Spotlight: Mike and Jeff, the World Wine Guys
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen, also known collectively as The World Wine Guys, have enjoyed unprecedented success over the last few years as wine, food, travel and entertainment personalities and authorities. They’ve been on T.V. and radio and in newspapers and magazines, and their two books (The Fire Island Cookbook and Wines of the Southern Hemisphere) have done extraordinarily well. Mike and Jeff also are the Entertainment and Lifestyle editors of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, as well as good friends of mine. I thought it would be interesting to explore how their career went “from zero to sixty” (as Jeff puts it). Their advice to novice writers, as well as those who already have a little experience, is valuable. We chatted in New York, at Wine Enthusiast’s recent summer editorial conference.
How did you happen to become the World Wine Guys?
Jeff: We call ourselves that because we travel around the world drinking wine, experiencing the lifestyle around wine, food, cuisine, trends and travel opportunities.
Mike: We have been traveling the world the last 15 years. But I’d say for the last 5 years, we were looking for a way to differentiate ourselves from the other people who do the same thing, and there are two of us, so we came up with the name World Wine Guys. And it’s funny, when we travel, even people who don’t know much English know the words “World wine guys.”
What are the sources of revenue for the business?
Jeff: Our books, which just came out last year.
Mike: And writing for magazines, including Wine Enthusiast. And we do public speaking and host wine tastings and dinners for corporate groups and private clubs.
Jeff: That’s our main source of income.
A lot of people who read this will want to know how to make a living at something in the wine, food and lifestyle field. What advice can you give them?
Jeff: We’re lucky that we went from zero to 60 in a very short period of time. I was a sommelier, back when we called ourselves wine waiters. Mike comes from a journalism and marketing background, so we put those two things together and created this brand. For people who are just starting, I want to tell you it’s not an easy world, but it’s completely do-able. You have to be honest and truthful about what you want, set your goals and then set action steps to achieve those goals. We’ve taken Tony Robbins classes, personal self-help classes, and we truly believe whatever you set your mind on, you can achieve.
Mike: And go to as many events as you can, where you can network. Just get out there and do it. I remember we were invited to an event in Easthampton and I did not want to go. I said, “Why don’t we stay in the city this weekend?” And Jeff said, “What do we always say about going out and meeting people?” So we went, and met the person who is now our literary agent at a party! If I had decided to stay home and not take the 120 mile drive out there, we never would have met that person. So we firmly believe you have to put yourself out there, not aggressively, but organically find out how you can work together.
What is the role of social media?
Mike: We’ve found it works more on a personal level than a professional level. We look to Twitter to find out what’s going on, things that are trending, but we’ve also found out that a winemaker took a job at a different winery on Twitter, so we get a lot of wine news from reading it. And we’ve found that Facebook is a great way to connect with people. But we connect much more on a personal level.
So it sounds like social media isn’t the most important factor in your success.
Mike: We’re blessed because we live in New York, the media capital of the world, and so have the opportunity to meet a lot of people. And we find that actually being social is a lot more valuable than social media! I think if we lived outside a major city, we might be looking to connect with people in different ways.
Jeff: In the absence of having the opportunity to meet people socially in the world of wine, social media is a good thing. But what I want to impress on people is that being social is better than just relying on social media. If it truly is your only outlet, then do it and enjoy it and respect it for what it is. But nothing really takes the place of sitting down with a winemaker or chef face to face, and talking about the wine and food.
What is the role of personality? You guys are famous for your energy and charm.
Jeff: Personality is important, but let me talk to budding wine writers with their foot on the first or second rung of the ladder. Keep moving up. And the way to do that is to put yourself out there, going to events, and hopefully meeting people you can network with. You have to realize your first stories won’t land in magazines like Wine Enthusiast. But you should write for local newspapers.
Finally, do you blog?
Jeff: No. I respect bloggers, and I think it’s great, but we find ourselves kind of busy, and we wouldn’t want to do a blog if we couldn’t keep up with it everyday. For people like yourself, who do it everyday, it’s a great commitment.
Jeff and Mike, the World Wine Guys