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How to get publicity for your winery. Or not.



Old friend Alan Goldfarb asks some pertinent questions in this piece that was published the other day in an online trade publication.

The quandary he poses for wineries: “With wine writers dropping off the face of the earth…to whom does a winery publicist turn to get PR/accolades/reviews when the writer pool is evaporating?”

As evidence of that evaporation, Alan cites several longtime wine columnists whose publishers have taken their columns away or drastically reduced their word count. He might have added the San Francisco Chronicle, from which wine writer Jon Bonné recently departed (he’s supposed to retain some connection to the paper and/or its website, but I haven’t seen anything yet).

Alan makes another compelling point: With the passing of print writers, the number of “new media” writers, such as bloggers, online radio hosts and videographers, has swelled. But—and here’s the rub—of the hundreds and hundreds of online sources, there are [only] about 20 (20!) who are worth yours and your client’s time…”.

That’s really sad, and frightening, too. Wineries need writers to tell their stories, and remind the world that they exist. But with fewer and fewer reputable channels all the time, as Alan asks, “To whom does a winery publicist turn?”

Indeed. Even if you take Alan’s “20” online writers who are “worth yours and your client’s time,” I doubt if any of them has the reach and clout that, say, Bill St. John did—he’s the wine columnist for the Chicago Tribune who, according to Alan, had his column “cut” last week. The Chicago Tribune’s average weekday circulation is 453,500, making it one of the biggest newspapers in the Midwest, and central to one of the nation’s most important wine markets. Do you think any of Alan’s 20 bloggers has that kind of readership?

Near the end of his article, Alan does cite a couple bloggers and other online sources whom he recommends. But it’s a pretty short list; his conclusion, as far as sending samples out, is for wineries to “proceed at your own peril.”

That would be my advice, too. The Internet has shaken everything up, and none more so than to hasten the end of traditional print reporting and replace it with “citizen journalism.” I liked traditional print journalism: I still read newspapers, and I trust them, believe it or not (I mean the news part, not the editorial pages of propagandists like the Wall Street Journal). In my current job, and even beyond it, I’m routinely reminded of the scurry to get publicity for your brand—any publicity, anywhere, so long as it’s generally positive. Winery executives have given up on trying to determine, with any precision, the return-on-investment of publicity. They wish they could, of course, but in the meantime, they’re happy with anything they can get. And yet, they no longer know how to get exposure, or even whom to approach for it.

You’d think that this “revoltin’ development” (T.V. fans from the 1950s, do you know who said that?) would mean the end of traditional P.R., which seems stymied at every turn. But P.R. is even more important than ever. Publicists are in demand, especially if they can demonstrate a grasp of new media. Like soothsayers of old, or necromancers who could divine messages from the gods through the intestines of a sheep, publicists today appeal to the utter confusion of winery proprietors, who have neither the time nor the personal inclination to master these arcane fields. In that sense, if you asked me how a winery should find and hire a reputable public relations expert to turn to for advice, my answer would be the same as Alan Goldfarb’s concerning bloggers: “Proceed at your own peril.”


Sunset Magazine moving to Oakland!

We welcome this great magazine! Thank you Sunset for believing in Oakland!

  1. Good PR is good journalism from the client’s standpoint.

    But so few PR folks have ever been journalists that they have little idea what good journalism is.

    This is further aggravated by the elimination of journalism departments and their absorption by “communications” departments that neglect the first rule of good communication: clear writing.

    I was the last journalism prof at UCLA and saw this dummy-ization happening real-time.

  2. Bill Stephenson says:

    One of our local wineries, Dono Dal Cielo, gets a bit of exposure through the tireless efforts of their owner/winemaker Hunter McGillivray. The man puts in an enormous amount of miles. Fair to say there is nothing “Laid-back” about running a small winery.

    I would think with the ever-shrinking newspaper business that getting someone to write about a given winery operation is near-impossible. One rare exception would be Mike Dunne’s Wednesday column in the Sacramento Bee.


    Re: Sunset Magazine
    We will be there Saturday for the last hurrah.
    My wife loves the magazine and all the ideas she gets from it that end up burning, er, occupying much of my free time. I’m sure we’ll come home with a decade’s worth of projects.
    Personally, I’ve always found their wine articles to be lazy and generalized. They take a bunch of nice photos but never seem to say more than a blurb about the winery, winemaker, history, etc.

    Note to Sunset – There are plenty of aspiring wine writers out there who would love a chance to write for your publication. Probably some established ones looking for another opportunity as well.

  3. “Revoltin’ development”–William Bendix “The Life of Riley”

  4. When direct-to-consumer became a thing, it became incumbent on wineries to think of marketing in addition to PR. They’ve been very slow to adapt to marketing in the modern era and to learn how people get information these days instead of from wine magazines and columns in large papers. Personally, much of the information in wine columns feels contrived to me, and some times just plain out of touch. Maybe wine writers failed to adapt, too. Thank goodness for sites like Vinograpghy and Wine Folly!

  5. Steve, thanks for weighing in on this. Alan certainly knows a good story when he hears one, and also when he doesn’t.

    I think Lewis makes a good point – it’s storytelling from the clients perspective; and we all know wineries that are not adept at promoting themselves.

    Publicists must have real relationships and ongoing interactions with those writers that matter, and also a strong Roll-a-dex. Remember those?

  6. I agree that it might be the end of an era/error that the sole marketing of a wine or brand be limited to the list of samples sent out. I was taught in the era before the ‘New California’ that “the way to sell a case of wine was not to sell a case of wine, but to sell everything around it! To me this meant the ‘story’ the ‘authenticity’ the ‘uniqueness’ the ‘benefit’… Fritz Maytag once said “if you want to change your image – check your reality”. I try to check my reality everytime I go out in the market to ‘not sell a case of wine”!

  7. As a wine blogger I take issue with “But with fewer and fewer reputable channels all the time, as Alan asks, …”

    reputable (ˈrɛpjʊtəbəl)
    1. having a good reputation; honoured, trustworthy, or respectable

    You may consider us “incompetent” or “poor writers” or “not influential” or “do not have reach” But I hardly think most wine bloggers are disreputable.

    When dealing with wine bloggers you want to look at how much “reach” they have in social media, twitter followers, Facebook friends, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Look at their tweets, are they relevant and add value, do they get retweeted.

    So what if the newspaper has 400,000 subscribers, how many read the wine column, there is no way to tell. How many complained when it was cut? Just like on the web, getting the correct metrics can be difficult.

  8. Bob Henry says:

    I was “blessed” to be exposed to the “Golden Age” of wine writing by my mentors.

    Robert Lawrence Balzer and Nathan Chroman and Dan Berger here in Los Angeles.

    Robert Finigan and Gerald Asher based in San Francisco.

    Frank Prial based in New York.

    The rise of wine periodicals such as Decanter, Wine Spectator, Wine Advocate, Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wine, Wine Enthusiast, The California Grapevine, and Wine & Spirits.

    A coterie of wine writers/columnists at the San Francisco Chronicle’s “Food & Wine” section.

    A coterie of wine writers/columnists at the Napa Valley Register’s “On Wine” section.

    Mike Dunne at the Sacramento Bee.

    Jerry Mead (wherever he hung his hat).

    And others whose names don’t immediately come to mind as I compose this comment. (With my deepest apology, as no “slight” or “snub” is intended.)

    All of which informed this humble student of the grape, and motivated me to learn more.

    Today, newspapers are in decline. Dedicated food and wine editorial is in decline. The sagacity of wine writers is being silenced for lack of a platform to disseminate — widely — their views.

    As I cited in an earlier comment, a Media Management Center study projected that come 2010, “only 9% of those in their 20s will read a newspaper every day.”


    Blogs can’t replace that general consumer market media “reach.”

    The “Golden Age of Wine Writing” is behind us.

    Bona fides (such as enrolling in journalism schools, toiling through apprenticeships at media companies, and the Malcolm Gladwell-publicized 10 years/10,000 hours of deliberate practice leading to expertise rule) have been dispatched to the sidelines.

    Replaced by the “The Age of Diversity in Wine Writing,” in which any “citizen journalist” (a term that should be an affront to real journalists) with an Internet connection can sound off about any mundane issue — and do.

    Where are our modern-day Medici who wish to save what’s left of “mainstream journalism”?

    (Billionaire Jeff Bezos, to his credit — with an ulterior motive to boast access to “content” for his Kindle? — bought The Washington Post, with a commitment to save it from the ravages of its readership and advertising revenue decline.


  9. I’ve made a living at freelance writing for some 28 years, mostly from magazines, and writing on travel, food, wine, culture, personalities. There are still a few print mags to which I contribute (Alaska Air, Horizon Air, Oregon Wine Press), and they continue to be great places to put a winery’s story. Unfortunately, the way that blogs have killed most print, and eliminated wine writers, means that content must be generated by the winery itself. You will have to find and pay the writer to tell your story, disseminate it on your website, your newsletter, your collateral materials. This kind of corporate writing assignment is where we journalists now look for income, and I believe that the winery(ies) that seizes the content high ground will come out on top with consumers.

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