Archive for: March, 2019

Taste Memory

“Memory is thirst”, Kenneth Friedenreich echos in his book Oregon Wine Country Stories. Tipping his hat to Hemingway’s insatiable hunger to describe the meals, both meager and munificent, that nourished his formative years as an expat in 1920s Paris, Friedenreich uses the backdrop of A Moveable Feast to connect it to our relationship with wine.

Steve LeBeau

My cousin Steve or Stevie as we called him as kids.

Many commentators have described Hemingway’s use of hunger and the satiety of it as a metaphor for his “youthful desire to consume life.” For Friedenreich, quenching the thirst of our memories is about learning to savor the moments that we have in each glass of wine. The moments that are populated by the people and places we share it with, and not bogged down by the minutiae of critic scores, status statements and “collectability.”

The beauty of wine, as Friedenreich alludes to repeatedly throughout his book, is its ability to absorb historical memory–not just of the people, vintage and terroir that gives its birth but also the journey’s end of a glass as it crosses paths with ours.

As a writer, my job is to put my personal experiences into words. With wine, that crafting involves tasting notes and sentiments about the industry. But that endeavor often leads me, and most other wine writers, to spend “more time trying to describe than to react” as Friedenreich notes.

Instead of consuming life, I am just commenting on it.

Photo from Steve's Facebook

I see a lot of truth in Friedenreich’s words and Hemingway’s. Both of their books have been sitting on my desk as I’ve spent the last couple of days staring at a blank computer screen trying to get the motivation to write after receiving some devasting personal news. I have a dreadful backlog of 60 Second Reviews and oodles of notes from recent travels that I want to fashion into something worth reading. But I just can’t.

All of that feels like a sandstorm in my thoughts ever since the late-night phone call that brought news of my cousin Steve’s passing. Only two years older than me, he was the first of my generation in the family. His sudden death delivered a double-shot of shock at both fragile mortality and trying to pick up the pieces of a puzzle that is scattered over so many childhood memories.

I need to write. I thirst to write. But this is something that I’ve never written about and so I fret at the limitations of my language or willingness to react.

As I make peace with my memories of Steve, the most natural thing for me to do is to fall back on my tasting notes of those moments.

I remember the cloying sweetness and sharp citric sting of the Tang orange drink Steve and I drank by the pitcherful when I spent summers at his house playing NHL 94 on the SEGA Genesis. Sometimes we were in a rush to get back to our Stanley Cup campaign, so we didn’t always mix it very well. When I think of chalky tannins in a young Barolo or Brunello, I think of the astringent bite of a clump of wet Tang powder hitting my tongue as Steve scores another one-timer with his favorite player, Pavel Bure.

I remember the taste of smoke, sulfur and gun powder in the air as we raced into the woods behind our cousin’s house on the Fourth of July. Armed with packets of Black Cat bottle rockets, we would play “tag” by shooting them at each other. Mixed with the herbal greenness of Ozark pine and Missouri oak trees, there is not a Sancerre in the world that could match the minerality of those moments.

Midelton Very Rare

Here’s to you cuz. A very rare one, indeed.

I remember the taste of dirt and a bloody lip as I stumbled and fell chasing after Steve in the yard.

But while I could describe the iron and earth of a Rocks District Syrah, I don’t know if I could put into words the feeling of chasing after someone that you knew, deep down, would always be worth chasing.

I remember the sweetness and prickle of the Angel’s Envy Bourbon we shared sitting in the parking lot outside the funeral home after our grandfather’s service. The brown sugar and port wine finish gave warmth to the reminiscence of childhood while the spice and burn of burying your last grandparent reminded us of how far into adulthood we had now strayed. The long finish lingered like Steve’s bear hug, full of love but also a touch of pain as his 6-foot frame squeezed tightly with the cask-strength of emotions.

Now, as I type these words while finishing off the remnants of a bottle of Midleton Very Rare Irish Whiskey, I know that I am making another taste memory with Steve. There are a hundred words I can use to describe this whiskey.

But it will probably be a bit of time before I find the right words to describe this moment.

A Personal Request

I don’t make it a habit to ask for money on this blog. Nor do I have any interest in setting up ads or creating a Patreon link. I’m fortunate that my circumstances allow me to keep producing content without a need to monetize this platform.

However, I’m going to make an exception here.

Steve’s death leaves behind four kids (ages 9 to 15) who have just been dealt a devastating blow. If you’ve ever found any value in my work here on SpitBucket, I humbly ask for you to consider donating to the GoFundMe fund set up for Steve’s children. Nothing is ever going to replace their dad–both in their lives or my own. But every little bit goes a long way towards making the next few weeks and months just a little less uncertain for these kids.

Thank you and, please, savor all the taste memories that you have with your loved ones.

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Where’s The Wine World’s Pokémon GO?

I was playing around on my phone today looking for new games to download. On a lark, I decided to see what was available when I searched for Wine Games.

Photo by Gieson Cacho. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Unsurprisingly, there isn’t much. The available games tend to fall into the category of trivia (with the WSET wine puzzle game being the most interesting) or repurposed game designs like hidden objects, escape rooms and arcade games with wine as a backdrop.

So that got me wondering, where are the wine-focused games that combine entertainment and education? Like Speed Anatomy or Lumosity?

Where are the games that foster a social aspect with multiple users? Like Ingress?

Where are the games that encourage wine lovers to go out and explore an area, visit new wineries and just plain have fun with wine?

Where’s the wine world’s Pokémon GO?

Imagine …

Turley wine cellars

A good one to visit while in Paso.

Imagine visiting a wine region like Paso Robles, Red Mountain or the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. You have dozens of winery choices, many of which you may have never heard of before.

How do you pick which ones to check out?

You can scroll through Yelp reviews, check out winery websites or ask friends on Facebook. Of course, you could also purchase a wine travel book, check out the AVA website or maybe pick up a free map at your hotel. But how many of those options are actually fun?

Are these things that you really want to do? Or do they feel more like a chore that has to get done before you can get to the fun part?

For many consumers, a visit to wine country is a vacation — a chance to kick back with friends and family and just enjoy life. One of the last things that many consumers want to do is add research and homework to their vacation docket. Sure, wine geeks may have fun plotting out their wine tastings. But we are a rare breed. For a lot of consumers, they’re just going to go out, have fun and sort of “wing it”.

Wouldn’t it be great if the wine industry could tap into that “I just want to have fun and drink wine” mentality?

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a tool that actively encouraged engagement with consumers, instead of just sitting back and hoping that they come through our doors?

“Winging it” with a Purpose

I’m not a game developer so I’m mostly just spouting off the type of game that I would love to play. While I know that a small wine niche will never reach the level of popularity of Pokémon GO, there are some solid lessons from the game’s success that a developer could use.

1.) Make it a hunt.
Villa Ragazzi Sangiovese rose

A Sangiovese rose from Oakville fruit?!? This is a score on so many levels.

We don’t have pokémon but what we do have are hundreds of unique grape varieties and wine styles. While some (like Cabernet Sauvignon) are very common, others (like Teroldego, Norton and Grenache blanc) are more rare.

Create a system that assigns points based on the rarity of a grape variety within a region. So if you’re exploring the land of endless Cabs, Chards and Sauvignon blancs, stumbling upon a Napa Sangiovese or Riesling would earn you more points.

Seeking out new and exciting wines taps right into the Millennial wanderlust. But often there is an intimidation factor that comes from lack of familiarity and education. Turning that wanderlust into a game helps remove some of that intimidation.

Yeah, a wine consumer may not know what the heck Tinta Cao is but they know if they visit this one tasting room in Walla Walla to try it, they will earn beaucoup points. So why not?

2.) Make it competitive.

It’s human nature to want to be the best–even if all we’re doing is gathering imaginary gems and internet points. And if you have a leader board, it’s fun to see where you rank among your friends and strangers who are doing the same thing you’re doing.

Adding team elements and things like portals (wine bars) to battle over or gyms (cellars) to control would add complexity to the design, I’m sure. But having something to “fight over” makes that repeat visit to the tasting room more worthwhile. That is vitally important to the appeal of such a game to wineries. It’s great to get that one time visit, but repeated engagement is where the needle moves.

3.) Make it social.

Whether it creating teams with friends or easy sync up with your social media accounts, this is an absolute must. We live in a social media world and, especially if we’re having fun, we want to tell everyone about where we’ve been and the wines we’ve tried.

Benefit to Wineries

Tablas Creek Clairette blanche

Tablas Creek would have like 20 some odd entries of different grapes. That would be a “gym” site for sure!

A significant hurdle for such a game is the upkeep of information about what wineries are pouring what wines. This is not a project that can be created in a vacuum without winery involvement. But to get that involvement, an app developer needs to demonstrate to wineries the value that participating in the game could have.

This could involve showing them that 92% of Millennials own smartphones and that mobile apps account for nearly half of all internet traffic.

In places like Napa and Sonoma, they’re already grappling with declining tasting room visits and seeking out innovating ways to bring people in. Even for wineries outside of the North Coast, it would be foolish to ignore the canary in the coal mine.

But the biggest benefit of such a game app will be for the small family wineries making wines that are both literally and figuratively off the beaten path. These are wineries that need exposure and often have an education hurdle to overcome with consumers embracing their unique wines and grape varieties.

Replacing the anxiety of the unknown with a competitive quest for the unique is one of the best ways to overcome those hurdles.  That solution could be very appealing to a lot wineries–especially if their potential investment is just a small amount of time in keeping their data on the app up-to-date.

How Can This App Make Money?

Of course, no game developer is going to do this for free and I don’t think the Pokémon GO business model translates to my fantasy wine app.

Again, I’m not a game developer, so this part of the business plan is not my forte. You can take a look around this blog and realize that I’m also not really keyed into this whole “monetizing” thing either.

But I’m not planning on creating this game myself, so I’m sure that people a heck of a lot smarter than me will have better ideas.

But there are a few potential revenue streams I can see.

Priority Listings
Photo by Marianne Casamance. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I don’t mean to hate on Cab so much. It makes lovely wines but is just soooooooooooo overdone.

There are only so many unique grape varieties out there being produced. There is going to be a lot of overlap. If the game can gain traction and significant downloads, you could potentially market more favorable search listings to wineries that pay a fee.

So if you are a Woodinville winery doubling down on the same ole Cab and Bordeaux blends that everyone else is making, it may be worthwhile for you to pay for priority or “sponsored” placement to encourage visitors to play the game at your place.

Sponsored “Raids” or “gyms”

If a winery really wants to be proactive in bringing people to their locations, they could sponsor special events with bonus points and status for those who visit during a certain time. This basically follows a similar idea to Starbuck’s partnership with Pokémon GO. Yeah, a wine game is not going to get Starbucks’ sponsorship but what about local wine bar and restaurants? After all, engage wine consumers are engaged diners as well.

Good Old Fashion Ads

Yes, everybody hates them but they are par for the course with free apps. Plus, you can always offer a premium “ad-free” version for a cost.

Data

This is probably the biggest potential revenue stream. But it’s also the area where a developer has to be very careful with because of privacy laws.

But, let’s face it, an app that is collecting data on which tasting rooms that consumers are visiting, how long they are staying there, where they go next and potentially what they are sharing on social media is a goldmine of valuable information for marketers.

So what do you think? Would you play this game?

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Winery Moneyball — Base hits and Home runs

One of the high points of my California trip last week was meeting Paul Mabray, CEO of the data and tech solutions company Emetry. Paul appreciated my No, There’s Not an App For That post and reached out for a chat and to extend some gracious Northern California hospitality with fabulous restaurant recommendations.

Photo by https://www.flickr.com/photos/dirkhansen/. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

I’ve been following Paul’s work for a while via his Twitter feed (@pmabray) and blog. So I was quite excited to meet him and get a chance to pick his brain about the direction of the industry.

The timing was apt as just a week earlier Bill Swindell of The Press Democrat did a write-up of Mabray, describing him as the kind of Billy Beane of the wine industry.

Swindell wove that analogy into quite an eyebrow-raising position of Mabray’s.

And just like Beane ditching RBIs for slugging percentage to measure a player’s value, that pursuit has led Mabray to one of his most controversial beliefs in the wine industry: The tasting room will not be the salvation in a marketplace where wholesaler and retailer consolidation has made it difficult to get store shelf space for wine. — Bill Swindell, The Press Democrat, 2/24/19

Wait…what?

The Bacon number of wine

The Bacon Numbers of Wine Influence.
The further you are away from the consumer, the less influential you will be.

Living and working so close to Woodinville wine country, I’ve always been an advocate of the importance of the tasting room experience. In fact, I consider it one of the few real influencers in the wine world with a Bacon Number of 1.

I saw so many customers during my retail years who had a vested loyalty in a brand because of a tasting room experience they had.

Whether it was in Woodinville, Walla Walla, the Willamette or down in California, people remember how a winery made them feel and sought out their wines back home. I even had customers who visited wineries in Michigan, Virginia and Arizona come into my Seattle area stores looking for wines that they tasted years ago on vacation.

So I always thought that tasting rooms were one of the last bastions of hope for small family wineries. But after meeting Paul, hearing more about his insights and approach, I had a light bulb go off.

While I was thinking small, he was thinking on a much bigger scale–one that plays well on the baseball diamond.

Tasting Room Visits Are Like RBIs

Just like RBIs are dependent on other people (i.e., whether those batting before get on base or not), the true value of tasting rooms are dependent on other people and other factors as well.

It’s dependent on your location–how close you are to a population center or tourist destination. And it is dependent on people actually walking through your doors–which is always going to be a very limited occurrence.

Photo by Mr.schultz. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Hey, look! Another solo home run!
Back in 2013, the Orioles led the league with 125 solo home runs–including 30 by Chris Davis alone.
They finished 4th in their division.

Even if a winery does an amazing job of promoting its tasting room experience, there are only so many consumers out of the 84 million potential wine drinkers in US that they can possibly reach.

Yes, that tasting room experience is immensely important. It is where a lot of wineries hit home runs. But, in many ways, it is only a clean-up hitter in the line-up.

A team can invest millions into signing a great slugger but that one hitter is only going to be able to do so much. And what they can do will always be intimately connected to the people getting on base ahead of them.

Mabray’s right. Just as a great slugger is not going to save a team, tasting room home runs are not going to save a winery.

Wineries Need Base Hits

How often do you think the team with the season’s home run leader ends up winning the World Series?

Photo by Barbara on Flickr. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0.

My Cards have won two World Series and appeared in four in the last 15 years. Though never in a year when we statistically led anything.
But that is because we have devil magic.

Hardly ever. The last time was Ryan Howard with the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008. Before that, it was Mike Schmidt, also with the Phillies, back in 1980.

But…. if you look at team records with OPS (on-base plus slugging which includes both base hits and walks), you start noticing more of a pattern beginning with last year’s World Series winning team, the Boston Red Sox.

2017 OPS leader? The Houston Astros.
2013? Boston Red Sox.
2009? New York Yankees.

And so on. It’s obviously not precise but it is inescapable that the teams that succeed are the ones that reach base.

Now, if you’re a winery, you want to gobble up bases like Ted Williams. You don’t want to sit back and wait for the home run ball. You want to make things happen.

You want to play Whiteyball.

Social Media — A Winery’s Lead-Off Hitter

Photo by John Mena. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

The White Rat.

Billy Beane’s Moneyball philosophy has undoubtedly pushed the envelope in baseball analytics. But Beane’s Oakland A’s haven’t had much success to show for it.

Now, of course, small market economics played a role but those same economics didn’t keep the 2014 and 2015 Kansas City Royals from back-to-back World Series appearances and one championship.

Much of the Royals success came from manager Ned Yost adopting some of the tactics that St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Whitey Herzog promoted in the 1980s. Back then, Herzog’s “Whiteyball” led the small market Cards to 3 World Series appearances, including a championship in 1982.

A central tenet of “Whiteyball” is the importance of the lead-off hitter. This is the place setter and spark plug that gets the offense going. Statistically, it’s also the batter that has the most opportunities to bat and reach base.

For those legendary 1980s Cardinals teams, that hitter was Lonnie Smith and then Vince Coleman. The 2014-2015 Royals had Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar.

But who hits lead-off for a winery?

What spark plug does a winery have that statistically is going to get the most opportunities to bat and reach base with consumers?

It’s not the tasting room limited by time, capacity and, sometimes, permit regulations.

It’s not a restaurant wine list which is even more limited by time and capacity as well as the whims of beverage directors.

And it’s certainly not retail channels where you almost need a New York Yankees’ type profile and budget to secure access to anymore.

No, the one area where wineries have almost unfettered access to put the ball into play for millions of potential customers is social media.

Underutilized or on the bench?

Nowadays, just about every winery has some social media presence. They’re at least penciling someone into that lead-off role. But you almost get the sense that they’re doing that as an afterthought. It’s like slapping a helmet on some warm body and sending him out to the on-deck circle just because somebody has to be there.

Hey, let’s post a random bottle shot and let people know that the tasting room is open! That’s engagement!

Photo by Keith Allison from Owings Mills, USA. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

A serious question that every winery should ask themselves, what are you doing with YOUR Mike Trout years?

As I lamented in my articles The Winery Twitter Dance and Is the Wine Industry boring Millennials to (its) death?, the shoddy and half-hearted approach to social media by many wineries is astonishing.

The vast, vast majority are not doing the kind of targeted and data-driven approach advocated by Paul Mabray and others. Nor are they utilizing the platforms to share their stories–which is a winery’s most powerful currency.

Instead, it like wineries are playing the role of Arte Moreno of the Angels. They’re pouring resources into a lineup of fat contracts and splashy moves while wasting the best years of Mike Trout. Sure, you’re doing something. But are you really focusing on the tools that feed your success? That sets the table to make those big home runs impactful?

Yes, focusing on your tasting room is important. Focusing on your wine club and DTC sales are important. Making great wine is important.

But all of that is for naught if you’re not getting on base and reaching consumers.

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Women, Wine and Twitter — Great Accounts To Follow

In my early Twitter days, I would pretty much follow anyone with “wine” in their bio–wineries, writers, news sites and other personalities. But I’ve gotten far more selective over the years as I started to view my Twitter feed as a tool.

Photo by MainlyTwelve. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I’m on here nearly every day looking for new content to devour. Above all, I want to find engaging conversations that encourage me to think more deeply about my sentiments on wine. Admittedly, I don’t always find that amidst the noise and other rubbish that can populate the site.

However, in the waning hours of International Women’s Day, I wanted to highlight the accounts that are written by women which do provide me the intriguing content and conversations I crave.

While this may appear to be fairly exhaustive, it’s far from it. I created a list on the SpitBucket Twitter page titled “Women Wine Twitter” which features many more accounts.

I’m always looking to add more so if you know of someone that I missed, add their names in the comments below.

Rules for Inclusion

The women listed below are accounts that I follow myself. As I noted above, I try to be somewhat selective in my follows. My criteria for following is dependent on an account being active, engaging and mostly wine focused.

I understand how outside life can get in the way. But I have little interest in following an account that only tweets once or twice a month if that. Even more important than activity, though, is the quality of the content. I want to get something out of the accounts I follow–whether that be learning something new about wine, an inspiration for a post or a reason to think about things in a different way.

All of the accounts listed below deliver on those criteria and are well worth following.

Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers

Sadly not too many Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers are really active on Twitter. Quite a few fall into the “tweet every once in a while” mindset and it seems like most Master Sommeliers have migrated over to Instagram.

But the ones below are a few notable exceptions that I’ve found.

Jancis Robinson (@JancisRobinson)

The Beyoncé of Wine. Need I say more?

Sarah Abbott (@SarahAbbottMW)

Sarah is a Master of Wine who posts reasonably regularly about various tastings she’s attending, MW affairs, timely news articles as well as posts from her Swirl Wine Group blog.

Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan MW (@JediWineMaster)

By far, the coolest wine name on Twitter. And it’s a moniker that Simonetti-Bryan certainly lives up to as evidenced by her tweets and fabulous Rosé Wine wine book (which I reviewed here).

Elizabeth Gabay MW (@LizGabayMW)

One of the foremost authorities on rosé wine, I also get quite a bit of insight into the European market and politics from following her Twitter feed. Recently, she was in the Canary Islands where she posted a great pic of the many old-school styles of vine trellising still used on the Spanish islands.

Debra Meiburg MW (@DebraMeiburgMW)

Debra is an Asian-based Master of Wine who comments on various aspects of the wine industry. Her Twitter feed is always an excellent source for keen insights such as the quotes she pulled from Laura Catena’s recent seminar in Hong King.

Photo by Asianpalate. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

Jeannie Cho Lee

Jeannie Cho Lee MW (@JeannieChoLee)

The first Asian Master of Wine, Jeannie is a frequent contributor to Decanter and the Robb Report. While her Twitter feed has its fair share of bottle porn, I appreciate that she adds some context and details to describe all the fabulous wine she is drinking. It’s always nice to know that your sentiment on Cristal is shared by a Master of Wine.

Pascaline Lepeltier (@plepeltier)

Along with Alice Feiring, Pascaline authored the Dirty Guide to Wine and is a big advocate of Natural Wine. She is also an evangelist for the wines of her native Loire Valley including the incredibly underrated Chenin blanc grape. Bringing more attention to Chenin is a mission that I can certainly get behind!

Wine Business and Marketing Mavens

Rebecca Hopkins (@beckhopkinswine)

Rebecca is a long time industry vet who frequently comments and retweets articles about important happenings in the industry. A native Australian, she’ll often tweet about some of the silly ways that Australian wines and other beverages are marketed.

Cathy Huyghe (@cathyhuyghe)

The co-founder of Enolytics, many of Cathy’s tweets (as well as her articles for Forbes and other publication) are business and data-driven. I particularly like the way that she tends to cut through the noise to show unique perspectives about hot-button wine topics such as her post in January about diversity in the wine business.

https://twitter.com/VinoSocialNancy

Screenshot of Nancy Croiser’s Vino Social Twitter page.

Nancy Croisier (@VinoSocialNancy)

Nancy is a long time marketing specialist who runs Vino Social which helps wineries better utilize social media. Her mission is one close to my heart and such a vital component in regaining the lost storytelling of wine. Needless to say, her Twitter feed is a master class in savvy social media use and is well worth following for anyone in the wine business.

Jessyca Lewis (@JessycaLewis)

Jessyca is a wine educator with a business and marketing focus. Every other Monday she hosts interviews and moderates conversations about wine marketing topics under the #winemktmonday hashtag. For anyone wanting to learn more about the business, particularly in the US, this is a must-follow.

Polly Hammond (@mme_hammond)

Along with Reka Haros and Felicity Carter (mentioned below), Polly usually gets tagged and contributes to really informative and interesting wine conversations on Twitter. It makes sense way given her background in the marketing world running 5forests in New Zealand.

Melanie Ofenloch (@dallaswinechick)

A professional marketing consultant in the Dallas area, Melanie is a fixture at many tasting events where she interacts with industry folks such as Anne Bousquet from Domaine Bousquet. Her Twitter feed features a lot of pics and her thoughts from these events as well as useful retweets of interesting wine articles.

Brilliant Women Winemakers and Winery Owners

Reka Haros (@RekaHaros)

Reka owns Sfriso Winery with her husband in the Treviso region of Venice. But she has a background in marketing and advertising which gives her great insights as well. She contributes to some of the best Twitter convos happening in the wine industry (IMO). Like this recent thread about a Harvard Business Review article on wine consumers that was stirring up controversy.

Treveri blind bottles

Don’t be misled by the bling display bottles, there is some seriously good sparkling wine being made here.

Julie Grieb (@cuveetirage)

Julie owns the Washington State sparkling wine producer Treveri with her husband and is an alum of Sonoma University Wine Business Management program. While a lot of her tweets, understandably, focus on sparkling wine (including highlighting the super cool single-vineyard Pinot Meunier bottling from Alfred Gratien) she also participates in a lot of fun win convos.

WOWSonoma (@wowsonoma)

This Twitter account highlights women-owned wineries in Sonoma. But their tweets often extend beyond Sonoma including a directory of women-owned wineries across the US.

Sarah Garrett  (@SerranoWine)

I’ve mentioned Sarah on the blog before because of her skillful marketing to Millennials. Together with her husband Brice, they run a winery down in Paso Robles that specializes in Rhone varieties. Their Twitter feed gives great behind-the-scenes insights into all the hard work that goes into maintaining a vineyard and running a winery.

Lori Budd (@Dracaenawines)

With her husband Michael, Lori runs Dracaena Wines in Paso Robles. While their wines have won many awards, so has her blog which has expanded to a podcast that features interviews with winemakers and other industry folks. She was also the spark plug behind the development of Cabernet Franc Day.

Elizabeth Vianna (@ChimneyRockWine)

I may get an opportunity to meet Elizabeth in early May when I do an interview tour with producers of the Stags Leap District AVA. I’ll be completely honest; it will be tough not to fangirl out if that happens. She is such a tremendous winemaker who injects a lot of personality into her wines that can also be seen on her twitter feed like in this behind-the-scenes post from a UC-Davis seminar conducted by Dr. Linda Bisson (another rockstar).

Kronos vineyard

The Kronos vineyard outside Corison’s tasting room in St. Helena.

Cathy Corison (@cathycorison)

So I actually did fangirl out when I met Cathy. I couldn’t help it. She is such a legend in the industry and one of the kindest, most humble voices you will ever meet. Her feed is not only worth following for her insights but also links to great articles like this write-up on Elaine Chukan Brown (a marvelous wine writer worth following as well @hawk_wakawaka).

Amelia Ceja (@AmeliaCeja)

Pioneering owner of the Napa Valley winery Ceja in Carneros. She is the first and only Mexican-American woman to own a winery, earning honors at the Smithsonian.

Good Sources For Wine News and Other Perspectives

Anyone that follows the SpitBucket Facebook page knows that I’m a news junkie. If you’ve ever wondered where I get many of the articles I post and comment on, it’s from the feeds of these ladies below.

Esther Mobley (@Esther_mobley)

As the wine critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Esther holds a lot of sway in the California wine industry. But what I love is that she doesn’t lord over her domain with a pen but instead looks for the humanity behind each story such as her incredibly thought-provoking piece on migrant female workers’ role in the California wine industry. More recently, she wrote a very touching tribute to the late Stags Leap District icon, John Shafer.

Jane Anson (@newbordeaux)

Jane is the lead Bordeaux writer for Decanter and, frankly, I think she is the best Bordeaux reviewer currently in the business. When I was reviewing Bordeaux Futures offers for the 2017 campaign, I found her detailed reports and honest assessment of this uneven vintage to be the most informative and useful. While there are a lot of great writers on Bordeaux, if you want to only follow one–follow Jane.

Kelli White's Napa book

My Christmas present last year was Kelli White’s 1255 page tome on Napa Valley. It’s a beauty!

Kelli Audrey White (@kelliwhitewine)

One of the lead writers on GuildSomm, her articles are can’t miss reads. The amount of background research and details that she puts into her work is inspirational. Simply put, I want to be Kelli White when I grow up.

Felicity Carter (@FelicityCarter)

The editor-in-chief of Meininger’s Wine Business International, Felicity Carter is one of the most influential women in wine. I can only imagine how jammed pack her schedule must be but she still manages to find time to contribute to many thoroughly engaging wine conversations on Twitter. In fact, it was one of her tweets that inspired my Wine & Politics — Strange Bedfellows or Drinking Buddies? post.

Becca Yeamans-Irwin (@TheAcademicWino)

Along with Lewis Perdue, Becca curates the daily wine news fetch for Wine Business Insight. On her blog, her posts aptly take an academic bent focusing on scientific studies and literature related to the beverage industry–such as this review of social media use on Facebook by wineries in Sicily.

Dorothy J. Gaiter (@winecouple)

With her husband, John Brecher, Dottie wrote the Wall Street Journal’s wine column for 12 years and is still producing outstanding content on her Grape Collective site. She also pioneered “Open That Bottle Night” which has even been immortalized on Jeopardy!

Jill Barth (@jillbarth)

Jill’s work is featured in Wine Enthusiast, Decanter, Forbes and USA Today. Her Twitter feed is a smorgasbord of highly informative news articles from many different sources–as well as many different topics like this uber geeky piece on the genetic history of yeast strains used in beer.

Michelle Williams (@Fiery01Red)

In addition to her Rockin Red Blog, Michelle also writes for Snooth, Forbes and other publications. Like most great writers, her Twitter feed is very well-curated with links and retweets to many interesting articles as well as her own work.

Liza Zimmerman (@LizaWineChick)

A longtime writer and wine educator, Liza brings a wealth of experience and insight to her writings. On sites like WineSearcher.com and Forbes, she often gets inside scoops and valuable interviews on leading wine topics–like the recent MS scandal.

Lauren Mowery (@chasingthevine)

Lauren is an MW student who also contributes to Wine Enthusiast, USA Today, Forbes and other publications. You’ll often find her posts being retweeted and circulated around the Twitter-sphere. Among her many great articles was this recent interview with Nicole Salengo, winemaker for Berryessa Gap Vineyards.

screenshot of Seven Fifty Daily's twitter page

I’m shocked at how few people are following Seven Fifty Daily’s Twitter feed right now.
There is some seriously good stuff being published here.

Katherine Cole (@kcoleuncorked)

A leading voice on Seven Fifty Daily, Katherine wrote a tremendous piece on legendary French wine importer Martine Saunier that is a must read any time of the year. But it particularly fits for Women’s History Month. Seven Fifty Daily is becoming one of the top resources for compelling content and Katherine (along with editor-in-chief Erica Duecy @ericaduecy) is a big reason why.

Wine Bloggers/Media Conference Discoveries

Noelle Harman (@outwinesblog)

Noelle is a fellow WSET Diploma student who chronicles her journey on her Twitter feed and blog, Outwines. The name comes from the terrific outlines of major wine regions and wine styles that she has created for her exams–which she freely provides for anyone to use. Without a doubt, one of the best things that any wine student can do is to bookmark that page I just linked and incorporate these outlines into your studies.

Luciana Braz (@WineTalkGroup)

I met Luciana at the Wine Bloggers Conference and love following her feed which includes pictures and videos from her travels and dining. But instead of just posting boring old bottle porn, she includes fun stuff like this Madeira Wine Tower that I would probably have the same expression as she does here upon seeing.

Nancy Koziol (@WriterNancy)

Nancy gave the best and most informative presentation of WBC18 about the importance of good writing and how it affects your Google traffic. That talk and her follow-up correspondence with me has helped me immensely in becoming a better writer. If you are a long time reader, you may have noticed the change in my writing from early October 2018 to after. A considerable part of that is because of Nancy.

Amanda Barnes (@amanda_tweeter)

Amanda is a Southern Hemisphere-based wine writer who also gave another great presentation at WBC18. Her account is a must follow to gain insights on dreadfully underreported areas of wine. Especially with wine students, it is so easy to get so Euro and USA-focused that you overlook the cool stuff that is happening in places like Uruguay.

Mo Blum (@MoWino_com)

While I’ve not had the privilege of trying her dishes, Mo looks to be a fabulous cook and she frequently posts about her creations and wine pairings. She’s recently branched out into publishing short cooking tips videos on how to use wine in your cooking that are hugely informative.

Crushed Grape Chronicles (@CrushGrapeChron)

Robin Renken runs the Crushed Grape Chronicles blog with her husband, Michael. They not only post great content that seeks out the backstory of wine but their Twitter feed is a source for fun articles from a variety of publications.

Aspiring Winos (@aspiringwinos)

While Anne is a bit more active in her Unique Gifter account (@UGifter), she posts fun stuff about her and her husband, Jeff’s, journey in learning more about wine.

Cayuse En Cerise

I also have to admire Sandi’s wine picking skills. At my “free-for-all” cellar clean out party last month she nailed it with this 2012 Cayuse En Cerise.

Decanted Podcast (@DecantedPodcast)

Sandi Everingham is one half of this podcasting team that I not only follow on Twitter but subscribe to on Overcast as well. Back in December, I did a review of the Decanted Podcast. What particularly impressed me was how well intuned that Sandi and Dave were in the happenings of the Washington wine scene. That savvy come through in their tweets as well as their podcast.

Liz Barrett (@LizBChicago)

Along with the incredibly charming Odd Bacchus, Liz frequently posts hilarious video wine reviews on a broad range of topics. One recent one that I liked was a blind tasting of musician-related wineries like Sting’s Il Palagio and Constellation Brands’ Dreaming Tree which features Dave Matthews lyrics on its labels.

Diane Roberts (@Positive_Vines)

A Dallas-based blogger, Diane’s posts feature not only great photos and insights from her travels but also a lot of fun stuff about her experiences in the Texas wine and beverage scene.

Drinky LaRue (@Winelover0227)

If you’re looking for the joie de vivre of wine, check out Drinky’s Twitter feed and blog. At its core, wine is about sharing great times and great memories with friends which Drinky does in her posts, retweets and convos. She also brings you to some terrific tasting events she attends that may make you feel a wee bit jealous.

Wine Travel Eats (@winetraveleats)

With her partner David and frequent blog contributor Wendy Baune (@GrnLakeGirl), Amber produces excellent content and gorgeous photos on her Wine Travel Eats and companion sites.  She covers a broad spectrum of topics. One recent favorite was her post on Sherry wine.

Leeann Froese (@leeannwine)

As co-owner of Town Hall Brands in Vancouver, British Columbia, Leeann brings a lot of marketing savvy and insights to her posts. She’s one of my go-to sources on what is happening in the BC wine scene.

Thea Dwelle (@Luscious_Lushes)

Thea was an icon at the WBC and it was easy to see why. She has been producing great content on her blog for years which she frequently posts on her Twitter feed–like this recent revisiting on her exploration of the Mencia grape in the Bierzo region of Spain.

Margot Savell (@WriteforWine)

Margot is one of the original Washington wine bloggers that I’ve been following for more than ten years. While she is a fixture in the Washington wine scene, she posts about a variety of wine topic including all the fun discoveries she is currently having on her Australian tour.

US-Focus Bloggers

Kirkland Wine Gal (@kirklandwinegal)

A Pacific Northwest blogger, a lot of Kirkland Wine Gal’s tweets are Washington focused–including this fun Buzzfeed-like quiz from Woodinville Wine Country about “What Woodinville Wine Are You?”. Apparently, I’m Cabernet Sauvignon which will make a handful of readers chuckle.

Amy Lieberfarb (@amylieberfarb)

Amy is a Sonoma-based blogger who gets tagged in many great wine conversations, particularly under the #sonomachat hashtag. These convos feature fun back and forth chats about food and wine pairing as well as some gorgeous photos of wine country life. She also posts and retweets a lot of helpful wine articles.

Kathy Wiedemann's Twitter

Screenshot of Kathy Wiedemann’s Twitter page.

Kathy Wiedemann (@Virginia_Made)

A passionate advocate for the wines of Virginia, Kathy’s Twitter feed is a great introduction and inspiration to learn more about the wines of Thomas Jefferson’s home state. But even beyond Virginia wine, Kathy is a frequent instigator and contributor to a lot of engaging wine convos including this recent one on Orange wine.

Elaine Schoch (@thecarpetravel)

Elaine is a Denver-based travel writer who runs Carpe Travel. Here she publishes unique content about exciting places including one on the growing New Mexico wine industry.

Jacqueline Coleman (@HistoryandWine)

Jacqueline has another great Twitter handle and her posts often combine her love of history and wine like this recent link to an article on the Coravin blog about the origins of the Grenache grape.

Rupal Shankar (@Syrah_Queen)

Another great Twitter handle but Rupal tweets about more than just Syrah. A recent fav of mine was her post about Nero d’Avola in Sicily.

Nancy Brazil (@MsPullThatCork)

In addition to running her blog, Nancy is a big reader of wine articles from across the globe and posts the best content she finds–including a fantastic piece from Wine Enthusiast about notable first among women in the wine industry.

The Swirling Dervish (@theswirlingderv)

Lauren Walsh is another WSET Diploma student that is a geek after my own heart. Not only does she create great content but I love when she shares tidbits about unique wines she comes across like this white (yes, white!) Cabernet Franc.

Cathie Schafer (@SideHustleWino)

This is another Twitter handle that makes me smile when I see it appear in my news feed. Cathie has a keen eye for interesting wine reviews and photos that she retweets. She also produces fun articles like this recent write-up of the Santa Cruz Pinot noir that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle served at their wedding.

Bloggers Across The Globe

Elena Amigo (@sommenite)

Elena looks to be an Argentine-based sommelier as many of her tweets (often in Spanish) are about wine reviews and producers in Argentina. But she also has a good following list and will often retweet articles from other accounts that I might otherwise miss on my dash.

Steph (@Winellennial)

Steph is a London-based blogger who seeks out and posts lots of great wine news articles. A recent favorite of mine that her feed brought to my attention was a post about winemakers in Chile training dogs on how to sniff out TCA in new corks.

Fran Marshall (@thefoodmarshall)

Fran is an Australian based blogger that brings a great perspective on Southern Hemisphere wines. She’ll post about wines that she’s drinking and retweet fun stuff from wineries she follows like this mesmerizing cascade of Shiraz berries from Clonkilla.

Travelling Corkscrew (@TravelCorkscrew)

Casey at Travelling Corkscrew is an Aussie blogger who I’m glad to be following.  This is one of the few ways that I get to learn about all the fantastic, small production Australian wines that rarely make their way to the US. She also brought to my attention the existence of National Drink Wine With Your Cat Week.

Allison Wallace (@allison_wallace)

A Canadian blogger, Allison’s Twitter feed is another terrific source for retweets and links to interesting articles. She’ll also do posts from her blog such as her recent interview with Mari Womack of Damsel Cellars, a fantastic female winemaker from Washington State.

Kirsten MacLeod (@TheKirstenMac)

Kirsten is a WSET Diploma student based in London that takes a global perspective to wine in her tweets and retweets. One article that she recently brought to my dash was Miquel Hudin’s piece on the follies of blind tasting Priorat wines.

Savor the Harvest twitter page

Screenshot of Savor the Harvest’s Twitter page

Savor the Harvest (@savortheharvest)

Lynn, with her partner Mark, is based in Bordeaux and writes about their experiences in one of the benchmark wine regions of the world. In addition to wine, she also post and retweet fun food articles like this interesting piece about cocoa butter.

Jacky Blisson (@JackyBlisson)

Jacky is a Montreal-based MW candidate and wine educator. She posts on a variety of topics, including links to her YouTube wine education channel.

Folks you’re probably already following but are still worth a mention

Lettie Teague (@LettieTeague1) — Wine columnist for the Wall Street Journal.

Ella Lister (@EllaLister) — Founder of Wine Lister.

Maureen Downey (@moevino) — The foremost expert on wine fraud.

Cathrine Todd (@damewine) — At nearly 22,000 tweets and comments, one of the most prolific voices in the Wine Twittersphere.

Kelly Mitchell (@KellyMitchell) — With over 21,500 tweets, the Wine Siren is not that far off either from Dame Wine and contributes quite a bit to the wine convos on Twitter.

Boozychef (@boozychef) — But with almost 250,000 tweets, it is clearly Boozychef’s world and we’re just living in it.

Wedding photo

Getting married with the Wine Bible.
Photo by Neil Enns of Dane Creek Photography.

Karen MacNeil (@KarenMacNeilCo) — The author of THE Wine Bible–which I actually got married with. Seriously!

Meg Maker (@megmaker) — Founder of the Terroir Review.

Tia Butts (@WineInkByTia) — Napa-based wine communicator and host of Farmers Fresh Hour on KVON 1440 am

Fiona Beckett (@winematcher) — Decanter contributor and host of the Batonnage podcast.

Natalie MacLean (@NatalieMacLean) — Longtime wine pro and manager of her eponymous site.

Joanie Metivier (@Joaniemetivier) — Creator of the Wine Regions Coloring Book.

Amy Corron Power (@WineWonkette) — Photojournalist and editor of Another Wine Blog.

Leslie Sbrocco (@lesliesbrocco) — Bay Area-based wine communicator featured on many television shows and publications.

Wine Harlots (@WineHarlots) — A wine site with a humous bent run by Nannette Eaton.

Alice Feiring (@alicefeiring) — Leading Natural Wine advocate and author of numerous wine books.

Elizabeth Schneider (@NormalWine) — Host of the Wine for Normal People podcast which I review here.

Lisa Perrotti-Brown (@LisaPBMW) — Editor-in-chief of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

Madeline Puckette (@WineFolly) — Founder of the wine education site Wine Folly.

Who did I miss? Be sure to comment below on who you think is worth following!

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Cali Quick Takes — Winery Signage

I’m wrapping up my Northern California jaunt with a lovely 4-hour flight delay at SFO. But, all in all, the trip was extremely productive. I was able to gather lots of inspiration for future posts that I’ll be publishing over the next couple of months.

Tasting room sign

You can get a sneak peek at some of the places I’ve visited and topic ideas that I’m mulling over on the SpitBucket Instagram page.

I had several objectives on this trip–researching the Stags Leap District for a special project, indulging my wife’s sparkling wine obsession, checking out the CellarPass winery reservation system and figuring out how California’s prestige wine regions plan to reach Millennial consumers.

When it comes to the latter, the jury is still out. But I can tell you one thing, many wineries certainly won’t be helped by their signage.

I Can’t Drive (Or Read Your Sign) 55!

Photo by Weatherman90 Matt Becker. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-3.0

I seriously can’t believe that Sammy is 71.

And, at 71, Sammy Hagar probably can’t read them either–at whatever speed he’s driving nowadays.

It was really surprising how many winery signs along the major roadways in Napa and Sonoma had tiny print for their tasting hours and whether or not they were by appointment.

Sometimes even the name of the winery itself was hard to read because they decided to mimic the cursive font on their label. Very elegant when you’re slowly pulling into their entrance but completely useless when you’re whizzing past on California 12 in Carneros at 55 mph (or 65 mph as the numerous cars that passed me were going).

Now it’s not that bad when you have a passenger with a smartphone that can Google to see what winery we just passed and if it’s worth turning around to visit.

But that’s not good either.

Photo by Fietsbel. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Not elegant but effective–especially at 55 mph.

At several of the wineries I visited, I chatted with my fellow guests to see where they were going next. The most common reply I heard from wine drinkers of all generations was:

“Oh, we’re just going to drive around and see what jumps out.”

Do you think the winery signs with hard to read cursive fonts and tiny print “jump out” to many of these drinkers?

I truly wonder how many winery owners have gotten into their cars and drove past their signs at the maximum (and “realistic”) speeds to see how readable they are.

This is particularly critical for small wineries that don’t necessarily have people looking for them. They really need to capitalize on those wine drinkers who are just driving around and looking for a place to visit.

It’s worth sacrificing a little bit of elegance to gain functionality.

And that is the point of a winery sign, isn’t it? To be functional and to help people find you.

A good sign doesn’t have to look like a highway sign but taking a look at their standards is not a bad idea.

At the bare minimum, the name of the winery should be crystal clear as well as the tasting hours and if appointments are required or not. And this needs to be readable at roadway speeds.

Because most consumers aren’t going to pull over or ask a passenger to whip out their smartphone to see if a winery is worth turning back for.

They’re just going to keep on driving, looking for something to “jump out”.

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Cali Quick Takes — A tale of two approaches

I’m in Napa and Sonoma for the next few days–away from the comforts of my books and desktop that usually fuel my posts.

domaine carneros menu

But a visit to Domaine Carneros and dinner with a bottle of Joel Peterson’s Once and Future Mataro gave a great contrast in two wineries’ marketing approach that I want to chime in on.

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

At Domaine Carneros, I greatly appreciated that they were able to squeeze us in without an appointment. They sat us in a dining area with a menu of tasting option, glass pours and small bites.

My wife went for the bubbles flight (of course) while I had a glass pour of their prestige cuvee, the 2013 Le Rêve. The attendant was helpful enough, explaining briefly the grape varieties in each cuvee and the aging. He did stumble a bit in the sweetness scale–describing demi-sec as “half-sweet” and telling us that if we ever see a bottle labeled as sec that it would be “twice as sweet” as a demi-sec. (Yeah, no.)

But I wasn’t in the mood to be that person so I let him finish his spiel before going off to tend to other guests.

It was then that we noticed how utterly useless the tasting mat that came with my wife’s flight was.

Domaine Carneros tasting mat

#ChateauStyle gobbly gook

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

What use is this? I guess I should have had a pen and paper ready to take notes when the attendant was dropping off the wine.

There is not one shred of useful information on this tasting mat. Just marketing blurbs telling me what they think I’m drinking instead of details about what I’m actually drinking.

It would have been extremely helpful to have some worthwhile information about the wines as we compared and contrast. Grape varieties? Vineyard source? Blend percentages? Dosage? Farming style? Bueller?

It really felt more like pandering than anything else. And it was world’s apart to the back label of the 2016 Once and Future Mataro from the Oakley Road Vineyard in Contra Costa.

Can this be the “Once and Future” for all wine labels, pretty please?

Once and Future label

Well done Joel Peterson, well done.

The only thing missing is farming practices. But I absolutely love this approach. Here is a back label that doesn’t take the intelligence or curiosity of its customers for granted.

Yeah, there is a lot of info here that many folks won’t care about. It takes a certain type of geek to get excited about 8×8 head pruning. But it is all hidden away on the back of the bottle to where it is there if you want it and out of the way if you don’t.

And it is far and away better than pandering, marketing gobbly gook telling you to taste “refreshing aromas of lemon zest, grapefruit, golden hay and a floral note reminiscent of the delicate grape flower.”

Oh please.

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