The wine publicist is a creature as frequently misunderstood as the product we find ourselves representing. PR professionals occupy an interesting position within the hierarchy of the wine industry; we don’t traffic in sales in the same way as the distributors or importers who haul suitcases of samples during the slow hours of the day. Nor, generally, do we hold the same level of knowledge as the sommelier, gliding through a sparkling dining room, head held aloft despite the weight of all his insight into phenolic compounds and barbaric acid.
Our knowledge and efforts fall somewhere between the work of the trade and the sommelier. Our ultimate goal, of course, is to help our clients sell more wine – aligning us with the sales side – but our means of achieving that goal have more commonality with the tactics employed by the sommelier. If we’re doing our job right, we are educating as often as we are shilling.
Most people who work in wine usually haven’t just fallen into it – it is a passion or, at the very least, an interest. This is important in an industry that doesn’t pay particularly well. Despite the persistent aura of wealth that clings to the world of wine, high-end restaurants are really the only place in the industry where a high level of wine knowledge correlates to better pay.
Inversely, outside of the restaurant industry, it’s not surprising to find the level of wine knowledge dropping as pay rises. Case in point: anybody remember the story about Costco’s head wine purchaser comparing wine to toilet paper? Oy.
While that was certainly an extreme case, we wine publicists sometimes do find ourselves in a position to be the go-between for the higher-ups with expertise in marketing and sales rather than oenology and the in-the-trenches sommeliers, retailers and writers who live, breathe and drink wine. What we do in that in-between space is myriad – and often involves passing through the membranes of three worlds: the trade, the sommelier, and the consumer – and forging connections across those worlds. We work with sommeliers for pairings, with retailers for tastings, with distributors and importers for positioning, and with consumers to share our brand’s messaging. We have so many facets of work that we do, that I’m really just barely scratching the surface!
Often, I think our role is misunderstood because it is assumed by the rest of the industry that the only brands that can afford us are the behemoths producing by the millions of cases – the wines that it would seem, hardly even need us at all, because they’re so ubiquitous! This, in fact is very much not the case! There are many small producers that have PR and tons of boutique agencies dedicated to serving them.
Luckily, I get to work for a brand that falls in the sweet spot between those two kinds of producers – Les Vins Georges Duboeuf is visible, widely available and makes a product that I have a personal connection to and that I genuinely enjoy. You can go read something I wrote in 2010 as proof that I’m not BS-ing. The visibility and distribution that allows me to work with Georges Duboeuf, sometimes leaves a sour taste in the mouth of wine-geekier colleagues on the restaurant and retail side of the industry, who are dubious that quality and quantity can coexist at a certain point.
I am relentless in my argument that, indeed, it can! And it is in moments like this, sipping something weird and going glass-to-glass with even the geekiest wine geek while holding my own, that my role in the industry, as a wine PR pro, is clearest. I am where the complexities of wine meet the simple economics of supply and demand; I am where the sommelier’s expertise and the sales rep’s profits are distilled into the stories we tell that start with a glass of wine.