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 the Wine Industry Advisor.
Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher conceived and wrote The Wall Street Journal’s weekly wine column, “Tastings,” from 1998 to 2010. They are currently senior editors at Grape Collective (grapecollective.com). They are also the authors of four books on wine and appeared regularly on TV (from Martha Stewart to “Today) and radio, including “Fresh Air.” They met and fell in love at The Miami Herald on their first day out of college on June 4, 1973. Dottie has worked at The Herald, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. John has worked at The Herald, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News. Their papers were recently added to the Warren Winiarski Wine Writers Collection at the University of California at Davis, along with those of Hugh Johnson, Jancis Robinson, Karen MacNeil and others. They invented the international celebration of wine, love and friendship called “Open That Bottle Night.”
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
It was an accident. When The Wall Street Journal began Weekend Journal in 1998, the editor, who knew about our passion for wine, asked if we’d volunteer a wine column in addition to our real jobs. John was Page One Editor and Dottie was Editor for Urban Affairs. We had been enjoying and studying wine together for 35 years, but had never written about it and didn’t plan to. But the editor was a friend so we said sure. We had no idea the column would take off as it did. Two years later, we went to the brilliant Managing Editor of The Journal, Paul Steiger, and told him we couldn’t do both wine and our real jobs anymore. He asked which we’d rather do. That’s when we became full-time wine writers.
What are your primary story interests?
We like to write columns that have a story behind them. So many wines, wine regions and winemakers have interesting stories. We like to tell those stories.
What are your primary palate preferences?
We will try anything. At an event for home winemakers in Miami years ago, we tried a couple of garlic wines. One, a sparkler, was fascinating and we suspected it was a ringer. The other, a still wine, was not very tasty, but, as you can tell, we never forgot it. It had very strong hints of – well, garlic.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
When Dottie was a reporter at The New York Times, she wrote a story about thousands of elderly New Yorkers going without food on weekends because the program that fed them didn’t cover them on those days. Gael Greene read the story, called her friend James Beard and founded Citymeals on Wheels, which has now delivered more than 60 million meals. The organization honored Dottie a couple of years ago. John was the most successful Page One Editor of The Wall Street Journal (this is from his boss). The Journal won seven Pulitzer Prizes for stories he oversaw, including three straight National Pulitzers and the only two Feature Pulitzers it has ever won.
What haven’t you done, that you’d like to do?
Visit South Africa.
What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?
Wine can make life more enjoyable. It makes you slow down and when you do, you can appreciate everyone around you – especially your loved ones – a little bit more.
What’s the best story you have written? Please provide a link.
We are best-known for our invention of Open That Bottle Night, the worldwide celebration of wine, friendship and love. The Journal nominated our first Open That Bottle Night follow-up column for a Pulitzer. Here is the link to this year’s follow-up story: https://grapecollective.com/articles/phelps-insignia-jackass-zin-and-a-vice-bust-how-the-world-celebrated-otbn
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
We’d be working on hard news.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
We like to say that we have never written a wine column. We write a column about life, love, family and getting by every day. We use wine as our central theme to talk about those really important topics.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up
Ideally, we prefer stories to come up organically as we enjoy wine in our real lives. Sometimes they are wines we’ve bought, sometimes samples sent to us. But, of course, the calendar is important. People do want to know about bubblies for the holidays and rosé in summer and romance around Valentine’s Day. In 2019, we interviewed Heidi and Bo Barrett for Valentine’s and this year Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy.
Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?
We are on Instagram as @dottieandjohn, Twitter as @winecouple and Facebook as facebook.com/winecouple – and, of course, at grapecollective.com. More and more people get their information on social media. It’s an important part of communication today.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Be responsive! When we contact you with questions, please get back to us with the information we need. That may be obvious, but, man, you’d be surprised.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
When it’s something like, say, photographs or spec sheets, good publicists can make things easier for everyone. We interview winemakers directly. Sometimes publicists can help us get their attention.
What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?
We’re glad you asked. It is annoying when we write about a wine – either on social media or at Grape Collective – and later a publicist contacts us and asks, “So what did you think of the wine?” It seems to us that one of the things wineries are paying publicists for is to know when they are written about so they can disseminate kind words across their own social networks. Use Google Alerts or other tools. It’s good for wineries and it’s good for us when publicists and their clients see our work and spread it widely. And it’s insulting when publicists don’t bother to read our work.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Maybe three or four times a year, when we go out, we will have real drinks – a martini for John and a whisky sour for Dottie. We rarely have real drinks and don’t know anything about spirits. Since we’re not having wine, we don’t geek out about the beverage in front of us. It’s like a night off.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
One of the wines that made Napa famous was the Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon, crafted by the great André Tchelistcheff. When we honeymooned in Napa in 1979, Beaulieu was still selling that wine in the tasting room. We bought a bottle, borrowed a couple of glasses and drank it amid the vines. We have often said it was the greatest wine we have ever had or will ever have.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
We will always have a soft spot for Napa. We first visited in 1975 – the first time we’d been to a wine region – and honeymooned there in 1979. We’ve been back many times since. It holds many memories for us.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”