More on the Wine Train incident to consider

Is there anyone who doesn’t know about the recent incident on the Napa Valley Wine Train?

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Newspapers, radio and media everywhere have reported on it, thanks also to the hash tag #laughingwhileblack. What started out as a long-time book group get-together turned into an international fiasco.

We’re now in the third cycle or so of commentary and what-ifs. SWIG co-founder Tom Wark has suggested a simple plan for how to deal with a situation such as this.

Let me add to his suggestions that you read two other thoughtful commentaries, by Jo Diaz and Blake Gray.

Here’s some more advice.

Keep your eyes open and read whatever else you might find.

Most importantly, meet with your management and hospitality teams and walk through some scenarios which could take place in your tasting room or at an event you sponsor. What is your crisis communications plan? Who will write it? Who will be the person to talk to the media when they call?

How hospitable IS your hospitality?

How discreet are your employees?

Where does your business stand in the grey area between ethics and morality and marketing and reputation management?  Have you ever had that discussion? Now would be the time.

Tequila Shots and the Rules of Wine Public Relations

TshotsI find myself in a relatively unique position. For many years, like my blogging partner Julie Ann Kodmur, I’ve made a living working in wine public and media relations. Part of that job is reaching out to journalists and “pitching” stories that represent the interests and backgrounds of the clients that pay me. We both are pretty good at this.

However, for over a decade now I’ve also been blogging, usually at Fermentation, and I’ve been pretty successful at that too. As a result I get stories pitched to me by other PR professionals who want me to write about their clients. A turning of the tables if you will.

So, here is the pitch I got from one PR company today. This is real:

“Question: are you ready for the end of the summer? Probably not. Do you have a plan? Maybe. Would you accept suggestions? Definitely! Labor Day weekend is around the corner and what better way to say good bye to the hot summer days than with tequila shots!

So I stared at that awhile. Re-read it a couple of times. Then I tried to imagine the story I might be writing if in fact downing tequila shots was a central element in that story. I tried to figure out how I could write a story that centered around the virtue of doing tequila shots. Of course, I know what the virtues are of doing tequila shots. I’m just having a hard time figuring out the virtue of writing about those particular virtues.

While I’m thinking about what those virtues might be, I do have some solid recommendations for wine PR and marketing folks that relate to this particular story pitch I received:

• Try to pitch stories to writers who have at least a slight interest in what you are pitching.

• Try to pitch stories that go beyond the somewhat comical, “Wanna tell your readers how to get shit faced”?
• Never, ever, hit the send button after writing the first thing that popped into your head and not leaving time to edit what is likely a very bad idea.


Advice for working with the media

When you’re a professional communicator or marketer, it is crucial that you ‘wear the moccasins’ of the journalists you are talking to. Today in an unusual twist for SWIG we want to bring you a terrific piece of writing which was also a speech at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in upstate New York, delivered by award-winning blogger and writer, Meg Houston Maker. Our thanks to Meg for sharing her insights.

AUGUST 17, 2015: The Story Only You Can Tell: Advice to Wine Bloggers

By Meg Houston Maker

You have a wine blog. Congratulations: You are now a nonfiction writer.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t tell a story. In fact, you must tell a story if you want your work to be read, and if you want your reader to keep reading.

Good wine writing demands more than just a palate and a vocabulary. It demands curiosity, creativity, insight, and diligence—and that’s true whether you approach your work journalistically or view your blog as a strictly artistic endeavor.

Good writing is also about more than grammar and syntax. These reside squarely in the realm of copy editing. This is writing writ small.

I’m speaking here about the realm of storytelling, of story doctoring, the art of stitching your piece together into something that is bigger than the sum of its parts. Something that says something you believe to be true.

If you’re willing to master a few techniques of good writing, you can keep your reader reading. These techniques aren’t hard, but they do require you to bring your writing to a level of consciousness: To inquire, to listen, to reflect, to syncretize—to tell a story.

Keep reading…..

Actionable! You can do this now!

Want a tip? Something you can do this week publicity-wise that might make a difference?

Here it is: take advantage of the Perseid meteor showers which will dance through the skies this week, starting tonight.

Lots of detail here, here and here.

You might see 100 meteors an hour—how cool is that?

But what’s the action step? Be ready: get the ‘money’ shot.

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If you’re not a skilled photographer, find one. Search out a spot in your vineyard, where you can frame the vines with the images of the meteors racing across the sky. Wouldn’t that be a wonderful image to have and to share? If possible, make sure the setting is identifiably yours—that might not be possible, of course….but maybe the vineyard is known for a huge lone oak tree or a cluster of olive trees. The goal here is to end up with a signature meteors-above-our-vineyard photo which is entirely unique to you and could in no way be thought of as a generic shot.

This isn’t the ordinary annual Perseid meteor shower; the experts predict it to be more exciting than any in recent years. Because the waning crescent moon will be setting early each night this week, the sky will be a fabulous ‘blank slate’ for the meteors.


In the late evening you should be able to see shooting stars in the sky; then, around approximately 11:30 p.m., in the northeastern sky, the constellation will rise. It will move across the sky and set in the southeastern sky.

If midnight isn’t your cup of tea, some of the astronomers say that the meteors may still be visible around 4:30 a.m.

More advice is that it may take twenty minutes or more for your eyes to adjust to the dark.


The Press Democrat explains that “…a meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through an orbiting field of comet debris — in this case, a trail of particles left behind by Comet Swift-Tuttle, which reappears every 130 years. Though the dust particles are tiny, the speed and friction with which they hit the Earth’s atmosphere creates the streaks of light we know as shooting stars. The peak of the shower occurs when the Earth is passing through the densest part of the trail — Aug. 12 and 13 this year, according to NASA. Active from July 17 to August 24, the Perseids are so named because the meteors appear to radiate from the constellation Perseus.”

“Don’t expect to see the sky ablaze with flashes of light all the time. Each meteor will flash for less than a second as a long streak of light. Many could flash at one time, or none at all might appear for many minutes,” the Chronicle tells us, adding “It’s more important to decide where to watch for the meteors than what to watch for them. The crucial issue is that meteors are faint, so you need a location where the sky is dark, and that means getting away from city and car light as much as possible.”


In addition, the experts tell us not to use telescopes or binoculars. “Your eyes are the best tool, because the flashes can be anywhere in the sky. Restricting your view to a small part of the sky makes it more likely that you will miss many of the meteor flashes,” the Chronicle’s expert suggests.

Good luck! May the Force be with you!

Oh so trendy

You’re sitting in your winery’s “how are we doing” marketing/sales/news-dissemination meeting.

You’ve heard about developments in the vineyard.

There’s been a discussion about the pros and cons of cement eggs in the winery.

You’ve heard about whether the tasting room traffic is up or down.

What you have absolutely heard is how everyone seems to be floundering about what way to go. What’s a trend to capitalize on? How can we intrigue visitors, customers, wholesalers, sommeliers? How can we keep employees engaged and enthusiastic?

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Here’s a sneak peek into trends that corporations are paying attention to, as recently reported by Paul Solman of The PBS News Hour.

Solman interviewed DeeDee Gordon of Sterling Brands; she’s a consultant who advises on brand building and new product development based on cultural trends she spots.

What applies most to the wine business? Here are a few of the many interesting trends:

1) “Conspicuous isolation:….People are feeling very overwhelmed by all of the data out there and so they are trying to find ways of being on the grid while being off the grid…”

2) “Hyper-experiences, people’s need to be more immersed in products and in brands.”

3) “Life framing:….taking pictures of your Sunday meal, for example, to post online…how consumers are using photography to frame up these experiences to be able to elevate their status amongst their group of peers on their network.”

4) “Frugeois: ….our commentary on frugal living. Millennials are extremely conscious of what they’re spending, so they want things that are cheap, but that are designed to function, last and look really good. Fast fashion products…”

Why not challenge a room full of your colleagues to brainstorm new programs or approaches which would embody these ideas?

I can’t resist; here are a few ideas to whet your whistle.

Conspicuous isolation: what a cellphone-free zone in your winery or tasting room? A way to emphasize how enormously absorbing wine tasting is…why dilute it with email from the outside world?!

Hyper-experiences: insurance aside, what about letting people learn to drive a forklift? Ride in an ATV to a view spot in the vineyards? Experience batonnage with their own hands, stirring those lees?

Life framing: how are you handling selfie sticks at your winery? What about making it easier? Setting up vignettes where your customers could jump right in to a nicely arranged ‘set’ to take photos?

Frugeois: maybe offer an outlandishly inexpensive tasting out of the blue one day? Just to BE outlandish? You could come up with a creative hook about why the wine is authentic and the ‘price’ doesn’t matter?!

Happy brainstorming! Remember, a great idea could always go viral.