Thinking I need a little relaxation…
Thinking I need a little relaxation…
Half the vineyard pruned & tied by end of day. Sap running. Buds still tight. http://ift.tt/1ikfKd2
I once owned a Canon 50/0.95 TV lens very similar to the one in this picture.
The other day our friend and client Marcel showed up with labels for his 2012 Rosé of Pinot Noir, which Kyle and I helped him apply by hand to all 64 cases he made from extra juice recovered from the fruit off our Haynes selection block at the Estate vineyard (it’s delicious wine, by the way).
Since this is the first wine we have labeled in 2014, it’s the first where we have been required to include the “Sonoma County” designation on the label, mandated by AB 1798, or risk losing our production license.
And we have not gone halfway with this, inviting confusion by doing something so vague as putting “Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Valley, Sonoma County” on our front label (can’t you just see the consumer scratching their head looking at such a label? “Which is it? Valley or County? I’m SO confused!”).
Nope, as you can see above, we have stated in a clear, all caps, sans-serif type that is the mandatory 2mm high:
“SONOMA VALLEY IS LOCATED IN SONOMA COUNTY” Nothing ambiguous about that — the consumer is enlightened, rather than confused. This is every bit as important for the consumer to know as that my wines contain sulfites, and that there are risks associated with drinking too much alcohol.
At this time there are 15 different geographically/climatologically sensible appellations — approved viticultural areas (AVAs) — that have been recognized by the Federal Tax & Trade Bureau for indicating the origin of wines made from grapes grown in the area indicated by lines on the map as “Sonoma County.”
Just over half of the members of the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission — two marketing organizations representing less than half of the wine producers and grape growers in the Sonoma portion of District 3 (*) — believe that it is VERY IMPORTANT that consumers be constantly reminded that these sensible appellations are all inside the lines on the map that delineate District 3, um… I mean, Sonoma County. Because, you know… Napa Valley. QED.
(*)NOTE: “District 3” is the commodity grape crop pricing district defined by the California Agricultural Statistics Service, which includes Sonoma and Marin Counties. Poor little Marin County — producers using grapes grown there are allowed to use “Marin County” on the label, but the underdog has no AVAs of its own. It’s only allowed to share either the Central Coast AVA or North Coast AVA with a bunch of other Counties. I feel sorry for it.
But wouldn’t it be exciting if the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission were to set aside their holier-than-thou prejudices against Marin County, extend the hand of friendship and equality to the producers and growers there, and rename themselves the District 3 Vintners and the District 3 Winegrape Commission?
Just IMAGINE the marketing clout to be gained by riding on the coattails of an internationally successful book and movie franchise! Never mind that District 3 of the fictional Panem is a dystopic slave state specializing in the manufacture of technology for the Capitol. Maybe we could get Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson to be our spokespeople! Now there’s an idea that’s catching fire! But I digress…
We have been assured by something like a quarter of the producers and growers in the County who are wiser and more far-sighted than the rest of us that it is in ALL of our best interests to put “Sonoma County” on all our labels, that conjunctive labeling will “build brand equity” and “ensure that consumers understand where they are.” Heck they even have one bought-and-paid for demographic survey by a third-rate pollster to back up their assertion that consumers WANT conjunctive labeling (or, well, maybe, at least… it doesn’t exactly hurt consumer perception, and never mind that our results could be interpreted entirely differently).
Let’s suppose for a moment that this law was not pushed as a self-serving prop for a couple of largely irrelevant marketing entities. If we suppose that, then the alternative explanation for conjunctive labeling is that Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission patronizingly and condescendingly believe that consumers are largely stupid, and ineducable.
Assuming that conjunctive labeling has been made the law of the land because consumers need to be
condescended to educated, we have followed both the letter and the spirit of the law with our geographical statement. I can only hope that my fellow vintners can come up with something as forthright and creative, and that consumers actually appreciate our efforts.
Love it that there is a pirate flag flying over Burger & Vine (which is supposed to open Saturday) http://ift.tt/OfdUNA
I’ve noticed a “thing” trending recently — a bunch of stories in wine-related media (and showing up on my various social media timelines) featuring young couples launching new wine brands, often making wines from non-mainstream varieties. “Young couple starts winery” is not a particularly original storyline, but the thing about the couples featured in these recent pieces is that they — like the couple in the pic above (who do not own a winery, BTW) — are RIDICULOUSLY photogenic. Which can’t possibly hurt the marketability of these stories.
This storyline is part of a larger genre of shopworn but easy-to-sell “interest” bits, including: “guy makes cubic dollars in private equity/tech/real estate, buys vineyard, builds ‘world-class destination winery’, hires famous consulting winemaker and viticulturist, releases $200+/bottle Cabernet” and — a variation on the ridiculously photogenic couple theme — “hipster somm pairs with rebel urban winemaker to produce wines that cut against the grain of the ‘international’ style” (some trendy facial hair mandatory in accompanying photos) and “winegrower eschews technology, converts vineyard to biodynamic practice, produces ‘natural’ wine” — which must include at least one photo intended to depict rugged individualism: rough clothes, 1,000-yard stare, vineyard dog, rented sheep among the vines, and a cow horn with a handful of poo.
Then there’s the ever-reliable, if somewhat more rare, interest piece formula: “rock star/celebrity ‘makes’ wine!” and the even more rare: “who knew/isn’t it awesome that ‘people of color’ can be winegrowers too?” I’ve got a few ideas on what the next formulaic “interest” tropes might be that wine writers pursue to
bore entertain us: winemaking politicians, and winemaking people with disabilities (the former arguably being a subset of the latter).
The interest pieces are not that difficult. The writer likely is working off a press release with stock photos. They may have met the featured player(s) at a wine-themed event, or on a junket, and exchanged a few words. The writer might follow up with a phone interview, and even may go so far as to taste some wines and make a few notes to add that little bit of je ne sais quoi to the piece they are putting together.
But the writer has to do some real work to put together a list: “20 Top-Scoring Wines Of 2013!” or “15 Best Wines Under $15!” pieces might require as much as several hours of browsing on WineSearcher and note-taking. Or perhaps the writer could troll their stack of press releases and stock photos for something like “The 5 Coolest Wineries in Ohio!” or “The 10 Most Ridiculously Photogenic Winemakers Under 30!” Writers who also happen to be tasters and critics could go back through their own notes to pull out “My Top 10 Wine Discoveries Of The Year!” or “The Single Best Grüner Veltliner Money Can Buy!” or “My Thoughts On The 50 Red Burgundies Tasted On My Last Visit!”
Even more work is necessary to produce a pairing article. The writer might actually have to taste pairings to write about the “best” wine to go with beef/fish/chicken/pork, or with a particular style of cuisine. Or perhaps they could just read through a sampling of the thousands of articles that have already been written on this subject, and synthesize an “original” piece. But there is no way to do an original piece on which wines to pair with things like breakfast cereal, Girl Scout cookies, or chocolate-covered popcorn, without actually tasting those pairings — and that strikes me as work above and beyond the call.
I can see where this is going: “Best Wine And Toothpaste Pairings” perhaps, or maybe something along the lines of “Which Scotch Pairs Best With 2008 Pinot Noirs From The North Coast?” or “The Best Colorado Wines To Pair With The Best Colorado Dutchie!” Better yet, lets see some creativity in combining the list article with the pairing article — surely someone can do “10 Best Franciacortas Under $8 to Pair With Funyuns!” The possibilities are
mind-numbingly ridiculous endless.
No doubt about it that there are stories to be reported in the wine world: business and marketing trends, acquisitions, mergers, management changes, deaths, weather, government regulation, and so forth — enough to keep at least a platoon of writers gainfully employed.
But I have a special place in my heart for a particular genre of wine journalism I call the “agenda” piece. Some writers apparently can’t seem to help themselves from 1) seeing an article — usually in a scientific journal — they don’t have the expertise to fully understand, 2) spinning up their misunderstanding through a personal agenda, and 3) producing a piece generally intended to scare the under-informed reader. From carbon footprint to water use to pesticides to nutritional labeling to sulfites in wine — and plenty more — a lot of misinformation gets slung around, agenda-driven drivel that wants debunking.
I give the agenda pieces credit for some substance. I take stronger issue with other formulae masquerading as journalism that are largely substance-free. One of these is the faux-outrage piece, which the internet is especially good at perpetuating. It goes something like this, usually with two or more participants writing successive pieces on the same topic:
“Did you hear the outrageous thing so-and-so said? How do you feel about that?”
“I’m completely outraged! What do you think about so-and-so being outraged at that?”
“It’s absolutely outrageous!”
…and on and on in a never-ending circle. I suppose it is possible to feign interest in the original outrage for a few moments, but for the love of gods it gets boring really quickly.
Another example of substance-free journalism is the unpaid infomercial. Any wine-related product can be plumped through the vehicle of an “interview” with the producer, inventor, or PR person. I’m especially fond of the logrolling form where one author tacitly endorses another, which goes a bit like this:
“Hey folks, So-and-So has written a book titled ‘Blah!’ So tell me, So-and-So, what is ‘Blah’ about?”
“It’s about blah-de-blah-de-blah. Please buy it.”
“Would you mind if I lobbed you a couple uncritical softball questions about the opinions you expressed in ‘Blah’?”
“I’d be very happy to answer uncritical softball questions! Please buy my book.”
“So there you have it, folks. So-and-So has written ‘Blah’ and answered my uncritical softball questions about the content of the book! Thanks for talking with me about your ground-breaking opus.”
“You’re welcome! Please buy my book.”
I mean in all seriousness — this is not journalism, it’s infotainment. And not particularly engaging infotainment at that. George Orwell may have said: “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.” William Randolph Hearst said: “ all else is advertising.”
Another empty zombie that wine writers keep feeding brains to is the “wine writing is dead” theme. In fact, I do have some sympathy for the writers who are making column-inches by repeating this theme — but how many more articles do we have to endure on this topic? I don’t happen to agree that writing itself is dead, but I will admit I think that maybe the demands for content have caused some writers to at least go a bit numb from the shoulders up.
I could go on listing the lame story lines wine writers are subjecting readers to (um… “natural” wine, anyone?), but I’m starting to bore myself — and by now I’m sure all three of my regular readers are sick of what probably seems like kvetching. But the direction I’m going with this is not complaint. This is a pep talk — one I often give to myself.
As a winegrower, I have a deep understanding of the demands of repetition in practice, and of the emotional toll that this can take on the creative mind. Every year I do more or less the same things in the vineyard and the winery, somewhat constrained by caution and tradition. It can be frustrating. I remind myself of the wise words of Judy Rodgers, who came out of Alice Waters’ kitchen to open Zuni Café: “You’re better off making the same recipe six times than constantly trying new ones. You’ll do it differently each time, and probably make it better.” So yes I’m doing the same thing over and over while at the same time working to perfect it — like a golf swing.
At the same time, I am always on guard that while I’m busy “doing it differently each time” any changes I make are thought through and warranted. Nothing should be attempted just for the sake of doing something different. It is possible to confuse novelty with originality, but nobody worth your effort is fooled.
By statistical definition, half of the winegrowers in the world are below average. The same is true of wine writers. However, a strong institutional memory in winegrowing assures that the average is always improving. Does the same sort of institutional memory exist in the world of wine writing? From my perspective I see no evidence that there does.
In all honesty when I read much of what shows up in wine media today what I see is a cry for help:
So you writers get out there and do better! Stop playing the “write-by-numbers” game. You may write something you regret, but you have actually chosen what to regret. At least for the first draft, “[w]rite like no-one will ever read what you’re doing.”
Otherwise, nobody will read what you are doing.
by kirstinmckee http://ift.tt/Izrkkg
Quiet day in Sonoma. As I start composing this post I’m looking out at a passing storm that has brought us nearly four times the rain we have had since November. We’re still in a drought, but my friends who rely on surface water to raise their vines are getting at least a partial break.
For the moment, things are quiet. The vineyard erosion control measures have been checked and are holding up. I’ve temporarily patched our roof leak, the winery is not flooded, and Kyle and Tiffany are holding down the Salon on a day when most customers are staying home, perhaps watching the Olympics.
Last week I went to Houston for our annual partners’ meeting. It was great to be able to report another year of growth behind us, and make plans for expanding sales in 2014. There is no question but that, with big crop years in 2012 and 2013 expanding our inventory, we are going to have to pursue a return to three-tier distribution — a sales mode we withdrew from in 2008 when the Great Recession hit hard.
But since the crash of 2008 we have found a sweet niche in the long tail of the wine market, a niche where we have been successful directly connecting with many wonderful people — people who love the wines we make, and geek out when they get to sit, chat with us in our tasting salon and share our passion for our wines and for Sonoma Valley. One of the topics under discussion in Houston was how to expand that customer base.
Diogenes was said to wander Athens in the daytime with a lit lantern, looking for an honest man. According to his philosophy, honesty was demonstrated when a person’s deeds and actions matched their words.
I think about this a lot. I thought about it the other day when a group of guests came in to spend a couple of hours, bragged about how they had bought 50 cases at another winery, didn’t believe we were a “real” winery because we don’t have an impressive building and landscaped grounds, and bought relatively little.
I think about it every time someone comes into our salon expecting—sometimes demanding—a free tasting.
I think about it every time I exchange business cards with someone “interested in doing something” with our brand and see the look in their eyes that tells me no matter how many follow-up contacts I make nothing will ever happen.
I thought about it when I was introduced to a wine broker recently at a charity event. It was late in the evening and perhaps she was at the point of finding veritas in vino, but when she tasted one of my wines she commented “ooh that’s GOOD — great ‘food’ wine. But I can’t sell this — well maybe to one restaurant I know. People want ‘lollipop’ wines.” By which she meant sweet, soft and alcoholic. And cheap. It was refreshingly honest.
Mostly I think about it when we meet someone new at the tasting salon and see their delight when they get more from us than they expected, when they “get” the wines, and when they plunk down their hard-earned cash and take some with them. I think even more about how word and deed go hand-in-hand when some of them come to visit again and again, and some of them join the wine club.
I’ve been doing this long enough to know that no matter how optimistic my outlook, not everybody is a potential customer. The people we come into contact with honestly are not “customers” until they engage with us in the cooperative dance we invite them to, and until they actually buy something. So the big question facing us in 2014 is — how do we find more of our kind of buyers?
When I opened our tasting salon just off the Sonoma Plaza in 2005, it was an untested concept in our town. There were two other winery tasting rooms in Sonoma that opened about the same time. Today, in addition to Westwood there will soon be 26 other winery tasting rooms in our Plaza area (moving counterclockwise from us: MacLaren, Envolve, Bryter, Two Amigos, Haywood, Sonoma Enoteca, Victor Hill, Spann, Kamen, Bennett Valley, Stone Edge, Sojourn, Highway 12, Eric K. James, Walt, Auteur, Hawkes, Roche, Three Sticks, JAQK, Adobe Road, Charles Creek, Bump, R2, Petroni, and Rumpus).
Up to a point, every new tasting room that opened seemed to bring more traffic to our own salon. I’ve got to think we have reached a limit by now — a limit dictated by the amount of parking available in proximity to the downtown area. Even with our loyal customer base, referrals, and our great Yelp reviews, we are not going to get any more people in our door in Sonoma unless more parking is constructed and new hotels with shuttles open in the area.
So where does that leave us? I think we have to consider opening a second location. We have to do it someplace that will not cannibalize our existing traffic, perhaps someplace that is already a destination in its own right — maybe The Barlow in Sebastopol, or even perhaps a place in SF like Ghiradelli Square. The big question for me (aside from whether the place will pay for itself) will be, how do we adapt and evolve our customer experience to a new venue?