All posts by Amber LeBeau

The Ethos of This Blog

I’ve been working my way through emails and social media DMs in response to my last two posts wondering about what the wine industry’s response to Texas’s abortion ban will be and frustrations over how wax can diminish the enjoyment of what is otherwise a remarkably delicious wine.

While there has certainly been some great support and insights learned from some of the conversations that these posts have sparked, there has also been some strangely emotional backlash from folks who didn’t take kindly to those posts as well.

message in a bottle

Photo by Peer Kyle. Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0

I know that is par for the course in having a public blog and social media presence. And, yes, I know that being a woman with an opinion on the internet only ups that ante.

But I wrote these posts with the goal of encouraging conversations and moving them forward. So to the extent that they’ve moved some folks to email or message, berating me for harming wine regions, hurting brands and damaging small businesses, is a success of sorts. They’re at least thinking about the topic and talking about it–even if a few capslocks, obscenities and ad hominems get tossed in.

While I’ll remain steadfastly skeptical that I truly have the influence to really harm or damage anything, I’d like to make one thing clear.

I’m not here to sell your wine.

I don’t make a dime from this blog but then that’s never been my goal. There are plenty of consultants, marketers, PR firms and influencers who will gladly take wineries’s money to help them sell more wine. Please, seek them out as I’m sure they have a lot to offer.

The only thing that I’ve ever had to offer is just sincere and frank feedback. From my perspective as a consumer with how I shop for wine and spend my money through my experiences working in the retail trenches listening to customers and trying to share the stories of wineries big and small, it’s all there. Good, bad, ugly but honest.

That’s all I’ve ever promised with this blog and that’s all I’m ever going to give.

So if you don’t like the feedback, that’s fine.

If you don’t want to hear that your packaging decisions are turning off customers, that’s fine.

If you don’t want to hear that some consumers care about issues like sustainability, diversity, equity and politics or that those things can influence their buying decisions, that’s fine.

But that’s not going to change what I write or how I’m going to write.

I’m not paid to parrot any lines.

And while I do what I do out of a sincere love for this industry, I’m not going to let myself be beholden to it. Sure, having access and opportunities to attend tastings, winemaker visits and press tours are nice but I won’t be led by fear of biting the hand that feeds me. Because this doesn’t feed me. At all.

What feeds me is having a voice and being able to speak truth to what I see. There are so many consumers who encounter the same things I encounter and think many of the same thoughts but won’t say a word. And why should they? They’re not being paid to help wineries sell wine either. There’s little reason for consumers to ever speak up and give feedback because they can just walk away and move on to the next bottle.

And there’s always another bottle.

That is the one message that I want to reverberate through everything I write. There are so many wines to discover, so many wineries and wine regions to visit. The choices that consumers have is boundless and extend far beyond the category of just wine.

Producers should never take any sale for granted. There is nothing they’re entitled to even if they make great wine. The history of the wine business is littered with stories of talented winemakers making marvelous wines from fabulous terroirs that still failed. Those stories all have their nuances and particular reasons but many simply come back to the fact that consumers have choices. And, sometimes, they choose to drink something else.

For the wineries that read this blog, all I have to say is this. Somewhere, someone is making a choice about whether or not to buy your wine. Hopefully they, and many more, choose to do so.

But there are going to be some that decide against it for various reasons. So how about not shooting the messenger for highlighting those reasons?

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Waxsplaining – Let’s make enjoying wine harder!

Last night I attempted to enjoy a bottle of wine at dinner with my wife.

Wax capsule

I eventually succeeded and the wine, a super cool bottle of Old Vine Colombard from stellar South African producer Ian Naudé, was delicious. Lovely peach and citrus notes with a creamy, textured mouthful, lively acidity and a long stony finish. It went exquisitely well with the complex flavors of the Indian dishes we had.

Fabulous wine. But the only spoiler and what will keep me from buying this wine again was how much of an ordeal it was to open the damn bottle.

Because of blasted wax!

Now we know the old trick. The same one you see repeated in the 10 million plus results for Googling “how to open waxed wine bottle” and countless YouTube videos. So like I’ve done many times before with many other wax sealed bottles, I took out my old trusty waiter’s friend corkscrew to screw straight through the wax.

The worm went fine into the cork but the problem came when I tried to use the hinge to pull it out. The teeth of the hinge kept slipping and failing to get a good grip on the lip. And when we did get something of a grip, it was tough getting sufficient leverage to get the cork (apparently a dense agglomerate as an MW informed me) through the wax. Both my wife and I made several attempts, trying with both hinges from different angles, as evidence by the skid marks.

And despite the worries expressed in tweets like the reply to Angela, this wasn’t our first rodeo and my MIT-trained wife is most assuredly aware of Archimedes.

However it wasn’t Archimedes trying to screw us out of enjoying a good bottle of wine.

We eventually overcame our nemesis by chipping away at the top of the wax. Then that same trusty waiter’s friend which has served us well in battles against plastic corks and other bottles was able to relieve the cork of its post so we could finally enjoy the spoils of our victory. Only after 10 minutes and while our food was getting cold.

But, hey, as Master of Wine Greg Sherwood (whose fascinating review of this wine actually prompted me to seek it out) noted, no pain, no gain.

But, really, why in the world does enjoying wine have to be painful?

Why do we expect consumers to tolerate this? Why are we asking them to spend time fussing around, hoping they have the right corkscrew? While as a wine geek, I’ve got drawers full of them, how many different corkscrews do we think regular consumers have? Are we really expecting them to go through several trying to open just one bottle?

Or port tongs?

Now, yes, there is the well-known somm trick of warming up the wax first with warm water. I certainly could have done that.

Though, seriously, WHY are we expecting consumers to want to do this?

Why are we asking this of them? Why are we putting extra tolls or “effort taxes” on our product that we’re expecting consumers to happily pay? And then come back for more?

And what makes this even more bizarre is that the oft-used defense of wax’s eye-catching presentation had no role in this scenario. While I suppose I could have looked more closely at the photo in Sherwood’s review, I didn’t know this bottle was sealed with wax. I bought it online, sight unseen like I do with now the vast majority of my wine purchases. The packaging had zero influence on my decision to buy. Instead it was…

A.) An intriguing review by an expert.
B.) A producer with a stellar reputation who I have been wanting to try.
C.) A super cool story of an old vine vineyard with a variety that I’ve never had a quality example of before.

Those were the factors that made the sale. Not the packaging. Having a wax capsule did nothing to help this producer sell his wine to me. But I’ll tell you, it is certainly going to make future sales harder.

Simply because wax makes enjoying the wine harder.

With all the wonderful, interesting and exciting wines out there, why do I need to fuss with the frustration of wax? And I’m certainly not the only consumer having these thoughts. But take a look at my Twitter thread from last night and see how many folks in the industry respond. Especially this lovely example of “Waxsplaining.”

You see, apparently any consumer’s frustration with dealing with wax capsules is merely just a testament to their lack of knowledge. Yes, that’s the answer. It’s not the packaging’s fault. It’s just that the consumers are too stupid to be worthy enough to enjoy it!

Good grief!

Please, wine producers. Step back and think about this.

Think about what you are asking consumers. Think about what “effort tax” (and apparently “intelligence test”) you’re asking consumers to pay just to have the privilege of enjoying your wine.

Do you really want to make consumers struggle and wonder if it’s worth it before they even have that first sip? Do you really want doubt and regretting their purchase to be swirling around their thoughts while they are pouring that first glass?

We haven’t even gotten into issues of accessibility with how difficult wax capsules are for consumers with arthritis and other issues. Think of the needless barrier that the decision to use wax creates for those consumers. And for what? What really is being gained here?

Do you think that any minuscule help that using wax may have had in getting you that initial sale will be worth what future sales those negative experiences end up costing you?

Because what value is making a kick-ass wine, if consumers have to fight with pain in the ass packaging just to enjoy it?

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Should the Wine Industry Boycott Texas?

How should the wine industry respond to Texas’s new abortion ban?

Source: Wikimedia Commons from User: AnonMoos based on image by Darwinek. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0

Should consumers and buyers avoid purchasing Texas wine? Should tourists thinking about visiting cross it off their list? (Considering the state’s COVID situation that might be wise for a multitude of reasons.)

What about the wineries across the globe, from California to Australia and Europe, long attracted to Texas’s sizable and growing market of wine drinkers? Should they tell their wholesalers or importers to stop knocking on the door of Texas’s numerous steakhouses?

How about the sommeliers and other industry wonks who descend every year (pandemic permitting) to the TEXSOM conference and wine awards? With the next conference coming up soon in November, their various social media channels have so far been quiet about the storm brewing in their backyard.

And for those of us in the wine media, there could be a lot of personal dilemmas if next year’s Wine Media Conference, ran by Zephyr Conferences, ends up being in Texas Hill Country. Same with the upcoming Slow Wine tour.

What should the wine industry do? More importantly, what are you going to do?

These aren’t easy questions.

Because for all but the most polarized among us, there aren’t easy answers. You can’t say simply “Oh I’m Pro-Life so I’m going to support Texas” or “I’m Pro-Choice so boycott.” Just as people’s own views on abortion and choice are often nuanced, so too are the many factors at play in how the wine industry should respond to Texas’s abortion ban.

While clearly stating his stance, Dennis Lapuyade of Artisanswiss help push this conversation forward with a recent tweet.

In the thread that follows, there are a lot of good points made by others about the value of boycotts in general and the merits of “punishing” people for the actions of state representatives that they may not even support or voted for. Whether you agree or disagree, those are points worth discussing.

Can you dismiss boycotts as ineffective or “performative outrage?”

Rugby badge protest

An Anti-Springbok (rugby) Tour protest badge from 1981. Source: Auckland War Memorial Museum. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0

For every history-making example of the Montgomery bus boycotts and actions against apartheid, there are dozen more Chick-fil-A, SoulCycle, Keurig, Nike and Pepsi boycotts that went nowhere.

However, at the heart of every call to boycott, regardless of the cause, is a fundamental desire of people to want to do something. To find some way to get their voices heard. It is in our nature to chafe at feeling powerless and so the call to simply act, and not stand on the sidelines, resonates deeply.

The wine industry is not immune to those impulses and, if anything, the experiences of the past months, years and decades have only enhanced their resonance.

From Black Lives Matter to economic equity and the climate crisis, that chafing against accepting powerlessness will only grow stronger. That urge to speak out and be heard will only echo louder. So despite how uncomfortable these conversations may be, we have to have them. We have to participate. We have to acknowledge the voices speaking, engage them and listen.

But for the pro-boycott crowd, there is a crux in the harm that small businesses could see.

This is particularly sharp during a time when many restaurants and wineries are still trying to recover from the COVID crisis. Everyone wants to support small businesses but how do we juggle all these good intentions?

Sure, you can try to avoid compounding the injuries to the “innocent” by interrogating every Texas winery, restaurant, tour operator and hospitality venue you do business with about their personal politics and stance on abortion. But who wants to actually do that?

For as uncomfortable as the questions about the wine industry boycotting Texas may be, the prospects of sitting down with people to have a sincere and productive conversation about abortion and politics are beyond pale. These are conversations that few want to have with answers that likely even fewer, on either side of the issue, want to hear.

That’s because it’s hard to talk about this without losing the nuances.

The nuances that shape our perspectives and keep us from being robotic or polarized. The very nuances that make us human.

It is the saddest irony that a topic about human life and choice encourages so many to choose to look past the humanity of each other.

Still, that doesn’t mean we can give up. Do nothing. Stay silent. Reality and the world around us won’t let us sit on the sideline and hope that “the messy stuff” will pass.

As an industry, we need to have these conversations about what’s going on in Texas and how each and every one of us is going to respond to it. Folks will plant their flags and have their reasons. Others will support or oppose those reasons.

I just hope that in all of this we don’t overlook and neglect those nuances.

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Smoke & Woke – Why this virtue signaling wine writer is tired of stupid heavy bottles

Oh dear, is she doing another rant about bottle weight?

Yes, she is doing another rant about bottle weight.

Photo by ookikioo. Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-2.0

But let’s start with some interesting news. Kiona Vineyards, one of the pioneers in Washington State and the Red Mountain AVA, announced that they will be bottling all their wines–from entry-level to reserve–in the same lighter-weight bottle.

Now I’ve raved about the savvy business sense of Kiona before (Winery Tasting Notes Done Right) and you can see a lot of thought went into the move. They’re staking a strong position in a premier wine region and making “World Class in Lighter Glass” a marketing focus.

I applaud their initiative and was equally thrilled to read Mike Veseth’s latest Wine Economist post detailing the moves of Alois Lageder in Alto Adige towards lighter bottles. Most impressive is that the design for their sleek 450g Burgundy-style Summa bottle has been left unpatented to encourage other wineries to adopt it.

But then I read the comments.

I originally typed out a reply to anonymous commentator ACV on Veseth’s site. However, WordPress’s bugginess kept giving me error messages. There was one particular quote (besides the virtue signaling wine writers) that captured my attention.

Yes, as you point out a premium wine needs a premium package. As one restauranteur in Decanter put it “With so many wines available, the strength of a good bottle and label is often a winning formula. Wine is quite a tactile product and people like nice thick glass; it has a feel of history and heritage.” — ACV

The Decanter quote our friend ACV is referencing is actually from Tatiana Fokina, CEO of Hedonism wine shop, and not a restauranteur. But the point about wine being a tactile product is well taken and this is what I wanted to share with ACV.

Yes, wine is a tactile product.

Which is why every time I’m at a wine shop and pick up an obnoxiously heavy bottle, I put it right back on the shelf.

It’s why I sigh every time I order a bottle at a restaurant, sight unseen, only to be disappointed when a fat ass bottle gets delivered. With every pour and every glass, I’m tactically reminded not to order or buy this wine again.

It’s not because I’m “woke,” it’s because I’m tired. Tired of bullshit.

Especially when that bullshit is being fed to me by a winery touting its “sustainability” while the blatant contradiction is right in my hand. That doesn’t say premium product to me. It doesn’t say heritage or history. Its says con. 

It says fraud.

If there was a practical reason for a heavier bottle (like to deal with the pressure of sparkling wine), I’d be fine. But there is none. Zilch.

It’s just pure smoke and mirrors meant to con consumers into thinking a wine is nicer than it is. It’s putting lipstick on a pig and even if that pig is gorgeously delicious, I’m tired of paying for that lipstick. And I pay for it in multiple ways.

I pay for it in higher pricing from the increased bottle & transportation cost.

I pay for it at home if, heaven forbid, I buy a case of the wine and have to lug it around. Even with empty bottles in the recycle bin, I’m paying for that wasteful extra weight.

And, yes, collectively we all pay for the added carbon footprint and environmental cost.

And for what? Smoke and mirrors. A head fake and ego fluff for a winery’s owner.

No, thank you. Wine is a tactile product but when I pick up an obnoxiously heavy bottle, it’s not my hands that hurt but my head. Because it doesn’t need to be this way.

And I’m tired of it.

Sure, there are consumers who feel differently.

Photo by Alexandr Frolov. Wikimedia Commons. CC-BY-SA-4.0

Just like there are consumers who like oaky, buttery Chardonnay and some who would rather drink New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. That’s life. That’s the wine business.

But I do encourage wineries to think about if heavier bottles are truly helping them. If consumers are truly wedded to them as much as they are to their favorite grape variety.

As Veseth noted in his post, producers like Jackson Family Wines have been steadily transitioning to lighter bottles and seeing very little pushback from consumers. So maybe you don’t need smoke and mirrors to convince consumers you have a good product?

Or perhaps you do. Perhaps your wine needs the lipstick.

But if you’re a winery that’s also trying to tout your sustainability cred, you should look for a more flattering shade.

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AVA Avalanche

Wine drinkers know California.
Wine lovers know Napa Valley.
Collectors know Oakville while wine professionals know Oak Knoll.

Kelly, one of my distributor reps when I was a Safeway wine steward, used to quote that axiom to me often. Usually, it would come in response to my grumbles about how boring the displays were with the planograms featuring the same old California and Columbia Valley wines. I was young in my wine career with a lot still to learn about the business of selling wine.


One of the lessons I had yet to grasp was that no matter how passionate and enthusiastic I was, there are some consumers who just can’t be bothered with the geeky stuff. For them, geeky meant confusing and that was a nonstarter.

I thought about Kelly’s axiom while reading Sean Sullivan’s Wine Enthusiast report on Washington State’s newest AVAs–The Burn of the Columbia Valley and White Bluffs. It’s been two years since I had left Washington and this will be the 4th new AVA established in that time–bringing the total up to 18.

And while that’s still behind Oregon’s 21 AVAs and a far cry from the 141 or so in California, I can’t help but wonder if the only worth of these new AVAs is as fodder for flashcards.

Are wine drinkers really going to care?

Pour one out for the website designers of online retailers trying to figure out how to make the Search function less beastly and confusing for consumers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I get terroir and love digging into the nitty-gritty details that make all these AVAs unique. But I’m a geek, the kind that would add Chiles and Wild Horse Valleys to Kelly’s axiom.

However, I reflect such a small percentage of consumers that shop in specialist wine shops, much less the supermarkets that make up the bulk of wine sales.

Yes, there is the expectation that with higher wine education (those collectors who know Oakville), you get a higher spend. I can empathize with wineries who hope that more defined sub-AVAs give them unique selling points to appeal to those consumers.

But can you really bank on that Oakville guy wanting to learn the distinctions between Howell Mountain, Snipes Mountain, Spring Mountain, Moon Mountain, Candy Mountain, Sonoma Mountain, Ben Lomond Mountain, York Mountain, Red Mountain, Diamond Mountain, Bell Mountain and all the other AVAs home to wineries trying to capture some of his wallet?

The sum of the many, many parts doesn’t always help the whole.

Sullivan, noting the potential for confusion, highlights in his article that some producers feel that more AVAs may “…also increase awareness of Washington wine more generally.” I disagree and counter by asking you to look at my paragraph above with the many mountain AVAs. How many of those can you peg as being from Washington State? (Hint: There are 3)

Chances are, you fall into the Wine Professional-Wine Geek range. Now think how likely anyone in the wine drinker-lover-collector triumvirate will know?

More importantly, how many do you think would care enough to know that a __________ Mountain AVA wine is from Washington State?

Now, of course, just because an AVA exists, doesn’t mean it has to show up on a label.

This is another point that Sullivan makes noting that many Washington wineries will likely continue to use the broad Columbia Valley designation on their labels. Beyond giving more flexibility for blending, it’s also much more marketable and well known.

Conjunction junction but an increasingly necessary function.

Likewise, regions like Napa Valley and Sonoma County have long used conjunctive labeling–with the broader region like Napa or Sonoma appearing along with the smaller AVAs. That’s smart business and I don’t doubt that at some point in the future, both Washington and Oregon adopt similar approaches.

But that still begs the question–who benefits from all these AVAs? It’s certainly not the vast majority of consumers for whom the massive wall of wine is only getting more mountainous.

Is it the growers who could potentially get more money for their grapes from a smaller AVA? Perhaps.

Is it the wineries with a unique selling point? Maybe. But if you end up having to side strap a larger, more well-known AVA to help spread awareness, is that selling point really that unique?

It’s hard to see who really benefits from the avalanche of AVAs. But all I know is, I’ve got to update my flashcards.

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Please Do Not Let “Wine Racism” (over a grape!) Become a Thing

Let’s nip something in the bud right now. Whether you want to call it varietism or whatever, do not be the jerk who wants to equate people disliking a grape with being “…the enological equivalent of a wine racist.”

Pinotage by Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), Federal Research Centre for Cultivated Plants, Institute for Grapevine Breeding Geilweilerhof - 76833 Siebeldingen, GERMANY

Poor Pinotage.
Photo by Doris Schneider, Julius Kühn-Institut (JKI), Wikimedia Commons

Seriously! No! Just…wow.

I really can’t fathom what was going through the mind of Californian & South African wine producer Dave Jefferson when he decided to blow that dog whistle in his spat with Wall Street Journal wine writer Lettie Teague.

Why, might you ask, is a privileged white man “hypothesizing” over whether an almost equally privileged white woman is possibly a “wine racist?”

Is it because of how Ms. Teague treats people of color? Is it because of her reviews of minority-owned wineries? Oh no. No, no, no.

It’s because she doesn’t like Pinotage.

A freaking grape!

Note: the editors have since changed the wording to “wine bigot” which, as any LGBT person will tell you, isn’t much better.

You can try to work through Jefferson’s whole tirade against Teague, bizarrely published by, but it won’t make any more sense. Though Denzel Washington will make an out-of-the-blue cameo just to add some more WTF-ery.

Alas, Jefferson’s debased defense of Pinotage’s honor isn’t the first and, fretfully, won’t be the last appropriation of the seriousness of racism for the silliness of being offended at what other people like or don’t like to drink. Last month, during the marketing holidays of Sauvignon Blanc Day and Chardonnay Day, social media spats erupted over whether distaste for New Zealand Sauvignon blanc or oaky, buttery Chardonnay were examples of “varietism.”

Give me a break!

I know your reaction is probably to roll your eyes and wave away such nonsense. I get it; mine was too. But there is a real risk in letting this continue unchecked. When we anthropomorphize the “struggles” of wine grapes with the language of racism and bigotry, we’re not just creating a false equivalency–we’re diluting it.

We’re desensitizing the sting and meaning of the words racism, racist, bigot and bigotry. These words are supposed to hit hard because the pain inflicted by racism and bigotry hits harder. And for an industry still reckoning with its diversity issues, we can not let this dilution slip into our language.

Varietism isn’t a thing.

Being “racist” or “bigot” because you don’t like a grape isn’t a thing.

But being a jerk who dog whistles about it certainly is a thing.

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Judgment of Today

Forty-five years ago today, the Judgment of Paris happened. I’m sure we’ll see lots of missives commemorating the occasion, all the more bittersweet with the recent passing of Steven Spurrier back in March.

Judgement of Paris SLWC

While I’ll toast the success of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena, I have to confess that, even as a wine geek, the glow of that achievement is waning for me a bit.

Sure, it’s cool when you first hear about it with American pride and bottles in the Smithsonian. And that Alan Rickman movie certainly was fun. But after that, then what?

What does the Judgment of Paris mean for today’s wine drinkers?

Why should we care about the judgment of history in the wines we drink today?

The Inertia of Nostalgia

At its best, wine stimulates emotions. However, nostalgia is a mellow emotion, one that lulls you in place. It’s wistful and pleasant. And that’s nice…for a moment.

But it’s not incitement. It doesn’t pull you towards something more than simply pleasant. When we look back at the success of the Judgment of Paris, what reasons do we have to look forward? That’s one of the questions I keep coming back to as I work on a project on the Stags Leap District with author Kenneth Friedenreich.

As a millennial, born years after the Judgment of Paris, what pull do the wines of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars have for me today? What’s going to keep me excited and eager to try them tomorrow?

Personality and Presence

Almost every premium brand in the world sells itself on the quality of its wines and their most blessed terroirs. It’s the same old story on every back label and winery website. Now, of course, the ones like SLWC that are lucky enough to have the pedigree of history tout that too. But, as I describe above, these appeals to static, stationary emotions like nostalgia have a short shelf life. By itself, it’s simply not enough.

Instead, it is people, not history, that drive the verve and vivacity of a brand. On this blog, I always hype that the people behind a label are the one truly unique selling point of every wine brand. However, this point is often sadly underutilized and hidden away behind boring bottle shots.

It’s a particular Achilles’ heel of many brands on social media such as SLWC’s parent company Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, a frequent provocateur of bottle porn. So I’ll fully admit to being quite surprised at how seriously good SLWC’s Instagram Lives are.

Headed by winemaker Marcus Notaro, with appearances by vineyard manager Kirk Grace, the entire series is well worth watching.

They’re chockful of geeky insights about what happens in the vineyards and winemaking. However, what’s most enticing is that each one shows shades of Notaro’s personality and his infectious passion for what he does.

The success of these IG Lives (and other SLWC virtual tastings that I’ve found) is that they make you want to drink with Marcus, and, therefore, want to drink SLWC. It encourages you to see the brand in a different light with little tidbits like Notaro explaining his preference for blending early with a nod to his Italian heritage and how the “sauce always tastes better the next day.

Having those personable nuggets rolling around the brain makes approaching even their larger production wines like the Karia Chardonnay more intriguing as you see the wine through the winemaker’s eyes–tasting the different flavors in the sauce from the warm volcanic soils of Atlas Peak, the fruitful loams of Oak Knoll to the cool perfume from Coombsville and Carneros.

A Tale of Two Vineyards

Wines poured at the Estate Tasting

The Estate Flight in March 2019. While these were tasted as a complimentary press tasting, I would gladly pay $50 to enjoy the experience again.

There aren’t many good deals in Napa–especially when it comes to tasting room fees. But one that is absolutely well worth your time and money is the $50 per person Estate Collection Tasting flight.

Along with the Arcadia Chardonnay ($65 a bottle) and headliner Cask 23 ($305), the showstopper is comparing side-by-side the Fay ($150) and SLV ($195) vineyards.

Separated only by a small drainage creek, the stark difference between these two Cabs is eye-opening on a Burgundian scale.  Of course, Napa has tons of different terroirs.  With a vast array of soil types and exposures from two very different mountain ranges flanking it and the spine of the Napa River running through, how could it not?

But, dang, if it’s not always hard to see those differences–especially with Cabernet. With so much of Napa “dialed in” with perfect recipes crafted by a handful of well-known viticulturists and consulting winemakers, can you blame consumers for getting lost in a sea of sameness?

Sure, folks who live and breathe Napa can likely cut through the weeds to find those distinctions.

But for those of us who don’t drink $100+ Napa Cabs regularly, the brush is still broad. And I’m not saying that Burgundy is better (especially when it comes to pricing). However, there’s a lightning strike moment when you try even basic Burgundies from the same producer’s neighboring lots and realize “Holy Cow. These do taste different…” That’s not a moment that happens often in Napa–at least not at an attainable price point.

But it is a moment that happens here with the silky perfumed, blue & red fruit elegance of the Fay segueing into the brooding black fruit power and chocolate dustiness of the SLV. I get why other commentators often compare the Fay to Margaux and SLV to Pauillac. But, continuing my Burgundy theme, I would invoke tasting a Volnay next to Gevrey-Chambertin. But instead of being separated by miles, it’s separated by a creek.  And that is freaking cool!

If you look at the specs, the wines are treated fairly similar each vintage. So some of that difference is terroir between the alluvial Fay and volcanic SLV vineyards. However, there’s also a quirk of personality at play here in how Warren Winiarski wrote the next chapter of the legendary Fay Vineyard when he acquired it in 1986.

As Notaro and Grace explain below in another IG Live, Winiarski took a philosophical approach in replanting the site into separate experimental blocks of different clones, rootstocks, vine density and trellising. In an era of homogeny, the “bug” of miscellany is a fascinating feature.

The Velocity of Incitement

There’s a lot to celebrate today as an American wine lover. The Judgment of Paris did quite a bit to put California and Napa Valley on the global wine map. Though it is a fair bet that the US wine industry would have gotten there anyway, especially with the pioneering work of folks like Robert Mondavi and Martin Ray paving the way. But the events 45 years ago undoubtedly shortened that curve.

However, that was the judgment of yesterday, with most of those bottles long since consumed and sent to museums. The relevance of the Judgment of Paris today is how wineries like Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars approach those accolades. Do they take those slaps on the back and rest on the laurels of nostalgia? Or do they use it as a shove to keep delivering something exciting, inviting you to seek it out?

From the Judgment of Today, it looks to be the latter.

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A Round Up of Talks on Virtual Wine Events and More

We’ve zoomed past the 1 year anniversary of and I couldn’t be more thrilled with the site’s success. We’ve featured over 12,000 virtual tastings, webinars, IG Lives and other online wine events–reaching a global audience from over 70 countries. Plus, our video search library continues to grow. There are nearly 6000 links to recordings of online wine events, allowing them to continue reaching consumers long after the event has ended.

I’ll share more data and insights in future posts but I wanted to highlight some talks that I’ve had in the last few months.

Aussie Wine Chat E24: A Deep Technical Dive into Data with Amber LeBeau

What days of the week are the best times to hold an online event? What search terms are users looking for when searching VWE for an online event to attend?

Here’s the link to the full podcast recording where we go more in-depth about the answers to those questions. Below I’ll post the data slides I reference in both this interview and in my Outshinery presentation.

We actually did a double episode with the first part talking about my experiences selling Australian wines in the US that you can check out here.

Outshinery: How to plan a virtual wine event that works

Just follow the link to get the full recording. Here I’m joined by Hardy Wallace of Dirty & Rowdy to talk about the “Secret Sauce” to great online events.

This was a follow-up to an earlier Outshinery’s On The Spot from July where I highlighted some great examples of winery events.

Outshinery’s On The Spot 03 from Outshinery on Vimeo.

Italian Wine Podcast – Ep. 551 Amber LeBeau | Voices

In my interview with Rebecca Lawrence of IWP, we spend a bit of time talking about my background–including lessons learned from working in the retail trenches in the US and writing a good chunk of the wine article on Wikipedia–as well as industry issues that I cover on this blog. But, of course, we touch a bit on virtual wine events as well.

The Jolly Cellar Master – #2: Amber LeBeau And How To Do Online Wine Events

#2: Amber LeBeau and How to do Online Wine Events

Link to full podcast interview here.

Data Slides

Note: This data was originally pulled for the February 24th Outshinery event. I’ll post updated numbers in the next coming weeks.

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Room to Breathe

Oh nelly! I just finished (hopefully, maybe, dear god please…) the last of my WSET Diploma exams with two days of hand cramps and blind tasting. I won’t know for three months or so if I passed but after more than a year of this ordeal consuming my life, I just want to move on.

Photo by Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

Photo by Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

In future posts, I’ll share more thoughts about going through the WSET Diploma process and the value of wine certifications in general. The most concerning thing for me is how much that studying for this D3 Wines of the World exam has completely sapped the joy of wine from my life. Of course, there was good mixed with the bad. I do feel that my grasp of wine has grown considerably–which is a huge plus.

But, right now, I’m wondering if it was worth it? Was all that stress, strain, time and expense really worth it? I must confess that there is a tiny part of me worried about how much of myself, and my passion, I lost doing this. Like the folks recovering from COVID who haven’t quite gotten back their sense of smell, is there a risk of long-haul “Fuck this Shit”?

So I’m looking forward to getting back in the saddle writing about the things that make me love wine.

I’m looking forward to having conversations, rather than interrogations, with what’s in the glass. I want to listen to what the wine has to say rather than try to suss out every detail and minutiae.

Is this fruit ripe or just barely underripe? What does this say about the climate?
Are these green notes herbal from cooling influences? Pyrazines from the variety & canopy shading? Stems from whole cluster? Uneven ripeness?
How much is the residual sugar impacting my sense of acidity, and vice versa?
Are these tannins firm, fine-grain, grippy, chalky, around the gums, on my tongue, roof of the mouth?


That was my world with every glass this past year. So, yeah, there’s a bit of PTSD from this whole process that I’m working through. But I wanted to drop this note to give folks an idea of what’s to come.

I’ll still be writing about wine industry stuff but you’ll see more geeky writing as I try to reclaim my joy. My 60 Second Wine Reviews will be back with a focus on the wines that bring pleasure and those intriguing conversations I crave.

Because after this year, compounded by COVID, that’s what I really need right now.

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One-Click Drinking

I’ll be honest. The ongoing pandemic and isolation have really done a number on me. It’s incredible how the world feels so jumbled and out of place while also static and frozen at the same time. It’s been tough working up the urge to write, so I’ve spent my time more as a consumer rather than commentator.

Mac Forbes Pinot noir

But that tour of just making due, day by day, has ushered in an appreciation for how screwcaps so brilliantly encapsulate the mood and needs of wine consumers right now. Now this isn’t going to be a post extolling the virtues of screwcap versus corks. But rather I want to give you a little microcosm on motivation and how that impacts the consumer buying journey.

Plus, as the wine industry continues to dig itself out of the rubble of the pre-digital Stone Age, it’s worth wondering how often we “taint” the process in various ways.

Because, frankly, we’re all tired right now.

Mentally, emotionally, spiritually. Even physically. Sure, some folks are handling things better than others but it may be that they’re just better at hiding it. And this sense of tiredness impacts everything.

Even when we initially have the impetus to do something, it’s easy to get derailed. Anything that gives a modicum of stress can be enough to sap the desire to continue whatever journey you started, whether that be the buying journey to discover a new bottle or even the start of the re-buying journey that begins at the consumer’s home staring at their wine rack.

So many times this past year, I’ve gone to that rack, searching for something to drink only to feel the pangs and hesitations of “Ugh, do I really want to deal with this?”

Do I really want to muck around digging out the corkscrew? Do I want to fuss with the foil or fight with some blasted wax capsule that only makes me angry that I bought this wine in the first place? Is it worth the time or effort to enjoy this bottle of wine?

Often, the answer is yes because I’m an “engaged enthusiast.” But sometimes the answer is, indeed, No.

No, it’s not worth it.  And if that is the case with someone who is in the minority of consumers that are engaged enthusiasts, how often do you think “Nah, it’s not worth it.” comes up for the majority who are just looking for something to drink?

How often do they look at their wine rack and think it’s not worth the time and effort to enjoy a bottle of wine?

Of course, this goes far beyond packaging.

wax capsule

Seriously though, fuck wax capsules.
Even with the “good” wax that you can drill through with a corkscrew with little mess, they’re still a colossal pain if you want to use a Coravin for just a single glass.

We do so many things as an industry to keep piling on the effort we expect consumers to endure to enjoy our products. How much thinking do you want to do at that wine rack while picking out a bottle? Which pairing will work? Do I need to decant this? Is this wine ready to drink? Will this be sweet? Tart? Tannic? Earthy? What grape is even in this bottle?

Sometimes you don’t want to do any of that. You don’t want to think. You don’t want to work.

All you want in this godforsaken crazy world is to simply enjoy a glass of wine.

That is the intent. That is the desire. Now, how many obstacles are you willing to deal with to get to that goal? In this day and age, not many.

Sometimes, all you want is just One-Click Drinking.

Copper Crew Rose

Perhaps this is another reason why canned wine is taking off? Less fuss and thinking, more fun and drinking.

Last night, the perfect antidote to that “Do I really want to deal with this?” mood was a bottle of 2019 Mac Forbes Yarra Valley Pinot noir sealed under a screw cap. I was alright with the thinking part of the equation, but I really didn’t want to mess around with finding a corkscrew. Pure, simple laziness but damn if that wasn’t the exact place I was in.

I didn’t care about the romance or traditional “pop” of a cork. I wanted the romance of less fuss and nonsense in my life. Give me the swift motion of a simple click–a smooth consumer journey from bottle to glass. No interruptions. No gadgets. Just me, my intent, my desire, and the easy achievement of that goal.

Why can’t everything in wine be as easy as screwcaps?

At every step of the consumer journey, there will be multiple opportunities for that “Ugh, is this worth it?” to pop up. It’s the “cork taint” of sales–able to spoil an entire basket with a single drop. And it’s both systemic and endemic. While you can’t always account for everything going on in a consumer’s head, there are still many things under a winery’s control–especially at the beginning of the buying process with DtC sales. From poorly designed and hard to navigate websites, impersonal and joyless shopping experiences, to even unexpectedly high shipping costs–you want to limit as many of those hiccups as you can.

You want the buying experience to be as smooth and simple as opening a screwcap wine. No need to jump through hoops. No hesitation arising while digging around to find things–whether that be a particular wine on your site, shipping details, or a corkscrew. Don’t make consumers have to cut through the foil of multiple clicks and pages to get to their end goal–that glass of wine. That only increases the chance of bugs & site errors nicking their fingertips like a bad foil cut.

The one thought I want you to leave with is to remember this time that we’re living in now. Be mindful of the scars and habits that are being engrained. People may still want your product. They may still desire it and initially seek it out.

But there’s always going to be opportunities for that “Ugh, is this worth it?” cork taint to seep in. Identify those trouble spots and put a screw cap on them.

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