Wine Writers: What are they looking for? Recap

In case you missed it, Calhoun & Company’s President, Katie Calhoun was recently a panelist at the 2018 WinExpo Trade Show and Conference. Katie was joined by Balzac Communications President, Michael Wangbickler. The panel was moderated by Chris O’Gorman, communications director of Rodney Strong Vineyards and featured wine writers Virginie Boone of Wine Enthusiast and Sara Schneider of Robb Report. Below, Katie has summarized the panel and share the most important takeaways for writers, communications agencies, and wineries big or small.

Panel (from left to right): Sara Schneider, Michael Wangbickler, Virginie Boone, Katie Calhoun, and Chris O’Gorman

Panel (from left to right): Sara Schneider, Michael Wangbickler, Virginie Boone, Katie Calhoun, and Chris O’Gorman

Wine writers in most cases across the country are freelance journalists working out of home offices.  Virginie Boone, who predominantly works with Wine Enthusiast magazine, noted that 80% of her time is devoted to wine reviews.  That leaves only 20% of her time to visit wineries, attend events or write editorial content.   Sara Schneider (formerly of Sunset Magazine) now predominantly works with Robb Report covering wine and spirits.  She is writing upwards of four stories a week, mostly for online content.  

Wine writers are looking for content--interesting, unique, different, unusual or actually new.  (While they might be happy to taste it, a new vintage of your key wine is not “news”!) And they need photography to go with the story.  The luxury days of news outlets sending photographers with editors is mostly gone, with some exceptions, so be prepared with bottle and label shots, winemaker headshots and key winery or vineyard images.  In fact, if you can have those images downloadable on your website, through a Trade or Press tab, that is super helpful.

While Virginie and Sara both said they often work with and rely on PR people, they welcome phone calls and emails from all people.  They suggest that you read their pieces, that you look through their magazines, so that you appropriately target them with stories and products that fit the demographic of their reader and audience.  For Sara at Robb Report, that means exclusive, high priced, hard-to-find items work for her now--while she could never cover those at Sunset.  For Virginie at Wine Enthusiast, only send her products from the regions she is assigned to taste and review. For all writers, include SRPs (suggested retail prices) always!

Social media is a key communication tool and part of any PR strategy.  Wine writers often post their own personal anecdotes and even media requests on social channels.  Wineries can re-post content from wine writers, spreading the good news and thanking the writer at the same time. (Please follow copyright guidelines.)  Most outlets also post their print material online, making it evergreen and long lasting content, versus an exclusive print piece which is often recycled at the end of the month.

Influencers, sponsored content, native and advertorial content all serve a roll in sharing your marketing message to varied audiences.  As lines blur with traditional PR, adding these elements into a larger communications strategy is worth considering. Moderator, Chris O’Gorman noted that he works with influencers for sponsored posts and per their agreements retains their photographs for other social content, benefiting the winery in multiple ways.

Big and small wineries have access to wine writers.  Pick up the phone! Send an email! Keep it short and thoughtful, targeted to the editor with their publication audience in mind.  Be mindful that hundreds of wineries around the globe may also be reaching those writers and sending them wine. Your story or product may fit into a larger topic story, or a varietal round up, or a trend piece.  The more homework you do before reaching out to the writer, the more likely you will pique their interest in your story.

Katie Calhoun