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 Network.
Amy Glynn is an award-winning poet and essayist whose work appears widely in journals and anthologies including The Best American Poetry. She has written about wine (and other things) for Paste Magazine since 2013. Amy currently serves as poet laureate for the cities of Orinda and Lafayette CA.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
Through poetry. I’m a literary writer by training, and wine is essentially metaphor in a bottle. As it turns out I have a good palate, so the leap was pretty obvious.
What are your primary story interests?
I am a natural history nerd, so I like getting into deep detail about different varietals’ histories, where they come from, why they’ve traveled (or not), who first cultivated them, that kind of thing. I enjoy demystifying wine and bringing under-recognized regions, techniques or grapes into clearer focus. I don’t especially care about “trends” or cults of personality. I love everything else.
Are you a staff columnist or freelance? What are the advantages of both?
I’ve been both. I started writing freelance for Paste Magazine in 2013, and in 2015 they made me a full-time staff writer reporting to drink, film and tv sections (yes, wine and TV. It’s as glamorous as it sounds). Recently my outlet decided full-time staff writers were a drain on the bottom line and now I am again freelancing.
Advantages of both? Honestly, I cannot say this loudly enough: Freelancing bites. As a staff writer I didn’t make a particularly fabulous salary but I had a salary, which enabled me to be much more open, expansive, and reactive to inbound pitches than I am able to be when every piece I file has to be OK’ed in advance and accounted for in a piecework budget. Articles I pour huge amounts of energy into fetch $100 (sometimes less) before taxes. It would take over 150 such articles just to pay CA property taxes on a modest home, so do the math. Add to this, no healthcare, no expectation of even notional stability, no consistent community or sense of making a valued contribution. There might be some type of writer for whom freelancing is the better option but I cannot imagine it. It is flat-out impossible to do your best work under those circumstances.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m a great jazz singer. Seriously.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
All kinds of things, but much of it boils down to this: That while it is almost infinitely complicated in some ways, wine is just not hard to understand or appreciate. It doesn’t require gnostic initiation, special training, a degree, or any rarefied skill set. You’ll get a more nuanced appreciation of it with some study, to be sure, but no one has to – you can just drink it and like what you like without justification. It’s a lot like poetry that way too.
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
“For a living.” You’re hilarious.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
I’m not sure I have one unified approach, but it starts with the wine itself. I get a lot of pitches from publicists about corporate collaborations and celebrity endorsements and kitschy packaging and I am slightly baffled by the idea that there are people for whom those things matter. Maybe most often I get introduced to a producer or a region I’m not that familiar with and something just clicks. Once I personally want to know more, it’s an easy leap to think perhaps other people do too.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?
As a peak brat-pack Gen X-er, I consider “influencer” to be code for a kind of content (and a kind of human, in some cases) that’s exactly how I wouldn’t want to be thought of. I am absolutely not an influencer. I’m a writer. Good writers should be influential and occasionally we are, but my goal isn’t to influence anyone, it’s to communicate, and hopefully to provoke curiosity and increase knowledge and understanding in some way.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
The big one: Think twice about pitching a writer whose work you have not bothered to read. And if you do it anyway and they don’t respond? They are passing on your pitch. No need to continue asking. We get dozens, scores, in some cases hundreds of these emails a week. If we’re interested, believe me, you’ll know. And once we have a relationship it’s absolutely no problem to check in; this applies to cold leads.
Please be direct, honest, even blunt about what you are hoping for and how you think I can help you. The more I understand about where someone is coming from beyond the vicissitude-rife notion of “visibility” the more I can collaborate. I’ve been invited on costly press trips where the reality is, that region’s wines are not being made commercially available to my readers. (For a travel writer that might not be as much of an issue but in my case, the relevance goes way down once I’m talking about something no one in the US will be able to find.) Even being direct about your awkwardly-political constraints is helpful. Not long ago I was kind of upbraided and asked to delete a social media post because I had hashtagged a word the rep associated with a rival DOC. The word also had a common-parlance meaning so I was kind of perplexed (and to be honest, irritated; see above re: we do not work for you). Had the rep candidly shared with me what the underlying issue was, I would probably have been all too happy to accommodate it, but instead there was a pointlessly high-friction exchange that made dinner uncomfortable that night. The truth is your friend.
Happily, I don’t deal with this all the time, but… Sometimes I wish producers and their reps would bear in mind that I do not work for them. Sometimes when people send costly samples or invite writers to swanky events or shower us with swag (which we usually love, don’t get me wrong) they seem to develop the understandable but incorrect sense that they have in some subtle way paid for an advertorial. It doesn’t, shouldn’t and cannot work that way, and it’s very difficult to navigate when that happens.
Winemakers are passionate about what they do. They want everyone to love what they do as well –who doesn’t? When something is a labor of love it is painful when it goes unacknowledged. But sometimes I get more samples than I can quickly process, or your wine wasn’t to my personal taste and I would rather not be pressed about it, or I am working for an outlet that isn’t receptive or is behind on the calendar or whose needs have abruptly shifted… for any number of reasons you might not get what you want out of me. Probably I feel bad about that already, so treading lightly is appreciated.
Can you explain why samples sent by wineries sometimes don’t get reviewed?
I have received samples of a great many good wines I have not yet featured, and the reasons range from “for some esoteric reason it didn’t feel like it fit in this roundup” to “really similar to something else on this list” to “my bad, I forgot to include that one” to “I did include it and the editor trimmed the piece, and did so arbitrarily” to “no freaking reason on earth.” “I don’t love this wine” does come up as well, and in that case I assume you’d prefer me to quietly pass versus give your baby a negative review.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
Good publicists can make a writer’s life sooo much easier in so many ways, providing insights and access to products I might not know about (or might not be able to afford on my own), facilitating the flow of information and providing context. A rep who is honest and candid and paying attention is an invaluable asset.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
I have kids, so spending time with them is a priority. When money allows I love to travel, I love theater and live music, and in the past I’ve had some unforgettable experiences at writers’ conferences. I garden a lot, and I enjoy entertaining–having a group of friends wander over on a weekend afternoon to hang out in the backyard, cook and open some nice bottles? That’s an entirely satisfactory way to spend a day off. In reality, my “down” time is also what I have available to do my non-commercial writing, so that ends up getting privileged quite often.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
Hard to narrow down. The first time I read Randall Grahm’s tasting notes at Bonny Doon was eye-opening. Tasting a flight of Gary Farrell Pinots with Teresa Heredia was likewise. The first orange wine I ever tasted (late bloomer) was a revelation (it was Donkey and Goat’s skin-contact Roussanne, “Stonecrusher”). But as a whole experience, maybe it’s this:
It’s 5pm, and four of us have rolled into San Gimignano in the unfortunate position of having skipped lunch. We are starving. Loath to be the American tourists looking for dinner at 5, but starving. Finally we find a place that’s open and get a table on the sidewalk, and proceed to order a bottle of local Supertuscan while we devour some painfully unsalted bread. An old man is watching us while he smokes a cigarette, one bootheel up on the wall he’s leaning against. He watches us as the server pours the wine, no doubt sneering inwardly at our gauche ways. The wine’s delicious and everyone launches into an animated discussion of its virtues. The old man stubs out the cigarette and approaches. “You like the wine?” he asks with an impenetrable Tuscan accent. We do! It’s fabulous. “I make the wine,” he says. “Ah, you make wine?” “I make this wine,” he said, and we all had a crazy linguistically challenged discussion of its characteristics. It was such an only-in-Italy moment, but also, there I was assuming the dude was laughing at us for being rubes when he was actually dying to know if we thought his Sangiovese was worth buying. It was great to get that reminder.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
I’m not sure I can narrow to one region, but the one-word answer is “Italy.”
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”