[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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