Turning The Tables on Kate Dingwall

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By Carl Giavanti

 

Kate DIngwall

By day, Kate Dingwall is a writer, editor and photographer covering the intersection between spirits, business, culture and travel. By night, she’s a WSET-trained working sommelier at one of the top restaurants in Canada. She writes about strong drinks and nice wines for Worth, Vogue, Maxim, People Magazine, Southern Living, Liquor.com, Eater, The Toronto Star, Wine Enthusiast, and DuJour. You can sample her work at www.kate-dingwall.com.

 

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

It was never a conscious career path. I came into wine the way most did — working in bars and restaurants. I’ve always been enamored by history and geography, so when I was tasked to learn the wine program at a bar where I was working, something clicked. Eventually that translates into a few food and wine articles, and those snowballed into more and more assignments. Here I am, 10 odd years later. 

What are your primary story interests?

Simply put, I like stories about good people doing things that matter greatly to them. 

What are your primary palate preferences?

The classic wine nerd jazz standards: Champagne and white Burgundy. I always lean towards Oregon Pinot Noirs and anything from coastal Spain and Portugal: Rias Baixas, Mallorca, Tenerife, Madeira, etc (I’m a salt fiend).

Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? If so, how have you succeeded? What are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?

Yes and no. I do, but I’m based in Canada. My $USD paychecks go farther here and I don’t have to save money for health, mental health or dental care. 

It’s certainly not a job for the faint of heart. You have to handle a lot of rejection and criticism from editors, and you have to hustle way too hard to make a living these days. And on top of all that, there’s the cost of WSET and other educational programming. Then there’s the cost of keeping up with producers and training your palate. Very few producers I love are represented by publicists or have sampling programs, so it’s up to me to purchase bottles, stop into restaurants, attend tastings or wine fairs, and understand what’s going on in the greater wine industry beyond what publicists keep me abreast of. Working in restaurants covered most of this, but being a writer full-time requires diligence, balanced cash flow, and probably some level of masochism. 

On top of that, few publications pay what would equate to minimum wage these days. It’s discouraging! 

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I’m super nerdy about both antiques and photography. I spent a lot (a lot) of time combing auctions and estate sales for vintage jewelry, cameras and other pieces with compelling stories. (My partner thinks we have enough junk.)

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

You don’t need to be able to recite all the Beaujolais crus to enjoy wine! Wine is for everyone.

If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?   

Probably back on the floor in some capacity or running a small self-owned shop. I love telling the stories of producers I really believe in, so I’d be in an outlet that allowed that.

Can you describe your approach to wine, beverage and travel writing?

I find most of my stories come from talking with friends, fellow somms or winemakers, so I try to  just stay connected — read, look at menus, travel, just keep abreast of industry vibes. The stories write themselves from there.

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

Both. I have a running list of story ideas I’d love to flesh out further and pitch. Certain ideas I prioritize because of what editors are looking for or timeliness. Sometimes I don’t circle around on an idea for years. At the moment, I work with 10 publications monthly. I try to place one or two stories per month with each, so I also need to match ideas with the right publication.

You write for a very diverse set of outlets. How did you develop your portfolio?

These things come with time. My first few years were stuck at one outlet. Then, I started pitching stories blind to editors I looked up to. Eventually, people bit and I kept adding more and more outlets to my regular roster. I’ll probably work with one or two new publications each year, and one or two will fall by the wayside as outlets fold or editors move gigs.

You write about a range of topics such as climate, wine, travel, beverages? Can you be an expert across such a variety of topics?

It’s a less expansive range if you consider how interconnected all of these topics are. Wine and spirits are agricultural products and, in this day and age, no conversation around agriculture can exist without considering climate. 

Travel is a broad category, covering any story with a sense of place. Isn’t that most wine stories? So while I have stories that fall more firmly in one category or another — for example, for a travel piece I spend more time describing how to move within a region or what the tasting rooms are like and less time talking about technical details. Most of what I write about is threaded through all of the above.

Do you post your articles on social media? Why is that important? 

Yes, I do post them. I need to get better about that, actually. Social media helps establish notoriety and builds a following. Clicks also show my editors that my story is worth the time and space, so helping get more eyes on a story is important.

What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?

Have a website with contact info, lots of information on products and people, and photos. It may seem like a lot of work up front but gives journalists so many opportunities to connect with you. And feel free to reach out! Even a quick email introducing yourself, your wines and what makes you special. I may not be able to write about you at the moment, but if I’m ever working on a relevant story, I have you on my radar. This happened recently: a really lovely, talented winemaker reached out and explained his viticultural practices. I ended up interviewing him a few months later for a feature in Wine Enthusiast.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

Accessibility. A publicist means I don’t have to hound winemakers to answer their phone or send over photos. A publicist knows to have everything prepared and can do a lot of the legwork for me. I definitely tend to gravitate towards a few excellent publicists for stories and their clients get a lot more mileage because of our working relationship

What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?

I feel that most of what I’m pitched these days is click-bait or spray-and-pray pitches. My inbox is jammed, but only a tiny percentage of pitches are usable. 

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

Never meet your heroes!

If you take days off, how do you spend them? 

A nice run, a farmer’s market visit, fresh pasta, an icy martini and an early bedtime.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

Tasting at the top of a mountain in Armenia, where this brilliant winemaker is planting at a maddening altitude (it took 30 minutes in a pre-war jeep to get us up there). And the wines were good.

What’s your cure for a wine hangover?

A long run (sweat it out), dim sum and sparkling water, all shrouded by vows to not have that glass of brown spirits after dinner.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

Depends on the day and what I’m studying at the moment. I tend to go down rabbit holes where I need to read everything I can about a region. 

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?

A few years ago, Beverly Crandon, who is a brilliant somm and educator here in Toronto, suggested that with curry, instead of pairing it with a Riesling like everyone suggests to, pair like with like and open a wine with lots of spice. She nailed it. Her blog is full of smart and unexpected pairings! https://www.beverlycrandon.com/blog/categories/food-wine-pairing

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Carl Giavanti

Carl Giavanti is a winery publicist with a DTC Marketing background celebrating his 14th year of winery consulting. Carl has been involved in business marketing and public relations for over 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, Columbia Valley, and the Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media)