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Turning the Tables on Christopher Sawyer

Carl Giavanti, Carl Giavanti Consulting.

Turning the Tables on Christopher Sawyer

Turning the Tables – Interviewer Interviews is a series of questions and answers that show the profile of the Vinopisers. We hope you will learn more about the wine writers you know and many others. The aim of this project is to understand and develop a working relationship with journalists. That’s what they are.

help tell our stories, critique our wines and possibly get media attention. You can do this by exploring their experiences with wine and writing, their personal history and interests, taste preferences, writing assignments, and pets. This document is part of an ongoing series presented monthly by the Wine Industry Network.

Christopher Sawyer is a world-renowned
sommelier, wine judge, consultant, wine journalist and speaker.
He was named Best Sommelier of Sonoma County in 2019 by Bohemian magazine for the sixth consecutive year and has received many other prestigious industry awards and honors. To follow his adventures in the wine world, subscribe to his blog
The Sommelier Files & YouTube Channel with The Varietal Show! and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

How did you come to write about wine and wine?

My legacy with wine began before I was born. First by my grandfather, Carl Sawyer, who helped the Gallo family develop the large factory in Modesto and managed 450 workers when he retired 37 years later. Then, through my parents, my mother met my future father when he was head bartender and she worked at the gift shop on Ahwahnee in Yosemite in the late 1960s. Later, in my early teens, in the vineyards of the Russian River Valley, my first wine experiences accompanied my mother and her friends on visits to wine tasting rooms in Sonoma and Napa counties in the 1970s and early 1980s. While watching the wine industry develop around me, I was editor of the Trojan newspaper at Petaluma High School and the Oak Leaf at Santa Rosa High School. When I became a music reviewer for The Aggie at UC Davis, I began writing about UCD’s world-renowned viticulture and oenology department, which then sparked my interest in taking courses on the subject at Santa Rosa Junior College. I also began honing my cooking and wine skills while working for a large catering company for prominent clients in San Francisco and Sonoma County. All of this led me to become the managing editor of the Wine X Magazine team, writing regularly for the SF Chronicle, AAA Magazine, Wine Business Monthly, Vineyard & Winery Management, and for nearly two decades with managing editor Meredith May for Patterson’s Beverage Journal, The SOMM Journal, The Tasting Panel and The Clever Root. Today that journey continues.

What are your main interests and preferences in terms of taste?

I have no preference in what I write, as long as the topic is relevant to the readers. This means everything from wine, spirits and beer to gastronomy and travel, music and movies. Some of my favorite impact articles include an article I wrote about squeakers, which led to cellars using more environmentally friendly ocean liners; another article I wrote for the SF Chronicle about the growing popularity of bourbon in small batches; the detailed analysis of stemmed glasses I conducted for Wine Business Monthly with a panel of renowned winemakers, master sommeliers and other wine professionals; and the wide range of articles I wrote on biodynamics in the late 1990s and early 2000s that helped raise the bar on this great movement.

I understand you have started a series of interview podcasts. Can you share the link and details?

I’ve participated in many podcasts over the years, but my new project is The Varietal Show with SawyerSomm, which my wife Simone Haslam and I launched in the spring of 2020. New episodes are published weekly on YouTube, Facebook and my website SawyerSomm.com (which premieres every Tuesday on YouTube: https://youtube.com/c/ChristopherSawyerSommelier). This concept is the result of a series of great live broadcasts I did with Cellar Pass TV and other great wineries after the pandemic hit the country earlier this year. There are more great shows to come!

Personal experience

What will people be surprised to hear from you?

At the top of that list is the fact that I was a sommelier for Gordon and Ann Getty for 8 years and did the same for John Lasseter (of Pixar) and his wife Nancy for over two decades. That’s where my nickname of Sommelier of the Stars comes from! I was also the world’s first sommelier film festival, starting at the Sonoma International Film Festival in the early 2000s. I’ve also been hiking Petaluma Canyon for almost twenty years before it was recognized as an official ABA of Sonoma County in December 2017. That’s why Ana Keller and other local producers call me the Godfather of the Abyss. Finally, as a writer, sommelier, educator, wine consultant and professional judge, many stories about me have been written in Esquire, Redbook, USA Today, Hollywood Reporter and many others.

What did you not do that you would have liked to do?

I’ve always wanted to do a show about wine on the Food Network. After I became the official sommelier of the Concert, Chicago grocery chain in 2015, we have negotiated with the chain on several projects over the years. I hope it all works out in the end!

If you were not writing about wine, what would you do?

As a renowned sommelier, wine educator, lecturer and co-owner of Gravenstein Grill, I am already very busy earning a living. These sources of income have allowed me to be distinctive in the stories I write. It took about two decades to get there, but it was all worth it.

Registration process

Can you describe your approach to writing wine and/or writing wine reviews?

For over three decades my style has always been based on detailed notes. That’s why I have a whole library of notebooks that will come in handy even after the articles are written. This was particularly true in a dynamic ten-part AGM series I wrote for Wine Business Monthly : California Names Series 1983-2013. This series allowed me to reflect on the lessons I learned while working in the wine industry in the mid-1990s, reviewing my notes on past winery visits that helped make these particular wine regions what they are today. I still use this form of detailed notes today.

Do you work from an editorial plan and/or develop story ideas as they arise?

I’ve always done both. For Napa Valley Life, I focus my editorial on the variations and luminaries of the winemakers, winemakers and producers that have put them on the map to stay. But I also write more important stories, like Breaking The Mold with Food & Wine Pairings, which features master sommelier Evan Goldstein and other Bay Area sommeliers talking about food and wine, which will be released in early summer 2020. I had a similar experience with the SOMM Journal, where my regular column focused on mulled wine trends in Sonoma County, but also featured other wine articles from around the world.

How often do you write ordered and paid articles (not on your blog)? How often do you blog?

Honestly, my wife won’t let me write an article if I don’t get paid. A frequent exception is when a magazine, a respected organization or a public relations guru sends me questions and answers. Because I regularly write for paid assignments, my SawyerSomm.com website has become a fun and interactive mix of new blog material for The Sommelier Files, links to recently published articles, and publicity for events I attend throughout the year.

Do you publish your articles on social media? Why is this so important?

Absolutely! I like to promote the articles I write and the publications I work with on social media. I see this form of advertising as a powerful tool with which to disseminate new wine trends, the great successes of wineries and/or wine-growing regions, and other current topics to a wider audience, not just those who subscribe to the publication. The same goes for the latest blogs, reviews and wine rating results I publish on social media.

Industrial relations

What are your recommendations for wineries when working with journalists?

First of all, you need to know the difference between a journalist, a blogger and an influencer. So I would recommend that wineries research us before sending generic requests to the masses. Personal notes are also important. And if they are mentioned widely in the articles I write, a thank you would certainly be in order.

What are the benefits of working directly with wine advertisers?

Nothing is more important than building relationships in the wine industry. In the case of wine advertisers, this means that the source is just a phone call, text or email that allows you to stay out of the article you are working on. The same happens when they move to a new winery or work with a multi-tasking communications company. I’m happy to say that I have hundreds of examples of talented publicists I’ve worked closely with over the years – some of whom are now among my dearest friends on the planet!

Leisure activities

If you take a weekend, how do you spend it?

I always spend my weekends with my family and friends. This is especially true during a pandemic, making every moment I spend with friends visiting my cellar (wearing masks) or getting into the land of wine all the more precious. But overall I love music, traveling, hiking and sports (especially golf, basketball with my son and the NFL). In my basement, I’m also known for spinning vinyl records, which I’ve been collecting since I started DJing in the 1980s.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting?

When I worked as a sommelier at a special dinner at Moon Mountain Vineyards (now Reprice Winery) in Glen Ellen, I was able to spend twenty minutes one-on-one with former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, telling him about the beauty of Cabernet French, while his guards drank whiskey downstairs.

Do you have a favourite food and wine? Favorite Recipes/Match ?

As a journalist and sommelier, I have so many memories of beautiful food and wine pairings. Many of these magical moments occurred when I worked with renowned chef Janine Falvo at the Lodge of Sonoma from 2004 to 2014. Other fond memories come from my time as wine director at Flavor Napa Valley, as well as the delicious pairings I make each year at the Telluride Wine Festival. The same goes for our restaurant, the Gravenstein Grill in Sevastopol, where I have won the Best Sommelier in Sonoma County award from Czech magazine every year since it opened in 2015. But on a personal level, one of my favorites is salty crème fraîche and caviar chips, with a refined Blanc de Blancs style like Le Reve du Domaine Carnero. As far as writing goes, my favorite matches are the ones I did with Foster Farms for President Obama before he blessed the turkeys for Thanksgiving 2015, https://legacy.pressdemocrat.com/lifestyle/4676926-181/two-turkeys-to-receive-presidential?sba=AAS.

Read more articles from Turning the Tables – Interviewer Interviews.

Turning the Tables on Christopher Sawyer Expert output
Karl Giavanti, Karl Giavanti Consulting

CARL GIAVANTI is a wine publicist with experience in DTC marketing. He is in his tenth year as a consultant at the winery. Carl has been involved in corporate marketing and public relations for over 25 years; originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, but now works as a media relations consultant for the winery. Guests are or have been to Napa Valley, Willamette Valley and Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

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Turning the Tables on Christopher Sawyer

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