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Turning the Tables on Robin Renken

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By Carl Giavanti

Robin Renken is a wine writer creating content in multiple mediums with her husband, Michael. She holds a CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine), a WSET3 with Merit, and writes regularly with multiple online wine writing groups including the French Winophiles, Wine Pairing Weekend, and World Wine Travel. 

With Crushed Grape Chronicles, she and Michael explore the stories behind the wines. Digging into the stories of the winemakers, the soils and the land, and translating that to the joy it brings in the glass and to the table. You can follow Robin and Michael’s adventures and multimedia content experiences at www.CrushedGrapeChronicles.com and on social media.

Robin Renken, Crushed Grape Chronicles
Robin Renken, Crushed Grape Chronicles

How did you come to wine, and to wine writing?

After a career in Theatrical Stage Management, I started a gift basket company and got my creative juices flowing, designing creative products. This was during the heyday of large companies sending groups of sales and staff to Vegas to celebrate earnings.

During this time, we took a break and went to the coast. We were having a glass of wine, looking at the ocean and the wine was delicious and, probably for the first time, I noticed the nuances in the aromas. We realized how close we were to California and “wine country” and began planning getaways. While exploring, we started the RootStock blog and have been addicted ever since. Michael’s background in programming moving lights transferred easily to video production. Crushed Grape Chronicles is, in a sense, “a production,” so it was really up our alley. Now we can focus on content we find interesting.

What are your primary story interests?

We’re interested in the stories behind the wines: What makes this wine different? The people, the place, the soils, the climate. We tend to dig into sustainable, biodynamic and regenerative wines and wineries. That’s partly because we’re passionate about caring for the planet and partly because the people who have these vineyards are also passionate, and that lends itself to a better, more interesting story.

What are your primary palate preferences?

My preference is to be surprised. I want to find unique qualities in each glass. I don’t pick up a Syrah and want it to taste something like every other Syrah I have ever tasted. I want to taste and smell its story.

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

While many people are aware of my theatrical career, they might be surprised at the range of places that it has taken me. I spent many years traveling, bus and truck musical theater productions all over the United States. Setting up a show in a new place, sometimes every day, meeting new people and getting to quickly know a town (you have to find the best and fastest place for lunch). I was able to also travel to Japan and Europe with tours. After my sabbatical with the gift basket business, I returned to the circus in Las Vegas.

What haven’t you done that you’d like to do?

Travel more! There are so many amazing wine regions around the globe. I have learned about them via books and webinars, but there is no better way to get to know a region than getting out into the countryside, feeling the air and sun on your skin, and tasting the wine with the people who made it.

What is one thing you’d like your readers to learn from your writing about wine?

To explore the world of wine, to look for the overlooked regions and varieties. There are more than 10,000 wine grape varieties in the world and most people have only heard of a handful. Explore!

What are you working on now? 

Currently, we are juggling tons of content from a trip to California, Oregon and Washington, to visit with winemakers, as well as working on pieces with the writing groups #Winophiles, #ItalianFWT, #WinePW, #WorldWineTravel on wine regions around the globe. There are also samples that we are working with on pairings. All currently for CrushedGrapeChronicles. 

We are also working on a cookbook or two. One, called Tempting Spoonfuls, will be coming out in early September, featuring wines paired with small bites — perfect for sharing at parties.

We also just launched a new project called “Discovering Wine Country.” This is an eight-episode video series covering regions including the Yakima Valley, Santa Barbara and several regions in New South Wales Australia. It will be filled with winemaker interviews, food pairings and places to stay, as well as segments on some fascinating rabbit holes, deep dives on subjects like grape varieties, biodynamic and regenerative agriculture, and even a discussion on corks versus screwcaps. The series, which launched August 2, can be found on DiscoveringWineCountry.com where you will also be able to find our book.

Do you work on an editorial schedule and/or develop story ideas as they come up?

It’s a bit of both. We have an editorial schedule, but when a good story comes up, we’re flexible enough to make room for it.

What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?

Be open. Show what you’re passionate about. For some people it’s the soil, for some, it’s the winemaking process. Some people are passionate about the history of their region. It’s all about showing where your passion lies. 

Also, bring in your team, highlight the people who are integral to making your winery a success. They will bring a different perspective and often have wonderful stories involving other aspects of the business, including interactions with customers.

Be willing to take the time and be honest and authentic. That’s how we get the best stories.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

For the winery, it takes the guesswork out. The publicist can vet the writer/content creator so that the winery doesn’t spend the first part of the interview wondering if this is going to be worth their time. Publicists also make it easier for content creators by being able to help us sort through some of the details as to where to focus. They know their wineries and can give us a feel for them before we go in. Research and insight are key to being able to get the most out of an interview. Sometimes, I find that since the publicist has already given me in-depth information, it frees me up to ask questions that I otherwise might not have had time for.

Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste with (living or dead)?

Ahh…wine personalities. It’s like celebrities. Perhaps because of my time in the entertainment industry, I have never been starstruck. But…after a webinar during the International Wine Writers Symposium, I would love to taste with Regine Rousseau. I love her artistic and poetic way of describing wines. I was able to attend a session with her at another conference, but I would love to sit one on one with her to taste a few wines.

One of my early inspirations in wine writing/wine content creation was a wine writer who did a trip on a train, tasting wine and doing videos of tastings live. I sadly cannot remember her name. She was spunky, creative and honest, and her descriptions were out of the norm, but she gave me a real sense of the wine and why she enjoyed it. Please comment on this article if you know who I’m referencing.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

The first time I found violets on the nose of a Pinot Noir. It was a moment that took me off-guard. The floral note was pronounced and made me swoon. I remember that moment and am forever trying to recapture it. Of course, this was about finding something new and, for me, unexpected in a wine. The more wines you drink, the harder it is to find that something unexpected, your catalog fills with fragrances and flavors and there become fewer and fewer that you have not yet encountered. But those moments — that’s what I chase.

Where was that moment? It was in the tiny tasting room, the old one, at Carhartt in Los Olivos California in, perhaps, 2011. I remember the Adirondack chairs made from barrels, the dappled light coming through the trees overhead and that fragrance.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Favorite recipe/pairing?

I love exploring food and wine pairings. We will sit with a cheese and charcuterie plate and individually taste each item and then different pairings of items with wines. For one of our 12 Days of wine events, I made chocolate cherry ice cream sandwiches. I purchased the ice cream, dotted with big juicy black cherries, but I made my own cookies with cocoa and espresso powder. We paired this with a Co Dinn 2015 Syrah from Roskamp Vineyard in the Snipes Mountain AVA in Washington’s Yakima Valley. It was heaven: the cocoa and the espresso, with the black cherries and the wine.

My quote in the post was “You know, those moments when you take a bite and a sip and close your eyes and groan with pleasure just a bit. Yeah, that kind of good!” 

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Carl Giavanti

Carl Giavanti is a Winery Publicist with a DTC Marketing background, going on his 12th year of winery consulting. He has been involved in business marketing and public relations for more than 25 years, originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a winery media relations consultant. Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

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