Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Last week Tom Wark wrote a detailed article on his blog regarding how the U.S. wine system works and how wines get from a winery to your local retailer. His point was that Wholesalers have a death grip on the wine industry, blocking the growth of interested consumers to try new wines or find specific wines that they liked.
I would suggest reading it here.
Monday, June 29, 2009
A little while ago I sent our a request on ProfNet, the PR Newswire journalist informational request service, for any wineries that would like to talk to me about sustainable practices. I got a few responses, but one that stuck out to me as one of the most interesting were the Frei Brothers.
In one of the documents that the Frei Brothers' PR representative sent me the first line was this:
"Frei Brothers is driven by the overriding principle to conduct business in a manner that will protect and preserve the environment."
The document went on to list how many animal shelters and homes are on the winery's land, how they not only meet, but exceed government regulations, that for every acre of land planted to vine they set aside one acre of land to protect the natural environment in which indigenous animals live.
As I said before, I think sustainable farmers and organic farmers are a breed unto themselves.
However, to get on their website (www.FreiBrothers.com) I had to actually scroll to find my birth year on the landing page. That made me feel a little old.
But the wines were fresh and youthful. I tasted their Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 and the Reserve Chardonnay 2006. The Chardonnay was oaked, but balanced, and showed wonderful pears and apples on the nose and taste. The Cabernet was rustic, a little dirty, but very pleasing. Dark fruits of plum and cassis came through, enhanced by an overall earthiness. The Cabernet grapes came from the Alexander Valley and the Chardonnay grapes came from the Russian River Valley, both within Sonoma.
Both very tasty and well worth finding!
I sent Jim Collins, the Chief Viticulturist for Frei Brothers a few questions and below is his response:
RB - Could you please delineate the practices that make Frei Brothers sustainable?
JC - Sustainability forces you to make choices across a wide range of issues from decisions as simple to use or not use chemicals to more complex decisions like determining the role of fuel standards for the tractors that you buy and use. Sustainability is a big umbrella. Organic and biodynamic practices fit under the umbrella and can be easily defined. Sustainability goes even further and, in fact, is harder to commit to than being organic or biodynamic. We make choices that take into consideration our overall carbon footprint, and try to close the loop on all processes. When we buy steel for the vineyards, we buy recycled rail steel, instead of the cheaper imported steel. We try to take fewer passes in the vineyard, conserve water, reduce waste and energy usage and maintain good cover crops…carpool when we can, etc. We are very connected with the community and always keep the “big picture” in mind – we all live here and want to keep our home vibrant!
RB - What made you decide to create wines using sustainable practices?
JC - In a family-owned company, it is very important to ensure that the needs of future generations are not compromised. The Frei Brothers vineyards have been farmed since the 1890s; it is our tradition to take care of the land and honor its heritage. Not to mention, it is the right thing to do…better for the earth and the wines.
RB - How old are the vines? How long has the winery been in operation?
JC - The vines range in age from 20-years-old to newly planted, but the vineyards have been farmed for 119 years.
RB - How large is the winery's production? How many cases a year on average?
JC - We produce and sell approximately 200,000 cases a year.
RB - With all of the great areas to make wine in the world, why choose California?
JC - Why California? Because it is home to Sonoma County, which is one of the most unique places to grow grapes. There are over 41 different microclimates within Sonoma County – its diversity and its terroir is truly unique.
Friday, June 26, 2009
I AM GETTING READY FOR SPAIN!
That is right, I will be heading off to Spain the evening of June 28 and back on July 3. I will be in the Castilla y Leon region of Spain, home to the D.O. of Ribera del Duero. I will be meeting with the Consejo Regulador de la Denominacion de Ribera del Duero. I am very excited about the trip and I look forward to tasting as much wine as I can!
I am well on my way in my Spanish wine education. There are tons of D.O.’s and more than enough wine coming from Spain.
What is your Spanish wine experience? Are there any particular bottles that stood out in your mind that you have tasted recently?
Thursday, June 25, 2009
Events transpired to delay my objective of learning what these white paper had to offer, but after finally getting around to doing so, I have some comments.
There is no question that every public relations professional should read this paper. Every winery, government sponsored marketing group, and wine producing association should take what is said in this paper and find ways to adapt it to their marketing plans. I am kicking myself for having wasted an entire month without reading it, however I found myself smiling that there were tactics included in this paper that fit within what I considered to be obviously good actions to take.
Money is being freed by government groups and marketing associations to focus specifically on social media and the visible influencers in the online space. The power of advertising has diminished as new avenues to reach directly to enthusiastic wine consumers have opened up. Why would a wine region pay $30,000 to a magazine to run one advertisement when that money can be stretched much farther by doing an online program over several months?
There is no question that "how to use the modern communication tools and the online medium" is now plaguing wineries and their PR/marketing representatives. I think only recently (within the last year) has it really become the focus of the wine industry at large. The wineries and wine regions that had the courage to take the risk of jumping into this forum years ago have (I believe) recovered the most benefit. What I was hoping to find in this White Paper was just how much benefit has already been gained by this new medium. In that, I was disappointed.
After reading the first few pages, I could immediately tell that I would have a hard time with this report. I understand the desire to keep the writing style interesting and engaging, but where I was looking for serious factual information I found more of a friendly slap on the back writing approach. The paper moved away from that style once it moved into more analytical discussion, but it immediately made me distrust the findings in the paper, even if I agreed with them.
Specifically when the writer discusses the pressures of the current regulation system in the U.S., I found the discussion to be partisan without giving me the necessary background information to either agree or disagree with their position on direct shipping models. I do not work for a wine distributor and I actually have very little to do with the actual business of selling wine. While I am not unfamiliar on the whole to the regulations of the three tiered system, I found it hard to simply accept the writer's condemnation of the system without further discussion. I follow Tom Wark's interest in direct shipping for retailers and wineries, and I read his blog thoroughly. However to state such a partisan angle in a paper that had little to do with the shipping of wine caught me as odd.
Other portions of the paper that I found most interesting:
"Wine bloggers with an audience over 20 people has an influence that is relavent." - Such an observation certainly gives my own blog a more interesting perspective, as I can claim many times over that many readers.
Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as the three most influential social media networks. Something I totally agree with.
The top 20 bloggers make up an agragated higher reach than Wine Spectator. The only trick is that Wine Spectator is one entity, whereas reaching bloggers is fragmented.
I would suggest you read the paper yourself and form your own opinions. The work that went into this paper is palpable and certainly recommends VinTank as a thorough research source.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
There has been plenty to celebrate lately. I started a new job (and finished the first two weeks without being shown the door!), Leah graduated from Cornell Medical School, my friends are all reasonably happy and healthy, and it is almost summer.
So Friday night, after a nice dinner of appetizers at Land, I decided it was time to pop some bubbly. I had a bottle of J. Lassalle Premier Cru Champagne NV in the cooler and decided it was well time to open it up and see what was inside.
Leah and I found ourselves very relaxed, with some music playing, bubbly in flutes in our hands, and in good company.
The wine was fantastic. For me there were really pleasant olive notes, some doughy overtones, and just a slight bitterness at the end which I found was very enjoyable. Made me want to go in for another sip, and another. Before long, we had finished the bottle, and the first sip was just as enjoyable as the last. The bubbles were very nice and small and plentiful to the last drop in the bottle.
This bottle was a gift (not a sample) and I very much thank the person who gave it to me. The intention was to expand my wine education and it certainly did that. Before this bottle I had not had many good experiences with sparkling wines. This was an eye opener, and definitely made me want to go out in search of more grower-producer labels.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I have tried some Saké, mostly at the encouragement (nay, the insistence) of Leah. She has not been able to post much on her blog because she has started her preparations for her residency as an emergency medicine resident. For those unfamiliar with the lingo (as I usually am), that does not mean she will now be living in the ER. Or… well, actually it might. Really it means ER doctor.
But for this WBW, I bet I can pull her away from the whole sleepless Dr. routine for a few hours, especially since she loves Saké. I think perhaps a trip to Saké Hana might be in order…
Monday, June 22, 2009
It really bothers me to see some practices in the PR world. In today’s communications universe, where PR and marketing are so closely related that they spill into each other, I should not be too surprised about these issues, but non-the-less I find it a little frustrating. Being in the PR industry myself, I sit and shake my head in amazement at some of the e-mails that come my way. Huge kudos to the Bad Pitch Blog for exposing ridiculous pitches.
For example, now that I am a blogger and I am listed in media databases such as Cision, I receive product pitches. That is as it should be, it is the whole reason I allowed myself to be listed there. However, when it is less of a “write about my product” and more of a “go buy my product and then go write about it” approach, I get a little cranky.
And when I politely ask if they have any samples for review, the answer I get back is one of shock! How dare I ask to try out the product that they want me to write about in my blog! I should go spend the $69.99 on my new brand of tequila, or travel to japip to pick up a bottle of wine only sold at 3 retailers in the U.S.
No, I will not go buy your product just because you told me to. If you want to send me a sample, that’s fine. But I have no compelling reason to go find your product, which for most of the ones I have seen require me to go to specialty stores or websites to go find these things.
I also get invites to launch events, which I always appreciate. Then I read further and see that the event is in California!
People, there are bloggers everywhere! Most of the time you can figure out where they live by reading their blog! Do not have time for that? (no really, I can understand that) Then when you put my information down on your spreadsheet in the first place, make a note of what state I am in. Ask me! I will point you in the right direction, I promise!
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Already around the blogosphere there is a building wave of posts about the conference. For instance, if you wanted to donate so that a blogger can go to the conference I would suggest checking out http://wbcscholarship.wordpress.com/.
Thea The Wine Brat has also posted a list of all the bloggers that will be attending, along with their website URL's and their twitter handles. You can find all of that here.
Taking a look at that list, I am wondering how I am put on the industry blogger list while there are some other winery representatives that have been put on the citizen bloggers list. Without a link to a blog! I do not want to call anyone out, especially the friends of mine in the industry, but some of the people on that list are not even in the wine industry!!
I am just saying, if you are going to break people out into groups and call them all bloggers, at least be fair about it. I noticed that on the WBC09 website they changed the list and just grouped everyone together. probably a smart move.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
No, its ok, I’ll wait.
Done playing yet? No? Ok, take some more time.
Now was that not the most interesting and fun winery website you have ever been on? When I taste wines I geek out. I think about how the wine tastes, what I would eat with this wine, and really anything else that I can ponder. Then I usually come back to the computer and do my best to research the wine and look up as much information as I can find. This is usually impeded by the fact that I finished the bottle and possibly opened up another one, but in general I think I get a pretty good understanding of what information I can find and make a note of it so I can go back and find the information while slightly more sober.
Usually I am disappointed by the information available online. You would think that in today’s information hungry society, every single winery and organization has a website that they at least keep the contact information up to date on. I constantly find this to not be the case as I look up information on wines I find interesting.
Big House Wines not only has a website with great content, but its flat out fun to navigate around. I loved the concept and design and it played so well with the wine’s branding that I honestly wonder what came first, the website or the wines? One of the area’s I really loved was Rehab. If you have not yet checked it out (BAD!) you should definitely do so.
Big House used to be owned and operated by Randahl Graham, the fabulously creative winemaker at Bonny Doon, which incidentally also has an amazing website that I hope to review in a future post.
For today, I picked up a bottle of The Prodicgal Son 2005, a Petit Sirah from Peso Robles. I tasted this wine as part of yesterday’s Wine Blogging Wednesday, but I thought that I needed to share the website with everyone.
This is really what wine is supposed to be about. It has its uber geeky side (I am BLOGGING about it for heaven sakes!), which some enjoy and some think it ridiculous. But it also has its fun side, which everyone should remember. It is just wine!
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Katie from Gonzo Gastronomy wanted us to explore just that. Katie's challenge is to experience for ourselves how different genre's of music make us feel about a wine. If perhaps a song is on that is particularly grating against your nerves, do you then think less of the wine you are tasting?
I had a hard time figuring out how this would work. How much thought should I put into this? Do I need to taste wines that I was familiar with or pick music I particularly liked or did not like? Should I shut the hell up and just turn on some tunes and pop some corks? Well, yes I should...
So I chose two wines that have been sitting in my storage that I wanted to try, the Big House Prodigal Son Petite Sirah 2005 and a bottle of McManis Family Vineyards Petite Sirah 2007. I chose them because I had no idea what was in the bottle. Well, at least only a slim idea (I have some experience with Petite Sirah).
For my musical inspiration, I chose to go with several stations from Pandora. That way I could add an element of random to the experiment, something no good scientist should do. Another reason why I am not a scientist.
The list of music that came out was:
- Shostakovic Prelude (25) for Piano Op. 31 - eventually someone will explain to me what all of those numbers and works mean. Still trying to figure out what prelude means
- Allman Brothers Ain't Wastin' Time No More
- Tracy Chapman Change
- David Cook A Daily Antham
And so it began...
On initial tasting (without music) I enjoyed the Big House was more enjoyable. I then started going back and forth between the two wines as the music played and I came to a conclusion.
Every time I tasted the McManis after the Big House I enjoyed both equally. Every time I tasted the Big House after the McManis I liked the Big House better. Looking at my notes, I could not find a real correlation between the music and the wine. Both were very tannic and juicy (as I expected). The McManis had more caramel and medium dark fruits, where the Big House had more sweet black cherry and chocolate.
A pleasant experiment and a good notion. Perhaps I am just not as in tune to the music as Katie is.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
I do not really know much about Pinot Grigio. I have always considered the wine to be a harmless and uninteresting, something that someone looking for a harmless sip of wine with dinner or just sitting outside in the sun. My experience has been that if a person well advanced in years is not drinking white zinfandel it is a good bet that they are drinking Pinot Grigio.
I cannot point to statistics, I cannot say that I have surveyed this possibility among a sample population, but I think it is true. My personal opinion of the wine is negative. Sorry for having an opinion.
Not really sorry though.
Then I was sent a bottle of Tenuta Ca'Bolani Pinot Grigio 2007 from Friuli. Friuli is in the north eastern corner of Italy. Ca'Bolani seems to be the largest estate in Friuli and is owned by the Zonin Family Vineyards. Pinot Grigio makes up roughly 1/6 of the Ca'Bolani land under vine. The rest is a wide variety, including, Pinot Blanco, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Riesling, Tocai, Prosecco, and more.
I tasted the wine with a variety of other white wines (I was having a samples tasting day of wines such as Torrontes, Albarino, and Sauvignon Blanc) and found that I really enjoyed the wine. There was some nice peach with a little hint of cream on the nose and very zesty, tangerine and lemon zest on the tasting. It was a sipping wine, not a wine so intensely citric as a Sauvignon Blanc that it would need food. I am not saying that the wine would not go well with food, but it does not need it.
Worth a try. I found it online listed for $20 at its highest, and $7 at its cheapest, which means one of those retailers is ripping people off like CRAZY.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Yesterday, I read a blog post by Steve Heimoff. Steve is one of my favorite bloggers to read. His position as a journalist for the Wine Enthusiast gives him access to wine and information that many wine bloggers (or at least the ones blogging for their own fame and fortune) dream about. He called me out on his blog for mistaking his feelings towards bloggers (rightfully so), and is very much an advocate for thoughtful discussion on the Internet.
In their eagerness to topple the old order the bloggers sometimes
over-react, sensing blood in the water and moving in for the kill. But reactions
should be judicious; the punishment should fit the crime.
After reading the full blog post (which I would suggest), I think the issue Steve is bringing up is not that the articles now streaming the Internet's twitter, flickr, LinkedIn, Facebook, etc. byways are unjustified. There are just so many of them and there seems to be no end to the number of people chiming in on the subject.
To fill in my readers that do not know what is going on, there has been a particularly intense round of navel gazing happening on wine blogs in the past month, due to the issues surrounding Robert Parker at the Wine Advocate. Then there was an intense round of anti-navel gazing. Now there are people who are just fed up with the whole idea of a navel, but I digress.
I think what some bloggers do not realize is that just because 3,000,000 other people have written about a subject, taken it to their cellar, beaten it to death, performed a mighty two footed jump on its lifeless body, does not mean that one more blogger will not take it into their mind to give the corpse one more go round with the paddle.
This is the blogosphere, where there are no rules (yet), no editor, no grammar, no spellcheck, and certainly no end to the number of times a subject can be written about. Everyone gets to have their say and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.
But that is what makes the blogosphere so powerful! It is a wine marketer's dream to be able to have all 700+ wine blogs (or any blogs!) all writing about their client all at the same time. But there is no way to ask all 700+ people to do that. That is not the way it works. At best you will have a handful of people writing about a wine within a month. And that's only if you have done your research, made relationships with the bloggers, and understood what it is they write about and why.
This works for all subjects, not just wine. If we could get everyone to agree to write on a deadline, then we could move on to the next subject without a problem. However, bloggers all read each other's blogs (or so I have found), which means that a blogger might read a story about the ethics issue 700+ times in four weeks. It is understandable that one would get tired of reading about the issue, but such is the nature of the beast (blogging that is).
My suggestion: stop worrying about it. People will get it out of their system, just give it time. Go back to doing whatever type of blogging you were doing before these shenanigans started. The 700+ people reading your blog will appreciate it.
On a completely different note, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate my girlfriend Leah on graduating from medical school. Leave her a comment on here blog here: Pets, Posts and Other Medical Mysteries
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
I cannot help but respect the guy. He is making wine marketing history happen everyday and he shares it with the world. None of it is rocket science. It is just a matter of thinking up a good idea (hard enough, but not impossible) and working harder than anyone else to make it happen. That second part is what trips a lot of people up, but those that take those two pieces and put them together and you can take over the world.
Here is a clip from Gary's website, going out to all wine marketing people (myself included). Check it out. It is worth it.
(my first embedded video... I hope it works...)
Monday, June 1, 2009
I tasted the Zhoo Zhoo wines. I tasted the Pend d'Oreille. I tasted Sawtooth. I even did a little research on Idaho as an AVA. I just recently tasted the wines from Bitner Vineyards, Hell's Canyon Winery, and Koning Vineyards. And after tasting all of those wines I have formed an opinion: There is a reason why Idaho is not known as a quality wine producing region.
Why did I taste these wines? Let me start at the beginning. I had decided to put out a press call through ProfNet, asking for more information about little or unknown wine regions. What I got was a ton of e-mails that wanted me to check out the Ohio wine tourism trails, Arizona wine trails, and Idaho's Snake River Valley. The only group to send wines to me were the Snake River Valley people, and I am very thankful that they did. It has given me some great insight into their wine industry and the terroir that is Idaho.
That may sound strange to those who would consider the great wines of Bordeaux and Napa to have terroir, but I truly believe that Idaho wines have particular indicators that announce to the world that they come from the state of Idaho.
I just do not think the world really wants to pay attention.
Looking back at my tasting notes, there is one word that repeats again and again and again: "Bitter." About 90% of the wines I tasted had such a bitter finish that it left me gasping for something to wash it away.
That does not mean I have not found some gems. I thought the Koenig Riesling Icewine 2006 was decent. The Pend d'Oreille Wood River Terroir Series Malbec 2006 was pleasant, even enjoyable. The Zhoo Zhoo Claret "Veronique" 2005 is worth checking out.
These are of course my own opinions (and I am no expert), so feel free to check out any other Idaho wine you find. All I am saying is, I could have done without tasting them...