to my routine in late February after the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, I found myself thinking about what wine writers want. As a former full-time consumer wine writer and editor, I have a certain understanding of the craft that may help Wines & Vines readers see wine writers in a more accurate light.
Winemakers and marketers tend to have a love-hate relationship with the media. But I recommend a love-love approach if you want your own business and the wine industry in general to benefit from well-informed media coverage for the long term.
So, what do wine writers want?
To taste and taste and taste
Virtually all wine writers really love wine. They live to taste and taste and drink. In the late hours one night during the symposium, after sampling dozens of wines at the reception, dinner and postprandial hour, some attendees continued the party with rarities they lugged from home to share with their mates, like a 1971 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling from Germany and a 6 puttonyo Royal Tokaji from Hungary.
How to help: Send samples. Send them especially to writers who frequently cover your region or wine types, but learn their rules and policies first. Cooperate with requests for older vintages, etc., from reliable writers.
Wine writing doesn’t pay much anyway, so as newspapers and magazines continue to fold or lay off staff, wine writers value stable buyers of their writing more than ever. Stability comes with revenue, and revenue comes largely from advertising for both print and online media.
How to help: Wineries are notoriously anti-advertising and pro-public relations. But advertising still works to sell and build brands. Further, if you believe that wine criticism has too few strong voices, then identify lesser-known media that you respect and advertise with them to support diversity of opinion.
No strings attached
Having said the above, let’s be clear that serious, professional wine writers are journalists. Advertising does not influence good journalists, even though it can influence their publishers. Wine writers want no strings attached to the advertising support that their publications get.
How to help: Understand the wall between advertising and editorial content. Ad dollars should not and do not buy favorable editorial coverage in any respectable publication, despite frequent rumors to the contrary. If a publication offers this kind of quid pro quo, then walk away. You don’t want this, really. Readers detect the dirty ethics and lose trust in not just the publisher but the advertiser, too.
Less oak and alcohol
The critics of high alcohol and dominant oak flavors have not gone away after 15 years. They are here to stay. It’s one of the issues that wine writers love to discuss. Writers are finally becoming proactive about it by praising lighter, more balanced wines rather than simply trashing the full-throttle wines.
How to help: Let them know about your shorter hang-time, naturally lower alcohol, or low-oak wines. Capitalize on this non-interventionist approach as a point of difference that makes your wines more authentic.
To be heard
Wine writers, even the ones who are quiet in person, love having an audience in print. They want to be heard. They love to see their names in print and enjoy it when consumers and wine producers take their advice.
How to help: Listen to them. I think it’s very positive when wineries address head-on what concerns writers. A seminar and tasting about “California Pinot Noir: In Pursuit of Balance” was scheduled for last month in San Francisco. It sounded like a direct response to the pleas of critics.
Journalists are essentially students who get paid to learn about a subject and write reports about it to help educate others. Wine writers love to suck up new information as well as any other journalist. The newer the better, because most journalists covet true scoops, where they are the first in their field to report a new development.
How to help: Educate them. Be the winemaker or grower who is happy to talk with journalists about a variety of issues and not just the vintage you are selling at the time. Call an especially interested writer with a scoop sometimes, before you send a press release. Help writers understand the realities and intricacies of grapegrowing and winemaking, and they will in turn do a better job of educating your consumers.
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