Drip, drip….drought!

What you’re about to read has probably been rattling around in your mind as something you know, as a communications expert for your winery, that you should be addressing.

water-huz6.jpg (1433785 Byte) rain drops on window

What’s all over the news? The drought! What Governor Brown is doing, what ordinary people should be doing, what and how we should all be sacrificing, and more, right? Agriculture—with a capital A—is coming in for a lot of focus and a lot of criticism.

In The New York Times this past week, Mark Bittman mulled over the topic in a strong op-ed column. In “Making Sense of Water,” he made several points:

  • “The solution lies with agriculture, which consumes more than its fair share.”
  • “California produces more than 400 commodities in many different climates, so it’s difficult to generalize about agriculture. Many farmers are cutting back on water use, planting geographically appropriate crops and shifting to techniques that make sense, like “dry” farming.”
  • “California grows fruits and vegetables for everyone; that’s a good thing. It would be an even better thing, however, if some of that production shifted to places like Iowa, once a leading grower of produce.”

The average person does not understand the nuances of farming; it’s our job to educate them. In addition, grapegrowing is so very intimately connected with specific terroirs, as we know so well—those terroirs can’t be outsourced; they are the lifeblood and identity of each winery business and its marketing.

Do some research and you’ll see that there’s another side to this coin. For example, also this week the AP reported on a study from the state’s legislative analyst that “California’s four-year drought has forced farmers to fallow 400,000 acres and driven 17,000 farmhands out of work” but also that “agriculture makes up only 2 percent of the state economy.”

How farms—yes, a vineyard is a farm!—use water is a very complicated question. Young vines may need more water or not. Weather may impact how much water is used in maintaining a healthy crop. Maybe your vineyards are dry farmed, but no one knows about it.

Sit down with your team and put together a position paper or a report on how your winery is handling the drought. Are you doing anything innovative? Are you moving to dry farming and is that necessitating changes in what is planted or how grapes will be harvested or whether or not you also adhere to organic or biodynamic practices?

Wine PR Lesson 201: take advantage of a controversial topic in the news and make it yours. Be a leader; be out front in explaining how you’re addressing the situation.

Six Important Seminars for the Wine Writers Symposium

winepenpaperiAs I write, the Wine Writers Symposium is underway in Napa Valley at Meadowood Resort. For the wine publicist, this gathering of well established wine writers, simply established wine writers and others who identify themselves as “wine writers” would be nirvana. Imagine, all these wine writers with digital ink to spare all gathered in one place just dying to hear about my clients.

However, I am not allowed within a mile of the place, even if I paid to go. This is true despite my more than a decade of blogging about the culture, business, marketing and politics of wine. I’m not allowed precisely because I’m also (and primarily) a wine publicist and the organizers of the Wine Writers Symposium properly prefer the event to be about the writers in attendance and writing…not about my clients.

All that said, working with many wine writers in my line of work, I do have some ideas about what kind of seminars I might deliver up if I were organizing the Wine Writers Symposium. Some would say this is a list of “My Problems With Wine Writers” but it’s not. Rather, it’s a list of “What It Takes to Be A Great Wine Writer.”

So, what would my seminar look like?

Seminar #1
How To Fact Check
Believe it or not it’s not unusual to see my clients placed in regions they’ve never been in and find their tasting rooms open hours after they close. We would assign Eric Asimov of The New York Times to administer this seminar.

Seminar #2
How to be a Wine Drinker’s Advocate
Despite the absurdly numerous and ancient anti-consumer laws on the books in nearly every state, you rarely see a writer address these laws by calling on consumers and lawmakers to change them. If this isn’t the job of the wine media, then I don’t know whose job it is. I would assign Jerry Mead the task of overseeing this seminar. Only a small hitch with that plan: Mr. Mead has left the building.

Seminar #3
How to Make Your Readers Laugh & Cringe—Simultaneously
Satire and straight talk and a little bit of wit is a rare commodity in the wine writer biz. But when it’s done well everyone comes out of it with more than they went into it with. This kind of writing keeps folks coming back for more. For this seminar, Chris Kassel would be tapped.

Seminar #4
How To Make Money Writing a Wine Blog
The elusive desire! The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And the question that countless would-be self-publishers have pondered for near a decade now. As yet, we have not determined who would moderate this seminar nor who the panelists would be.

Seminar #5
The Art of Tasting and Reviewing 200 Wines in a Day
If you are going to dispense information every wine lover wants, then you need to get to reviewing. But four of five wine reviews a week just won’t do the trick. That just the thirsty reader wanting more. Thousands of reviews. That what you need. And there is obviously a trick to getting that many wines reviewed for your readers. Whether it’s advice on how not to ruin your keyboard to how to undergo a palate replacement with minimal hassle. Of course, Robert Parker Jr. would chair this panel with Antonio Galloni as his second.

Seminar #6
How to Be Nice to a Wine Publicist
Hey, we just want the chance to pitch a story; maybe just get our client’s wine in front of you. There are a number of easy tips available that will show you how to be nice to the folks who just want to give you the best story idea of your life. Any young wine blogger seeking free wine samples could oversee this seminar.

The 25 Stories Guaranteed to be Written by the Wine Media

newspaperAt Tim Atkins’ blog, Ron Washam (AKA Hosemaster of Wine) offered up a list of topics he’d like wine bloggers to ignore in 2015. It’s a pretty predictable list of topics that wine bloggers will cover at some point…if not annually. Inadvertently, Washam makes the point that some topics will always be covered by the wine media. In fact there is a list of topics that wineries can count on seeing covered year in and year out. For the winery seeking exposure through the media, knowing what these topics are and making sure the media associates their brand with these stories is a good way to generate the desired coverage.

What are those topics that you can count on being covered year in and year out by the media? Behold…

1. Young Winemakers (children of older winemakers) making an impact.

2. Global Warming and its impact on wine

3. The resurgence of (name that varietal).

4. The Three Tier System is archaic and hurting someone

5. The first grapes have been harvested this vintage

7. Its springtime and time for Rose.

8. How to pair wines with Thanksgiving Dishes

9. How to pair wines with Easter Dishes

10. The best places to stay and eat in (name the wine country)

11. Wine critics don’t know what they are talking about.

12. Sparkling wine is for more than just celebrations

13. New York (name another wine region outside of CA) wines are on the rise

14. The best gifts for wine lovers

15. It’s the “Vintage of the Century” (for Bordeaux wineries only).

16. “Natural Wine” is on the rise.

17. You don’t need to pay a lot to drink great wine

18. Will drinking wine make you fat?

19. The best restaurant wine lists in (pick a city)

20. Wine sales increase last year

21. Research shows drinking wine will (imorove) or (harm) your health.

22. Study shows wines are purchases based on the label (or price, or place on the shelf)

23. Will red (or white) blends finally find a place in wine lovers’ collection?

24. Direct wine shipping is coming to (name the state)

25. We mourn the passing of (name a great winemaker/winery owner)

Looking for exposure in the media? Anticipate which of these stories will be written by a particular media outlet or outlets, position yourself to be positively portrayed in one of them and get the word out to the media (Try not to be part of #25). It’s really as simple as that. Because you know these stories are going to be written.

What’s 100 points between friends?

Let’s give you a situation. How would you handle it?

The winery owner/winemaker/marketing/sales director bursts into your office, waving the latest issue of The Wine Advocate.

He or she is practically dancing: “Look! We got “96-100” points! Fabulous! Get it out there! Tell everyone! GO!”

First step: you do the due diligence. You carefully read through all 1,536 reviews. You see that 10 wineries did receive “pure” 100 point ratings. Your winery’s wine, at “96-100,” is one of many.

Now what?

How DO you broadcast this? Did your wine receive 100 points? A bit sticky….or not….?

An interesting exercise in ethics, perhaps?

We offer this case study because we see it play out occasionally, that “96-100” turning into “100.”

Is that a win?

Not really: here’s why. It’s entirely possible that the writer who runs that item will somehow find out what the score really was. Or other readers or an editor will find out and the writer will have some consequences—accordingly, you’ve burned a bridge and damaged your reputation with that writer. You’ll have to rebuild the trust; it will take time. There’s another angle, too: savvy readers who know will now have a lesser opinion not only of your winery but of this writer. Collateral damage—but every relationship matters. The effort to repair this trust takes time away from everything else on your plate.

Sometimes, good or bad, the world is black and white.

Be yourself — bon voyage, Tom Magliozzi!

On a daily basis I see how important it is for a winery to distinguish itself. How are you different? What’s your personality? How do you express it? A few days ago I was honored to be in a brainstorming session with an excellent marketer about how to create memorable and unusual video tasting notes for his winery. This winery is ‘secure in its skin’ and knows that creativity—and attractive content—are so very important.

Here’s how this concept plays out. It’s not in a wine context; that might make it easier to see in action….

If you’re a fan of Click & Clack, you may already know. Tom (and Ray) Magliozzi were always themselves, even if it meant walking a line where they might alienate listeners. For them it was finding humor and then laughing raucously. Please take a sec to read Bob Collins’ tribute to Tom.

Tom Magliozzi's laugh boomed in NPR listeners' ears every week as he and his brother, Ray, bantered on Car Talk.

And then listen to the on-air wake for Tom.

Cin cin!