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.
Randy Smith is the man behind The Wine Write. Randy grew up in the Mississippi Delta many years ago with not a vineyard in sight. After wasting a lot of time, he caught the wine bug after taking a wine appreciation course at a community college. A lot of wine tasting and wine travel ensued. Randy started The Wine Write website and blog in 2011. There he posts weekly stories about winemakers and other wine people that capture his interest.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I was introduced to wine later in life than most via a community college wine appreciation course. I was bitten by the wine bug there and soon started planning wine trips to California, Oregon, Washington, and New York. We’ve continued to travel for wine several times each year. I was nudged into writing about wine by my wife. I enjoyed wine and creative writing, so it’s been a good outlet for me. At the time I started The Wine Write I was unaware that blogs even existed.
What are your primary story interests?
I focus on the personalities behind the labels, so I primarily interview winemakers and other people in wine. I find it fascinating to learn about how they got connected to wine, who influenced them, and how they got to where they are in the business.
What are your primary palate preferences?
I like Syrah, Grenache, Riesling, Chardonnay, Mourvedre, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Grenache Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah, Roussanne, Albarino, Merlot, Petit Verdot, and Nebbiolo. Among other varietals. And blends.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
When I’m interviewing someone the first question I’m often asked is, “Where are you from?” I’m pretty sure my accent causes some consternation…a lot of people think I’m from Paso Robles or the Central Coast because I’ve interviewed a number of people from there. Actually, I was born in the Mississippi Delta and now live just outside New Orleans. Not a lot of vineyards around here.
What is probably also surprising is that I have no vocational background in wine or in professional writing. I worked in the insurance business four decades. Most of my writing there was centered around medical malpractice claims. Not nearly as creative or as fun as wine.
What haven’t you done, that you’d like to do?
There are so many more wine people out there that I’d love to interview. I keep grinding away. I’m still not done with wine travel, either!
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
There are a lot of small producers making excellent wines and most of the people behind those brands are really nice folks.
What’s the best story you have written?
I don’t know if it’s the best story I’ve ever written, but as I was talking to Richard Sanford I was thinking, “Holy shit, I’m having a conversation with Richard Sanford.” He’s a Hall of Fame vintner and one of the nicest guys on the planet. I felt so privileged to chat with him.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
I try to read everything I can find about my interview subjects. I then develop a list of ten to twelve questions for them. I try to ask questions that I haven’t seen covered in the articles I came across doing my research. During the actual interview the direction may change based on what I hear from my subject. After doing the interview I try as best as I can to put everything together in an interesting fashion. I do a lot of rereads.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
I have no schedule. I’m retired from my working life and The Wine Write for fun.
How often do you blog?
I blog weekly and post the stories each Sunday night.
Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?
I do post on social media to spread the word. I am on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Surprisingly to me I also get good response to sharing my posts on LinkedIn.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Mutual respect is the key to most working relationships. I am most appreciative of the time that winery people give me. I would hope that my time and work is also appreciated. I have to say that I’ve rarely run into any issues with wineries.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
Working with a publicist makes the scheduling of interviews much easier. Background material is usually provided by publicists, so that reduces the amount of online sleuthing I have to do. That being said, the overwhelming majority of my work has been done without the involvement of publicists.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
M.F.K. Fisher. I love her books and essays. She was a pioneering food and wine writer who was so far ahead of her time.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Every day is now a day off. When I’m not writing or traveling, I may be watching grandchildren, surfing the internet, or reading. From April through September I’m also managing my fantasy baseball team.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
There have been a lot of them, but spending time with Richard Sanford in El Jabali Vineyard and touring Smith-Madrone Vineyard with Stuart Smith have to rank high among them.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”