Wine travel really is work

Written by Howard Hewitt. Posted in Dining & Entertainment

Published on February 08, 2012 with No Comments

The wine industry spends a lot of money worldwide to promote brands, regions, and wine tourism. One of the many ways the wine industry invests is press trips.

Depending on when you read this column, I’m either in France or just returned from a press trip.

Friends, co-workers, and acquaintances really lay it on thick when I’m off on one of these jaunts. I visited Paso Robles, Calif. in 2010 and Mendocino County, Calif. in January 2011.

The picture of a bunch of wine geeks with noses in a glass pontificating on aroma, finish and terroir isn’t far off. And anyone who has ever taken such a trip will tell you it’s a pleasure to visit the regions and be given the royal treatment. The wine, food, and lodging are normally first class.

There are some ground rules almost every wine writer or journalist follows. First, there is no quid pro quo. Most marketing firms are pros who understand no journalist is going to promise to write specific stories–or even a story at all. It’s the same as free wine samples, which I do receive; there is no guarantee I’m going to write about the wine or certainly that I’m even going to like it.

But my response when approached by these trip planners is fairly simple. I write this column every other week for 18 newspapers. I have a wine blog, write for a quarterly magazine based in Anderson, Ind., and contribute a handful of stories each year to Palate Press – the National Online Wine Magazine. I have a lot of mouths to feed. I need content.

Such trips open my eyes to new wines in new regions and most importantly new ideas. Today’s column is the 85th since I started Grape Sense in October, 2009. That’s not counting more than 500 blog entries, two years of magazine stories and about a dozen major stories for Palate Press.

But that image of the wine geeks around the table being wined and dined isn’t totally accurate. On some trips the day is scheduled 8 or 9 a.m. until 10 or 11 p.m. Two winery visits in the morning and three more in the afternoon. That means five wineries times six to eight wines a visit to be tasted. A side note:  you do learn how to judge and appreciate wine employing the spitting method.

My Jan. 21-27 trip to Montpellier, France is something new for me. It’s my first wine junket abroad and it’s centered on the 19th annual Millésime Bio- the world’s largest organic wine fair. All the wineries in attendance produce wine from organically grown grapes. It’s a private trade event where nearly 600 wineries pour wines for importers, wholesalers, and others who get it to retail shelves.

There is a pre-conference program to educate the journalists on the organic movement in France and I’ve been set up with a fabulous full day of winery visits Jan. 26 before I return home. On that Thursday I’m lucky to talk to some of the founders and leaders of the French organic wine movement which dates back to the 1960s.

So, all that’s great for the wine writer but what’s it all mean for the reader? I think it adds credibility to my wine writing. It greatly expands my knowledge base. It allows me to tell readers to try the powerful and balanced red wines of Paso Robles that come at half the cost of Napa Valley. It allows me to recommend Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from Mendocino that will blow you away. And after this trip, I’m going to know a lot more about organic wines and how the movement is improving the environment while providing a truly natural product.

I think that’s a pretty powerful message.

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About Howard Hewitt

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Howard W. Hewitt of Crawfordsville writes every other week about value wine for 18 Midwestern Newspapers. Read his wine blog at www.redforme.blogspot.clom.

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