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.
RICHARD HEMMING Writer, educator, Master of Wine and occasional pianist, Richard has worked in wine since 2001, first in London and now in Singapore. He writes regularly for JancisRobinson.com and other publications, as well as judging, presenting, educating, tweeting and sometimes singing about all things vinous.
How did you come wine writing, and how did you secure the Jancis Robinson column?
I had always written as a hobby while working for Majestic Wine, a British retailer. It never occurred to me to start a blog, but I did enter an annual competition for young wine writers – but never won. When I came runner-up in 2008, while doing vintage in McLaren Vale, I sent my piece to three writers I admired: Tim Atkin, Tom Cannavan and Jancis Robinson, to ask if they might consider publishing it. Jancis asked me to write something about my experiences doing vintage. That became my first column, and I’ve written for her website ever since.
What are your primary story interests?
I don’t really have any – I’m fortunate to have a very broad remit.
What are your primary palate preferences?
Syrah is my long-standing favourite variety.
Are you a staff columnist or freelance? What are the advantages of both?
I’m sort of a hybrid. Officially I freelance, but I have a long-standing agreement to write for JancisRobinson.com, which is very fortunate.
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?
Very few people can make a sustainable living from writing alone. I earn more money doing events, education, podcasting and various other jobs. You have to be flexible and adaptable. It took three or four years before my income became reliable. Once I had established myself, job offers became more frequent.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I once won a BBC New Talent Comedy Award. Thankfully, absolutely no evidence of this exists online.
What haven’t you done, that you’d like to do?
Work in a pub or bar – although I wish I had done that in my twenties!
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
Either something with technology or music.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
Be open-minded and unpretentious – but also, be honest to your own taste preferences.
Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?
Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important?
Yes, Twitter is the most useful because there’s a big community of wine writers and wine lovers interacting there
Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?
I wouldn’t call myself an influencer, no. My perception is that influencers primarily use social media (especially Instagram) to discuss and/or promote products, whereas I primarily write articles for specific outlets.
What are your recommendations to wineries when working with journalists?
Do some research and be different – so many wineries say the same old thing (unique terroir, passion for wine etc), and it isn’t memorable.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
No idea. In the UK, we mostly interact with UK-based PR agencies or importers that are working with wineries. I’ve never knowingly met a winery publicist.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Playing jazz piano, walking, reading.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
There are several, but the ones you get to share with loved ones are by far the most significant, and far outrank tasting expensive and/or rare wines in sterile conditions.
What’s your cure for a wine hangover?
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”