Archive for: May, 2019

60 Second Wine Review — Digby Fine English Brut

It’s English Wine Week, so I’m sharing a few quick thoughts on the non-vintage Digby Fine English Brut sparkling wine.

Digby Fine English Brut

The Geekery

American Trevor Clough and Englishman Jason Humphries founded Digby Fine English in 2013 as a negociant house in the style of many Champagne firms. Purchasing wine (and later fruit) from several sources, they released a 2009 vintage brut and rosé that year.

Clough and Humphries named their venture in honor of the 17th-century philosopher and scientist Sir Kenelm Digby.  Also an inventor, Digby pioneered several new techniques in glassmaking–essentially inventing the modern wine bottle.

The wines are made at Wiston Estate Winery by Irish winemaker Dermot Sugrue. Vineyards for the NV Brut were sourced from the North and South Downs region of Kent as well as Sussex and Hampshire.

The non-vintage Brut is 40% Pinot noir, 35% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Meunier with the Chardonnay seeing an additional 18 months of lees contact before being used in the blend. The finished wine was aged 24 months in the bottle and then disgorged with a 12 g/l dosage. Around 25,000 bottles were produced.

The Wine

Photo By Gaetan Lee - originally posted to Flickr as French tart, CC BY 2.0

Some apple tart pastry flavors but not much more.

Medium intensity nose. Appley with some toasted tart pastry.

On the palate, the apple pastry notes carry through with a little subtle earthiness as well. Lively mousse and acidity complement the weighty feel of the wine. However, the flavors and the finish quickly fade.

The Verdict

In general, I’m a huge fan of English sparklers and have had several that go toe-to-toe with quality Champagne. Chapel Down is probably my favorite. But they haven’t been the easiest to find in the US and I will admit that this one (which I got at a Seattle wine shop for $50 USD) was rather underwhelming.

In the UK, this is direct from the producer at £30.99 (about $40 USD) with some merchants selling it closer to $30 USD. That is a much better price point for this quality level. Without a doubt, US consumers are paying a premium for the novelty.

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Geek Notes — Twitter Wine Chats To Follow

Yeah, I know. Twitter can be a bunch of noise and nonsense. But like with every social media platform, it’s only as useful or useless as you make it. One way to steer Twitter towards the former is by checking out the wine-themed Twitter chats that happen every week. These chats offer an excellent opportunity to learn more about wine and to connect with other passionate wine geeks.

Photo By Jamie from Birmingham, AL, USA - DSC_6519, CC BY 2.0,

That latter point is key because the more good wine accounts you follow–and engage with–the less drudge and drivel you’ll find in your feed. I don’t fully understand all the wonkery behind Twitter’s algorithms that decide what you see and when you see it. But I can vouch that my feed got populated with a lot more quality wine content as soon as I started participating in more Twitter wine chats.

What the heck is a Twitter wine chat?

Twitter chats are virtual meet-and-greets centered around a common theme. They are usually hosted by a blogger or someone in the industry who moderates the discussion and may feature a special guest. While they can feel like a free-for-all, there are some etiquette rules and coordination (which I’ll discuss below) that adds structure.

But the biggest thing to remember is that they are open for everyone to participate. You don’t have to be a blogger or someone in the wine industry to share your thoughts or follow the conversation. In fact, these chats are often greatly enriched by the presence of non-industry folks because it helps break the bubble that the wine world is prone to inducing.

Somm Chat page

Many chats have a primary Twitter account (such as this one for #SommChat) where you can see when the next chat is and who the featured guest will be.

What’s in it for me?

For the regular wine lover, there are several benefits of participating in Twitter wine chats. As we already noted, a significant one is finding more great wine accounts to interact with. But others include:

1.) An escape from the real world to get your geek on for at least an hour.

Cause that’s what social media is all about–an escape. Rather than keep scrolling, hitting like and moving on, you can actually have some real wine convos with other like-minded folks. Often these chats are fun, even silly, little breaks from everyday life.

2.) Learning about new wines and recommendations.

Though I will add one huge caveat here as many wine chats are sponsored by wineries or regional associations. For the most part, blogger participants are upfront in noting that the wines they’re talking about have been sent to them as samples or that a post they’re linking to was paid for. But sometimes that can get hazy.

Keep an open mind but be aware that just like with everything on the internet, there are often other angles at play. That said, there are a lot of independent commentaries in these chats. I’ve seen many bloggers give very blunt and truthful assessments of sample wines. But I’m not going to lie. There can be a little dog & pony show fluffery in some of these sponsored chats. However, I wouldn’t be personally following or interested in any of the ones I listed below if there wasn’t enough substance to keep me satiated.

What’s in it for wine students?

Wine students absolutely need to have a global perspective on what is happening in the wine world. This makes participating in wine chats with users across the globe a sorely-needed benefit. For myself, as an American now living abroad, every week that I check out the #UKWineHour, I’m always startled at how different the UK wine scene is compared to the US. From pricing/discounting to marketing approaches, it’s like a whole other world.

Suddenly it made sense why I struggled my first-go-around with the WSET Diploma unit on the Global Business of Wine. My American-centrism was a huge blind spot for me. Apart from actually going to London, participating in the #UKWineHour chat has been one of the best answers to that blind spot.

Even outside of the chat times, the #ukwinehour hashtag is well worth following.

Chat Etiquette and Tips

Most chats will kick off with some housekeeping rules about how the topic of the day is going to be discussed. Often these involve the host asking questions which are usually numbered (Q1, Q2, etc.) with chat followers responding by labeling their answers in a similar fashion (A1 to respond to Q1, A2 for Q2 and so forth).

The key is always to include the hashtag. What I try to do is keep my cursor highlighted on the chat’s page so that I can copy & paste it first into the response box with a couple of clicks. This is important because the hashtag is the lifeblood of the chat and what tethers everything together.

Pink society page

My low-tech solution for remembering to include the hashtag. Just keep a page open with the tag highlighted.

Without it, you’re mainly talking into the void and will be mostly baffling the folks who follow your regular feed. It’s also a courtesy for your followers who may want to mute the hashtag for a short time because, honestly, feeds can get pretty spammy during chat hours.

My secret? Multiple tabs

I’m sure there are more tech-savvy ways to juggle Twitter wine chats, but I take the simple three tab approach.

1.) One tab opened with the #hashtag set on the latest tweets.
2.) One tab on my notifications so I can respond to things personally directed at me.
3.) One tab on my regular Twitter feed where I can type out a message that isn’t a direct response to someone.

Three tab system

My three tab system. Probably not the most elegant solution but, eh, it works.

This works well for me, but anyone that has their own system is welcomed to share their secrets in the comments.

A couple more tips.

Don’t feel like you have to respond to everything or answer every question. However, if someone does tag or responds to you directly, it is polite to at least acknowledge them with a like. But you can do this after the chat is over by going back through your notifications.

Try to keep your conversations under the chat hashtag on topic. This is where chats can quickly go array. If a great side conversation emerges between you and other users, just drop the hashtag from your replies.

Be considerate of mobile users, especially when replying with gifs and videos. This can make participating in chats brutal when you don’t have the best internet connection. There have been some chats when the gif spam is flying and I just have to check out.

Twitter Wine Chats

The chats below are ones that either I personally participate in or am interested in following because wine folks who I respect have recommended them. Part of the reason why this post exists is to be my own personal cheat sheet of when these chats happen and the relevant hashtags.

I have them ordered based on days on the week they usually happen on–starting with Monday. Times listed will be in PST (West Coast US), EST (East Coast US), BST/GMT (British Standard Time) and CET (Central European Time–where I am).

#winemktmonday

Moderated by wine educator Jessyca Lewis with, as the name suggests, a wine marketing focus and centered around a featured guest. This is another great chat for wine students to follow.

Time: 9 am PST, Noon EST, 5 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 2nd & 4th Mondays of the month.

#WiningHourChat

Weekly chat hosted by three bloggers, Li, Cara & Maggie, who also run the @WiningHourChat account. This is one that I haven’t personally followed or observe much as the time makes it pretty impossible for those of us in Europe to participate in. They cover various topics and will sometimes have featured guests.

Time: 6 pm PST, 9 pm EST, 2 am BST, 3 am CET most Tuesdays.

#winestudio

Moderated by wine educator Tina Morey (@winestudioTINA) this chat has been on hiatus for a while, but it is slated to start back up on June 4th. It usually takes place on Tuesday with a weekly topic.

Time: 6 pm PST, 9 pm EST, 2 am BST, 3 am CET most Tuesdays.

#SommChat

A weekly chat moderated by the Keeper Collection in Texas (@keepercoll) under the @sommchat account. This is definitely geared more towards sommeliers and other industry folks with featured guests and a geekier bent than a lot of other chats.

Time: 9 am PST, Noon EST, 5 pm BST, 6 pm CET most Wednesdays.

#UKwinehour

Moderated by Sorcha Holloway who also runs the @ukwinehour account. This is a weekly chat with a mix of featured guests and discussions on a topic of the week.

Time: 11 am PST, 2 pm EST, 7 pm BST, 8 PM CET most Thursdays except during parts of August and Christmas.

#PinkSociety

Founded by Dave Razzari (@_drazzari) and moderated by the #PinkSociety Twitter handle (@thepinksociety_) with Lin (@boozychef) and Joe Florez (@jflorez), this is more of a social chat. It’s kind of like a drinking party on Twitter that everyone is invited to. Can be a great source for wine humor and fun accounts to follow. Often sponsored by wineries.

Time: 6 pm PST, 9 pm EST, 2 am BST, 3 am CET every 3rd Thursday, except in the summer when it’s every other Thursday. Next chats will be 5/30/19, 6/20/19 and 7/11/19.

#ItalianFWT

A monthly event with a different blogger hosting. They feature a discussion of the Italian wine topic of the month with many bloggers participating by writing additional articles and reviews.

Time: 8 am PST, 11 am EST, 4 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 1st Saturday of the month.

#winepw

A monthly food and wine pairing event with a different blogger hosting. Often this event is sponsored with bloggers pairing sampled wines with various food dishes. An excellent chat for foodies but, be forewarned–it will make you hungry.

Time: 8 am PST, 11 am EST, 4 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 2nd Saturday of the month.

#winophiles

Basically the French-themed counterpart to the #ItalianFWT chat. A monthly event with a different blogger hosting. Sometimes they select the topic, but other times it may be sponsored by a winery or regional association.

Time: 8 am PST, 11 am EST, 4 pm BST, 6 pm CET on the 3rd Saturday of the month.

Know of any others?

I’m always looking for good chat recommendations. Post your favorite Twitter wine chat down below in the comments, when it takes place and why you think it’s worth following.

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Why Do Winery Instagram Feeds Suck So Much?

For a follow up to this post, check out How Can Wineries Use Instagram Better?

Okay guys, let’s sit down and have a heart-to-heart here for a moment. I’ve been breaking up with a lot of you via Instagram by unfollowing your winery accounts. And, yeah, it’s you and not me.
Photo by Today Testing (for derivative) - This file was derived from: Scroll on Desk.jpg Instagram logo 2016.svg. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 4.0

Simply put, a lot of your winery Instagrams aren’t worth a damn following.

Now I’m not saying that my own personal IG is gold. Don’t bother going there looking for inspiration or ammo.

But I’m not selling anything. I don’t make a dime from this blog, so my Instagram is purely for my own folly and note-keeping. Plus wineries shouldn’t be comparing themselves to personal IGs anyways. And god knows they shouldn’t be trying to emulate the feeds of so-called “influencers” which are their own kinds of pomp and circum-shit.

Instead, every winery needs to step back and think about what they’re doing on Instagram. What is the point of a consumer following you?

Is it to see a stream of spammy ads and bottle porn?

bottle porn pics from https://www.instagram.com/chateaustemichelle/

So much bottle porn…

Nope. Wrong answer.

If I wanted to see non-stop images of your wine bottles, I’d hijack your delivery truck and take it on a high-speed chase. News flash! People hate ads. That’s why we quickly turn the channel or flip the page.

So why in the world would I want to follow your feed just to see more time-wasting ads willingly? And that is precisely what your lovely, beautifully curated bottle shots in pastel locations are–ads.

Yeah, I can keep scrolling on by (which I do) but there comes a point where I (and other consumers) eventually pause and wonder–why am I following this shit? That’s when we wake up from the IG bubble and start searching for something real.

Give us dirty hands and real people.

Photo by https://www.instagram.com/p/BwkYD6QHP4J/

Great pic from Chimney Rock Winery. Grandma used to say that “Dirty hands are a sign of clean money.”
That’s probably still true, but in marketing to today’s Millennials, dirty hands are a sign of real people making authentic wine.

Wine doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It doesn’t magically appear out of Star Trek food replicators. There were real people who shepherded the land and put in the time, passion and effort to turn bunches of grapes into something meaningful in the bottle. Show us that!

One of the best lines that I heard on my recent press tour of the Stags Leap District was the comment from Chimney Rock’s winemaker and general manager Elizabeth Vianna that “… at least six hands have a role in getting the wine from grape to bottle.” Then she shared some of the stories of those hands like the cellar worker who has trouble clocking in during harvest because the fingerprint reader won’t recognize his print from being so stained and worn by the low-pH of grape must.

That’s a fascinating anecdote that makes me want to see those hands and drink that wine. If I’m going to follow a winery’s Instagram feed, it’s because I genuinely want to know more about it. That’s engagement that wineries shouldn’t squander.

Tell us why we should care. Then you will motivate us to seek out your wines and visit tasting rooms.

Seeing hideously artificial “set-up” shots of people posing with bottles or a random wine sitting alone next to the fireplace, on the beach, in the woods, or whatever does nothing to inspire us to do anything but unfollow your page.

If you’re going to show me “exotic places”, why not show me the vineyard? The winery?

Photo from https://www.instagram.com/p/BuDiUdAAjI9/

Great pic from the South African winery Thistle and Weed.
How many wineries talk about whole cluster fermentation on their back label and website but never bother to show it on their IG feed?

What happens in your vineyard and the winery shouldn’t be relegated to just back label jargon. Show us what happens! Yeah, it may be mundane and routine like budburst or racking, but to most consumers, these are exotic behind-the-scenes peeks into the magic of winemaking.

Every day, every winery has a gold mine of unique and interesting content ready to be featured. In the time you take to set up some plastic presentation with flowers and fruit, you could snap dozens of infinitely more interesting Instagram posts just by following around your vineyard workers and cellar hands and letting consumers see things through their eyes.

And for Pete’s sake stop with the 9 picture “puzzle portrait” spreads!

Photos from https://www.instagram.com/jbookwalterwines/

Ugh…I actually like this winery’s wines a lot but it’s hard not to be annoyed at this colossal waste of time.

My god is this not the most ridiculous waste of space (and likely photographer and marketing fees too)! Seriously, whoever tries to tell you that this is a great use of your Instagram feed should be fired.

Few things get me to hit unfollow quicker than to have my IG feed spammed with nine separate posts featuring fragmented pieces of wine bottles–all with an annoying caption to “Check out our homepage for the whole picture!”

Why?!?!?

Why do you think I want to invest my time in checking out your ad?

The People:Places:Porn Ratio

Photos from https://www.instagram.com/beauxfreres/

A decent PPP ratio from the Oregon winery Beaux Frères.

Every winery should go to their IG feed right now and take a look at their PPP ratio. Is your feed saturated with sad bottle porn or is it alive with personality-driven pictures of the people and places that make your winery interesting and uniquely you?

The wineries that do Instagram right tend to have a People:Places:Porn Ratio of 4:4:1 for every nine pictures. There can be variances in the mix of people and places featured as long as that last number is kept low.

The key to remember is that Instagram is for capturing attention, not commercials.

You want to give consumers reasons to learn more about your story and your wines. Instagram is a great platform to hand-deliver those reasons right to an engaged audience.

You just have to show us stuff that is actually worth our time and attention. Show us stuff that is worth following.

Save the bottle porn for print media. It’s a dying medium anyway.

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60 Second Wine Review — Arthur Metz Cuvee Prestige

A few quick thoughts on the Arthur Metz Cuvee Prestige Cremant d’Alsace.

Arthur Metz Cremant d'Alsace

The Geekery

Founded in Marlenheim in 1904, Arthur Metz was an early pioneer of sparkling Cremant d’Alsace. However, he wasn’t the first with Julien Dopff of Dopff au Moulin likely beating Metz by a couple of years after being inspired by the wines of Champagne while visiting the 1900 Paris Universal Exposition.

However, there is some evidence that Alsatian winemakers were making sparkling wines in the traditional method as early as the late 19th century. The official AOC for Cremant d’Alsace would later be established on August 24, 1976.

Today the house of Arthur Metz includes three properties (Domaine de la Ville de Colmar, Clos St-Jacques and Hospices de Colmar) as well as two pressing rooms–Scharrachbergheim in northern Alsace and Epfig in central Alsace. The estate also works with more than 400 small growers giving the winery access to over a 1000 hectares of grapes.

The Cuvee Prestige is a blend of Pinot blanc, Pinot noir and Riesling grapes grown from both estate and contract fruit. Some releases may also have Auxerrois blended in. Other cremants in the Metz line-up will sometimes feature Pinot gris and Chardonnay. The wine was aged 12 months on the lees before being bottled with a brut level dosage.

The Wine

Photo By Kristina Walter - Own work, Public Domain,

The Granny Smith apple notes of this wine tastes very fresh.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of citrus and apple tree fruit notes. There is also some white flowers.

On the palate, the citrus becomes more defined as Meyer lemon, but the apple notes are the most prominent. The wine has a lively mousse that is silky without being creamy. My best guess of the dosage is in the 0.7-0.9 g/l range. The long finish adds freshness to the apples like sliced Granny Smiths.

The Verdict

At $16-20, this is a very solid sparkling Cremant that’s on the crisp and light side of the equation. Excellent warm weather bubbles that are refreshing without being weighty. Definitely a bottle I’ll be getting again.

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Fake Wine and Real Boobs

Does sex still sell? It used to be hard to argue against appealing to one of humanity’s most basic instincts. In many marketing campaigns–after hunger and security–a little titillation was the salt that added spice to a brand’s identity.

Photo by Tania Saiz - originally posted to Flickr as red lips isolated in white, CC BY 2.0

But recent trends suggest that we are slowly moving away from these Cro-Magnon conventions.  Several studies have shown diminishing returns for ad campaigns that focus on overt sexual imagery. In some cases, they can even promote a backlash against brands.

Part of this is changing demographics with those pesky Millennials once again causing trouble.

They never want to follow the old playbook, don’t they? Even Victoria Secret and Abercrombie & Fitch have found that reaching Millennial consumers is a bit harder than the hot bods that they have splashed over their ads.

It’s probably because those sexy ads feel so fake. With around 90% of Millennials valuing authenticity in brands, it’s clear that selling fantasy is not always the best approach.

So why are there still folks in the wine industry clinging to these outdated marketing ideas?

Booth Babes and Nonsense

Earlier this month, the Bâtonnage Forum on Women in Wine conducted a panel where the topic of how women’s sexuality is used to sell wine was debated. According to Jess Landers of Seven Fifty Daily, one of the most “controversial” statements came from esteemed vintner and former UC-Davis professor Carole Meredith.

“…when I go to wine events, I see women who are overtly selling sex under the pretense of selling wine. I sometimes see women who show up to pour wine wearing very tight clothes, very short skirts, their boobs hanging out. I have to wonder, Do you feel that you have to dress like that because the wine you’re pouring just isn’t very good? Doesn’t that diminish the wine? And if it doesn’t diminish the wine, doesn’t it diminish you?” — Carole Meredith, How Women’s Sexuality Is Used to Sell Wine, May 6th, 2019

Preach it, Carole!

The scare-quotes around controversial is intentional because I honestly don’t see anything contentious with what Meredith said. In fact, I often have the same thoughts when I’m at a tasting with tarted up “booth babes” who don’t know a thing about the wine they’re pouring. It actually angers me that rather than invest in training on their products that the wineries and marketing firms that employ these women are encouraging them to use their other assets to sell wine.

I’m not angry at the women. They’re just trying to do a job. I’m angry at the mindset that thinks this schtick works.

But it only works in convincing me not to buy your wine.

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

Gratuitous side booby.

Any winery that has to resort to using sex to sell is raising the white flag.

They’re sending out the message loud and clear that what they’re putting into the bottle is as fake and vapid as their marketing. It’s a boob move.

I get that same message from brands promoted by so-called “influencers” posing with bottles on Instagram as well.

They might not have their boobs hanging out, but they’re certainly not selling you on the story or quality of the wine. Instead, they’re selling you on fakeness and parlor tricks. They want you to “hey, look over here!” while the magician pockets your card (and hopefully your money).

Maybe those tricks worked in the past. But today, misdirection is anathema to consumers craving authenticity and substance.

If you want me to buy your wine, put your clothes back on and tell me what’s in the damn bottle!

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Sculpting Soapstone in Napa

I wrapped up my week-long press tour of the Stags Leap District yesterday. You can look forward to me spending the next couple months working through my notes in between other writings and reviews. For those that want a sneak peek of some of the insights and themes that I’ll be writing about check out the SpitBucket Instagram page. There I’ve posted pictures and thoughts from many of the wineries that I’ve visited.

Photo By Lysippos - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Before the trip, I wrote about some of the questions and expectations that I had going in. A large part of my role in Friedenreich’s research entourage was to bring a Millennial perspective with an eye towards what the future of the Stags Leap District could be. While that is a role that I’m apt to fill, the WSET Diploma student and wine marketer in me is also conscious of the present reality of business.

Many times in between my Millennial “what if” questions, I found myself taking a step back to think about what I would do if I were a general manager, COO or president of a Stags Leap District winery.

Honestly? There is not much that I would do differently.

Though I still see challenges ahead, I couldn’t find fault in how well-executed all these operations were. It’s clear that these wineries have found a recipe that works for them and have spent considerable time, thought and capital into honing and perfecting that recipe. They’re all working hard to maximize the gifts of terroir like a sculptor skillfully chiseling away to reveal the beauty of the piece underneath.

However, they’re not chiseling their work into granite.

The nature of the wine industry is inherently transient. It’s an agrarian product that is a consumable good. There will always be factors at play (climate change, demographics, consumer trends) that will weather even the mightiest of edifices. No matter how much care, attention and capital that you invest, everything you do will always be chiseled in soapstone.

Quixote Malbec

There is some sexy Malbec being made in the SLD. These wines combine the spiciness of Argentine Malbecs with the seductive texture of Stags Leap District wines.

Even the fabled European wine regions spent centuries, if not millennia, figuring themselves out.

Cabernet Sauvignon, which is the backbone of the great wines of the Medoc, is still in its adolescence in Bordeaux. The Bordelais have been making wine since the Romans while Cab only appeared on the scene in the late 18th century. And even then, it took some time to catch on. During the 1855 classification, many of the grandest estates of the Left Bank relied heavily on grapes like Malbec and Merlot.

The soapstone sculpture of Bordeaux has changed many times over the years. With climate change, it’s already starting to change again with a growing focus on Petit Verdot and even Malbec making a return.

With Cab barely out of the womb in Napa, why should we not expect its form to change as well?

Now I’m not discrediting the beauty of Napa and, particularly, Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon. I had many delicious examples which I’ll be writing about on this blog. But while not as numerous, there were certainly several “unicorn” wines of other grapes that had me excited about what the future sculpture of SLD could be.

Some strawmen, some strong points.

Now back to those Millennials and the future challenges they may pose.

Often I heard the strawmen assessment that Millennials would come around once they had more money. However, there were also some excellent points which I’ll tackle in future pieces.

One is that education will be paramount in reaching Millennials. That does present the challenge of how do you entice anyone to want to be educated. But I also think it offers a double edge sword. One that can both cut Napa/SLD producers just as much as it can clear the path.

Another strong point is that rather than thinking of demographics, producers should market to “tribes”–i.e., a tribe Cab-lovers. This was argued exceedingly well by Russ Joy, the general manager of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. That tribal spin invites personalization with a sense of community and identity. A sort of “hipster” approach, which is somewhat ironic.

Malk Vineyards

This tiny little patch of vines in the foreground is Malk Family Vineyards. Beyond the dirt road is Steltzner, then Joseph Phelps, then Mary Jane Fay Vineyards (fruit sold to Shafer), then Odette and FINALLY you get to the Silverado Trail.

But probably the point that I could appreciate the most was the blessing of small production.

This was made quite clear at the tiny 2-acre estate of Malk Family Vineyards. With only a few hundred cases, the Malks don’t need to focus on chasing the market. Anyone who finds them (and believe me, the drive to find them is a bit of a hunt), is someone who is already passionate and committed.

That small production provides a bit of cover that will undoubtedly help many producers weather the changes–regardless of what they’re carving.

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60 Second Wine Review — Hunt & Harvest Picpoul

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 Hunt & Harvest Picpoul from Rutherford in Napa Valley.

Hunt & harvest picpoul

The Geekery

Hunt & Harvest is the new label of Chris Hall of Long Meadow Ranch fame. Along with Dan O’Brien (formerly of Larkmead and owner of Gail Wines in Sonoma), Hall created the label to produce varietal wines from various vineyards in Napa Valley.

In addition to the Picpoul, they also produce a Sangiovese, Sauvignon blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa as well as Rutherford designated Merlot & Cab. Additionally, they source Pinot noir from a Willamette Valley vineyard that is just outside the Dundee Hills AVA.

The Picpoul is 100% varietal from Rutherford that was aged in stainless steel.

The Wine

Photo By Ulf Eliasson - Own work, CC BY 2.5

Even when the glass was empty, you could still smell the honeysuckle.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Was a smidge reductive under the screw cap but that quickly blew off to reveal white floral honeysuckle and green apple notes.

On the palate, the green apple carries through with some lemon citrus peel notes joining the party. Medium-plus acidity is lively. Not quite the lip-stinging of Languedoc examples, but very nervy.

There is a lot of texture to the medium-bodied mouthfeel that would have suggested neutral oak but that’s obviously not the case. (Perhaps skin contact?) Long finish is mouthwatering and extremely floral.

The Verdict

While I’ve had a lot of great wine this week in the lion’s den of Napa Cab country, few wines have made my heart soar as much as finding this bottle of Picpoul. And from Rutherford of all places!

Undoubtedly, Rutherford has some blessed terroir with a lot of history. But it’s always seemed like an endless carpet of Cabernet Sauvignon with maybe a smattering of other Bordeaux varieties here and there. High price tags also trademark Rutherford, but at $25 this Hunt & Harvest Picpoul is a screaming good deal. Even paying restaurant mark-up of $55 I felt extremely pleased with the freshness, depth and vigor of this wine. Well worth seeking out.

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Napa Valley — Boomer or Bust?

Note: A follow up to this post can be found at Sculpting Soapstone in Napa

I’ve entered the lion’s den.
Photo By Aaron Logan - from http://www.lightmatter.net/gallery/albums.php, CC BY 1.0,

This week I will be in Napa assisting Kenneth Friedenreich, author of Oregon Wine Country Stories, with research on the Stags Leap District for the sequel in his Decoding the Grape series.

Surprisingly, no one has written a dedicated book about the district yet. With 2019 being the 30th anniversary of the AVA’s establishment, a deep dive into the legacy and future of this influential region seems long overdue.

That puts me on a fact-finding mission with Friedenreich and two of his other compatriots as we embark on a schedule of winery visits and interviews. In many ways, I am the odd duck in this entourage being not only the only woman but also a Millennial seeing Napa Valley beside the eyes of three Boomers.

Past and Present

The dichotomy will be rich as Friedenreich, Doc Wilson (a longtime fixture in the Oregon wine scene) and Mark, a pediatrician from Portland, represent the bread and butter of Napa Valley.

Photo By LEONARDO DASILVA, CC BY 3.0,

Are legends still exciting?

They are the generation that took with gusto an appreciation for fine American wine. For the last 40 plus year, every Napa vintner that has had an inkling of success achieved that by courting the Boomers.

While the recipe has varied somewhat over the years, the entire business model and marketing of Napa has been oriented towards enticing and exciting this large and lucrative demographic.

And it has remained a lucrative demographic even as the Boomers settle into retirement. They (along with the smaller Generation X) are still the ones buying the high priced and highly prized bottles that have paved Napa’s reputation with gold. That’s a reality that no vintner can ignore.

But what of the Future?

On the surface, I’m probably the ideal Millennial consumer that Napa wineries could hope for. I’m highly engaged with wine and willing to travel. I crave experiences which is something that Napa has spent decades perfecting. And, most keenly, I’m in a position of financial stability where I could afford to join wine clubs and regularly buy $100+ bottles if I wished.

Pritchard Hill at sunset

I will say that the view from Pritchard Hill is awe inspiring.
It does add a bit more character than the highly manicured vineyard lawns of the valley floor.

I might be a minority among my cohorts, but there are other Millennials like me, and we are the future bread and butter.

And with auspicious timing. For just as some industry folks are beating the strawman that Millennials will come running as soon as they have more money in their pockets, here I am representing the best-case scenario that Napa vintners could hope for.

How are they planning to reach me?

While Friedenreich is going to write his retrospection of the Stags Leap District from his Boomer perspective, he’s very conscious of the contemporary. One of the things that I’ll be contributing to the team is being the canary in the vineyards.

Will the Stags Leap District (and Napa in general) still be relevant in another 30 years?

Yes, Cab is King but for how long?

Even if I can afford $100+ bottles, what is the distinct value that makes getting these wines worth buying instead of a nice whiskey or the myriad of other options I have?

I’m from a generation that is notoriously in love with great stories so how are today’s SLD and Napa wineries communicating their stories? Do they feel authentic? Is it presented in a way that I can connect with and relate to?

The old recipe is not going to work.

Photo By Jim G from Silicon Valley, CA, USA - Darioush Winery, Napa Valley, California, USAUploaded by Josve05a, CC BY 2.0,

I mean, yeah, that kind of looks interesting… I guess.

To be brutally blunt, Napa can be really boring.

The marketing to my generation has been trying to sell us a luxurious lifestyle that is rather generic.

Oh, beautiful people in a beautiful place. That’s nice.

Open up Instagram and you see a countless stream of beautiful people in beautiful places. There’s nothing special about that messaging. Been there, done that. Scroll.

Adding a glass of high priced Cab or Chardonnay doesn’t make the #NapaStyle filter feel any more unique or authentic. At worst, with literally hundreds of wineries delivering the same message, it feels fake and basic.

So what Napa will I see this week?

Will I see producers following the old recipe of success that has served them so well? Perhaps. With Boomers and Gen Xers still buying, it would be foolish to abandon it altogether.

But what I am hoping to see is a glimpse of planning for the future. I’d like to see a Stags Leap District and a Napa Valley that recognizes that the old #NapaStyle filter is a recipe for Millennials to keep scrolling past.

What I want is Napa unfiltered.

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The Folly of Price-Blind Scoring

Walk into a grocery store or wine shop and take a look around. You’re going to see tags–lots of tags–with wine scores. Usually, they’re at least 90 points because, these days, getting 90 points is akin to spelling your name right on the exam. Good job, Johnny. Gold star for you.

Photo By Caleb Zahnd from USA - Bobbing for apples, CC BY 2.0,

Now I’m not going to dive into another drivel about the scourge of score inflation or the silliness of points.

Instead, let’s talk about the Apples to Apples trap.

I’ve been banging the drum about the need to highlight value–especially for wineries wanting to capture the emerging Millennial market. These consumers are always looking for the best bang for the buck, so it’s vital to look at what kind of message we are sending them.

Is a 90 point $10 wine a better value than a 90 point $40 wine? Or what about an $8 wine with 4.2 stars on an app? Is that a better value than an $80 wine with 4.0 stars?

Apples to apples, right?
Photo By Usamasaad - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Both of these fruits have been rated “Outstanding” with superior character and style.

But we know that’s not right. We also know that the typical consumer is not going to look at the details or differences such as one score coming from Joe Schmoe while the other from a respected publication. Nor are they going to bother to learn that one wine is a 100,000+ case bulk wine from a mega-corp while another is a small lot production from a family winery’s estate vineyard.

So what happens when our value-minded Millennial consumer grabs that 90 point $10 Cab and are just “ho-hummed” by the experience? What messaging will ever make that other $40 wine worth trying? Certainly not that the message that it got 90 points!

On the flipside, what if they absolutely loved the $10 wine but thought the $40 wine was crap. Then we get back to the lovely “No wine is worth spending more than XX because of blah” circle of Dante’s Inferno.

Sure, education is always the easy answer but, as an industry, we have to accept that education is not the elixir that we so desperately wish it was. Lots of consumers, if not most, are not interested in education. They want short-cuts and the security blanket of stars and numbers.

They want an apple to be an apple–not an orange, not a coconut.

So what do we do?

Get rid of “price-blind” scoring

Go ahead, keep your scores, stars and numbers. But put some teeth and reality behind them. Let an apple still be an apple but point out when it is a Braeburn (your daily value drinker) versus a Pink Lady (something more of a treat). And don’t be afraid to compare them to other apples. Yeah, this Pink Lady is not worth the money compared to the Honeycrisp or Fiji.

Of course, you can’t do this blind (in any fashion) but maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

I expressed this sentiment about judging wines based on value in a recent Twitter thread where wine writer Robert Joseph countered with a very astute point.

He’s right. Just as some tasters would judge expensive wines more harshly, there are others who would be more inclined to give them an easy pass. However, the fact that two types of biases exist doesn’t mean that both are equally valid. If one benefits the consumer (judging on value) while the other doesn’t (judging on faux merit), then the answer is to root out the afflicting bias.

The critic who automatically thinks that a high price=great score is wrong and should be called out on that. While they aren’t likely to admit that bias (and it may be self-conscious), patterns always emerge. Instead of accepting this, we should be challenging these judges to actively and consciously rethink their biases.

Being “price-blind” doesn’t work in the real world.

By InterestingPics - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Sometimes you don’t need an “Outstanding” apple. Sometimes you just want to get an apple that you can use to both bake a pie and have as a snack. Or a wine that you can cook and serve with dinner.

A consumer standing in front of a wall of wine is not “price-blind.” They have a budget and an expectation for what they can get within the limits of their wallet and credit card. We have to recognize and respond to this.

However, one of the biggest hindrances is that most professional writers receive the wines they review as free samples. I understand why it benefits wineries to put their bottles in front of people who will write about them. And I definitely appreciate the benefits to writers who often can’t afford to buy all the wines they review.

But samples still remove the writer from having to deal with the realities of the consumer–how they actually think and shop–when they write their reviews. That’s an obstacle that we have to work to understand and overcome.

There are reasons why a consumer may want to buy a Braeburn and reasons why they may want to buy a Pink Lady. Likewise, there are different reasons and expectations for buying a $10 wine for pizza and a $40 wine to take to dinner with the in-laws.

Even if a critic is receiving their wines as free samples, they need to at least acknowledge that “objectively” judging the pizza and nice dinner wine on same scale is foolish.

So let’s stop being foolish.

Bottle of Petrus

While I don’t regret spending $2600 on this bottle of Petrus, I would much rather buy multiple bottles of Ch. Angelus than buy another.
Beyond a one-time “Super Bowl” experience, it’s simply not worth it. I feel like it would be hard to be that honest if I had this wine as a free sample.

Let’s stop pretending that price doesn’t matter and that we can objectively review a wine based solely on the merits of what’s in the glass. For god sakes, how many decades have we spent playing this charade?

Yes, there are going to be bias but let’s tackle those biases head-on and put them in their place.

The onus of every critic and wine writer should be to first acknowledge their own biases with price. They need to step back and think of how often their eyes automatically go “oooooh” at the sight of an expensive bottle and wonder “why?” that is so. Conversely, if the thought of tasting a “value wine” makes us recoil, we need to own up to that too.

The second onus we have is to put ourselves into the consumer’s shoes as much as we can. And the best way to do that is to start comparing apples to apples.

So you’ve received a $50 bottle of wine as a sample. Great.

Now how does that wine compared to the other $50 bottles of wines that you may have purchased yourself at some point? Or the $30 bottles, $20 bottles, $200 bottles whatever.

The number one question that every critic should ask themselves when reviewing a wine is–how would I feel buying this with my own money? Would I feel like I got a good bang for my buck? Or would I feel like I’d rather had spent the money on something else?

Now, wait, how does this solve our “Apples to Apples” trap from above?

Come on Amber! If we’re grading on the curve of value then doesn’t that mean we’re still going to have those $10 wines that someone thinks is drinking pretty good for a $10 wine and those $40 wines that someone else thinks is drinking pretty good for a $40 both get 90 points?

Yes, and that’s precisely the point.

Instead of painting critic scores as an “objective” assessment of intrinsic quality, we’re letting it be a subjective assessment of value. A $10 wine that drinks pretty good compared to other $10 wines should be highlighted as worthwhile just as a $40 wine should be assessed among its peers.

Instead of being a trap, we turn our bounty of 90 point wines into bushels–each with their own kinds of apples. That’s certainly preferable to the wine industry’s current gig of tossing all these apples into a tub filled with water and wishing the consumer “Good Luck!”

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