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Marketing,Public Relations,Wine,Wine Blogger,Wine Business,Wine tasting,Wine Writer,Winery

So you’re from the media, why should I care?

[This image is of Michael-David Winery's tasting room. It exemplifies what I've been saying since the beginning of my wine career... A tasting room is a farm store. If we think of wineries as an agriculture stop along the way, we have a deeper understanding of the entire wine process. Since I'm mentioning Michael-David Winery below, I felt that this would be a great image for this story.]

There are two sides to every story. Being on one side as a publicist, and being on the other as a writer, I’ve learned a few things about media visiting a winery. I thought I’d share both sides of the coin, and how to make each experience better for everyone in the process.

History First

My first brush with wine media was 20 years ago, when I met one of the rudest men I’ve ever met, regardless of his profession. Here’s how it went.

I was fairly new to the wine industry, and working my first tasting room job at Belvedere Winery. Mr. Stiff Media came into the tasting room, with his little notebook and pen in hand, and pretty much ignored my cheery greeting. (Clue #1 that this wasn’t going to go well.)

I gave him the drill about having four complementary tastes. He reviewed the tasting sheet, and asked for the first chardonnay to be poured. I had just poured the Sonoma County Chardonnay that he had asked for, and I went right into the adjectives I had learned about the wine; you know, apple, citrus, butter. He stopped me dead in my tracks. “Young lady,” he said, “Do not presume to tell me what I’m going to find on my palate.”  He probably thought that he had made my day when he called me “Young Lady.” I have to admit, it been a while since I had been called “Young Lady;” usually it’s now “Ma’am,” but the rest of his directive told me that we had nothing in common.” (Clue #2 that this wasn’t going to go well.) “Okay, we’re not going to have any discourse,” I thought to myself.

I decided that I’d just wait for what he wanted, from that point forward, and said nothing. Not one more word did I utter. He told me what he wanted, I poured, he tasted and took notes, he told me what to pour next, I poured and waited while he took more notes, and so it went. When he had had his last taste, he simply turned and left. No “Thank you,” no “See you.” Nothing… he turned and walked out of my life.

I assessed how rude he was, and got on with my job. (He did give me a great story for how not to be, however.)

Now, I go to tasting rooms… unannounced, sometimes, as media… Recently, I’ve come to realize, that I’m also not really doing anyone a favor, showing up unannounced. Most tasting room staff members are usually not in a position to really help answering questions of greater depth than the average wine consumer’s curiosities. They’re mostly also learning about different varietal wines. I ask questions that they can’t answer, most specifically when it comes to really deep history, the surrounding area, the kinds of soil from their vineyards, etc. It’s not wine tasting 101 any more for me, and many tasting room people are just beginning their own wine careers, like I was. It’s not fair of me to want to know some of the things I’m asking, and expecting someone just coming into the wine business to know about “Goldridge soil,” for instance.

Jose and I just had an exemplary experience with the staff at Michael-David Winery in Lodi. And, on the way back to Sonoma County, Jose and I discussed a couple of recent pop-ins. The difference between having people know who you are and what you’re doing, versus tasting room people expecting to educate you with their available cheat sheets, is the difference between night and day. When Paul Muñoz and Mike Stroh, both from the Michael-David marketing department, and their PR person Blythe Beaubien, met us at the winery after Michael-David’s Petite Sirah wine grape growers tasting, they pulled out all of the stops. I have a  lot of history with the Michael-David crew through PS I Love You‘s activities, and Blythe was simply doing a great job of organizing it all.

Here are ways that we can all help each other… Both media and wineries:

If you’re a winery

the 5 most important things to remember about media

when they show up unannounced

  1. See if there’s an available principal on the premises.
    • If you’re a principal, be willing to share some of your time.
    • You would have to pay a PR person a good amount of money to have been able to get this personal attention for you.
    • The media person just walked in for free.
  2. Instruct your tasting room staff that any unannounced media will be asking in depth questions.
    • Someone from your senior staff should be prepared to take over, because the questions are going to be more in depth.
  3. Always have a few press kits under the tasting room bar.
    • To send a media person away without a press kit, is the difference between a story or not having a story about your winery.
    • Don’t assume that they’re going to go to a Website, where at best they’ll find limited details.
  4. Waive fees.
    • Just the way you waive fees for other winery members, media have an even more powerful implication for you.
      • Writers make next to nothing for their writing skills, and sometimes even have to take the time to “sell” their stories.
      • These aren’t any longer the days of scribes being the best paid people in the land of nob.
    • Someone who has made it easy for them will be the difference between writing an easy story, or not writing one at all.
  5. If they show interest in a bottle of wine, comp them.
    • A story of 1,000 words, like this one, takes about three to four hours to write.
      • Math, 1000 words times $.05/word (very cheap newspaper payment) equals $50. Some magazines pay twice that, so $100.
      • Your $20 to $30 investment is a good one spent.
    • What does your on staff writer get paid for writing a story for you?
      • And, that person doesn’t even get a media endorsement for you.

If you’re a media person

the 5 most important things to remember

about winery tasting rooms

when you show up unannounced

  1.  In all fairness, call ahead to see if there’s an available principal on the premises. Don’t expect any perks, if you don’t.
    • The time principals share with you will be invaluable, and give you what you’re looking for… in depth info.
    • You’ll also be taken to private places within the winery, where the public doesn’t have access; like the wine cellar, into the vineyards, and tasting private, reserve wines.
  2. Don’t be like the gentleman I described above.
    • You’re not the most important person to the tasting room staff, consumers are for them. That’s how they’re trained.
    • If you’re trying to be incognito, leave your pencil and paper in the car.
      • If you’re really being incognito, you know how to do it, and won’t make yourself stand out by being memorably rude.
  3. Make sure to present your business card immediately, with the name of your publication on it.
    • At least you’re giving them a fair shot at serving you.
    • Also, don’t expect a big “thank you,” if they don’t know a story is being written about them.
      • Depending on your Google pecking order, it may take time for them to even know you’ve written anything.
    • Most tasting room staff aren’t prepared to answer questions in great depth. True story example…
      • Consumer question of a colleague, as I was pouring for someone else: “What’s the difference between dry and sweet wines?”
      • Answer from the tasting room staff member: “It’s the kind of grape.” When we closed the tasting room, I privately handed my colleague a book that explained residual sugar, just for the next time he had to educate someone.
  4. Ask for a press kits.
    • You’ll receive a wealth of knowledge, prepared for you by a wine pro who knows what you need, and has also anticipated what you’d want (hopefully).
  5. Take some pictures to go along with your story.
    • Images are still worth a 1,000 words.
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15 Responses to “So you’re from the media, why should I care?”

  1. Excellent, points, well said. Thanks for the reminders.

  2. Jo Diaz says:

    You’re welcome, Betsy.

  3. A wine blogger instructing wineries and tasting rooms to not only waste their time and demanding ‘principles’ to attend to them, but to top it off, give them free wine? How rich.

    If you’re some (sarcastic quote) “media”, you better call and request an appointment if you want any time spent with you and if you want to take a bottle home, you buy it. Don’t be rude and expect wineries to cover the cost of your personal cellar and drop everything to drool over your 10 page visits per post (all other bloggers by the way). This is possibly the most infuriating “article” I have ever stumbled across. This represents everything that is wrong with the wine industry. If a winery thinks you’re worth their time, they will invite you. If a winery would like you to taste their wine, they will send you samples or offer to pour for you at the winery. Don’t be an imposition.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Dear bloggercirclejerk… (Interesting name)

    I’m a wine publicist who’s been in the wine business since 1993. (I was in Rock n’Roll radio before this for 11 years, working with DJs and rock artists of the day…. I’ve been around the PR camp a long time. I know pR and I know what wineries expect to do. THAT’S why I can instruct. I know how it works.)

    I’ve hosted writers (notice I didn’t say “bloggers, because they’re in a bit of a different category) for the last 22 years. I know what it is… I know how to treat media… because I know media work for peanuts, and they appreciate consideration. Wine media, by the way, aren’t journalists in the true sense of trying to uncover a controversial or salacious story. they’re working to get tot he heart of a winery, and a free bottle of wine surely makes the writing easier.

    I know bloggers work for nothing. I know wineries have a budget and are willing to support, not only wine writers but wine bloggers. (I’ve also been wine blogging since 2005… longer than most. I just waited for Web 2.0 to open up and launched…)

    Your name suggests why you might not get this story, but I do appreciate you voice an important objection from your perspective.

    From Facebook today, from other wine pros:

    Denise Lowe: Great article! I often go to tasting rooms unannounced, but I always present my card immediately so that the person behind the counter understands that I’m probably going to write about my experience. It’s always interesting to see the reaction. Sometimes it’s wonderful and welcoming, and other times, it’s clear that they don’t get it. I’m always polite and respectful, but I have no expectation that I’ll get to meet the winemaker or proprietor; it’s a plus if I do. And, I generally purchase at least one bottle of wine because I don’t take the tasting for granted. If they comp or discount the purchase, even better.

    Peter Nowack (He’s another publicist): XLNT post, Jo!

    Nancy Weil Brown I loved this article, Jo. And I’m not a professional in the wine business. I’m an amateur lover of wines. Your ideas go way beyond just the wine business and offer good information for people in other businesses, too. BTW, I love the photo and what it shows about the experience of going to that winery’s tasting room.

    David Phillips (Owner – principal – of Michael David Winery): Thanks JO! Very proud of our staff. Sorry I was on the road last week and missed you

    Jennifer Tincknell (another PR pro): You always give such practical advice. I have used your pieces with our winery clients. Thanks for sharing.

    Shana Bull (another PR pro): Love this!

    Ron Clark Nice article (another winery pro – tasting room): I totally concur. How about that Michael David, pairing asparagus with Sav Blanc!

    Jo Diaz I know… it’s not about the flavors, it’s about what’s being offer that day I even thought about it as I photographed it… but the total context of complete farming was more important to me.

    So, there you have it… If you thought that the wine business didn’t agree, you’ve got proof from some heavyweights that I was on track, just not being pulled by your train (of thought). And, some interesting words from a consumer, who knows me pretty well from all that I’ve written.

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    One more thought, blogger… I can see why you’re confused… Wine companies still don’t consider wine bloggers as full pledged media. bloggers are hobbyists, unless they’ve got a following that now has them being considered “media.”

    It’s not there yet, not in my industry.

  6. Jill Shubel says:

    Well put Jo! I agree with you 100%.

  7. Very well said. It is certainly better to absorb the cost of a free bottle of wine (even if undeserved) than to absorb the cost of an unsold pallet of wine.

    But all tasting room staff should be trained in the basics. If someone asks about sweet wines, the answer “it’s the type of grape” really is unacceptable. Even if the staff person is at the beginning of his or her career, some training is necessary. They may not need to know all about soil types or Brix, or water retention, but if asked a question about something they don’t know, they should ask another staffer, especially if they know the questioner is in the media or a restaurant owner or distributor.

  8. Randy Caparoso says:

    Jo, you could have boiled the advice to “media people” down to this: anyone who walks into a tasting room without an appointment is a fool.

    Don’t expect preferential treatment from people who work the counters; and if they tell you, “so what?” when you tell them you’re a wine writer, then you deserve it. If you’re a true professional, you arrange your visits ahead of time, plain and simple.

  9. I think you mean principal.

  10. Jo Diaz says:

    Yes, I could have, but I left that one for you, Randy. Thanks!

  11. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Alan, I had “principal,” knowing that it meant a person. Then, I got edits from some of my pals, doubted myself and switched it to Principle. I should have just looked it up at the time and be done with it. Here’s what i should have put forth:

    Principal and principle are often confused as they have the same pronunciation, but have different meanings. In non-legal usage, principle (a doctrine, standard, rule, or law, etc.) is always a noun: A principle of management is to treat your employees as you want them to treat your customers.

    On the other hand, principal (primary, chief, most important) is both a noun and an adjective, though usually an adjective in non-legal usage: A faulty gasket was the principal reason for the engine’s failure. In general usage principal refers to a person who plays an important role or holds a high position: Last week, there was a meeting among the principals in the deal.

    In legal and financial English, however, principal is often a noun (from principal person). In the law of agency, the principal is the one on whose behalf the agent acts: She attended the meeting as the agent of a principal who wished to remain anonymous. In banking the principal (sum) is money invested or borrowed on which interest is paid: The borrower was only able to make the minimum payment, which covered the interest but did not reduce the principal.

  12. Alan Coutney says:

    Hi Jo, didn’t intended to nit-pick. Having written some myself I have observed that those sorts of things can be distracting to a reader and sometimes deminish the power of an argument. More to the point of your blog we are located in the Sierra Foothills. Our wineries are virtually all small producers, most family owned and operated. We are starting to receive some serious attention from the wine press. What would you consider to be an adequate press kit for a small operation?

  13. Jo Diaz says:

    Not nit-picking in my world. I try my best; but know that nothing, most especially yours truly, is not perfect. So, I don’t take offense. It still takes a village to raise me. I’ll write a blog post about what’s great for media, because it takes a long time and I have to write for a client ASAP.

    Meanwhile, you can analyze this press kit that I created for a client: River Road Family Vineyards and Winery.

    You also helped to remember my key… PAL IS A PAL

  14. Jo Diaz says:

    From Mort Mort Hochstein, in a private message to me:

    I tried to write this on your blog, but the site keeps rejecting me. Probably with some ulterior motive.
    May I refer you to the dictionary where you might learn that the distinction between PRINCIPALS and PRINCIPLES, Principals at a winery may have authority, and they may follow principles, but, principles are not people as you refer to them in your blog about media visiting wineries. Though our supreme court might think differently. You have confused the terms in an otherwise fine article .as yogi berra said, you could look it up. mort
    Sent from Windows Mail

  15. Hi Jo,
    There were a lot of good points made in this blog. If you don’ t mind, I would like to share this article with the members of our Ramona Valley Winery Association. We are a newer AVA in San Diego County that is starting to attract media attention. I have learned that a good press kit can save time and prevent mistakes. We appreciate all of the work you put into the PS I Love You programs, and always learn from those, as well.
    Thanks,
    Victor Edwards
    President Ramona Valley Winery Association

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