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Marketing,Wine,Wine Blogger,Wine Business,Wine Writer

Tom Wark ~ Renaissance Man ~ Publicist | Wine Blogger | Journalist ~ Wine Writer #30

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Reading Tom Walk’s blog entry about it being five years for him as a wine blogger, it occurred to me that I’ve watched him morph into so much more than a wine publicist. Even though my wine writer program doesn’t really include wine bloggers, per se, and has more of a focus toward more traditional print media with whom I’ve worked over the years, Tom is epitomizing what’s currently afoot… People morphing into the new wine writing guard, with many of them attaining a stature with as much credibility as the old guard.

For Tom, it’s been having a career as a publicist, then becoming a blogger, and segueing into what I consider a journalist. I’m very comfortable using the word “journalist,” because Tom’s willing to uncover all the dark, hidden secrets within the wine business. He’s then willing to reveal those finds, much to the chagrin of many within our business.

It was Tom who inspired me to blog more. At the time, it was his first year into it, and I had just starting my blog, writing about once a week, he wrote something to the effect that I should be writing more than I was. I resisted a bit, then realized that I should write a bit more. So I ramped it up to five or six days a week, depending on if my Saturdays have anything worth telling, or do I just upload images and stories for the week. It was Tom who so moved me. Recently, I thought, Tom’s really evolved into a new category of gray matter… You know, yin and yang (white and black combined becomes gray), a.k.a. publicist and writer.

The following is his Q&A, with some great answers:

[Q] Many wine writers also have a day job. If wine isn’t your job, what is and for whom?

TOM: My day job is as a publicist and marketer working with small and medium sized wineries and wine-related companies. In fact, this has been my day job for 20 years. I’m also executive director of the Specialty Wine Retailers Association.

[Q] When did you start writing about wine?

TOM: I started FERMENTATION: The Daily Wine Blog in November 2004

[Q] What prompted you to start writing about wine?

TOM: Ego and Interest. That is, I felt I had something to add to the conversation concerning the business of wine and where wine fits in our culture. I discovered easy to use blogging software and services in 2004 and thought there could be no better vehicle for my writing. At the time I think there were maybe 5 or 6 wine blogs on the net. I didn’t know for sure if I’d be read at all.

[Q] What aspect(s) of wine do you most enjoy covering?

TOM: I’m primarily interested in the cultural, philosophical and political aspects of wine and the wine business. I’m also always trying to understand what role wine plays I my own life. That may sound odd, since it clearly plays a role not only as part of my vocation and as a beverage. However, wine also works as an important sign post and metaphor for me and I enjoy exploring how it does this.

[Q]  How has your job changed since you’ve started?

TOM: If by “your job” you mean the blogging, the main thing that has changed is the sense of responsibility I feel that comes as a result of having a readership of a fairly good size. When I started writing I had a very small readership and that affects how one approaches a subject whether you want to admit it or not.

[Q]  What’s the most memorable wine you’ve ever tasted?

TOM: The last one.

[Q] What’s your favorite variety?

TOM: Find myself drinking a lot of Grüners these days. I find them refreshing and interesting and wonderful with foods. But truth be told, I probably drink a lot more bourbon than wine.

[Q] Do you believe that there are better quality, lower priced wines today, than in past vintages?

TOM: It’s pretty hard to make bad wine these days. But with the economy hurting and with a lot of wine out there it’s truly a buyer’s market. The bargains that exist today, relative to the wine market of two years ago, are absurdly abundant.

[Q] What’s your favorite innovation in the wine industry over the past few years?

TOM: The ease by which one can locate wine using various services such as Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Vinfolio, search engines and other services is an incredible innovation. If you know the wine you want, you can probably find it pretty quickly now. And it doesn’t matter how rare it is.

[Q] What’s your favorite food and wine pairing?

TOM: Lamb and Pinot Noir

[Q] What are your interests outside of the wine business?

TOM: In no particular order they would be Jazz, writing, philosophy, bourbon, religion, traveling, Kathy, baseball, golf, friends.

[Q] Who inspires you (wine business or outside of it, doesn’t matter)?

TOM: I’m inspired by people who have have lived very long lives. I’m inspired by the people I love and their well being. I’m inspired by Gore Vidal.

[Q] For what would you like to be remembered?

TOM: For being the first person to live to be 250 years old. I don’t like the idea of missing anything, so I want to push this life as far into the future as possible.

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16 Responses to “Tom Wark ~ Renaissance Man ~ Publicist | Wine Blogger | Journalist ~ Wine Writer #30”

  1. Loweeel says:

    Lamb and pinot? What the hell is he thinking?!?! Everybody knows that PS PairS perfectly with lamb. Pinot doesn’t have the back-end tannins to cut the fat even in leaner cuts.

  2. Victor says:

    Personally I prefer a good Cabernet Sauvignon with lamb! But Petite Sirah would be my 2nd choice.

    Victor
    Edwards Vineyard & Cellars

    Hi Loweeel how are you doing? Raining here today.

  3. Jo says:

    Loweeel, No matter what anyone eats, it’s going to have to be enjoyed with Petite in your world! ;^)

    Both of you are entered in the D&D ticket give away for this week. I can see where both of you could really enjoy regifting these!

    Victor… finally a sunny day up here.

  4. Jeff says:

    One thing I appreciate about Tom is he seems to be a deeply introspective man who respects other thinkers.

    In this regard his mention of Gore Vidal is interesting. With the recent passing of William Safire, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut, and Norman Mailer we’re losing some of the great voices of the 20th century — authors and writers who had something bigger to say … and understanding their place in history and what they stood for is important.

    Jeff

  5. James McCann says:

    No one who actively advocates on behalf of clients and a retailer association can be considered a journalist. (Unless Tom is going to start writing blogs agreeing that wine should be sold in grocery stores in states like NY.)

  6. Jo says:

    Jeff, I also appreciate that Tom is deeply introspective. It takes that kind of passion to dig deeper and give us these details.

  7. Jo says:

    James, thanks for your comments. I appreciate your perspective, because you’re writing from your own experiences and knowledge base. We all have a world that’s crafted who we are and what we know from our life explorations.

    I have my own experiences, too.

    When I read what Tom writes on behalf of the retailers association, I’m willing to bet that he’s doing it with extra hours than what he’s billing for. I may be wrong, but I don’t believe I am… Here’s why…

    I do the same thing with PS I Love You, my small advocacy group. I’m paid for 40 hours a month (when there’s even money in the bank… three months behind right now… This is not dirty laundry; it’s just a reality of non-profits). So, when I’m writing about my non-profit on my blog, I’m not paid… I promise PSILY 40 hours a month, but can’t get past delivering 120 every month.

    What I’m saying is this… Non profits can’t afford the person that works for them with the kind of passion that we have and deliver. I’m willing to be my life on the fact that whatever Tom’s hours are – as they are expected of him – are well over what he’s delivering.

    Those extra hours aren’t paid, and those are the ones that keep him up at night, crafting his messages of rage over a system that’s so screwed up that we all know who’s benefiting and who’s not, and so it goes.

    I know his passions and I know how he’s compensated. It’s not for his blogging, I can tell you that, because neither am I, for the most part. I walk in his shoes, every day, and I know how tight they are.

  8. Jo says:

    Here’s another thought, because I’ve learned a lot about journalism in my nearly 30 years of PR:

    Journalist are paid by their bosses (corporations) to divulge what they uncover about a topic. They (corporations) take advertising dollars to pay their journalists for their work.

    They also squelch what they don’t want consumers to know that might hurt their advertisers. I know this to be true, because I had a community issues talk program for about seven or eight years, and was told by a GM that I could divulge info on one of their advertisers (soda company that has one teaspoon of sugar per ounce). My segment was called, “Modern Health.”

    I also had an editor scream at me, when I asked if he’d like to run a story about my company, “What have you EVER done for us.”

    It’s a funny world we live in, isn’t it, journalistic integrity et al.

  9. James McCann says:

    Jo:

    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I am certainly not accusing Tom of being paid to write for his clients on his blog. I just take exception to the proliferation of bloggers that either assign themselves or are assigned by others the title of “journalist.”

    I very much enjoy reading Tom’s blog, but it should not be mistaken for journalism as he clearly advocates for a side in almost all of his blogs. That is the antithesis of journalism. Not to belabor the example I used earlier, but Tom often covers the topic of the three tier system, and the fact that most states won’t allow out of state retailers to ship. He advocates for open shipping in the name of consumer choice and increased tax revenue. I very much doubt, however, that he would advocate for those same consumers and tax dollars if it applied to grocery store sales, which would harm the independent retailer.

    It does not make Tom a bad person, it just means he is not a journalist.

  10. Chef E says:

    I just discovered his site today as I was sifting through wine blogs. I feel he is a down to earth writer that does not speak over our heads about wine.

    Many people I run across are in one of these categories-

    Wine Educated- Some call them snobs, but they love wine

    Mid-range enthusiast- Love drinking and learning, but not consumed

    Lush- Will drink anything and pretends to care, okay, maybe a bit harsh

    My mission is to reach the mid-range to lush and show them that wine education is important in its consumption.

    I look forward to following you.

    Out of the kitchen chef- E

  11. Chef E says:

    PS I am also looking for submissions for a piece I am writing on ‘Wine Myths’ in January, and since I just am removing my head out of the sand, or as I say ‘out of the kitchen’ in my profession, and focusing more on a subject of wine and food pairing. I have realized that I left this message on Tom Warks website, and maybe I should also ask here… anyone interested please email me a ‘Myth’ with a short blurb, elizabeth@cookappeal.com, with your permission of course!

  12. Jo says:

    James,

    Thanks for your clarity, too.

    When Tom steps away from the three tier system, and reports on other issues from working within the wine industry, I see his writing as more journalistic than journaling.

    It’s also important to note that when I asked Tom to be one of my writers, he said he wasn’t totally comfortable with the word “journalist.” I explained how I see him segueing, based on all that he writes about.

    I see things trends before they come to fruition… Perhaps it’s my years, but this has been going on all of my life. Years ago I wrote about getting over only having a couple of wine voices, that everyone has a palate, before anyone else dared to approach that one. I wrote that Gary V could very well be the next Parker, for his own generation, before that was ever approached by anyone else,

    I see where Tom could possibly be heading, if he so chooses. (He’ll come to a cross roads, and possibly learn that it doesn’t pay well enough, that he’s better off where he now sits. (My journalist friend have shared their compensation. Unless one has a job with a major network, it’s more passion than paid appropriately for the amount of labor, travel, accommodations, etc..)

    Tom shares your same concerns, too. I also have this concern. I haven’t put anyone else into my wine writer category, who comes originally from the wine blogging community. I don’t see myself, or anyone else but Tom, as someone who writes in an investigative way, and then puts it out there.

    Tom is one example who could now go in either direction, based on his writing style and interests.

  13. Tom Wark says:

    Jo,

    I really am appreciative of what you wrote and for the opportunity to be interviewed. Thank you. And I also remember when I found your blog. I’m very pleased you took my advise and began writing more often.

    Where blogging is concerned, I think of myself more as a commentator and industry critic than as a journalist. I think I could write in a journalistic way if I wanted to, but I don’t want to.

    Where my allegiances to retailers is concerned, I would note that I’ve been pretty vocal on the issue of free trade in wine and critical of the three tier system long before I began working with SWRA. In fact, I remember going back and forth with Jerry Mead when he maintained the AOL wine forum.

    That said, I am in favor of wine being sold in Grocery stores in NY, TN and everywhere else.

    I should also note that I RARELY blog about my clients at Wark Communications. It wouldn’t be right. I also don’t review wines for the same reason.

    Cheers,
    Tom…

  14. Great conversation you got going here, Jo!

    I enjoyed reading the interview with Tom as well. I too am curious about the lamb and pinot pairing. I have a Twisted Oak PS that I plan to have with lamb sometime now after reading these comments instead of my usual syrah or GSM/rhone style blend (although those Alentejo wines would be great too!)

  15. Jo says:

    Tom, I have noted on your blog that you openly state you don’t write about your clients, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen you do that even once.

    I also know that you’re more of a commentator than journalist, but I see that passion for exposing inequalities not only as your underlying motive, but also quite possibly why you’ve been chosen to be the advocating voice against the three-tier system. You were already understanding its intricacies and divulging it, long before someone needed to be chosen to trumpet the story. You were an obvious choice, and you’ve laid a lot out there that needed to be exposed, so everyone could understand the system.

    You could – and I understand why you don’t choose that path – be a journalist, if you so choose… Again, as I’ve noted as what could happen, because you’re so close to being there.

    Bottom line for me… You’re a great writer, and now part of others on my blog that also inspire me.

  16. Jo says:

    Gwendolyn,

    Who knew this would go off in this way? But then… It’s about Tom Wark, and he’s got that edge. My other writers ARE full blown journalist, and the comments about them, when they’re on the blog, are lucky to have one person say something like, “Yeah… great guy/gal.”

    That Tom… He’s such a sketch.

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