Behind the Scenes: A Wine Writer’s Life

Oct23rd

Introduction

When I attend a social event that’s outside the wine industry and I’m asked about my job, I often joke that I drink for a living. After I clarify that I write about wine, I usually get questions about what exactly that involves and some misconceptions about drinking Champagne all day in between planning luxe trips to Tuscany and Napa Valley. However, it’s not all beer and Skittles, rainbows and unicorns.

On today’s episode of Unreserved Wine Talk, I thought that since there’s always been quite a bit of curiousity about what I do, I’ll take you behind the scenes with a day-in-the-life of a wine writer. Seven days in fact. I’m going to record a short update each day, and let you know what I do that’s related to my job, plus a few personal details so that we get to know each other better. Enjoy!

 

Highlights

  • Why did I decide to do an episode to share how I spend my days?
  • How is being a wine writer similar to being a movie critic?
  • What work do I do on my podcast on Wednesdays?
  • Why shouldn’t you multitask?
  • Why did I stop interviewing guests on Facebook Live?
  • How can you join in on my Facebook Live wine chats?
  • Why is podcasting so powerful?
  • How does my podcast find its way to your earbuds?
  • What does my team do for my podcast?
  • What can you expect to learn about on my Facebook Lives?
  • How do private tastings for my students fit into my Wednesdays?
  • What was I invited to appear on Global Television’s Morning Show and CTV’s The Social?
  • What is my family doing for Thanksgiving?
  • Why do I love Thanksgiving?
  • Which wines will I be serving with Thanksgiving dinner?
  • Why were four cases of wine delivered in one day?
  • How do I approach wine tasting for reviews?
  • What types of wines are usually sent to me?
  • How do I prepare for bigger tastings?
  • What are the tastings I host for my team like?
  • How was Thanksgiving dinner?
  • What fantastic cake discoveries did my family make?
  • What’s the process for my weekly wine picks newsletter?
  • Why am I so happy about the job prospects in computer engineering?
  • How can you improve your wine shopping experience?
  • What’s the status of my third book and how is it going to be different from my first two?

 

Resources

 

Wine Reviews

 

Tag Me on Social

Tag me on social media if you enjoyed the episode:

 

Thirsty for more?

  • Sign up for my free online wine video class where I’ll walk you through how to taste wine and pair it with food like a pro – without the snobbery ;)
  • Join me on Facebook Live Video every second Wednesday at 7 pm eastern for a casual wine chat.
  • You’ll find my books here, including Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines and Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
  • The new audio edition of Red, White and Drunk All Over is now available on Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and other country-specific Amazon sites; iTunes.ca, iTunes.com and other country-specific iTunes sites; Audible.ca and Audible.com.

 

Transcript & Takeaways

Welcome to episode 47!

When I attend a social event that’s outside the wine industry and I’m asked about my job, I often joke that I drink for a living. After I clarify that I write about wine, I usually get questions about what exactly that involves and some misconceptions about drinking Champagne all day in between planning luxe trips to Tuscany and Napa Valley. However, it’s not all beer and Skittles, rainbows and unicorns.

The reality is that writing about wine is work. Try tasting 30 Cabernets at 9 am, and spitting them out, then writing tasting notes for each one. I liken it to a movie critic who has to analyze the plot line, character development and other aspects of the film, versus those of us who just watch to relax. Now no need to play those tiny violins for me. I love what I do.

However, I thought that since there’s always been quite a bit of curiousity about what I do, I’ll take you behind the scenes in this episode with a day-in-the-life of a wine writer. Seven days in fact. I’m going to record a short update each day, and let you know what I do that’s related to my job, plus a few personal details so that we get to know each other better.

Okay, here we go!

Music Ding

I’m starting this on a Wednesday since that’s podcast day. My podcast is published at 3 am eastern time, midnight on the west coast so that it qualifies for the Wine Wednesday hashtag (#WineWednesday) when we share it on social media.

This is also the day when I’m recording next week’s episode, like I’m doing right now. I’m determined to get to a point where I batch these episodes, ie record say four to six of them on one day, as I know that will be far more efficient, and also far more effective.

Studies show that when we batch doing the same task, we get into the mental flow state that makes the creative part flow more easily. Conversely, when we go from one task to another, context switching, it takes us an average of 23 minutes to get into the new groove. Multi-tasking is a myth. But alas, for now I’m living week to week.

As you know, I tend to alternate guest interviews with solo episodes like this one. So when it’s a guest interview, my amazing podcast editor, Alex, sends me the audio file. She gets rid of all my ums and ahs, as well as anything that references the Facebook viewers if this interview was first broadcast on a Facebook Live.

By the way, you can join me on Facebook Live video every second Wednesday at 7 pm eastern at nataliemaclean.com/live. I don’t interview guests anymore there because the scheduling was a bit crazy, particularly with winemakers, writers and sommeliers who were on vastly different time zones. As well, bandwidth and tech issues sometimes made the recording choppy. #Understatement

So now I still interview guests, but on Zoom video, a tool that’s similar to Skype, and then publish it on my site when it’s complete. You can find that lineup of past and upcoming guests at nataliemaclean.com/videos.

Once I record my solo, like today, or the intro and intro for a guest, I send it to Alex, who does the final edit. She puts those pieces together, along with the musical intro and final outro that you hear each week.

Then she creates the show notes for the episode that include any wines I mention, books, wine gadgets, the website and social media handles of a guest and so on. You’ll find those resources for this episode at nataliemaclean.com/47.

Then she uploads the the podcast and the notes to my podcast host Libsyn, who then distributes it to Apple Podcasts (formerly iTunes), Google Podcasts, Android Devices, iHeart Radio, Spotify, Stitcher, podcast apps like Overcast, Castro, Pocketcasts and about a hundred others, plus smart speakers like Alexa, Apple Homepod, Sonos and Google Home, and soon, I’m excited to share with you, the podcast will also be on Pandora, which I just found out has a larger audience than Spotify.

Now you can see why podcasting is so powerful: it’s not just the sheer reach and channels, but it’s also about the intimacy, I’m hear inside your earbuds (it’s cozy in here, by the way) and you are one of those golden podcast listeners who tend to listen to almost 100% of each episode, even when they’re thirty to sixty minutes. Contrast that to the average watch time no a Facebook video, which is less than a minute. You are a very special to me.

Finally, Alex creates an audiogram, a short audio snippet that plays like a video and is custom created to fit and play on each of the major social platforms: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Next, my social media manager, Ellen, creates the sharing text to accompany that audiogram, and shares it across the various platforms. Lori, my Instagram expert, shares it there. Ellen also drafts the podcast newsletter that you receive Wednesday mornings. Helena, my amazing assistant, does an edit, then I do the final edit and send it to you.

As you can see, it takes a village! And this is just for the podcast. Today is also a Facebook Live day as that happens every second Wednesday at 7 pm eastern. I research three wine-related topics that we’ll chat about, usually two are from the news, such as the latest study on wine and health, or how the harvest is going in certain regions, and one is a how-to topic such as how to pair wine and spicy food as we did a few episodes ago. I send these topics to Ellen, who schedules the live event on Facebook, and starts sharing about it across the platforms.

Before I go live on my Facebook page, I host a private tasting for my students who’ve taken my online paid courses, either taken Get Wine Smart, now renamed and relanching in November to become The Wine-Smart Course: A Full-Bodied Framework to Taste, Pair & Buy Wine Like a Pro or my second course Pairing Cheese & Wine with Style & Attitude. That course will relaunch in January.

I’m so excited about relaunching The Wine-Smart Course and am working right now on a new free video wine class that I’ll call either:

5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes You’re Making Now

(and how to fix them forever!)

or

5 Wine & Food Pairing Mistakes that Can Ruin Your Dinner Party

(and how to wow your guests with perfect pairings!)

Which one do you prefer? Please let me know! Okay, I know this was a long update for one day, but it was also setting the context for the rest of the week. I’m flying to Toronto tonight because I’ll be on Global Television’s Morning Show tomorrow and then in the afternoon on CTV’s The Social. I’ll talk to you then!

Music Ding

Okay it’s Thursday! I’m up at 5 am in my hotel room because today is a double-header: I’ll be chatting with the hosts of Global’s Morning Show about pairing wine and cheese. It’s this country’s second most popular breakfast show and airs nationally.

I’m pairing wines with 3 mouth-watering cheese plates that the culinary chef team from Loblaws have curated. Carolyn and Jeff love their wines, and we always have fun.

Then I’ll head over to CTV’s The Social where we’ll be chatting about wines for dinner parties: which wines and how many do you serve, and in what order, and other questions. I adore the ladies who host The Social, which is little bit like The View, though I think it’s better. They’re now in their seventh season and going strong with more than 3.2 million viewers nationally every weekday at 1 pm eastern.

I’ve been their wine expert since they launched in 2013, so we’ve covered a lot of topics, and drank a lot of wine together. So much fun. Okay bye for now as I have to get ready, I’ll chat with you more tomorrow.

Music Ding

Well yesterday was a hoot as my east coast relatives would say. If you want to watch those video clips go to nataliemaclean.com/videos. Speaking of east coast, my Mom arrives from Nova Scotia today for the Canadian Thanksgiving.

My son Rian is home from Waterloo University where he’s studying engineering. My partner Miles and I met 7 years ago on Thanksgiving, so it’s our anniversary… his family will join us for the big turkey dinner on Saturday because we have one of those modern families where our collective offspring have to endure two turkey dinners with their other parent.

I love Thanksgiving dinner because it’s a celebratory meal with family that doesn’t have quite the pressure of Christmas.

I’m to serve my guests Henry of Pelham’s Catherine Cuvee Sparkling Rose from Niagara, then a gorgeous Pinot Noir from Sonoma called La Crema and the topper will be a Framboise made from raspberries by Southbrook winery in Ontario. I do love drinking local, but I also enjoying the diversity of tastes from other regions. Alright, this one is short and sweet so I don’t run out of time to give you some more updates in the remaining four days.

Music Ding

Good morning! It’s Saturday and four cases of wine arrived yesterday from various wine agencies and wineries who want my team and I taste and review them. I’ve had more than one Fedex guy offer to come in and help me taste them… I’m on a first-name basis with the delivery folks.

Currently, I have a backlog of more than 300 wines right now that need to be tasted. I know, play those tiny violins again.

However, I do approach tasting the wines I receive seriously, as I know how much effort goes into making each wine. I spend about 5 minutes with each wine analyzing its key aspects: sight, smell, taste, body, finish as well as components like acidity, tannin structure, and balance. Then finally I try to get creative with food pairings. So that backlog of 300 wines represents at least 25 hours of work.

The wines sent to me are neither low end, say under $10, as most consumers don’t follow wine reviews to choose those since they’re relatively low-risk cost-wise or they’re repeat purchases week after week.

But I also don’t often get extremely expensive or rare wines, say over $100 because often those wines are made in small quantities and sell out in stores or have mailing lists of customers waiting to buy the new vintage.

So I taste mostly in the middle, and mostly between $15 and $50, where most of my listeners and readers buy their wines. I’ll taste anywhere between five and fifteen wines a day on average, then I pass those bottles on to various wine writers on my team so that they get multiple reviews.

When I switched to this system about seven years ago, it was a great disappointment to the three entrepreneurial people who’d compete with each other on bottling recycle day to get to my over-flowing bins first.

When I attend a big tasting say at the LCBO for media, I get a lot of support from the wonderful Deb who prepares my tasting sheets. She spends a good eight hours on these before and after the tasting, making sure the facts are correct and we have more details on each wine than what is provided by the LCBO. She checks my tasting notes for typos and spelling, and then I upload them to the site and publish.

I also host tastings for my team of 30 wine writers and sommeliers periodically. These folks mostly live in Ottawa, though some drive in from Montreal, Toronto and Picton and make a weekend of it. We’re usually tasting about 50-70 wines over the course of a Sunday afternoon. It’s a lot of fun, we reconnect with each other and there are hundreds of reviews that result, with lots of sharing on social media. I’ll wrap up now as we’re getting ready for Thanksgiving dinner.

Music Ding

It’s a glorious Sunday morning and leaves on the trees outside my window are burning red and orange through the sunlight. Dinner last night was spectacular. Lots of laughs and great food and wine. Earlier in the day, Mom, Rian, Miles and I went cake shopping. We discovered The Cake Shop in Westboro that was divine. All the ingredients are top-notch and her creativity is stunning.

We bought a poutine cake, a marble cake with icing French Fries and gravy, a carrot cake with orange Belgium chocolate flakes on top that reminded me of the Frank Gehry Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain and a double-down chocolate cake with chocolate mousse.

Today’s priority? Something I call the Repentant Workout, both weights and the elliptical for cardio. That’ll probably work off one slice of one cake… but I had much more. Okay, off to do my penance. I’ll chat with you tomorrow!

Music Ding

It’s Monday, and I’m working on the weekly wine picks newsletter. Ellen drafts that for me first, which helps a lot. I’m also working on redesigning parts of my site with my graphics designer Mike as well as my web developer and coder whose name I’m going to keep secret because great coders are impossible to find, he’s so gifted and we’ve been working together for 12 years now.

All of my team members are truly gifted people, however, there are just over three million unfilled jobs for coders in the US alone… not sure what that number is in Canada. I’m so glad that my son Rian is studying computer engineering given his job prospects. Okay tomorrow I’ll wrap!

Music Ding

It’s Tuesday and today I’ll be looking at my mobile apps for iPhone, iPad, and Android to see if we need to upgrade them with the new operating systems that were released recently on these platforms.

The apps are free by the way, and are the only apps on the market that scan both the front labels of wines with an optical scanner as well as scanning back bar codes with a barcode reader. That instantly accesses my tasting notes and scores and food pairings.

Yes I do sell a subscription to my wine reviews, as that ‘s how I recoup the development costs of the website and apps, which runs about $300,000 a year plus my salary since I can’t pay the mortgage with wine.

Finally, I’m working on my third book for Random House, and it’s going so well! I hope to have a rough draft manuscript for my editor by January. This book will be different from my first two that focused on travel adventures to various wine regions around the world.

Those were Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass, which is available in paperback, Kindle and audio. The second was Unquenchable: A Tipsy Quest to Find the World’s Best Bargain Bottles.

This book will be more memoir but set within the wine world and social media. It’ll have lots of very current themes and thorny issues, but as always lots of laughs and good wine. I’ll keep you in the loop as it develops.

Well, there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this behind-the-scenes look at my life. You’ll find links to the wines I mentioned, my books, mobile apps and tv segments in the show notes at nataliemaclean.com/47.

What was your favourite tip from this episode? Do you have a question I didn’t answer? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m @nataliemacleanwine.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it, especially one who’s interested in a behind-the-scenes peak at a wine writer’s life. My podcast is easy to find, whether you search Google on its name Unreserved Wine Talk, or on my name.

Finally, if you want to take your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at nataliemaclean.com/class.

I can’t wait to share more wine stories with you next week.

Thank-you for taking the time to listen to this one. I hope something great is in your glass this week, perhaps a terrific glass of wine that pairs well with a wine podcast!

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