Reflections on the Wine Blogger’s Conference – #1 . . . . In the Beginning . . .

The-Beginning

2014 marked the first time I’ve experienced the Wine Blogger’s Conference. I went into the week somewhat trepidatiously, truly not knowing what to expect.

Yep, I do ‘blog’, but not at the level that most ‘wine bloggers’ that I know do. I’m not as consistent or focused as they are, and I was truly and honestly hoping to learn a bit more about myself and a lot more about many of the bloggers and what makes them tick.

I had the pleasure of hosting a few key players in my tasting room before the festivities began, and I immediately felt a whole lot more comfortable and confident about who I am and my ‘point of view’.  This, to me, is as important if not more so than anything else when blogging and creating an image of who you are and want to be perceived as.

I learned that I could convey on paper what I try to do in person – to educate people about wine in a different and entertaining way. I like to look at the industry through a consumer’s point of view, even though I am a winemaker, and constantly ask the question ‘why’. Why is it that people feel the way they do about screw caps? Why is it that many think they know what a ‘corked’ wine is but that their use of the term is different than mine?

I therefore owe this ‘posse’ my gratitude for ‘setting me straight’ and helping me set the table for four of the most fun-filled and confidence-building days I’ve had in my 10 years in the industry.

A lot more to follow . . .

Cheers!

Say It Ain’t So …. Or Perhaps Say It is.

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I just finished reading a really interesting article in the new wine magazine On The Cusp and in it, they claim to have proof that Pinot Noir is actually the bastard stepchild of Grenache.

Now, a lot of us have known about this information for years, or at least have speculated as such, but concrete  ‘proof’ has just come to life. Professor Henri Brioche from the Bordeaux Oenology School has just published a paper in which he researched vines in the storied Burgundy region of France. He was able to do DNA testing of cuttings from DRC and other leading houses and, lo and behold, the findings show a remarkable resemblance to DNA from Grenache. In fact, it appears that Pinot has been determined to be a cross between Grenache and Merlot.

‘Sacre Bleu!’ could be heard throughout the Burgundy region – from the largest of producers down to those who tend to a single row or less at some of the most desirable vineyards.  A few desperate souls even started to tear out their wines, resigned to the fact that they would have to replant.

Others, including many leading producers, actually embraced the news, stating that the information could not have been more welcomed. ‘We love Grenache’, stated Monsier LeFleur, the head of the Burgundy Growing Cooperative. ‘We feel it has always been superior to Pinot Noir anyway, and now we can all ‘come out of the closet’ and enjoy it out in the open.’

Producers in the Rhone also rejoiced, realizing that they could now justify the ever-increasing prices that they’ve been charging recently.

Watch for follow ups shortly . .  .

A Lucky Hour . . .

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As some of you may know, I am wearing multiple hats next week when the wine blogosphere descends upon my backyard, the Santa Ynez Valley, for the annual Wine Blogger’s Conference!

First and foremost, I am attending this event for the first time as a blogger for this blog, wineverbiage. I hope to be able to rub elbows with some of the best in the biz, as well as many newbies like me ta boot, to learn ways to make what I say and how I say it more interesting for you, my readerdom.

I am also attending as tercero wines, a small label that produces wines using grapes from leading Santa Barbara County wineries. I’m excited to share not only my wines but my stories and my passion for what I do with those in attendance.

Since that’s not enough, I’ll also be moderating a panel featuring four winemakers who truly are considered ‘living legends’ not only in our parts, but nationally – Richard Sanford, Ken Brown, Rick Longoria and Bob Lindquist. I’ll be a bit of a fanboy here and say that it’ll be a true honor to share a stage with these four.

Yesterday, I got together with Rick and Ken to discuss the panel and what we hoped to accomplish. This, my friends, was my lucky hour for the day! First off, let me come clean – I was about 45 minutes late for the meeting – no Bueno whatsoever . . . but in true winemaker fashion, I entered a room to the two of them laughing and drinking beer. I’m not even sure they noticed I was late!!!

Though I’ve spent some time with these two over the decade I’ve lived in the area, I’ve never heard some of the ‘back label’ stories of these two – and of the other two who will be part of the panel and who were not present – Richard Sanford and Bob Lindquist.

I learned about the Nielsen Vineyard, the first planted in the County post prohibition, and how Mr. Nielsen, a UC Davis grad, had been convinced by those at Davis that quality grapes could not be grown there. What did he do? Approached folks at Fresno State, who told him otherwise – and the rest is history.

We discussed AVA’s old and new, discussed life lessons, grapes, wine, people . . . what an hour.

Why do I bring this up? As a blogger, I feel like I am a storyteller as well. Sometimes I’m more like a joke writer – one liners here and there. But more often than not, I try to be a short story teller – and I enjoy the challenge.

These gentlemen have stories to tell – and then some. They tell their stories each vintage through their wines, but their ‘collective’ stories should not be missed. If you have a chance, reach out to any of them – your time will be very well spent indeed . . .

Cheers!

Pet Peeves . . .

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As many of you know, I wear multiple shirts every day – yep, I do work out and therefore need to change them often :-)  No, no, I not only have this blog but do have a wine label, tercero wines, and absolutely LOVE pouring my wines for others to experience and hopefully enjoy.

I’ve now had a tasting room for nearly 3 years, and have been pouring at events for about twice that long, and I’ve compiled a list of words or phrases that should be considered ‘off limits’ in tasting rooms:

‘Pour Me Your Best Wine’

‘Pour Me Your Most Popular Wine’

‘I Don’t Like (fill in variety)’

‘I Don’t Enjoy Whites’

‘I Don’t Drink Rose’

Let’s discuss a few of these, if you don’t mind, and hopefully you’ll understand where I’m going with this!

I often times am faced with folks in my tasting room or at a tasting ask me which is my ‘best’ wine. My normal comeback – Do you have kids and, if so, which one is your ‘best’?!?!?

Does it or should it really matter what my (as the winemaker/owner) thoughts are on my ‘best’ wine? I could be like many others and say that it is the one I am trying my hardest to get rid of (and don’t think this doesn’t happen, folks). Or I could say that it’s the most tannic one because I like tannins – but if the customer doesn’t, does that really help?!?!?

Now for the second statement – what in the heck does ‘popularity’ have to do with ‘good’ or ‘meets what you are looking for’?!?!?!? Do you think the ‘NY Times Best Sellers’ are best sellers because they are ‘good’? No – in general, consumers are lemmings and like to be told what to buy and what to like. Well, not in my place – not gonna happen!

In order to not be verbose (!), I’ll only cover one more. I have folks who come in and state that they don’t like a certain variety. My comeback is usually to first ask why? For instance, I am amazed how many folks come in and say that they do not like syrah.  I politely ask them why and the answer is usually that they either don’t like the ‘cherry robitussin’ qualities of a warmer climate syrah or shiraz or they don’t like the pepper associated with a cooler climate syrah – but they only state one or the other. My favorite comeback – I ask them if they like cheese. Who doesn’t like cheese?!?!? But then I ask if they like EVERY single type of cheese they’ve ever had – because by saying you don’t like a variety, to me, is kinda like saying you don’t like cheese as a category at all. This usually works ;-)

I’m wondering what some of your ‘pet peeves’ are when it comes to wine and how you ‘handle’ them without being derogatory or condescending. To me, it’s very important not to be, for that’s the ‘usual’ and easy way out – and because of this, our industry is known as ‘pompous’ with too many ‘know-it-alls’ . . .

Cheers!

Is a Name Change In Order?!?!?

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In a few weeks, I will be attending my first Wine Bloggers Conference, right here in my backyard in the Santa Ynez Valley. I am excited to be taking part in this wonderful event in multiple facets – as a blogger, as a moderator of one of the panels, and as a winery pouring my wines at a few of the events.

As I discuss this event with other local winemakers, though, I tend to get the same response – ‘I don’t really take these ‘bloggers’ seriously’ or ‘They don’t really have any impact anyway’ or ‘They just want free stuff”.

Why is this the case? Why don’t wineries see ‘value’ in bloggers? Could it be because of past experience with them? Could it be because of the ease of entry into this group and therefore no real ‘vetting’ to ensure a certain level of ‘quality’ or professionalism? Or could it be because of the name ‘blogger’?

I’m not one for change for change sake, but perhaps the term ‘blogger’ has become even more synonymous with ‘the ugly side’ of writing then any of us could have imagined.  Here is a quote from Urban Dictionary on bloggers:

“Term used to describe anyone with enough time or narcissism to document every tedious bit of minutia filling their uneventful lives. Possibly the most annoying thing about bloggers is the sense of self-importance they get after even the most modest of publicity. Sometimes it takes as little as a referral on a more popular blogger’s website to set the lesser blogger’s ego into orbit.

Then God forbid a blogger gets mentioned on CNN. If you thought it was impossible for a certain blogger to get more pious than he was, wait until you see the shit storm of self-righteous save-the-world bullshit after a network plug. Suddenly the boring, mild-mannered blogger you once knew will turn into Mother Theresa, and will single handedly take it upon himself to end world hunger with his stupid links to band websites and other smug blogger dipshits.” – Maddox

Is this the way that the general public continues to feel about bloggers? And more importantly, is this the way that wineries and wine consumers feel about the term? Is it time to re-evaluate and possibly refer to these writers as, say, writers instead?

Food for thought this morning- curious to hear your feedback . . .

Cheers!

Customer Service – How Much is Enough (or Too Much or Not Enough)?

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When I was much younger than I am now, Nordstrom opened their first store in our area. My oldest brother went down and purchased a suit from them, and remained a happy customer for a long time. Flash forward a few years later – he’d  gained some weight and the suit did not fit him anymore, so he brought it back to Nordstrom – and received a full refund!

This was clearly ingrained in my head as the ‘ultimate’ for customer service. Keep the customer happy – even if it really did not make any sense to. (and yes, I do not believe they should have given him a refund for his weight gain!!!!). Back in that day, Nordstrom set the bar for customer service and, as far as I know, still retains a high level of it.

That said, is it really fair to ‘assume’ a business will go so far out of their way to ‘keep a customer’? This especially pertains to the wine industry, where a ‘subjective product’ may either be ‘damaged’, ‘faulty’, or simply not live up to a customer’s expectations of it.

In many cases, a winery should stand by their products and ‘make things right’. If a product is damaged during shipping, the winery should make right and either refund the money or send along a replacement product. In most cases, the winery will file a claim and recoup their costs as well.

Now let’s say a product is ‘simply faulty’. What in the heck could ‘faulty’ mean in our industry? Could it be excessive amounts of solids or grit, as a famous Spanish winery has experienced in one of their wines and just issued a recall notice for? Could it be that the wine is infected with brettanomyces, a spoilage yeast that causes a wine to smell like a ‘barnyard’ or like ‘band aid’? Could it be that ‘it was just off’, not living up to the expectation of the consumer? Could it be that the ‘cork was bad’ – and I’ve already talked about the plethora of things this might entail from a consumer standpoint.

I’m really curious to hear your thoughts on this issue. I don’t think there’s an absolute right or wrong answer here – to me, it depends (my favorite answer to almost any wine-related question!!!).

Join in and voice your opinions please . . .

Cheers!

Who Doesn’t Like an Underdog?

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If I were to take a poll of folks and ask what variety of wine immediately comes to their mind first when I say ‘popular wines’, my guess is that this list would include Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, perhaps Pinot Grigio, and maybe a few more.

One group of wines that you would rarely see as part of these lists would be Rhone varieties such as Syrah, Mourvedre, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and the like.

Yep, Rhone varieties are certainly ‘underdogs’ in the wine world these days. While most folks have heard of ‘Bordeaux’ varieties or ‘Burgundian’ varieties, one would get a lot of head scratching if asking folks to name ‘rhone’ varieties.

That said, Rhone varieties make some pretty darned impressive wines if I must say so myself! Each of the 22 different varieties that encompass this collection – and no, there will NOT be a test on this afterwards – brings something different to the table. And many of the varieties, such as Syrah and Grenache, can exhibit themselves quite differently depending upon the soil and climate in which they are grown.

The first step in understanding these varieties from a domestic standpoint is to head over the Rhone Rangers website. This group, of which I am a winery member and a Board Member ta boot, is comprised of about 125 wineries located throughout the US who focus on Rhone varieties grown domestically. Though the focus is on California, there are member wineries from Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Michigan and even Virginia.

As the organization strives itself on educating the public, spend some time perusing it and check out the information about the different varieties that comprise the Rhone spectrum. You’ll discover that Mourvedre, for instance, is called Monastrell or Mataro in Spain, where it was believed to originate from. And that Petite Sirah, which is a cross between Syrah and Peloursin, is not really grown in the Rhone at all.

To further your education, you may also choose to attend the Rhone Rangers Grand Tasting, which takes place this Sunday at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA. Discount tickets for the event, as well as the seminars (I’ll be taking part in the Grenache one, by the way), are available – use code GT-20 for a 20% discount on the Grand Tastings tickets for Sunday, and  SUNPASS-20 to receive $20 off an all – Sunday ticket that includes the seminars.

I do hope to discuss these varieties more in the future, and hopefully meet some of you this weekend – I’ll be the guy on crutches (long story – will leave that for another blog post!).

Cheers!