Contest,PR Advice,Wine,Winery

An Unwritten Rule That’s Now Been Written

First Annual Reader Appreciation Day on Wine-Blog: Don’t forget to comment each day with your name during this week. It’s for the drawing… a pair of gorgeous Riedel Vinum etched glasses from my PSILY stash. The winner will be announced this Saturday morning on Wine-Blog. Good luck! Just in time for Thanksgiving…


Rule #1: Never, under any circumstance, do you – as a vintner – want to tell one writer what another writer has favorably said about your wine.

There are lots and lots of rules for PR, and I never get to this one in initial discussions with a client. The first order of business is to get a client’s wines reviewed. There’s a lot to discuss initially, here. Once the reviews come in, there’s a new layer of what to do… and nine times out of 10, people are so pleased that they want to shout it from the roof tops, but you need to know what to do with this info, and it’s NOT go tell it to other writers.

I don’t blame anyone for not knowing this rule. There was a time when I didn’t know about it, either. Once I learned it, though, it changed everything about how I message information to my wine writer colleagues.

I’ll never forget telling one vintner, who called me when he got a really great mention in Wine Enthusiast. He was insisting that I write a press release to Wine Spectator, and tell everyone at the magazine that he just got a great write up.

I said, “Sorry, but I don’t do that. It’s the kiss of death… not only for you, but also for me as a publicist. Every single writer has his or her own belief that what s/he’s said is done so with an authoritative voice. If I say someone else said this, then there’s no more reason for him/her to write about you, now is there? Writers want to discover you on their own, not follow the pack. I can’t do that for you.”

He told me he was ordering me to write it. I thought, “You may be doctor, but me not nurse.” From that point forward I decided to call him by his first name, because I was his equal in professionalism, and actually understood the wine business a bit better than he did. I’d never tell him how to do his job, and he wasn’t going to tell me how to do mine. I tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear, and it’s meant losing a client from time to time, but that’s better than losing my integrity.

I’m in a process right now of interviewing Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyards, for instance. I know he’s the bomb, but I haven’t read what others have copiously written about him. I’m just very familiar that he’s an amazing man, never mind a great vintner. To have read everyone else’s interviews with him would mean that my questions would just mirror everything else that’s already written. Nothing original would come from my interview… There’s good reason that Randall hasn’t directed me to anyone else, too. He’s been around long enough to know the unwritten rules.

There’s no discovery, People, when there’s already been full disclosure.

So, please, print this blog posting, and put it into your PR book of Dos and Don’ts. It’s a biggie for you.

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16 Responses to “An Unwritten Rule That’s Now Been Written”

  1. Arthur says:



    If they got such great praise from someone else, why are they telling me about it?

  2. Jo says:


    They want to tell the world, which is done through writers, they think, as the only voice.

    What they don’t understand is that writers are the wrong “audience.” I’m constantly having to tell newbies that they need to tell their consumer and trade audiences about great scores and accolades… not media.

    New-to-the-business people don’t understand that, until they’re told. Even then, some of them don’t want to hear it. But it’s not “Me doctor, you nurse” anymore for them. It’s “Me vintner, you consultant,” and they’re paying for the advice. When they don’t like my “truths” anymore, they go find someone else who will tell them what they want to hear, and I’m off to find someone more trusting.

    It is what it is, and it’s been 17 years for me of telling it like it is.

    BTW, Please consider yourself in the Riedel glass give away drawing.

  3. Arthur says:

    Asking one critic to tell their readers what *another* critic said about your wine is like telling someone to extol the virtues of another man when trying to woo a woman.

  4. Jo says:


  5. Bless you, Jo, for this post. Wineries, put yourself in my shoes. You send me your wine for review. I take it seriously and try to be as objective as possible. But if you tell me about another critical review or medal, I can’t help but think you’re trying to influence me. It won’t work, and even though it pisses me off, I can still be objective, but still, it does not speak well of whoever is doing your P.R.

  6. Jo says:

    Way to go, Steve.

    You’ve just backed me up… You and Arthur…

  7. Sondra says:

    Great article and it emphasizes also the point made (oops, am I doing what you said NOT TO?) in Steve’s recent blog – we all have different opinions. It is the original content, idea or wine assessment that captures attention.

    We all, vintners and writers, want others to praise us and pass the word. Guess its like the 100th monkey idea – the more in agreement the better the reputation.

    I think it takes courage to do what you did – to NOT agree with what the client asked for. So how do you balance your values with a client’s needs?

  8. Jo says:

    How do I balance my values with a client’s needs… Good question.

    My values, that have been established in the wine business, have been set up by working hard in this wine business for nearly 17 years. In that time, I’ve learned how to work with media and clients.

    While a client’s needs are to spread the word about his/her wins about his/her wines, it’s my job to make sure (as a marketer) that they hit the right target. That’s also part of my value system. The people who hire me, do it because they need my guidance in public relations and marketing.

    I can’t tell them how to make wine, and they have to understand that they can’t tell me how to do my job. They’ve hired me for my advice. If they want a “yes” person, they simply need to hire an employee who will tell them what they want to hear.

    I tell people what they need to hear, and it’s not always easy. (It has cost me many clients, but I sleep well at night.)

    Now, if they’ve got a degree in marketing (PR is in that program), and another 28 years in PR, then we’ll have a meeting of the minds.

    Please don’t interpret this as ego or arrogance. It’s neither. It just is what it is. When I need a surgeon, I know where to go. When they need PR, they know where to go.

    When they know more than me, they don’t need me any longer, and I don’t need them, either. It’s a parting of the ways, and another open door to find people with whom I’m more closely aligned and respect follows. All of our values stay in place.

    I’ve had many writers comment on my value system being solid. That’s really important to me when I hear it. I know I’m doing my job. “They” give me my report card. I’ve also got a few loyal clients who also appreciate my counsel.

    I’ll be entering your name into the drawing for the gorgeous glasses for today. Thanks for your comments and question, Sondra.

  9. Jo says:

    Sondra, No, you’re not doing what you’re not supposed to, based on Steve’s blog… we all talk about each others opinions. It’s not a GOLD medal, “Look what I got, Mr. Steve” at all.

    Plus, Steve’s a dear friend… we share thoughts a lot.

  10. Tom Plant says:

    Jo –

    Bravo! That vintner had a lot of nerve. I have winery owners ask to review my stories for factual correctness before I post them. I’m not crazy about it, but that’s a far cry from telling me what to write. I’m happy to see you’ve put it in writing.

  11. Jo says:


    I’ll tell you what… my blog is off limits to my clients. This one has to be unfiltered, unfined.

    If they want to pay me for writing on THEIR blogs, now we’re talking.

    If I write something that needs factual correctness after I’ve posted it, I’m more than happy to change that for anyone. (We all make mistakes as humans.) But, if they’re not willing to include social media in the marketing mix, then get out of the kitchen.

    If they’re paying for your time, though, that’s a bit of a different story, as long as they’re not overbearing about it.

    For me, blogging is journaling, not copy writing… a whole different bowl of wax, as far as I’m concerned.

    I’ll put you into the Riedel drawing, too, Tom, as I am with all comments this week.

    Thanks for sharing and the applause!

  12. Sylvia says:


    Integrity is everything and worth more than any dollar.
    Thank you for your insight with PR. More professionals should catch onto the advice.

  13. Jo says:


    Advice is best delivered in a spoonful of sugar, but sometimes I become impatient, and it’s then more like medicine… which not everyone likes.

    I once had a client who called me a “Big Fat Liar,” because I told him something he had said earlier, but he didn’t want to believe he had been that brazen. He hung up on me and said he’d never recommend me again. (No big loss, but I wasn’t going to cave to make him feel good about himself. Have you ever read about Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde? Don’t shine the mirror on a Dorian. He must go to the attic and see his own reflection, as the story goes… A classic.)

    Anyone who is open and looking for the way, will take the advice. All I can do is inspire those who are open.

    I’ve done well by standing my ground, even when it means an earthquake just happened. I land on my feet, and the next opportunity is always better than the battle I just fought… And I detest the battle process, honestly, but love the rewards.

    I guess that’s what people have to hang onto; that their principles will bring them to a better place. Anyone who presents a challenge, will deliver growth ultimately. Growth always equals success.

    I’ve added you to my drawing for this Saturday morning for the Riedel glasses celebrating Thanksgiving of my readers. Cheers!

  14. ruth says:

    I heard Paul Gregutt, another wine critic, talk today to some of the members of the Walla Walla area wine industry. He said that when he receives wines for review, he just wants things such as technical information, vineyard source, and suggested retail price. It makes sense that those of you who write about wine are a bit like scientists doing independent research to reach conclusions and aren’t interested in what other scientists think.

  15. Jo says:


    Correct… Paul’s another writer/hero of mine. He’s straight up, and that’s how it needs to be.

    You’ve been entered into the Riedel contest. Good luck!

  16. winenxt says:

    nice… clever…

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