To The Heroes That Walk Among Us Every Day . . .

frank murray

I am incredibly honored to be surrounded by a lot of heroes in my world. Now, these folks are not movie stars or rock stars or even fashion models. They are not ‘famous’ in the macro sense of the word – they are not recognized by millions (at least, as far as I know).

They are heroes none the less for what they do on a daily basis. They are teachers, like my father was over three decades; they are doctors, like my best friend from high school and his wife are back in Philadelphia. They are stay-at-home moms, like my mom was, trying to corral me and my four brothers. They are policemen and policewoman, like my ex-father in law was for decades and decades. They are soldiers, as my father was back in World War II.

This past weekend, I was in the presence of a true hero, though he would never consider himself to be one.  His actions brought together about 150 people from as far and wide as Toronto, Philadelphia and New York to his home in Southern California in order to raise funds for something he feels incredibly passionate about – a safe haven for women and their children affected by domestic violence.

His connection to this house is intimate – his wife, a psychiatrist, had her first intern there and continues to assist with the organization. He certainly did not feel ‘obliged’ to do anything to support this cause – he just felt it was the right thing to do.

He didn’t set out to become a ‘hero’ and that just makes him that much more enduring to me and those that know him.

Why is this important enough to be a blog post about wine? Wine was the catalyst that brought all 150 of us together this past weekend; wine was what helped raise over $20,000 that afternoon and has raised about $100,000 thus far from efforts led by this person over the past number of years.

Wine is powerful and can not only be something to make and drink, but it can also be ‘used’ to make a difference in many folks’ lives. I love that something I love to make can help others in ways that I never knew I could – and I hope to support causes such as this for many years to come.

So raise a glass to Mr. Frank Murray III this evening or sometime this week, if you don’t mind, and see how you might be able to ‘make a difference’ in a similar way.

Cheers.

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All About Grenache . . .

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As many of you know, I am quite passionate about rhone varieties in general. I believe there is more ‘variety’ in these varieties than in most others, and they tend to be ‘underdogs’ in today’s wine market, something I can appreciate as I’ve always been a fan of ‘the underdog’.

The Connoisseurs’ Guide to California Wines recently posted a blog post about Grenache entitled ‘Next Big Thing or Another Passing Fancy’ and I was intrigued by the thoughts put forth by Stephen Eliot, the author. He expressed his love for the variety, but his ‘frustration’ on not seeing it get more enthusiastic support from the public. Read his post here.

He ponders whether this lack of support is due to the fact that the wine is currently made in so many different styles that consumers can’t ‘understand’ it easily.  Or whether it is because it tends to be a blending grape and rarely stands on its own. Finally, he wonders out loud whether or not Grenache ‘is a varietal capable of real greatness, of complexity and depth that will rival that of the best Cabernets, Pinot Noirs and Syrahs . . .’.

I think these are all valid points, and ones that need to be discussed further. To me, the real issues are as follows:

  • Most consumers have not been exposed to the variety on its own often enough, and therefore more exposure and education has to occur. Go to a Rhone Rangers event and taste these wines – in fact, there will be a seminar devoted to the variety at the next event in early April.
  • Many ‘grenaches’ out there tend to be blends, even those labeled as ‘grenache. When winemakers blend syrah or other varieties into Grenache to ‘give it more structure’ or ‘to add the color missing in the variety’, they, to me, mask the underlying beauty the variety brings forth. Why is it okay to do this with Grenache but NOT okay to do this with pinot noir?
  • Many domestic Grenache producers are starting to price themselves out of the market for these wines, even before there is much of a market. Pricing needs to be kept at reasonable levels for consumers to be willing to give them a shot.
  • Winemakers, in my opinion, need to take a more ‘hands off’ approach to ‘tweaking’ these wines. Lay off the new oak, which will oftentimes cover up what the variety brings to the table rather than ‘adding’ to it. Understand that these wines will tend to be a bit higher in alcohol than other varieties because their skins are incredibly tough and bitter and you have to have the patience to wait to pick until the skins soften.

I would love to hear your thoughts on domestic grenaches and what might be done to shine more light on the variety and expose it to more folks.

Cheers!

Is Image Anything . . or Everything?

image is everything

The wine industry is a fun place to ‘call home’. There are tons of great characters out there; wine continues to be an absolutely fascinating ‘vehicle’ to work with and is truly ever changing; and one will never tire with the challenge of introducing one’s wines to new folks all of the time.

As we all know, or probably should know, it’s sad but true that what lies ‘inside’ the bottle often has little to do with whether a wine is purchased in the first place – and often whether it is repurchased for that matter. The packaging of the product is extremely important, as is the reputation of the winery, the winemaker, etc.

But here’s a question for you – do you care what the principals of a company ‘stand for’ or how they act when it comes to the purchasing of that product? Does it matter if they’ve supported causes that you might not support (such as Chick Fil A and their anti-gay stance or Carl Karcher of Carl’s Jr. fame and his anti-gay and anti-semetic stances). Does this truly affect your purchasing decsions?

A recent blog post came out about a famous French producer not allowing long time reviewers to review their wines because of ‘less than stellar’ reviews of a previous vintage, among other things. On the surface, this seems like a very short-sided thing to do for the producer. Of course, there may be other sides to the story, but for now, it appears that the winery in question is ‘running scared’ and, for them, in a very public manner.

So again, the question remains – would this affect your purchasing of these wines? Would it matter if a winemaker or winery owner publicly or even privately stated that they were ‘against’ something you stand for?

Curious to hear your thoughts on this . . .

Shooting Through the Sky – Another Record Grape Crop in CA in 2013 With Some Interesting Tidbits . . .

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For those who may not have seen it, the annual Crush Report for CA Wine Grapes was released yesterday. It was a record crop in 2013 in CA, up about 5% from the previous year, which was a record as well! That’s a lot of wine grapes!

There are all kinds of interesting ‘tidbits’ in the report if you search, including a not-surprising surge in Moscato grapes of all different kinds, an increase in ‘other’ varieties such as Gruner Vetliner, and more.

I’ll make further insights later, but thought you might find the general information interesting.

http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&dataid=127945

So what are your thoughts on what the upcoming vintage may hold? Will 2014 be a ‘bumper crop’ again, or will the drought and the previous 2 record crops bring down volume this year?

And how will those record vintages affect wine prices in general moving forward?

So many questions – and I need answers folks!

Cheers!

Blinded By The Cab . . . or Merlot . . . . or Pinot . . .or Chardonnay . . .

Dark-Clouds

I attend dozens of wine tastings each year, featuring all different types of wines. Most of the events I attend where my wine is being poured feature domestic wines, sometimes from a specific region and sometimes featuring certain varieties.

Most of the time, those in attendance seem to be pretty knowledgeable and ‘open’ about trying what I have to offer, but not always.

I poured at an event recently where at least a dozen people came up, looked at the bottles that I had on display, and then asked whether I had a cabernet sauvignon, or perhaps a merlot, or maybe a pinot. In all three cases, I said I did not, that I did not produce those varieties, but that I had a number of other wines that they may want to try.

In every case, they said thanks but no thanks and walked away. I was able to ‘grab’ a few before moving on and asked if they might be interested in trying the syrahs, grenaches, etc. that I was pouring.  No thank you, I was told over and over, I don’t know what those are.

It’s certainly easy to get overwhelmed at wine tastings, especially tasting where there are dozens of wineries pouring north of 100 wines or more in total. And I can certainly respect those that are ‘on a mission’, only searching out specific varieties or regions to compare and contrast all that are there.

In the cases I mentioned, though, it had more to do with ‘familiarity’ than it did to a specific tasting ‘strategy’. It surprised me quite a bit, because I look at wine tastings as an opportunity to not only reinforce what I believe I like, but to ‘challenge’ myself by trying those things I don’t ‘think’ I’ll like, based on previous experiences with a specific producer, a variety, or a region. To me, that’s one of my favorite parts of a tasting.

What kinds of strategies do you employ at larger wine tastings that may have dozens of producers or more and that you might find 100+ wines at? I’ll be awaiting your replies (-:

Patience, Grasshopper . . .

grasshopperI continue to be amazed at how wine is made so differently today than it was only a decade or two ago. Yes, there are plenty of new techniques being used today and ‘tricks of the trade’ such as reverse osmosis, de-alcoholization, micro-oxygenation, and many other, are more common than one might think.

What I mean by the original statement, though, has more to do with ‘drinkability’ than anything else. It used to be that for ‘better wines’, one would need to ‘lay them down’ for a number of years until they were consumed. Why was this generally done?

First off, wines used to be made in a more straightforward way that lead to certain varieties exhibiting their naturally more ‘aggressive’ tannin and bitterness structure. Take cabernet sauvignon, for example.  Other than a few producers like Silver Oak, these wines usually were made to ‘lay down’ and were not that enjoyable young. This was certainly acceptable though, as both the wineries and consumers agreed that it was okay to have ‘green flavors and aggressive tannins’ and basically, this was the sign of a wine that would age well.

Second, there was and continues to be this conventional wisdom that great wine is meant to age, and if wines were ‘too drinkable’ young, they could not be considered ‘great’. I believe this had more to do with ‘old world wine region’ think-speak than anything else, but it stuck here as well.

Nowadays, I’m amazed at the notes I see on young wines – and I mean infants of wines. Here we are in early 2014, and I’m already seeing tasting notes on 2012 cabernets and 2011 Bordeaux wines. Now grant it, the Bordeaux notes are on ‘futures’ wines, but these wines have been bottled and are being served, and the notes do not imply that drinkers will sit on them for years and years before consuming.

So what’s the problem here? Is there one? Well . . . . .

There are plenty of wines that are still made with structure that need time,  plenty of time to fully develop their flavors. If they are being ‘judged’ by those who are used to drinking young wines that are not made in this style, though, they may not be looked upon as ‘favorable’, but instead, too ‘backwards’ or too ‘tannic’ – qualities that had been looked for not too long ago.

With a bit of patience, though – be it simply decanting or enjoying over a few hour period – many wines were show their ‘true stuff’. The question is, will you or your friends have the patience to wait?

Curious to hear your thoughts on this.

Is It What’s Inside that Really Counts?

resized bread pic for blog

One of the challenges making and trying to sell wine in this industry is that what’s inside the bottle seems to be the least important thing in the process at times. This may sound strange, but let me explain . . .

Visual and verbal clues help ‘guide’ us in everyday life. Your senses are honed to quickly get information to your brain – that doesn’t ‘look’ right or that ‘smells’ great. It’s human nature, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

When it comes to subjective stuff, though, it certainly can wreak havoc on trying to ‘evaluate’ something on face value. Let’s take wine, for instance. I make a dryish Gewurztraminer. You would not believe the types of responses I get when I mention this – and before a drop is even poured. Many many people simply say – no, I don’t want to try that because I don’t like sweet wines’ or  ‘I really want to try this because I like sweet wines.’  A ‘picture’ is set with their senses as to what to expect when the wine is poured . . .

Those that don’t like sweet wines will begrudgingly try the wine – after I ‘force’ them to, of course – but their mind is already anticipating a specific experience with the product based on the variety itself and they will perceive it ‘with bias’. The same is true with those who like really sweet wine.

How do I ‘get around’ some of these biases? I work as hard as I can to actually have someone taste the wine itself and judge it for what it is. I also do not call this wine a gewürztraminer, but instead call it The Outlier J

Or take rose.  Yep, it’s certainly ‘hip’ to like rose these days, and you’re seeing more and more of them produced in drier, crisper, more ‘food friendly’ style. That said, just showing someone the bottle will illicit an immediate reaction because of the color alone. Many will not even want to try the wine. Why? ‘I don’t drink white zinfandels’ is often the reasoning I here.  There’s nothing wrong with white zins at all, if that’s what you like, but the visual color clue is immediately telling them what to ‘expect’ about the wine.

And there have been tons of studies about how the label itself affects how one ‘feels’ about the product and whether or not you are drawn to wanting to pick it up off of the shelve if in a retail location.

What are your thoughts on this? Have you ever found yourself excited or not excited about a wine because of the color of the wine itself, descriptors used, the label, etc.? I’m curious to hear and to get a discussion going on the subject.

Cheers!