Turning the Tables VII

Interviewing the Interviewers: Marissa Ooyevaar

ABOUT THIS COLUMN: This Q&A was conducted by Carl Giavanti and modeled on the Wine Industry Network Advisor series, flips the script on wine writers by asking them about their own profession.

Professional Background

What’s your history with Oregon wine?

MO: My first taste of Oregon wine country was when I was six years old, and my big sister wanted to get married at a winery in the lower Willamette Valley. It was slim pickings back then (the mid-90s, after all), but with my mom behind the wheel and my sister riding shotgun, we toured five wineries on a Saturday in late autumn. At the very last winery, I remember pulling up to what looked like a castle, perched high on the hill, overlooking the valley below. It was breathtaking. In my six-year-old mind, this was where people got married and lived happily-ever-after. We toured the property, which was cutting-edge and way ahead of its time, and at the end of the tour my mom and sister tasted their way through the wines. It was such a magical experience, even from my perspective at such a young age, that I pretty much decided at that moment that I was in love with Oregon wine country.

After that day of touring, I would beg my mom to take me for drives into the country so I could see the wineries. She probably thought it was silly at the time, but my folks always indulged me. As I grew older (and over the age of 21), we’d go tasting together, keeping up on all the new wineries flooding the Willamette Valley, cataloging which were our favorites. My obsession grew, as did my wine collection.

Then, while moving from Lake Oswego back to my hometown of Eugene, I stopped into Willamette Valley Vineyards with my mom to pick up a wine club shipment and met then Tasting Room Manager, Mauri. We were the only guests and chatted about why I was relocating. (I had recently accepted a new job with Lane Community College for their Culinary Program.) Unbeknown to me at the time, Willamette Valley Vineyards had been searching at length for a new Hospitality Director. Well, let’s just say the rest is history.

What are your primary story interests?

MO: High-end wine, food and lodging experiences; curating the perfect afternoon outing, or weekend getaway, to share with friends, family and loved ones.

How do you balance wine writing and working as an influencer?

MO: Organization, structure and sticking with a daily routine. Balance is something we are all encouraged to pursue, but as a passionate entrepreneur, I’m constantly evaluating my priorities (and those of my clients) and new opportunities. I focus on staying consistent, working hard and following through with everything that needs to be done. Ultimately, that brings ideas and projects to fruition.

Personal Background

What would people be surprised to know about you?

MO: I have dual citizenship with the Netherlands as my parents are from there and moved to the US in the ‘70s. Additionally, my entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins etc.) still reside in the Netherlands.

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

MO: I was born in Eugene, Oregon and always had a passion for writing. From a young age, I was an voracious reader and would often craft and write my own fictional short stories. My parents and teachers always encouraged me to write and I gained a lot of confidence. In 2013, I started my blog “A Blonde Vintage,” and found writing to be my creative outlet. I wanted to make a space where people come and get lost in… whether planning a perfect getaway to Oregon Wine Country, finding a boutique hotel for an upcoming girls’ weekend, or mastering at-home craft cocktails. It’s fun to sit down and write about all these experiences and help educate my readers.

What would you like your readers to learn from your writing and promoting wine?

MO: Wine is fun and shouldn’t be intimidating. Learning is a process. There are no wrong answers or palates. You like what you like and don’t need a degree in wine to enjoy it. The thing I love most about wine, above all other drinks, is that opening a bottle is a shared act— there is a romance to enjoying it with your partner, family or a group of friends.

Writing Process

Can you describe your approach to wine and travel writing?

MO: Research, research and more research. I am a self-proclaimed “experience junkie” who loves to travel and create unforgettable memories for family and friends. I am a huge information gatherer. I love discovering tidbits and facts others would find interesting and then curating a story or experience around those. I usually begin with a boutique hotel or winery experience/region, then build out all the “extras,” such as restaurants, museums, other things to do. That way, when my reader dives in, it is simple for them to recreate.

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

MO: Currently, I am working on three wine-related travel guides. One each for Walla Walla, Napa and Sonoma Valley. I recently finished social media influencer work in the three areas and often write corresponding travel guides so that my followers can refer back to everything posted on my social media.

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

MO: I draft a content calendar in December for the following year, including larger trips, supporting social stories, blog posts and most day-to-day content. I am careful to leave some gaps for last minute additions or collaborations, as I want to stay somewhat flexible.

Working Relationships

What are your recommendations to wineries when interacting with influencers?

MO: It’s incredibly important to consider multiple factors before collaborating with an influencer. You want to make sure it’s a good balance of professionalism, organization, attention to detail, reach, and that they are a good fit for the winery’s overall brand. I always encourage my winery partners to create an outline of objectives; what is important to them that they want to share with new customers. Together we create the storyline and supporting content that fits within their brand and budget. This way all expectations are clearly defined and met.

What advantages are there in working directly with winery publicists?

MO: I love working with winery publicists because we are very like-minded in our approach. Most often a publicist is very specific on the focus of the social story and/or blog post. This helps me craft the message, support the goal and ultimately achieve the exact expectations for the collaboration.

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

MO: It is difficult working with any business (not just a winery) when there is a lack of internal communication or understanding of what the business ultimately wants to achieve. If your business doesn’t have clearly defined goals, how can your customer be expected to know them? This becomes incredibly challenging to create messaging around, whether a social media campaign or blog post. If a team is unaware a media rep or influencer is coming that day… and it’s chaos.

Leisure Time

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

MO: I love exploring the Northwest, volunteering and living an active, healthy lifestyle. (My serious downfalls are sweets, wine and cocktails.) Frequently, you can find me baking in the kitchen or relaxing outside in the sunshine with a good book and glass of wine.

What is your most memorable wine or wine tasting experience?

MO: My family and I were staying in Marbella, Spain along the Costa del Sol and booked a private excursion. We explored the cork forests in the mountains of Málaga and visited a small family-run winery dedicated to making natural wines. The owner showed us the production facility and vineyards, we noshed on cheese made from the milk of their own goats and cows. We ate homemade paella made with estate-grown organic ingredients and drank ecologically-curated wines. The entire family shared stories of their lives, and the history of the land, family-owned for generations. You could feel their passion for a life lived with intention. That day was one of those once in a lifetime experiences.

What’s your cure for a wine hangover?

MO: Wake up early, drink a bunch of water, go for a run or long walk, drink a green juice shake and avoid greasy junk food. Do this and you’ll be good as new.

What’s your favorite wine region in the world?

MO: Gosh, do I have to pick just one? I would say it’s a tie between Tuscany, Italy and Champagne, France. Growing up, every special occasion meal started with Champagne and ended with a delicious Chianti, so they both hold a special place in my heart.

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