How to captivate a wine audience

Thursday, 7. March 2019 - 9:30

Anthony Giglio puts his storytelling ability down to his Italian heritage. “Italians? We invented drama!” he says. “Nobody does drama better than us.”

Wherever he gets it from, the New Yorker is a sought-after speaker. Giglio has a rare gift – and yet one that’s becoming more important. Today, winemakers don’t just make wine. They must also attend winemaker dinners, where they are expected to deliver a memorable speech about the wine. It’s not easy.

What makes Giglio able to do it, he said, is that he grew up not seeing wine as something special. “I grew up in a pretty Italian-American family in Jersey City, New Jersey, that drank a lot of wine. It was always on the table when I was growing up, right in front of me,” he said. “But I didn’t even see it as something special – I just knew it belonged there.”

Paths to story
It wasn’t inevitable that Giglio would end up in wine. But early in his journalism career, when working on a trade magazine, his editor, Dora Hatras, asked him why he wasn’t writing about wine. “Because I’m 23 and all of the editors at Decanter are 70, white-haired and British!” he replied.

She suggested what the world needed was a 20-something wine writer, and he dutifully signed up for a sommelier course – which he did on the magazine’s time. Later, Hatras made him apply for a job as managing editor of a wine magazine. He got the job.

That’s the simple version. The way Giglio tells it, there were a lot more twists, turns and cliffhangers – he knows how to keep his audience listening to every word. This isn’t by accident, because he’s given a lot of thought to how to keep people’s attention.

Part of his skill comes from his years working for a ’90s “lad mag” called POV. “The target was my peers: guys in their early 20s who were, per our credo, ‘pre-marriage, pre-mortgage, pre-babies’.” In order to keep them reading, Giglio had to develop a relaxed, personable voice. Today, he says, the two publications that really speak to the Millennial generation are VinePair and Wine Folly. “Both seem to have captured the essence of what Millennials want: fun, informative reporting with smart infographics.”

Wine lovers today, he says, like to be informed and engaged participants in a community, whether that’s Facebook or wine tasting groups. But while the social media may be new, one thing isn’t – at some point, a winemaker will have to speak. Today, audiences expect TED talk-level quality, so winemakers who simply read from prepared notes, or who ramble, will disappoint. 

“For me, the goal of my storytelling is to render the listener sensorily transported to see, feel, hear, touch, taste and smell everything I’m describing. There’s a story I tell when people ask, ‘What’s your first memory of wine?’ I joke and say it was in utero.” And then he goes on to tell a story about how his parents hosted a1960s party, where his mother sipped sangria, smoked cigarettes and patted her pregnant belly. “It’s a true story, but I don’t have any memory of it,” says Giglio. “It’s from a home movie I discovered as an adult. But because I have been telling this story as my ice-breaker, over and over, it has gotten better and better to the extent that people listening really feel like they were in the room. That’s my superpower: I can take you there with me.” He says that after telling that story, people will approach him to say, “I loved that picture of your mother with the cocktail and the cigarette.” He has to remind them they never saw a picture. It was his words doing all the work.

It’s details that fix a story in the audience’s mind, he explains. “Tell me about the winery, tell me about yourself, tell me about your family. Write it down and make it as detailed as you can.” If someone is talking about their grandmother’s house, Giglio wants them to “describe the house. Describe your grandmother.” The more texture you can give a story, “the more people will stick with it and remember it”.

Another tip is to be self-deprecating. “I figured out early on that people attending a fancy wine dinner expect me to be serious. So I usually start with, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, just to set the tone, I’d like to get something off my chest right now: I was born and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey.” Then he waits a beat and asks, “Does anybody have a problem with that?” What he’s doing, he says, is letting the audience know that he’s “a scrappy kid from a blue-collar family who wouldn’t know how to put on airs”. It’s important to relax the audience, he says, because people still worry they will be judged for their wine choices. “That’s when I say: ‘I want to make some ground rules. This is a safe space, there will be no judgment, there are no wrong answers… oh wait, there is one bad answer. White Zinfandel.’ I watch people laugh and their shoulders go down. They trust me now.”

Another technique is to give people practical information they can use immediately, such as telling them they’re within their rights to ask for red wines served slightly chilled, or how to set and stick to a wine budget when out with friends. “I find that wine lovers love information that leads to action and empowerment.”

The mistakes
Giglio also often attends winemaker dinners. “When a winemaker just gets up and talks technically about the wine, or the land, they’ve lost me. Nobody cares about the soil except Masters of Wine and Master Somms – they want to hear about the five sub-soils of the Rheingau. Nobody else cares. Ever. Ever. Ever.” Since winemakers do want to talk about grapes and land, the best approach is to anchor the subject in something real and relatable. Giglio suggests something like: “Here’s why we love our Merlot so much. We never liked it growing up, but when I took over the winery I started experimenting.” 

In other words, take a leaf out of the Millennial book and focus on telling the truth. “It’s all about authenticity, authenticity, authenticity,” says Giglio. “I believe this more than ever before. We’re at a point where casual lies are told so often by people in leadership, people don’t know what to believe. Tell them your truth.”
Felicity Carter

Anthony Giglio presented on storytelling at Wine2Wine 2018 in Verona. For more Wine2Wine coverage, see Issue 1, 2019 of Meininger's Wine Business International.