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.
Brianne Cohen is the principal in a new lifestyle brand and business based out of Los Angeles, California. She has been producing events and weddings for over 10 years. To complement the event and wedding arm of her business, she added her love of wine and also offers her services as a wine educator, writer, and consultant to inspire people of all ages. Most recently Brianne judged at the International Wine & Spirits Competition and the International Wine Challenge in London. Brianne completed the entire curriculum with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and received her Diploma certificate, which is one of the most coveted and difficult wine certifications. She also holds an MBA from Loyola Marymount University and currently blogs at www.BrianneCohen.com
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I came to wine, like most, as a hobby. I drank it, I loved it, and I wanted to learn more. In 2013 I started the WSET curriculum and never looked back. By the time I began the WSET Diploma (their flagship certificate and the stepping stone to the MW), I decided to write a blog to document my journey. Little did I know that starting a blog and having a wine voice on social media meant I would start getting samples, invites to wine events and requests to attend press trips! I essentially became a wine writer and didn’t even know it. At first it was all fun and games as my focus was the Diploma program and passing each of those grueling tests. Once I got my coveted PASS certificate, I realized that I had a voice, a platform, and a heck of a lot of knowledge about wine that I wanted to share with others.
What are your primary story interests?
I like to write about things that everyday wine consumers might find interesting. In my writing (on my blog, in publications, and on my social media platforms) my goal is to help you DRINK BETTER and Up Your Wine Game. This includes answering basic wine questions, offering up wine country itineraries, and reviewing wines that I would recommend to people who enjoy wine.
What are your primary palate preferences?
I consider myself a generalist when it comes to wine. When you study wine for 5+ years, you train yourself to be a student. Never try to same thing twice and be open to new things. If I was studying sparkling wine, that was my favorite. If I was studying fortifieds, that was my favorite. Now that I am no longer “officially” studying, I can’t seem to shake that mentality. I always want to try new things. I don’t generally stick to classic regions or even classic producers. Every time I drink I want a new experience. With that being said, sparkling wine has a special place in my heart.
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?
I am not trying to make a living as a wine writer, so I cannot give a firsthand opinion. BUT about two years ago when I was really looking at my life and my business, I reached out to a handful of wine personalities and asked their opinions. Not one of them said that you can survive on a wine writer’s salary. That was a thing of the past. So, I’d venture to say NO. Early in my blogging years I heard something that still resonates with me to this day: you cannot make money on a blog. You make money by harnessing your skillset and knowledge. That is what you can sell and make money from. That is how education became my focus. I wanted to set myself apart from the wine personalities who were just that personalities, but without much substance. I started actively pitching in October of last year. Within a month I had secured my first writing gig (unpaid) in a digital wine publication. I am also proud to announce that I have secured my first PAID writing gig for a print publication! The challenge in being self-employed is to allocate your time. If 5% of my income comes from writing, I shouldn’t spend more than about 10% of my time writing. 5% to ensure I secure that income. The rest of my writing (on my own blog and on social media) I consider a marketing exercise. That is how I tell people who I am, what I do, and how they can hire me.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
People are surprised that I speak Spanish. My father was born and raised in Argentina and I identify closely with Argentina and their culture. My husband and I even tango dance!
What haven’t you done, that you’d like to do?
I am addicted to travel. I’d love to spend a year traveling the globe or go on a world cruise.
What’s the best story you have written? Please provide a link.
I am very proud of this story about Oregon Gamay. I attended a wine writers conference in August of 2019 (I was unpublished at that point). I set a goal to be published by the end of 2019. Sent this pitch in and BOOM, this piece was published on November 17, 2019. Link HERE.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
My approach to wine writing is to keep it clear, simple, and understandable. The more wine education we obtain, the less approachable our writing becomes. I see it all of the time, and have even seen it in my writing. I am now very conscious of this and always try to remember who my reader is. Someone who loves wine, loves to drink it, and perhaps wants to know a bit more. Not a lot more. Once you get technical and start talking about soils and what not, you have lost most people.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
YES. I’d be lost without my editorial schedule. I tend to post on my blog about once a week. I use Trello (a free project management platform) to list and organize story ideas. Monthly I look at those lists and prioritize my writing for the month ahead.
Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?
Yes, I 100% post my articles on social media. Social media is the #1 way I send people to my website and my blog. Social media is important to me and my business because it allows me to have a consistent voice. I also use my social media platforms to answer wine questions for my audience, which is complementary to my services as a wine educator. I have booked wine classes directly from social media. I’ll say it again. I have actually made income and gotten new clients from connections I have made on social media. Aside from a direct referral, social media is my #1 marketing tool.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
There is no such thing as TOO much information. Journalists want the background stories, how you got started, tech sheets on wines tasted, retail pricing (!!!), photos, etc.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
They understand ALL Of the above.
Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?
I‘m sure I’m not the first person to say this: Jancis Robinson. She wrote the book….literally wrote THE book. I’d love to hear how her brain works in a competitive tasting. Sidebar: while judging at the International Wine Challenge (IWC) in London, our judging panel hit a wall and could not get a consensus on a wine. A senior judge was called over to our table to help, and it was none other than Oz Clarke. I don’t think I contributed anything the entire time (which was only 2 minutes!) he was tasting with us. Totally frozen….wine celebrity status. I came to after he walked away and I thought “did I just taste (in a wine competition) with Oz Clarke?!?!?!?
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
YES! All the time. I am not one of those entrepreneurs who works nonstop and burns the candle at both ends. I set clear boundaries and always work hard to maintain a work/life balance. In my time off, I enjoy traveling, yoga at Hyperslow (my fav studio in LA), reading, and cooking. All of those things recharge me. I feel the most alive when I am doing those things.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
I recently attended the Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley of Australia. One of the excursions I attended was to Tyrrell’s where the group enjoyed a vertical of their Vat 1 Semillon. Chris Tyrrell (6th generation, I believe) guided us through those wines. It was an experience to be remembered.
What’s your favorite wine regions in the world?
I don’t have a favorite at all because I strive to always try wines from everywhere. As a general rule I try to never have the same wine twice. There is SO much wine to enjoy in this world! The wine region I am most excited about is Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, Mexico. As I explain it to people, imagine the Mexican culture, hospitality, and vibe that we all know and love. Now drop that into a wine region. I find VdG SO exciting and I cannot wait to see how this region grows and evolves. For those who doubt Mexican wines or Mexico’s ability to anchor a wine region, I give you two facts that might change your mind. #1 There are Mexican wines carried at French Laundry (a Nebbiolo from Vinos Lechuza). #2 American chef Drew Deckman (Michelin star and all!) left the US and has been chefin’ it up in VdG for over 10 years. Come for the food, stay for the wine, and you won’t be disappointed. The spirit here is one of excitement and experimentation…..and I LOVE sharing it with people!
Can you speak to the timely (and overdue) conversations around representation, diversity, and inclusion in wine?
We women have demanded and (sometimes) received seats at many wine tables, which is fantastic. But it can always get better and I try to embody that as much as possible and speak up when I see a lack of diversity. This was quite evident in my wine judging experiences this past year. Without beating around the bush, these rooms were the whitest rooms I have ever been in. I can’t help but wonder about these non-diverse judging spaces I’ve been in. I think of the medals we award and how some of those wines will have collar tags or shelf talkers next to their bottles in wine shops touting their gold or silver medals along with our tasting notes. If a person of color is looking at those accolades, what does that mean for them if people who look like them were not involved with this whole process? Are these awards relevant in our diverse, multi-cultural world if diversity was not in the room to judge them in the first place? Or, better yet, how can we all advocate for representation, diversity, and inclusion in all wine spaces. I’m thinking about writing a blog piece about this topic.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”