PARIS, France – When 2012 began it was hard to image Languedoc, Bordeaux, and Chablis would be added to my wine travel resume.

Yet, I just arrived at Auxerre, near Chablis, France.
I attended the Millesime Bio in Montpellier, in Southern France, in January thanks largely to networking and wine friends. A New York marketing firm representing Bordeaux winemakers found me for the July trip to Bordeaux’s Fete le Vin. This trip is a similar story with a NY firm representing Chablis issuing the invitation.
I was actually invited on a late-September trip to Provence, which I would have loved, but had to turn it down for an important work conflict. The contact then shared plans for an early October presser into regions of the Languedoc I had not visited in January – and I declined that one because of the bill-paying job. But when they mentioned Chablis at the end of the month, I knew I could make the trip.
The trip was unnecessarily arduous – Indy to Atlanta with an unexpected stop in New York. We flew up the eastern coast off the shores of North American and out of the Atlantic only to divert back to JFK airport to check an “electrical problem. That took an hour and half-plus before we again headed to Paris. I arrived six hours after my scheduled arrival and 15 hours on a Delta 747. And no one cares about other people’s flight woes, but if you’re booking a flight anytime soon I will note that on four Delta flights to Europe this year I’ve had three substantial flight issues.
All you need on a plane, a laptop and glass of French Merlot
My savior today was Noemie of Sopexo’s Paris office. The young French woman, who spent part of a year interning in New York City, was assigned to get me on my way to Auxerre. Even that proved eventful. Finding one’s way through Charles DeGaulle Airport is a challenge. But I’ve made it, so let the wine geekiness begin. It kicks off tonight with a welcoming dinner hosted by Jean Francois Bordet, President of the Chablis Commission of the Burgundy Wine Board our host.
Press trips are an oddity that have become very popular in recent years. I believe in full disclosure and that’s really the topic of the post. The sponsoring organization pays all costs. Obviously, flying four journalists from the USA to Paris, taxi rides, dinners, overnight stays, etc, isn’t an inexpensive proposition.
And for the record, if not obvious, they take very good care of us and treat us well! (That might actually be an understatement.)
I didn’t know what to make of these wine press trips in 2010 when I was invited to participate on a trip to Paso Robles, California. As a longtime traditional print journalist, I was taken aback by accepting a trip and perks which would have been unthinkable in the newspaper business. So I consulted with a few wine-writing friends who gave me the lowdown..
Essentially the advice was to go. They cautioned me to avoid any quid pro quo – or, ‘Yes, I’ll write all about your region and your wines if you take me on this free trip.’ And most smart New York marketing companies know how that works. Some do push a little harder than others on what one ‘might write.’ Instead, I’ve learned the best answer is a simple truth. I make no promises. But with a widely distributed newspaper column, this blog, an every-other-week column in Indianapolis’ NUVOweekly, quarterly feature for Madison Magazine, based in Anderson, IN., and as a founding contributing editor for Palate Press – The National Online Wine Magazine, I have a lot of mouths to feed.
So what do the wine regions get out of it? Couldn’t they just go buy an ad in Wine Spectatoror one of the major US wine publications? Well, they could but they wouldn’t be able to tell stories or match the cost efficiency.
I will post something this weekend about the other U.S. wine journalists on the trip – Roger Morris, Lisa Hall, and Michael Apstein. But we all represent different areas of the country with different audiences. I offer up to 300,000 homes because of my print work – and that doesn’t include the hits my column gets on the newspaper sites that post it after print publication. I have the national/international audience through Palate Press – if I find a “story” I like and one the editors of PP will accept.
So you do the math and a press trip is far less expensive for regional wine associations than traditional advertising venues.
Furthermore, I would argue, for the most part you are also winning over brand ambassadors. On the trips I’ve joined, most of the writers were making their first visit to the region. That first-ever trip to Paso Robles continues to show up in my wine writing more than two years after I visited the area. I know about Paso and its Rhone grapes, rich Cabernet and Syrah.
As one might imagine I catch a lot of good natured teasing where I work. “Off on another free wine junket, huh?” Well, yes I am. Frankly, most wine writers – including yours truly– make nothing on our wine writing efforts. I have a full time job in marketing and communication that pays the bills. The few pieces I am paid for over the course of a year might cover a car payment but not the monthly mortgage.
Please follow along. I learn things each time around. I didn’t buy an AT&T data plan on the two previous visits to France this year but did for this trip. That means I’ll be able to Tweet and do Facebook posts throughout the weekend.
The most exciting thing though is learning about a wine region new to me – in this case one of the most prestigious and terroir-driven regions in the world. We have a great itinerary.

Send comment or questions to: hewitthoward@gmail.com

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