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.
Howard Hewitt is a retired writer, marketer, and digital marketing professional located in Indianapolis, In. He now works part time in retail wine sales. Howard spent 22 years in the newspaper industry and capped his career as a suburban editor for the Indianapolis Star. He wrote an every-other-week column from the fall of 2007 to October of 2018. He still writes occasional features for his more-than-20 newspapers and a few specialty publications. He is active on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. His site is: www.howardhewitt.net
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I developed an interest in wine in the 1990s. We all start innocently enough. For me, it was Riunite when I made a little pasta. From their I graduated to Rieslings – and thought the Germans were way better than everyone else. Who knew I had an aptitude for vino?
I came to writing as a career choice. Though I spent most of my career as a newspaper editor, I was writing the entire 22 professional years and beyond. I worked at small town newspapers as a reporter, writer, editor, and a short stint as a publisher. I continued to write for 14 years before retiring in late 2016, then working in the marketing departments of Wabash College and Purdue University.
What are your primary story interests?
I most enjoy the story about the people in the wine industry. Let’s face it, wine is made largely through the same process but no two winemakers are alike. Sure, there are twists and different techniques in wine making but people that make decisions to try something different hold the most interest for me.
Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? If so, how have you succeeded? If not, why not? What are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?
No, no, … just not enough paying opportunities – and it was never a goal.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
For quite a few years I was a B-level competitive racquetball player. I also rode Century (100 mile) bike rides in the early 1990s.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
I would hope that readers would pick up on the sense of adventure in wine. There is always something new to try or a twist on an old favorite. I have always tried to educate too, about visiting wine country anywhere in the world and how to make the most of your trip.
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
Features on interesting people.
What’s the best story you have written? Please provide a link.
Not sure about best – I have several I really liked. This is one of those:
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
I hardly ever do wine reviews any more other than Vivino, the phone app. I’m just not sure another opinion is needed in all of the fog of ratings and such. I use Vivino because that’s for the geeky people anyway. And since I now work a bit part-time in retail wine, I do get asked often about my wine preferences.
My approach to writing is probably different than many as a career journalist. I want the wine sources to tell the story as much, or preferably, more than me. When I started writing in 2007, I thought there was way too much first person in wine writing. The writing then was way too much about what the author thought and not nearly enough from winemakers or winery owners.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
Every other week schedule when I was doing column. As they come up now.
Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?
I have posted to social media for years. It draws attention to my work. I honestly believe blogs are quickly becoming a thing of the past. I might have 100 or more view a blog post, but I have nearly 2,000 friends on Facebook.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Accessibility is always a key issue. May I talk to the winemaker? Is the owner available for a brief chat? The more authoritative people the winery can offer a writer the better they are going to like the final result.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
I think it is mainly an advantage. The publicist not only can get the necessary access but help ‘coach up’ the winery spokesperson on how to best take advantage of a good marketing/PR opportunity. At the same time the publicist can help guide the journalists with a few questions or areas of interest to the interview subject. The publicist can also manage a winery’s expectations.
Conversely, the publicist works for the winery. The best men and women in the field maintain an important distance to the process so the writer doesn’t feel he or she is being used strictly to market a bottle or two.
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?
Does anyone really care about my opinion (when writing reviews)?
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
In recent years my time off has often been related to wine. I took a group to Burgundy in 2016, a smaller group to Oregon in the fall of 2016 and did a short visit to Oregon in the fall of 2018. I love going to wine-producing regions but think in 2019 I’d like to take the time to better appreciate the history and culture of those regions – beyond wine.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
That’s a tough one because I’ve been fortunate. Near the top would be a fall press trip to Chablis. Not only did our small group have access to winemakers, but we were there for the annual fall festival. We were able to take part in the multi-part formal dinner with lots and lots of Chablis. The locals named the four of us from the US. Chabliesiennes.
Pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner
Pinot Noir and White Burgundy
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”