SpeakEasy: James Melendez, James The Wine Guy

What does it take to produce almost 1,800 YouTube videos about wine? I turn to James the Wine Guy--that would be James Melendez--to get some thoughts on this medium and some advice for those who aspire to be in front of--or behind--the camera. Our latest series of SpeakEasy interviews with wine bloggers goes vlogger.

You have 1,747 (!) videos on YouTube. Do you recall what the first one was? Have you watched it recently?

Yes, my first video was: James Melendez - James the Wine Guy - Murphy-Goode - A Really Goode Job Submission:

Though it is not listed as my first video in my YouTube stream. I had considered making videos since 2005 but there was no evidence at that time that wine videos had any potential. The Murphy-Goode’s ‘A Really Goode Job’ contest gave me fuel to rethink make a video. One of the contest rules was that it had to be under a minute. Since I had not made a video I wasn’t sure of all techniques and tools to utilize—so I learned on the job. I did it in one take (no edits) and I recollect doing this one over and over—it was an all afternoon job.

I didn’t win but I re-thought my original reasons for not doing video and said, "Why not?" I am glad I kept moving forward.

How have the videos changed over time? And are there some aspects that remain constant?

There have been many changes. First the YouTube viewer is very selective and are expecting high production quality. There are so many videos to choose from hence you got to doing your very best and always be innovating.

I have incorporated intro and outro animations, music throughout video, graphic point score, lighting, better editing and of course improved delivery. It is a job of continuous improvement.

What was it about the video format that made you want to embrace it? What does video give you that words don’t?

I love video. Long before creating my own video I had loved video editing and the art form in general. Video is giving access, colour, and immediacy of subject and personality. I have tested video versus written form and I feel video has a longer reach and a way for viewer to get colour (emotion, non-verbal cues) and I think this goes a long way. The analytics I get help to drive me towards continuous improvement.

I think there is a wine-interested person who is needed/wanting to see wine video content in as much as one might be viewing a "how-to", music, or other video types. Look at the beer and whiskey videos--these personalities are showing there is an audience for these categories (millions of hits for some personalities)--so I ask, "Why not for wine?"

What advice would you give people interested in making videos as far as being a presenter/host and from a production standpoint?

I think there are many people who have tried video and give up too quickly. I would suggest a written plan: what do you want to accomplish, what is your brand, what are your brand points....[I]f there are similar videos being produced, what is your point of difference?

Once you make the decision to do it—this is no different than a written blog entry—attention is in the details. I saw one wine video producer not title their videos – they were listed as "VID012", "VID013" these are not compelling titles, of course. This is certainly not an approach I would suggest: “publish it and they will all come.”

Here are a few tips:

  • Have a Call to Action or as I prefer to say a Call to View
  • Don’t be afraid to edit video—be afraid to not edit
  • Have standard features about your video present – intro, body, conclusion
  • Create purpose driven videos
  • What is your point of difference in making videos
  • Do you have a production cadence – weekly? If so let your viewer know—and you have to live up to that comittment.

What did you learn about the wine business--and marketing specifically--working at Cost Plus World Market?

I think I got an exposure of not just knowing from an academic point of view alcohol beverage control laws. It was an education in not just state-by-state laws but region but region and in some instance ABC zones within a particular city, region, county or state. I got a practical education in that we still live in a 1933 era. So little has changed and the ABC laws are of a different era that in many cases are not relevant.

Earlier this year you were in the Okanagan Valley. For those who haven’t been there, what makes it unique as a wine region and what wines should people put on their radar?

Okanagan Valley is stunningly beautiful. There is certainly a mountain feel in terms of forested mountains—an very long and deep lake system--Okanagan, Skaha, and Osoyoos Lakes. The whole valley from Lake Country, Kelowna, Penticton down to Oliver and Osoyoos on the southerly portion has built beautiful tasting rooms. Not just the tasting rooms are beautiful but so are the wines. In a short period of time the region has displaced the Hybrid grapes for mainly Vitis vinifera over 3 generations. The cooler north you will find Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and in warmer Oliver Osoyoos areas you will find Bordeaux, Rhone, Iberian and Italian varieties.

I was surprised to see many wineries are producing varieties like Touriga Nacional, Tannat, Carménère, Arneis to name a few. I am always finding new varieties and discovering new producers and projects. The region has picked up wine makers from around the world: France and Australia. I do detect many more sparkling wines will be coming from this region. I love the farmers market in downtown Penticton and the many fruit stands that are throughout the valley. So much to see, do and taste—superbly nice people wherever I went. I love this region and look forward to returning on a new non-stop flight from San Francisco to Kelowna.

[For more on the Okanagan Valley, check out our interview with Luke Whittall of BC Wine Country.]

I came across a couple non-wine related episodes. One was on confidence, the other on positive attitude. Why do you explore these topics?

Yes, I have completed non-wine related videos. I attended Vidcon this year in Anaheim. It is a very unique conference; there were 18,000 attendees this year. Many people show up to see YouTube stars like Charles Trippy, iJustine, Jenna Marbles, Joey Graceffa, etc. Well-known YouTube stars are generating hundreds of millions of hits. It was an opportunity to hear from down-to-earth souls like Charles Trippy and iJustine. Where are they in terms of video making, what are their challenges, what are things they do that are successful? I came away from Vidcon14 with an enthusiasm to create videos that gave colour as to who I am—it’s not just about point scores, historical notes about producers. Ultimately, this will not be the bulk of my content—perhaps a weekly video. I do have other video channels: James the Tech Guy, James the Travel Guy and another channel under development.

[For additional thoughts on wine videos, Monique Soltani of WineOhTV shared how her perspective and experience as a reporter informs her work.]