Linfield College hosts a number of distinguished individuals on campus for talks, to visit classes, etcetera. Today Linfield hosted a talk between a winery owner and a wine writer, with the tables turned (that is, the writer/journalist was interviewed by the winemaker). Before that, however, I was able to have lunch with Katherine Cole and some of my old professors.
Here are some of the things I got the opportunity to learn from her over lunch;
There has been some consolidation of Oregon wineries, which are known for their small, boutique and hand-crafted artisan qualities. Rex Hill was purchased by A to Z winery and Panther Creek was purchased by a larger company. I believe Argyle is also under a mother company that has tasting rooms in California and Washington. I asked Cole on her take on this, and she pointed out that it will help the distribution of Oregon wines. Throughout the lectures and meetings I’ve attended, one of the big problems that Oregon wine faces is that the availability of Oregon wines around the world (and even in other states) is limited. As long as the wines are a fair price, still good quality and doesn’t tarnish the perception of Oregon wines being good value for quality, there shouldn’t be too much harm in an enlarging industry.
I also asked Cole on her suggestions for developing your palate. She said you rarely see people in the industry visit individual label tasting rooms, because it is more valuable to be able to try different wines from different labels side-by-side to get a comparison. She likes going to wine shops and distributors to taste different wines so she can compare them. This is probably the most valuable advice I’ve received in the industry (aside from “try as many as you can” and “do everything”) in regards to understanding wines and their compositions. I have been going to individual tasting rooms one day at a time, which makes me realize that by the time I get to the next flight, I’ve forgotten what the other wines were like.
Finally, Cole said that when you’re a freelancer, it helps to declare a specialty and stick to it. You get more work if you can say “I’m an expert on _____, let me write about it.” From freelancing, she was hired for columns in a few different publications, so when the position of wine writer at The Oregonian opened up she had some pieces in her portfolio to show them. (See some of Cole’s articles here.)
My advisor, Professor Lisa Weidman, also shared some insight into PR that Cole mentioned in a class at Linfield. Essentially, media professionals get hundreds of press releases a day. Most get deleted. The emails that stick out to Cole are the ones that are personally tailored to her. It doesn’t matter whether you know her in person or not, mention an article she wrote, or ask a question. Make it so that the media professional knows that he or she is the only person receiving that particular email, with that press release or story pitch. Also, the story must be a good one. Every journalist needs to think about his or her readers; what is going to catch their attention, what are they going to understand, what are they going to keep reading about? As Weidman likes to put it; dog bites man isn’t a story, but man bites dog is. Something else Cole mentioned in Weidman’s class was that marketing was as simple as posting a good photograph to Instagram everyday.
The talk between Doug Tunnell of Brick House Wines and Cole was full of humor, with a sprinkle of sarcasm and wit. Cole’s answers were articulated well and educational for those listening. It was a great talk to witness; I am in the process of getting a copy of it to post here. It was a public event, so if you missed it at Linfield I’m hoping to show it here soon.