“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.
MARCY GORDON is a freelance wine and travel writer. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications including Wine Enthusiast, San Francisco Chronicle, Sonoma Magazine, The California Travel Guide, and Forbes Travel Guide. In 2017 she was awarded a fellowship to the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. Marcy produces and co-hosts the Wine Road Podcast that was twice honored with the Taste Award for Best Food/Drink Podcast in 2018 and 2020. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Writing Between the Vines, a literary arts program that provides writers with one-week writing retreats on vineyard estates. Prior to her freelance writing career she worked in consumer tech and was the marketing team lead for the launch of Travelocity and OpenTable.
How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?
I became interested in wine while I was living in Italy and working for an Italian guidebook publisher. When I moved to Sonoma Wine Country I saw vineyards and I saw an opportunity to expand my knowledge of wine and incorporate wine and wine tourism into my travel writing.
What are your primary story interests?
I like offbeat stories, angles that are unexpected behind the people, wines, the labels or the vineyards.
What are your primary palate preferences?
Are you a staff columnist or freelance? What are the advantages of both?
I’ve had columns in the past but I’m currently a freelancer. The advantages of a column are you usually get paid in a timely manner, while a freelancer spends much of their time chasing down unpaid invoices.
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?
Only a very few can make a real living as a full time wine writer. Many print outlets have folded or gone online only and the pay has shrunk considerably. Many stories are covered in–house and there is not much budget for freelancers. I try to stay diverse in my projects and don’t rely solely on traditional print media for placing stories. Many pay rates are based on the traffic and click-through you generate so it’s not just writing a story, you have to be the promoter as well. It’s a full time hustle and difficult to pencil out a profit on all the time sunk and effort necessary to make it work. You need to have other revenue streams or a supportive spouse/partner to make a living writing about wine.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I visited over 24 countries before the age of fourteen. (My mother was a travel writer and took me along on many of her trips.)
What haven’t you done, that you’d like to do?
Hike the Levanda paths on the island of Maderia.
If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?
I’d be a screenwriter or a psychiatrist.
Can you describe your approach to wine writing and/or doing wine reviews?
I think it’s important that wine stories and reviews both inform and entertain –just the facts are boring. I try to inject pop culture references or allude to music or literature in my tasting notes. I think one needs to paint a picture of what a wine will evoke and use imagery to convey that feeling to the reader.
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, I post links to the podcast and my articles to social media. Despite the horrors of social media, and the tremendous time suck it can be—if you are not on Social Media you pretty much don’t exist.
Do you consider yourself an Influencer? What’s the difference today between a writer and an influencer in your opinion?
Unfortunately the term Influencer seems to have the same negative connotation that Blogger used to have. Influencer has come to mean someone fairly young with little expertise but lots of followers. But influencers are important part of the purchase decision tree. If the definition of an influencer is a person that compels another to buy a product, then yes–I am an influencer. I don’t have a ton of followers but I do have a highly engaged audience that trusts my opinions. In terms of the differences between the two–Writer and Influencer—I’d say an Influencer gets by using a lot less words–a photo, a #hashtag, and it’s done. A writer goes deeper into a story and adds greater nuance and reflection, far beyond a snapshot.
What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?
Give us all the spec sheets or facts necessary then tell us about the winery and the wines in your own words and not regurgitating the fact and spec sheets. Give us time to get photos and bottle shots before the tasting. After the tasting the label is often not in great shape.
I like to see the vineyards, if accessible, but can skip the tank and barrel rooms unless there is something notable about them. And please provide spit cups when we taste. I’m always surprised how many places don’t even have a dump bucket available unless you ask.
What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?
Publicists are the keys to the kingdom. A good publicist can help you get exactly what you need in a timely fashion and provide insights that you may have been missed. Publicists have the bandwidth to assist you while winery personal are often buried under all the day-to-day tasks of running their business. A good publicist is golden.
Which wine reviewers/critics would you most like to be on a competition panel with?
The Ladies of the Swirl Suite Podcast — Sarita Cheaves, Leslie Frelow, Tanisha Townsend and Glynis Hill.
Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?
I’d like to taste through a slate of wines selected by Josh Deconlongon, (@Sommeligay) paired with a selection of his favorite Filipino dishes. Or I’d like to travel back in time and have a few glasses with Barbe-Nocole Clicquot –the Grande Dame of Champagne.
If you take days off, how do you spend them?
Exploring the area where I live, hiking along the Sonoma Coast or in the Redwoods.
What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?
Bibich wine and food pairing in Croatia. Alen Bibich winemaker and his wife Vesna a world class chef offer an extraordinary food and wine paring at their winery located outside of Sibenik in Skradin. I’ve been lucky enough to experience it twice. The menu changes every year. The first time was just the day before Anthony Bourdain arrived. Bourdain went on to rave about it to the world, on his TV show, but I blogged about it first! Hah! The second time was after a very long and hectic travel day that started with a 4am ferry ride from Hvar island to Split then on to the winery, but not before a long detour to a car repair shop where the car had to be drained of all the fuel after regular gas was accidently pumped into the diesel car. By the time we got to Bibich I felt like it was all a dream. But the tasting was truly transcendent.
What’s your favorite wine region in the world?
Of course I must say my home region of Sonoma—it’s truly outstanding. But I have a special place in my heart for the wine regions of Croatia, and I’m also a huge fan of the Okanagan wine region in British Columbia.
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Favorite recipe/pairing?
Kettle Chips with Champagne and Oysters with Melon de Bourgogne.
Read more stories in the series “Turning the Tables – Interviewing the Interviewers.”