By Carl Giavanti, Carl Giavanti Consulting
“Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. I expect you’ll discover much more about wine writers that you know and learn about many others. The objective with this project is to understand and develop working relationships with journalists. They are after all, those that help tell our stories and review our wines. What better way to obtain media coverage than to learn their wine and writing backgrounds, story and personal interests, palate preferences, writing challenges and pet peeves. This is part of an ongoing series that will be featured monthly by the Wine Industry Advisor.
Paul Gregutt is a Contributing Editor for Wine Enthusiast magazine, a founding member of the magazine’s Tasting Panel, and currently reviews the wines of Oregon and Canada. He writes a monthly column on wine in Walla Walla’s Lifestyles magazine. The author of the critically-acclaimed Washington Wines & Wineries – The Essential Guide, he consulted on the Pacific Northwest entries in current versions of The World Atlas of Wine, The Oxford Companion to Wine and Hugh Johnson’s 2019 Pocket Guide. He is a frequent guest speaker on cruise ships and at industry symposiums. He lives with his wife Karen and his rescue dog Cookie – a terrier/Chihuahua (a genuine terr-hua!) – in a renovated 140-year-old cottage in Waitsburg, Washington. In his spare time, he writes songs, plays guitar, sings and performs with his band, the DavePaul5.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I grew up in a family of writers, but set out post-college intending a career in music. In my 20s I worked multiple radio jobs (on-air) and wrote for a start-up alternative publication, the Seattle Weekly. My interest in wine began while tasting some good wines with friends in the business. In my 30s, while working in broadcast television, I began writing a freelance weekly wine column. Once in print I was able to get assignments from several other publications, including Wine Spectator. One thing led to another. I signed on with Wine Enthusiast in the summer of 1998. I’m the second longest-serving writer on staff. In these three decades I’ve written six books, contributed to many others, penned thousands of wine columns, and reviewed tens of thousands of wines.
What are your primary story interests?
Of course, my interests have changed over the years. But my interest as a writer is always how to communicate with an audience. And the way to do that is to find topics of genuine interest to me, and share the excitement of exploring them. Wine is about as perfect and inexhaustible a topic (as far as writing) and playing and performing music has been for me through all these decades.
What are your primary palate preferences?
For me personally, I like high acid, unoaked white wines and reds from Sangiovese, Pinot Noir and unusual blends.
Are you a staff columnist or freelance? What are the advantages of both?
I’ve worked as a freelance writer during my entire wine writing career.
What are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?
I started out with published writing credentials, having reviewed pop music, theater, film and restaurants before ever writing about wine. I focused on the emerging wines and wineries of the Pacific Northwest, which was almost completely unknown at the time. I was fortunate in the timing, and have been able to grow my portfolio as the region’s wines and wineries have gained international recognition. I also made it a point to write about wines from all over the world, and to travel to many of the major wine regions and wineries of the world, so as to avoid “tunnel palate.”
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I don’t think most people know that I’m a pretty decent guitar player, singer and performer. I’ve written hundreds of songs over the years, and honestly many are quite polished. Back in the ‘70s I signed a songwriting contract on Music Row in Nashville, and before that I worked as an assistant engineer at Electric Lady Studios in New York.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
Explore! Don’t get stuck in ruts. And remember – it’s always better to drink that special bottle now, rather than waiting for “the right moment” which may never arrive.
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I’d be writing about something else. I’ve always written for a living.
How would you like the wine community to remember you?
For the love of God, don’t say “he will be missed”!!!
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
These days a lot of my work is simply reviewing new releases. I taste daily, write notes daily, re-visit wines daily. If I’m working on a story, I do online research, jot down ideas and just dive in when a deadline looms. I have never had writer’s block.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
I am always jotting down ideas, but working so closely with a single magazine I’m also on a schedule, which helps any writer I believe.
How often do you write assigned and paid articles (not your blog)?
Always. I blogged for about five years, and it’s still online (paulgregutt.com) but writing for free was not for me!
Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?
I post links on my Facebook page. Most of my 2,700 or so “friends” are in the wine business, so it’s helpful to keep my work in front of my main audience.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Be brief, be original, be reliable, be accurate, and be up to date. I am especially unhappy when I read a winery news release in my focus region (Pacific NW) in some other publication or website, and that winery or PR person has neglected to send me the same publicly-distributed information.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
When they do their job well, they can provide information that I could not easily find any other way.
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?
When required information about retail pricing, release dates, etc. is not provided as requested, and I go to the winery website and it’s hopelessly out of date, that’s frustrating.
Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?
I don’t do competitions for multiple reasons.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
I garden, play with my dog, play guitar, cook and occasionally travel.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
There are far too many to choose from, and I hope many more will follow. But one extraordinary moment was during a visit up the Douro to Quinta do Vesuvio. We arrived just as the grapes were coming in, and joined a group of locals’ foot-crushing them in an old-fashioned lagare. They were playing Yellow Submarine and dancing while we stomped. A couple years later, when the wine was released, Karen and I bought a case. We drink a bottle on our anniversary every five years.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”