Jefford on Monday: Lunch Is Not A Story

What’s the most precious thing you own? It might be the story of your life. When you look for a new job or tiptoe into a long-term relationship, your story is half the attraction. As any coach will tell you, a little presentational effort can pay big dividends.

En Primeur

Perhaps it’s presumptuous for wine writers to instruct wine producers on the reception they wish to be given at a winery, or to suggest what might or might not interest them to PRs. Nonetheless it’s in no one’s interest that traveling (or reception) time and expense be wasted, so here, humbly offered, is a suggestion or two.

First the practicalities.You have a journalist for an hour or two: what do you do with him or her?

A slow cellar tour is a waste of time. No one wants to see ‘dry goods’, and the details of vinification can be covered as you taste. Cleanliness, level of investment, handling practices and recourse to additives are all noteworthy, but they don’t take long for the seasoned eye to note. A brisk canter is best.  

Vineyard tours, by contrast, are invaluable: your soils, slopes and vine rows are unique, revealing and sometimes photogenic, unlike your stainless-steel tanks. You, too, will probably be best photographed in the vineyard. (Please carry on talking as if nothing unusual is happening.)  Remember, though, that the landscape needs interpreting: you work it for four seasons, whereas the journalist is standing here for the first time. What’s the personality of the place? What are its moods and tricks, its joys and miseries, its hot spots and cool corners? Where does the wind come from? How does it compare with the neighbours?  You suffer and triumph here. Share both.  

Tasting is primordial, and no journalist wants second-hand tasting notes, so allow plenty of time for this. Don’t, though, try to talk up or sell the wines as they are tasted; this may be counterproductive. Journalists are never unhappy about being left to taste in silence.  

Background information, of course, is invaluable, whether delivered during a discursive tasting or afterwards in the light of what has been tasted. Every producer should compile data sheets for wines, vineyards and wineries, especially if they want details accurately reported. This is your life story: note it; shape it; craft it. But the perfect raw material for journalists is a set of accurate facts and insights, not ‘the dream’ puffed up by a cut-price marketing agency.  Make sure the journalist has the sheets at the beginning of the visit, not the end, to avoid needless note-taking frenzy.  Don’t forget weather, climate and soil data. Skip other journalists’ gushing reviews and 94-point scores; we’d rather know TA, pH, SO2, abv and IPT.

Most journalists now type or record on some kind of electronic device, so try not to deliver the core of your winemaking philosophy or winemaking approach as you are driving up a bumpy 30% slope in a 4x4. When it comes to the tasting, standing in a icy, cobweb-festooned cellar by candlight may delight customers, but most of us take better notes sitting in a warm, properly lit room at a table near to a power source or extension lead. We need water, but not platters filled with odorous cheese canapés.

There are exceptions (notably en primeur tastings), but generally the most useful wines to taste are the bottled wines currently in the market rather than unfinished barrel samples of some hypothetical blend. A historic bottle or two is always appreciated and provides context and perspective.

How do you, though, get journalists to visit you in the first place? The priority is to work with other local producers to share visits and information: it’s much easier, more time-effective and more ethical for journalists to discover a group or a region than it is a single estate.

Every bit as important, though, is to find a story to make such a visit worthwhile, or to take some kind of a data set, research findings or tasting opportunity and fashion that into a story. Remember that almost all journalists have to convince editors, in turn, that they have a story: visiting just another wine estate or region on its own is often not enough.

The more grown-up you can be in your approach to PR, the better. If you have problems, challenges and difficulties, share them: neither journalists nor readers want a diet of candyfloss. Links with other local products or areas of agricultural expertise can be fascinating. Themed tastings always intrigue, to put particular vintages, research hypotheses or terroir sub-zones to the test. Tasting local wines against world-wine benchmarks (at every level) is perennially interesting.  

New packaging, new distribution arrangements, new branding, a new advertising campaign: they may matter, but they’re irredeemably boring. Oh, and lunch is not a story. No matter who has cooked it.       

Jefford on Monday

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Award-winning writer Andrew Jefford's Monday column on Decanter.com