What, Me Worry About the Wine Spectator?

Saturday was an interesting and educational day for me. I was reminded that most people think that a wine publicist’s job is to track the every day movements of the Wine Spectator and Robert Parker.

Saturday I lectured at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa at their "Business of Wine" course. The class is headed up by Judd Wallenbrock of Humanitas Winery who has probably worked in every facet of the wine business.

My task was to explain just what goes on in the mind of a wine publicist and explain how public relations supports sales. It’s true that part of our job is to make sure that wine writers and wine publications receive samples of our clients’ or employer’s wine. But frankly, that’s pretty darn easy to do and takes up about 5% of our time. Anyone could do it. Yet, there is this perception that PR in the wine business means getting the Spectator or Robert Parker to review your wine and review it well.

The students I lectured in front of were a pretty bright lot, a combination of retailers, restaurant workers, winery staff and others looking to better their background in the wine business. Yet more than half of their questions were about dealing with Parker and the Spectator. This meshes with the calls I get from wineries who have decided they need PR help. At least half the calls we get at Wark Communications result from the winery owner wanting help to get better reviews, or at least more frequent reviews.

Can you imagine the power someone would wield if they had a 1-2-3 formula for assuring wines are reviewed well by Parker or the Spectator? I can. But I don’t think about it much. The best a publicist can do is advise their clients when to send the wine, how to send the wine sample and whether or not it makes sense to send off a wine sample.

Ninety five percent of the wine publicist’s time is spent crafting and delivering their client’s "story" to a variety of different constituencies in a variety of creative ways. We are on the phone often. We do a lot of writing. We do a lot of planning. And we do a lot of strategizing. What we don’t do a lot of is worrying about what Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator have to say about our clients’ wines.

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