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.
JAMES MELENDEZ is based in San Francisco, California. He received bachelor’s degree in Political Science with an emphasis in International Relations and Group Politics from The University of New Mexico, and he has completed a graduate degree in Philanthropy and Development from St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.
James has had an extensive background in wine. He has served as Food and Wine Marketing Manager at Cost Plus World Market – focusing on the chain’s wine program with an international focus, and educating about wine through digital and traditional medias. He has been writing, reviewing, educating, judging and speaking about wine for the past 13 years. He has been creating videos for over 10 years with producing over 2,940 wine subject matter videos on his YouTube channel utilizing ‘James the Wine Guy’ name. His
interest includes food, wine, travel, social media and how to weave them together to build and enhance a strong interest in the general public for wine. James has a large social media influence on wine, food and travel on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I came through wine by working in a large wine retailer in multiple states.
What are your primary story interests?
I write wine reviews; complete video reviews and have my podcast. My goal is to do more in-depth stories on place and wine; I also love the history of wine and also stories to de-complexify wine
What are your primary palate preferences?
Interesting question; when it comes to food it is much simpler; easy to know what you are getting and how at a particular moment one’s palate is pleased. When it comes to wine that answer is perhaps much more complex and simple at the same time. Wine has such variation not just by vintage but by producer, region, winemaking style, and variety.
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?
It is rare to make a living by solely wine writing from the earliest days to now. There are few coveted positions where you can make a satisfying living as a media’s wine writer and everyone wants those few jobs which are a couple of dozen if that. Today, I believe a wine journalist needs to diversify into several medias. I have been a proponent of video and I also think there is a place for podcasting.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I love complexity and how it impacts our lives in almost always unexpected ways. I use the lens of attempting to understand complexity in say historical periods of time. If one can understand some underpinnings of complexity it can help create smarter and wiser actions and fewer unintended consequences.
What haven’t you done, that you’d like to do?
- Skiing in the Alps especially Alta Badia, Val Gardena, Wengen, Kitzbühel, Sölden, Schladming, Chamonix and Zermatt
- Own a piano – Bösendorfer Imperial 290 – a very tall order!
- Live in Europa – Italia, Austria, Germany, Sweden or Switzerland
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
I love the old days when I could develop a story on a subject matter I was interested in. Now, often the stories find me versus the other way around. I like to make the discovery in subject matters. I have created a few that I wanted to do—like “Vintage Champagne and Global Climate Change.” I saw a video that said we are having more frequency of Champagne vintages due to climate change. My story was to complete an analysis and understand if that was true or not. It turns out that the person who said there were more vintages was not correct. The trend line for percentage of more vintage Champagne is high but it is not trending upward.
Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?
I think they are the same thing. I am not sure there is a reason or need to call out a writer separately from an influencer. Does an effective writer have influence in what people think? Yes, absolutely. I think an influencer is perhaps thought of a someone who touches social media almost solely. There are always blurred lines. I am writer and videographer and podcaster. And sometimes industry (like 90%) only value the written word and if you do video or podcasting it is not valued or even appreciated: it is not taken as seriously as a written piece.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
There are many – I think it is important to have this connection to get to answers but also opportunities to taste in ways that you could not otherwise. Special wines, unveilings, library wines, etc. The responsiveness of publicists makes my life easier and I enjoy the connection.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
- Madame Clicquot – she was ahead of her time in knowing the market and establishing foundational innovations in terms of production but also a sense of where Champagne was headed.
- Robert Mondavi – I am sure many people would have wanted to meet him. He was successful much later in life and it seems he had an intrinsic foothold on where to take his business from early on. He had a sense of what Napa could be before Napa Valley could have ever imagined that. There is only one Mondavi and there will never be a personality like Mondavi again in Napa.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
I work 7 days a week—If I have a day off it is writing one of the several books that I have been trying to finish for the past several days. I have a commonplace book that challenges me to be exceedingly organized and also to be creative with this amazing book type. Completing a commonplace book is hard to do and yet immediately rewarding.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
Sicily / Calabria / Barbaresco / Champagne
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”