By Carl Giavanti, Carl Giavanti Consulting
“Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers” is a Q&A series profiling Wine Writers. We hope you’ll discover more about the wine writers you know, and learn about many others. The objective of this project is to understand and develop working relationships with journalists. They are after all, those that help tell our stories, review our wines and potentially provide media coverage. You can do this by learning 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 Wine Industry Advisor.
ELLEN LANDIS is a wine journalist, Certified Sommelier (Court of Master Sommeliers), Certified Specialist of Wine (Society of Wine Educators), professional wine judge, and wine educator, based in Vancouver, Washington. She spent four years as a sommelier at the Ritz Carlton and sixteen years as Wine Director/Sommelier at the award-winning boutique hotel she and her husband built and operated. Ellen is a moderator for highly acclaimed wine events, executes wine seminars for individuals and corporations, and judges numerous regional, national and international wine competitions each year. She travels extensively to many wine regions around the globe.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
It’s in my blood, my great grandfather made wine in Croatia. As a Certified Sommelier, Wine Consultant and Professional Wine Judge, I have the opportunity to taste many wines from around the world. In 2008 I was an invitee on a press trip to the province of Tarragona (in Catalonia, Spain). I wrote and pitched an article, which was published as the cover story for the Spring 2009 issue of the American Wine Society Wine Journal magazine.
What are your primary story interests?
1) The inside story of a winery and what makes each winery unique, 2) focus on wine regions, 3) wine competitions, and 4) the current vintage and how it measures up.
What are your primary palate preferences?
Pinot Noir, aromatic whites (Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Gewurztraminer, Sauv Blanc), Sparkling wines and Champagne, Chardonnay.
Are you a staff columnist or freelance?
What are the advantages of both? Primarily freelance, nice to have the freedom to schedule my time.
What would people be surprised to know about you? A few things:
1) Learning about wine at a young age was a passion of mine. I became particularly curious about this beverage. As a child I recall there was always wine on the table at family gatherings in my maternal grandmother’s home; my questions were endless.
3) Today, I typically judge more than 18 wine competitions a year (regional, national and international competitions). It is simply fascinating, and I give very careful thought to each wine put in front of me.
4) My colleagues and I, traveling in a posh stretch limo, spent an elegant and captivating evening with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. Impressive wines and bites were served. Her Majesty was attentive, thoughtful, and a pure delight.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
The wine world is multi-faceted. There are vineyards and wineries all around the globe, run by engaging and talented individuals, making exceptional wines worthy of appreciation. Get out and explore what suits your palate!
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I have a background in sales and sales management which I enjoyed immensely. My father spent his entire 50-year career in sales, so that’s in my blood, too.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
I like to engage with owners and winemakers at wineries to hear their story in their words. As far as wine reviews, in judging wine competitions that include wines from around the world and attending many trade functions serving domestic and international wines, I gain exposure and the opportunity to taste a vast number of wines every year. Many of my wine reviews come from wines tasted at these events, as well as media trips, and winery visits I have scheduled on my own.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
Primarily I develop story ideas as they come up. When something piques my interest, I reach out proactively to pitch my story.
How often do you write assigned and paid articles (not your blog)?
Twice a month or so. How often do you blog? Monthly, occasionally twice a month.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Respect appointments and time commitments and don’t rush through them, and be yourself (no one can do that better!).
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?
Lack of (or slow) response to questions posed beyond the interviews/appointments.
Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?
Robert Parker, it would be quite interesting to hear his perspective on a variety of international wines tasted blind.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
President Thomas Jefferson, he was quite a knowledgeable wine appreciator and collector, and I am told he is a distant relative of mine (through my father’s side of our family).
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Visits with son Brian and daughter-in-law Julie and other family members (I have five sisters!), ocean cruising, and land trips to wine regions are among my favorite pastimes. Husband Ken and I have been on two World Cruises on the incomparable Crystal Serenity ship in the past 4 years. It is culturally enriching, educational, full of new experiences, entirely enjoyable, and feeds my passion for exploring wines from around the globe. I had the opportunity to visit wine regions far and away from home, including but not limited to regions throughout Australia, New Zealand, Israel, South Africa, France and Italy. Land trips have also taken me to many regions internationally including France (Bordeaux, Rhone, Burgundy, and Champagne), Italy, Chile, and Argentina. Within the USA multiple visits to numerous regions throughout California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, New York, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Iowa, Ohio, and Michigan have been enlightening. Yes, this ties in with work, but it is what I enjoy doing!
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
In October 2001 in Burgundy with traveling companions husband Ken and writer Peter Smith. We met up with Becky Wasserman, at Maison Camille Giroud in Cote de Beaune, Burgundy (In 2001 she became Manager at Maison Camille Giroud, and hired young graduate oenologist David Croix, who was 23 years old at the time, who remained there as winemaker/manager until his departure in October 2016). The tasting experience included an incredible 25-year vertical tasting of the fine red Burgundy wines crafted there; extraordinary! New York born Becky found her way to France as a young woman. She once worked as a broker for a French barrel maker, selling French barrels to California wineries. Her wine knowledge and experience gained in France over the years steered her to opening her own business (Becky Wasserman & Co.) exporting wines from small producers in the Burgundy and beyond. It has been in operation nearly 40 years now. She is an erudite wine professional, and simply fascinating.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world? ONE favorite?
Impossible to answer! Each region is different, and I appreciate them all for the unique expressions they bring to the table.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”