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The Power of the Penn; Cyril, that is ~ Wine Writer #38

Anyone who works within the wine industry knows about Wine Business Monthly. It’s our magazine. It’s powerfully influential, and it’s read by anybody who’s anybody in wine, because it keeps us up to date on what’s happening… constantly.

Behind the publication is the editor-in-chief, whom I’ve held in high regard since he came onto the scene… Cyril Penn.

In my role as a publicist, he’s always been there for me. When my last pink slip demanded that I do something about always hitting that glass ceiling, Cyril was guiding Mick Winter with a story on wine industry publicists. I didn’t know that, though. I had called Cyril to tell him that I was no longer at my last employed job and starting my own PR firm, and he immediately put me into Mick’s story about wine industry publicists. He essentially launched my career, one that I was just starting as Diaz Communications in July of 2001. Cyril had known me for my PR work as a winery’s employee, and must have known (which I couldn’t yet see) that I’d be making it on my own.

There’s always been a debt of gratitude for that.

Cyril has also printed a few of my stories. That, too, has been very helpful for my own creds.

That’s the thing… he helps the industry. I’m not an isolated case, though; I’m sure of that.

What would the industry be without Cyril’s daily newsletter to us all? I call it “The Power of the Penn.”

When Cyril decided for Wine Business that they’d be including wine blogs in their daily newsletter, within the dozen that he featured, my blog was one of them. I actually loved that I was included, because it gave the list a female voice, too. There aren’t a lot of us wine blogging/writing in a field with mostly guys. No ragging here, just telling it like it is. Every newspaper has a lifestyle section, and I know that I fit perfectly into that category… So does Cyril, and he dares to take that risk with a publication that’s fairly serious about what its contents are, and there sit my stories like Road Warrior Survival Guide.

Any day that my blog is featured on Wine Business’s blog page, my numbers get a nice little bump from his readers. I can watch the numbers climb on the back end of my blog, where I monitor activity and know that I have comments. If I happen to make it to one of his top three blog positions, my numbers soar through the roof in my “Site Stats.” The incoming links from Wine Business are right there as the evidence. I daily see the traffic that Cyril’s decisions drive to my wine blog. This is how I came to intimately know about the power of the Penn.

I’ve never told him about this. I wonder if anyone else has shared that with him. We’re all so busy. Who has time to call him up and say, “Hey, Cyril, the days when I’ve had my highest readership have been when you’ve put my blog into one of the highest positions on Wine Business’s Daily Newsletter.”?

Sorry if you’re not in the wine world. This is probably inconsequential to you; but, you’d like Cyril a lot if you met him at a cocktail party. You’re also being turned onto the fact that writers in any field of interest have a deep relationship with their editors, and this is how it works on the back end of that.

If you are in the wine world, you know what I’m talking about. Cyril is one of the nicest guys in the wine business, and deeply respected by us all.

Writer Profile questions:

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

[Cyril]  I’m very fortunate that my position as editor for Wine Business Monthly is my full time job. It’s a dream job. I enjoy coming to work. We’ve got a great team.

[Q]  When did you start writing about wine?

[Cyril]  I started writing about the wine industry when I took the job as editor of Wine Business Insider, a weekly newsletter, Wine Business Monthly’s sister publication. This involved writing about the goings on within the wine industry,–transactions, public policy, sales trends and the like — more than wine itself. We don’t do wine reviews or rate wines, but we write about the wine industry and winemaking in detail. The Insider at the time was a gossip rag, and I mean that in a good way (who’s buying who, who’s suing who, who switched jobs? People want to know).

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

[Cyril]  An unusual opportunity – Somebody called me and asked me if I’d be interested in writing about the wine industry, seriously. – How often does that happen? At the time, I was editing a publication about the energy industry and had a pretty conventional journalism background. I actually hesitated at first, thinking writing about wine might be a bit too “fluffy.” But who wouldn’t want to make that switch. I quickly came to my senses.

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

[Cyril]  What I enjoy about the position with wine business monthly is that we cover all aspects of the industry: grapegrowing, winemaking, sales, marketing, finance, business, technology. I like writing about innovation. It doesn’t get boring because there’s so much variety and so many great people in the industry.

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

[Cyril]  I’ve been here for more than ten years now – the world is completely different. The magazine has evolved forward and grown. The role of our website has increased, not surprisingly given the times. The way news and information is delivered and consumed has been completely revolutionized during this time. It’s a moving target. During the past couple of years, blogs have ushered in a new form of journalism: The lines between magazines and blogs are blurring a bit too. We will probably start a blog of our own in the near future.

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

[Cyril]  There have been several ‘a-ha’ moments from which I can remember how the wine(s) actually tasted. First time I went to Bordeaux, the first time I tasted a Borolo, the barrel sample up in Washington last year that was so tannic my whole mouth went numb, the Petite Sirah from the Central Coast that tasted like a chocolate malt, tasting Pinot Noirs at Robert Mondavi Winery with Michael and Tim Mondavi, to name a few.

[Q]  What’s your favorite variety?

[Cyril]  I go through phases of liking different varietals, but tend to favor the reds. I prefer complex but not too over the top reds: Lately, I’ve tasted some cool climate syrah.

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

[Cyril]  Absolutely – especially with the price compression and the new cheap is chic mentality. Plus there just isn’t that much bad wine out there. Did I really say that? There’s plenty of plonk but it’s amazing how many really super nice wines you can get for a reasonable price.

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

[Cyril]  I’m gullible. There have been several times that I’ve written about the next product that would “revolutionize the industry” and have jumped on the bandwagon only to find that the products didn’t ever really catch on. WBM’s cover once featured the “Grape Ape,” a giant vacuum that would suck the pomace out of tanks so winemaker’s wouldn’t need to get in the tank, which can be a safety issue. The problem was when push came to shove, the machine didn’t work. My favorite innovations this year are 1) Flash Détente, which is a method for getting rid of green-bell pepper characters from under-ripe gapes, and Capabunga! a simple but really cool capsule for resealing open wine bottles. I’m also intrigued to see how it goes with the new wine bottle reuse company that is launching out of Stockton, and to see if this tap wine phenomenon really has legs.

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

[Cyril]  Napa Cab with bbq chips – or an elegant Chardonnay with pan seared scallops.

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

[Cyril]  My wonderful family of course. Also, I’m a jazz drummer – play in a couple of local groups in the Napa/Sonoma area – I love music. [Cyril is – obviously – on the right in this image.]

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

[Cyril]  People with vision who make things happen and have a positive attitude. Also great musicians: two of my favorite drummers are Billy Cobham and Tony Williams: These days I’m inspired by the drumming of Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez.

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

[Cyril]  For being kind to others, for being good to my family, for being a straight shooter, for having integrity, for having fun.

A drummer… Who knew?

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14 Responses to “The Power of the Penn; Cyril, that is ~ Wine Writer #38”

  1. Ken Payton says:

    Wonderful piece, Jo. Cyril is truly one of the unsung heroes of the world of on-line writing. That is until your piece appeared! Good work.

  2. Jo Diaz says:


    Yes, he is one of our unsung heroes. I just don’t know where I’d be without him…

  3. This interview brought some introspection into my own journey, whether or not that is a good thing we’ll see. I enjoyed learning a little bit more about each of you. No surprise he is a drummer, I know if anything my editor has rhythm. She’s a pretty good editor too.

  4. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for your comments, MacDaddy, and learning more about “each” of us.

    Your editor (Pamela Heiligenthal) being at Enobytes, … Another great on-line resource and person. May your journey be as rewarding.

  5. Many of us owe Cyril a debt of gratitude.

  6. Jo Diaz says:

    So true… Steve

  7. Great read! Love the Napa Cab and bbq chips reco.

  8. Jo Diaz says:

    Me, too, Christopher. It seems to be a favorite food & wine combo from writers that I ask. I’m wondering it’s a wine-writer-let-your-hair-down response.

  9. Marc Engel says:

    Always great to see a good person like Cyril revered like this. He is indeed a straight-shooting, fun, kind-hearted gentleman of integrity. I appreciate the ink (and e-ink…enk?) he has given me over the years. Thank you, Jo, for writing this piece. Thank you, Cyril, for being such a worthy subject.

  10. Jo Diaz says:


    The Glorious part of this story is the reactions that are coming in, like your right now. It’s good to hear from someone who’s been on the enk (I like that one a lot) end of things. He’s touched so many lives as a gentleman and a scholar.

    Thanks for weighing in.

  11. Roger Archey says:

    A true gentleman journalist. Bravo Cyril!

  12. EVO says:

    Add one more visitor from the Daily News links, Jo.

    Including my two cents to the Kudos to Cyril. He has always been helpful to LocalWineEvents.com. When we’ve met in person, it has always been great conversation.

    Hat’s off to you Cyril. Congrats on the successful years of The Wine Business monthly.


  13. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks, Roger and EVO.

    EVO, I’ve just added you to my “Supplies, Amenities, Services” category, because you, too, provide great service to our business.

  14. Megghen Driscol says:

    What a delight to read. I was reminded of the many times Cyril has “helped” me out over the years… whether that was printing a story, or more important, NOT printing a story. He has always been kind, fair and oh-so funny! Thank you for the reminder of his greatness.

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