Turning the Tables VI

Interviewing the Interviewers: Annelise Kelly

##Photo provided by Carl giavanti

By Carl Giavanti

Annelise Kelly thrives on the vibrant local food scene in her hometown of Portland, Oregon. Her culinary curiosity fuels her travels, whether on Oregon backroads or around the world. Night markets, regional grocery stores and street food stalls feed her soul as well as her body, and she’s fascinated by food, beverages, culture and sustainability. She’s a frequent contributor to Oregon Wine Press, Travel Oregon, the Willamette Valley Visitors Association and more.

Professional Background

How did you become interested in wine, and wine writing?

AK: I had several years of freelancing under my belt, mostly about food and travel, when the pandemic hit. Virtual wine tasting crossed my radar and I decided to get the jump on this brand-new-to-me aspect of wine tasting, so I crafted a pitch and sent it to Hilary Berg at Oregon Wine Press. I guess my timing was good, because she hired me to write it and put it on the cover; she has assigned me a food-related topic for virtually every issue of the magazine since that first article in the May 2020 issue.

What are your primary story interests?

AK: I like to learn and share the personal stories of individuals and small businesses, I’m especially compelled by sustainability, regenerative agriculture, organic farming, communities, and local food dynamics. While food is still my primary writing focus, wine and wineries often reflect those same values. The more I learn about the community of small-scale producers in the Willamette Valley and throughout Oregon, the greater my respect and admiration for this committed group of idealists pursuing excellence in products while supporting one another and prioritizing responsible stewardship.

Is it possible to make a living as a wine writer today? If so, how have you succeeded? If not, why not? What are the primary challenges and hurdles you face?

AK: I’m sure it’s possible to make a living as a wine writer, but it’s no doubt challenging. I write about plenty of other topics besides wine. I also craft content marketing material for a variety of clients; serve tourism clients such as Travel Oregon; and write for trade magazines like Beverage Dynamics, El Restaurante, and Pizza Today. I manage to meet my modest needs with a modest income.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you?

AK: I’m really handy. I was brought up by very handy parents, especially my dad, I was replacing the brakes and alternators on my crappy college cars, and I’ve spent the last 20 years fixing up my 1894 home in southeast Portland. I also had the good fortune to see the Grateful Dead over a hundred times in the last decade of its reign.

What’s the story - how did you decide to live and write in Oregon?

AK: I moved to Oregon to join my friends in their food start-up. It was a pretzel company in downtown Portland, and the first certified organic bakery in the state. We also had a food cart long before they were a thing. Moving to Oregon from California in the ‘90s, I saw Portland and Oregon blossom from bit of a culinary backwater to the incredible, influential food paradise it is today. We old-timers remember when there were exactly two places to buy artisanal bread (Elephant’s Deli and Grand Central), when getting a bite to eat after 9 p.m. was a serious challenge. My career path took me from helping build the pretzel company into a wholesale company and representing at food shows to working as a cook at New Seasons and various catering operations. I started writing freelance in 2008 as a way to be paid to engage with my favorite things: food and travel. Wine and spirits are now on that list as well.

What’s the best story you have written?

AK: My article about punch for the December 2021 issue of Oregon Wine Press is one of my favorites. The research was captivating, the topic invited a lively, humorous voice, and I helped with the photo session as well.

If you weren’t writing about wine for a living, what would you be doing?

AK: This question has so many potential answers! I think most writers are extremely curious about a wide range of things, which describes me perfectly. So… Veterinarian? Linguistics professor? Field biologist? Fish farmer? Radio host? Massage therapist? Chef? Theatrical costumer? Museum curator? Airline pilot? Event planner? Life is definitely too short.

Writing process

Can you describe your approach to wine writing?

AK: I’m excited about the personal stories and the varied paths taken by people in the wine industry. I’m more interested in what makes them tick, their joys and their challenges, rather than the qualities of the wine they make. That said, as I gain more experience in the nuances of wine, as well as the technical aspects of how winemakers pursue greatness, I look forward to distilling that information for easy digestion to folks who are beginners, as I was not so long ago.

What are you working on now (for your own site, or other outlets/publications)?

AK: I recently finished two articles for Oregon Wine Press. One was about an intriguing blind tasting opportunity at Lenné Estate Winery in Yamhill, and the other a cover story about grass-fed, pastured meat producers in Oregon’s wine country. While the products are different, both are stories of committed, idealistic producers pursuing excellence while dedicated to improving their industries, communities and land.

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

AK: The articles I generate are sometimes my own ideas, sometimes generated by my editor, and for some outlets, they’re sponsored content. I work with a number of destination marketing organizations such as Travel Oregon, Travel Salem, the Willamette Valley Visitors Association, and Mt. Hood Territory.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with journalists?

AK: Most wineries are very responsive to the fact that journalists often have a tight turnaround time, which is pretty critical. To maximize the quantity and quality of the press they receive, I advise wineries to make their contact information very clear and easy to find on their websites; to include a page about the team members with their names, titles and a quick bio; and to respond quickly to inquiries. I generally need only 5-20 minutes on the phone to have my questions answered; if I don’t hear back, I will probably reach out to someone else.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

AK: Winery publicists are generally really knowledgeable about what’s going on in the community, and they have the insider knowledge about upcoming plans and projects that can really improve my reporting. They can often direct me to the details that make a winery unique.

What frustrates you most about working on winery stories and/or wine reviews?

AK: I’m surprised how often I discover that new, attractive, well-functioning websites don’t have sufficient or up-to-date information. For example, there will be details about the wine and the tasting room, but no mention of the fact that there is a restaurant on the site, or a wood-fired pizza oven, or that they host elaborate dinners, or offer any food at all. I do the bulk of my research online, so wineries are best served if they detail all their offerings, highlight what makes them stand out, and include a gallery of photos that will help online visitors learn that they have a fire pit or cornhole games or a herd of goats or they serve small plates or their view is amazing.

Leisure Time

If you take days off, how do you spend them?

AK: Taking days off is why I’m a freelancer, and also why I have a modest income, I suppose. I absolutely love roaming the back roads of Oregon and following the food and farm trails. It’s such fun stopping at farmstands and taking pictures of blooming orchards, covered bridges, charismatic animals, falling-down barns. And, of course, poking around small town shops and thrift stores, dropping in at yard sales, and finding under-the-radar local eateries.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

AK: In 2007 I participated in a vendage (grape harvest) in the Dordogne region in southwest France. My brother and his wife had a house in a tiny village, and we joined a neighboring family and lots of village folks harvesting grapes for their traditional personal wine-making operation. Nothing fancy, no aspirations, just picking a truckload of assorted grapes which were macerated and piped into a big tank in their barn. We all then proceeded to enjoy a big open-air feast in the yard, drinking their homemade wine and Pineau, a fortified wine, from previous years. I’m pretty sure those vines are gone now, turned into pasture.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

AK: I haven’t been there yet, but I look forward to visiting the nation of Georgia. It’s the birthplace of wine, and includes traditional lavish feasts called supras, where the table groans with local delicacies and toasts are exchanged all evening long.

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Favorite recipe/pairing?

AK: It’s hard to top the simple pleasure of relaxing with a cheese board and a glass of Oregon Pinot Noir.

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