News and Updates

Meet the #BDWAbyWIM Finalists: Wink Lorch

002015 BDWAbyWIM, interviewTags: , , , , , January, 16

Wink Lorch: Second Place, Best Editorial / Opinion Piece
interview by Richard Siddle

We continue our series of interviews with the authors who came top in the 2016 awards, with a chat with wine writer Wink Lorch, runner up in our  Best Editorial/ Opinion category, who is also a BDWA winner in a past edition, who looks back over her writing career and picks out what she likes to write about and who she likes to read.

Wink Lorch
Why did you enter the BDWAs … and how did you choose which articles to enter?

“I like to support good on-line writing and was encouraged to enter. I won a prize in the first edition of the competition. As I had been employed for nine months during this period by Wine-Searcher, it was obvious to choose what I thought were some of my best pieces. I chose those that I thought were the most original.”

How did you get in to wine writing?

“I’ve always worked in wine. When I had a small business selling wine decades ago, I wrote my own wine lists, newsletters etc. Then as I moved away from wine selling and into education I approached some local papers to write a wine column. I moved on from there.”

What is your approach to wine writing … do you think you have a specific style/approach 

“My approach tends to be more educational than anything even if it’s a humorous piece. I always want to explain the story behind wines, wine regions, wine people and the wine trade.”

What do you think of wine writing in general?

“It is extremely varied in quality, both writing quality and accuracy of content. Too many people choose to write about a subject that I’ve seen written about for decades and offer nothing new on the subject. Online has given a chance for new approaches, yes, but also has encouraged bad writing.”

Who do you look up to/ enjoy reading in wine?

“Jancis Robinson MW, Eric Asimov, Jon Bonné, Andrew Jefford, and sometimes Alfonso Cevola and Simon Woolf.”

What other non-wine writers do you read regularly/ favourite magazines/ publications?

“I regularly read the magazine Intelligent Life published by the Economist group – the writing quality/content is superb.”

Meet the #BDWAbyWIM Winners: Erika Szymanski

002015 BDWAbyWIM, interviewTags: , , , , , December, 15

Erika Szymanski: Winner, Best Investigative / Journalistic Wine Story
interview by Richard Siddle

Richard Siddle talks to Erika Szymanski whose article on “How to replicate a wine from 1,500 year-old-grape seeds” was the winner in our Investigative Investigative/Journalistic story category.

Here she explains what her motivation was for writing the article and how she went about it.



Naturally Erika – photo by Guy Frederick Photography

Why did you enter the Born Digital Wine Awards?

“I think that a lot of what I write is pretty boring and the pieces I find most interesting are, I suspect, a little esoteric. I thought the winning piece was neither boring nor esoteric. Short and flippant, but maybe there’s a place for short and flippant.”

What was the motivation behind writing your winning article?

“I wrote the winning blog post in response to a number of popular news pieces anticipating the recreation of ancient wine after archaeologists discovered ancient wine grape seeds.

“That sort of nonsense is too tempting fodder for mockery to pass by. My goal is partially to help fight against the damaging speculations of bad science journalism but, if I’m honest, it’s also partially the gratification of laying out in detail why reading something makes me squirm.”

How did you get in to wine and wine writing?

“I grew up in an oenophilic household with parents who read about everything they enjoy. I picked up my father’s copy of Emile Peynaud’s Le Gout de Vin over summer vacation when I was about 13 and realised that wine was this utterly remarkable thing: very physically and sensually and intellectually and socially gratifying all at once.

“I started wine writing just for myself as a way to keep up my writing skills and as an excuse to keep reading wine microbiology and chemistry once I’d left that field, and those are still my motivations.

“My other writing life is as a PhD student who studies science communication (among other things). Sometimes the two bleed into each other a bit.”

How would you describe your style of writing?

“I’m one of a relatively few wine writers focusing on science topics, even if much of what I do these days veers into the philosophical or social.

“Among the wine science writers, I suppose you could say that I’m obnoxiously opinionated. I’ll never try to write an “objective” report of a new research study; I’m going to tell you what I think about it.

“I’d rather a writer’s inevitable biases be obvious rather than something she tries to hide. Objectivity just means that you’re not being open (with your readers, and maybe with yourself) about your values and assumptions.”

What else do you read to help with your own writing?

“Now, that is a very, very long list indeed. Start with philosophy, environmental science, theology, and (guilty pleasure) good cookbooks. Classic fiction, anything medieval, and graphic novels when I have time.

“On writing about wine: don’t. Use wine to write about something else. This is for two reasons. First, the market for writing happy stories about the winery you visited/winemaker you interviewed/wine you drank is saturated (and most of those stories are pretty boring anyway).

“Second, wine is interesting because it’s a tool for thinking and living well.

“It’s what Aristotle called a topos, a common subject people can relate to that you can use to build an argument. Wine is a superb topos, and a thing of beauty for thinking and living. It’s rarely about (just) the wine.”

How will you spend your prize money?

“Basic living expenses, and maybe a little extra help for conferences I’m attending on science communication and food policy in the next few months.”

Meet the #BDWAbyWIM winners: Simon Woolf

002015 BDWAbyWIM, interviewTags: , , , , November, 15

Simon Woolf: Winner, Best Editorial/Opinion Wine Writing
interview by Richard Siddle

Simon WoolfWho better to pass on advice about how to succeed with writing about wine online than the winners of the 2015 Born Digital Wine Awards.

Here Simon Woolf, who writes regularly across both traditional wine media and his own blog, The Morning Claret, explains to Richard Siddle, chairman of the BDWA judging panel, what the inspiration for his winning article on Italian winemaker, Frank Cornelissen, was as well as sharing his overall approach and views on wine writing and what advice he would have for others.

Why did you enter the Born Digital Wine Awards?

“At first I wasn’t planning to. Industry-specific awards can be very inward looking, but BDWA is trying to change that, so I thought why not give it a go. Being recognised and respected for what you do is a great feeling.”

Why did you choose the pieces you entered?

“I selected three pieces where I felt I’d achieved the desired flow and literary style – pieces with a good story and decent structure. I wasn’t too concerned with the subject matter, although I favoured pieces that got a strong reception when they were written.

“That said, the winning entry was a bit of an outlier – it didn’t get a great deal of traction when it was originally published.”

How did your winning entry come about and what was the purpose and aim for writing the piece?

“I visited Frank Cornelissen while I was on holiday in the Etna region. Admittedly a bit of a busman’s holiday as both my partner and I are committed wine geeks, and we love visiting wine regions together.

“His reputation for being controversial, and the fact that his wines are pretty divisive was a given – so I was pretty sure I’d get a good piece out of it. Tim Atkin MW accepted my pitch, with the proviso that I made it objective. Tim can be pretty anti the natural wines phenomenon, whereas I’m generally sympathetic.

“I’m the only one writing about the ‘crazy stuff’ on Tim’s site, in fact I play up to that a bit, so it contrasts with people like Hosemaster who like to put the boot into the natural wine sector as often as they can.”

What is your wine background and how did you start as a writer?

“I’ve been a keen amateur for a good 15 years, working my way through WSET courses up to Diploma, but I never published a single word.

“In 2011, a combination of boredom at my then job, and a competition run by Fine & Rare Wines incentivised me to write a few paragraphs about claret (my first love in wine).

“I didn’t win the competition, but it did kickstart the blog which became “The Morning Claret”.

“Then I discovered the DWCC conference (then called the European Wine Bloggers Conference), which introduced me to people who were actually doing it professionally. I thought ‘Bloody hell, I need to up my game here’!”

How would you describe your approach to writing about wine? What makes you stand out?

“I’m aiming for beauty and artistry in the writing, as well as the subject matter. The stories we have to tell in wine are often quite gentle, although they may have huge resonance. It’s impossible to keep people’s attention unless you reel them in with every sentence.

“Either it has to be attention grabbing, or it has to flow so easily and smoothly that you just keep reading. I’m better at the latter I think.”

How do you see wine writing in general?

“I read an awful lot which is either just communicating information in a fairly boring way, or functioning as a basic travelogue (we went here, we did this, we tasted that, it was great).

“The challenge with online and the blogosphere (if that’s still a valid term) is that there are a ton of self-proclaimed experts. I like to think I can tell the pretenders from those who really know what they’re talking about, but it can be hard. Opinion versus considered opinion.

“On the plus side, being able to read on demand about almost anything, however niche and obscure, is such a privilege. Twenty years ago when I got excited about something I went to the book shop and bought a stack of books. Now I spend an hour Googling.”

What other wine writers do you admire/respect/read?

“Paola Tich’s writing has the punch and clarity that you’d expect from a seasoned journalist – something missing from 90% of wine writing. Andrew Jefford always has a unique angle and is never less than poetic. I read Robert Joseph and W. Blake Gray to be shaken up and entertained, Richard Hemming MW for his refreshing take and super readable style.

“Erika Szymanski covers mind-blowing subjects that no-one else even considers – and with panache and dry humour. RIP Old Parn.”

What other writing do you enjoy outside of wine and publications /websites that you read outside of wine?

“Modern fiction, especially Haruki Marakami and John Le Carré, cookery books, non-fiction about whatever is currently obsessing me. In the last few years it’s ranged from photography to cryptography to modern art.

“… and books on how to win writing competitions.”

What advice would you give to your fellow wine writers or someone looking to write about wine for the first time?

“Broaden your outlook as much as possible. Taste as much as possible, travel as much as possible. Read as much as possible, not just about wine.

“Re-read yourself at regular intervals and note the weak points. Then improve them.

“Try to find new angles. It’s hard to get excited about another blog post or article about region X or winemaker Y. Follow the story, not your preconception of what you thought the story was going to be.

“Take advice from as many people as possible, then ignore it all and do what your instinct tells you.”

Oh…and what are you going to spend your BDWA prize on?

“It’s a toss up between a bottle of Armand de Brignac, a palate of Echo Falls Fruit Fusion White Peach and Mango or an overpayment on the mortgage. I bet the last one’s going to win.”

Meet the #BDWAbyWIM Winners: Lisa Mattson (Jordan Winery)

012015 BDWAbyWIM, interviewTags: , , , , , November, 15

Lisa Mattson (Jordan Winery): Winner, Best Wine Themed Video
interview by Richard Siddle

On the eve of Star Wars returning to the big screen, hats off to the fun, creative and, let’s face it pretty brave, folk at the Jordan Vineyard and Winery in Napa, California for even attempting a Star Wars spoof.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAANOAAAAJDM1MDM4NjY0LTVjNWYtNDc0ZC05YmY4LTcxMmI5MTc1NmE0OQNever mind one that attempts to cover the somewhat controversial subject of too much oak in Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons by depicting Darth Tannin and Oak Maul of the Malolactic Empire as the defenders of “excessive use of oak in the cellar” against those who seek “balanced winemaking”.

The result is the rather wonderful Cab Wars: The Fruit Strikes Back, which walked away with the Best Wine Themed Video category.

Richard Siddle caught up with Jordan’s very own Princess Leia who by day goes by the name of Lisa Mattson, Jordan’s director of marketing and communications, to find out how the film came about.

Who wrote and directed the video?

“This is actually a complicated answer, surprisingly. In short, it was a team effort by two other members of the marketing team, one of which no longer works for us, John Jordan and myself.

Cab Wars was actually a three-part video project. Two of the videos were created as digital invitations for Jordan infamous industry Halloween party. Those invitation videos were not promoted to the public and had a slightly different script.

“John Jordan and I wrote the introductory narrative to Cab Wars, and I wrote the revised script for the Cab Wars version of the video, which was our public consumer version.

“Lori Green, our marketing manager, and John Jordan, along with digital media specialist Erin Malone, the person who no longer works for us, wrote most of the dialogue for the two invitation videos that were private.”

Click here to see the full collection of videos

Who’s idea was it to attempt a Star Wars spoof?

“The Star Wars Halloween party was John Jordan’s idea. We have a lot of Gen Xers and millennials who work at the winery, many of whom are huge Star Wars fans.

“Erin Malone is also a Star Wars nut, and when John told us that he wanted to do video invitations for the Halloween party for the first time, we were all on board, and Erin led the project.

“My only stipulation was that we were going to need to be able to shoot the video in a way that would allow me to create a second script and another version of the video that would be public.

“That’s when John Jordan and I started brainstorming the Cab Wars concept and the battle of fruit vs. oak in Cabernet.

“Our Halloween party is limited to 300 and guests, and I wanted to make sure that a video project of this magnitude had an opportunity to be enjoyed by a much larger audience.

“When it came to officially shooting and directing, Erin and I were the two shooters for the two invitation videos. Lori Green and I directed talent on the set.

“For the Cab Wars consumer version, Drew Ross, Erin’s replacement, shot while I directed any additional shots needed.”

Those sets, costumes, and effects were pretty impressive. What was the budget to make the video and how long did production take?

“Again, it was actually three videos that were shot all under the same budget, so we got more bang for our buck. The whole project cost us about $20,000.

“Because we shoot our own videos in house and also handle most building projects internally, the project went quite quickly and wasn’t nearly as expensive as it would’ve been for someone who had to hire all of the resources and talent.

“We started costume research and ordering, as well as building the Tantive IV corridor set, in early May 2014.

“Our facilities staff of three built the entire set with Erin and Lori’s help over four weeks. There were many trips to Home Depot and much time spent watching the opening scene from Star Wars Episode IV.

“The set was used as the entrance to the Halloween party, so it had multiple uses as well.
We purchased all of the costumes rather than renting them, as they were able to be worn three times. We now have a dedicated Star Wars wardrobe area in our winery loft.

“We shot the save the date invitation video in June and the invitation video in July. We shot the additional Cab Wars scenes in September, and that only took a few additional hours of shooting and editing and a little bit of after effects.

“It took about four weeks of set building, costume gathering, organising employee talent, and writing and organising scenes and shoots. Two-three days of shooting for each invitation video. Then two weeks of postproduction for each of the invitation videos.

“Turning the invitation video into Cab Wars only took us another day of work.

“All of the talent in the videos were either employees of Jordan or relatives of employees. Darth Maul is our chef Todd Knoll. Chef Todd Knoll also played the main stormtrooper.

“Stormtroopers were employees from maintenance, the kitchen and also a couple of our contract construction builders. Sean Brosnihan, our head of guest services, is the rebel who got choked.

“The only thing we hired out was after effects of the light sabers and the Jordan bottle ship at the beginning.”

How important is video in your communications strategy? What impact has it had?

“Visual storytelling is an integral part of our communications. It’s not just online; we’ve fully integrated it into our guest experience. We have full-screen montage playing everyday in the lobby, overnight guests watch our music videos in the back of the Jordan Mercedes on their way into Healdsburg each night, etc.

“We believe it allows us to break through a very cluttered media world.

“It’s hard to quantify an “impact” directly. We’ve had people on Twitter tell us they bought a bottle of Jordan Cab because of one of our videos. We’ve had people come visit us because they saw one of our videos and said, “I have to go there. Jordan knows how to have fun.”

“We’ve had wine distributors send us emails after watching our parody videos and say, “I wish more of our established wine producers did this. We need more conservative, older wineries to embrace the modern-day storytelling and get consumers’ attention online.

“It makes our job of selling a lot easier.”

You have done a series of similar educational/fun videos…which ones have been the most successful?

“The music videos tend to go viral at first and spike; it’s the nature of music or whatever trend we are trying to align with, whether that’s a summer top 40 hit or the release of the new “Star Wars.”

“Dirty Work,” which debuted a few weeks ago, is our most successful to date.

“In the month to November 4, 2015 it received:

Facebook Video
Views: 222,128
Likes: 2,028
Shares: 3,942
Total Reach: 682,036
Paid Reach: 57,700
Organic Reach: 630,336
Reactions/Impressions: 19,583?

“But cooking videos actually get the most views.”

What advice would you give other wineries when looking at video to tell your story or part of your story?

“Great video can enhance your marketing; bad video can hurt your brand image. Don’t do it unless you are willing to do it well. Consumers have high standards for website, photo and video content due to the rise of Youtube and Instagram. It doesn’t take a lot of money to make good video these days.”

What other wineries do you admire/respect for what they are doing with video?

“I really liked Gundlach Bundschu’s history of Merlot.

“I like the Martinelli Jackass Hill video that was a Wine Spectator winner this year.

“I’ve always been a fan of Paso Man (work by Dina Mande).”

How are you going to spend your BDWA prize?

“I’m going to donate it to the #LakeCountyRising fund for the Valley Fire victims of our neighbouring wine region.”

Watch the winning video here: