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Turning the tables on Alexandra Russell

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By Carl Giavanti

Alexandra Russell was appointed Editor-in-Chief of Wine Industry Advisor (WIA) in April 2022. Prior to this appointment, she served as freelance writer, editor and project manager; editor of Spirited magazine; editor of NorthBay biz magazine; and, well, editor, editor, editor. She lives in Sonoma County with her human family and too many cats. She can be reached at [email protected]

You describe yourself as a “trade editor”. How?

I came to editing and writing naturally. My father was a writer—short stories, novels, essays, editorials; history, fiction, opinion, biography – so that’s what I grew up around. I edited his books and stories while still in high school, and found that I was both good at it and loved the work. After college I always worked as an editor and writer. I consider myself an “editor who writes” and not the other way around.

Tell us about your extensive experience in business and trade publications.

I am a magazine person. I tried to write in newspapers and contributed to a few books, but magazines are my favorite medium. I started college as an intern at a Northern California music magazine; when I left six years later, I was editor. From there I went to an independent record label, a commercial radio publication in San Francisco, and an e-learning website – all to top editorial positions. After taking a “mom break” and moving back to Sonoma County, I joined a local business magazine as an editor. Being employed by publications that face the work sides of various industries has given me a unique perspective on how to talk to business people about the trends, tactics, innovations, and strategies that drive them forward.

How did you land the position of editor-in-chief of the Wine Industry Advisor?

In 2017, I was hired to found Spirited magazine, a forward-thinking trade publication that covered wine, beer, spirits, and cider as one industry. At Spirited, I met and became friends with George Christie, President of Wine Industry Network. We often talked about working together, especially when Spirited fell victim to the pandemic downturn. When this opportunity presented itself, it was a golden ticket.

Do you work on an editorial calendar and/or develop story ideas as they arise?

Each work is different, in terms of pace, focus and audience. Right now, I’m still settling into routine at Wine Industry Advisor. Fortunately, I have a large group of writers who provide me with good ideas. My challenge is to balance breaking stories with more general topics.

Can you advise writers how long to wait for pitch responses before proceeding? What about “first look” and exclusive rights offers? The best way to follow up professionally?

Personally, I’m more comfortable communicating via email. It gives me a paper trail if I need to go back (What time frame did I give? What was the word count?). Give it a week before continuing with a little nudge (“Just checking to see if you had a chance…”) as opposed to a full onslaught (“You didn’t answer…”) . As a general rule, I do not accept “first look” or pre-written articles.

Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? What are the main challenges that writers face?

The main hurdle for any freelance writer is the need to constantly market themselves. Finding good stories is hard enough, but the pitching process can be demoralizing. It’s important to realize that even if a media outlet wants your story, they may have internal constraints that you know nothing about (budget, prior commitments, editorial guidelines). If an editor tells you to keep pitching, believe it. If they tell you otherwise, believe them too.

What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?

Be specific with your locations. “You should write about us” is not enough. “Family owned” and “developed on the estate” are not enough. What makes you unique? What story do you have to tell? What innovations are you making? How can what you are doing or not doing help other wineries in a similar situation?

What are the benefits of working directly with winery publicists?

Advertisers know the language. The good ones understand how editors and writers think and deliver tailored presentations – not a “one-size-fits-all” approach. They are also extremely useful in terms of planning, providing research and follow-up resources (such as photos, data reports and additional sources, if needed). They make the job of writers and editors easier, and we love them for it.

What are your main interests in history?

I like talking to people and talking about people. I’d rather ask someone what they’re doing – and why – than study and analyze data. Everyone has a story to tell, and that’s what interests me.

What are your top palate preferences?

I am a wine drinker, not a taster. My favorite wines are those shared at a table of family and friends. That said, I have lots of family and friends in the wine industry, so this table usually contains some really good stuff.

You are from Sonoma County, California. What has changed and what keeps you there?

My family moved to Petaluma, California the summer before I started second grade. It was the early 70’s and the county was still quite rural. I mean, I know it’s still pretty pastoral, but I’m talking about vast acres of open fields along Highway 101 and long stretches of nothing (OK, cows) between towns.

I moved after college – looking for jobs, starting a family – but eventually ended up where I started. It’s not so much what keeps me here as what brought me back: family.

What would people be surprised to know about you?

I am a European football snob. I love the UK Premier League – any game, any team – but I’ll settle for La Liga (Spanish), Serie A (Italian) or Ligue 1 (French) if the top teams are playing. During the World Cup I’ve been known to watch four games a day just to keep up my pace, and I’m looking forward to Qatar 2022 in November. I choose Senegal as a Dark Horse possibility. I also watch the United States Men’s and Women’s National Teams faithfully and am excited to see if the USMNT can go past the quarterfinals in Qatar.

What’s the best story you’ve written?

It’s not wine related, but the work I’m most proud of is working with my dad on a book called Workin’ Man Blues: Country music in California. First published in 2000, it won the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book of the Year Award, an honor bestowed by performing rights organization BMI, Rolling Stone magazine and New York University. .

Which wine personalities would you most like to meet and taste (living or dead)?

My father grew up in Bakersfield, California, and attended Garces High School, run by the Christian Brethren. One of his closest friends at school was a guy named Ramey Meyer. After high school, Ramey joined the order, became Brother Justin, and studied winemaking under Brother Timothy at Greystone Cellars in St. Helena, California.

Long story short, Justin eventually left the order, married his wife, Bonny, and the two founded Silver Oak Cellars (along with business partner Ray Duncan). He and my dad were lifelong friends, getting together regularly to catch up, reminisce, crack jokes, tell stories, and drink wine. I would love to go back in time and hear these two shoot the shit out one more time.

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Carl Giavanti

Carl Giavanti is a winery publicist with a background in DTC marketing, pursuing his 12and year of advice in the cellar. He has been involved in corporate marketing and public relations for over 25 years, originally in technology, digital marketing and project management, and now as a media relations consultant at a winery. . Clients are or have been in Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, Walla Walla and Columbia Gorge. (www.CarlGiavantiConsulting.com/Media).

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