All posts by Amber LeBeau

What’s the Future of Virtual Wine Tastings?

While the present is still grim in some areas (such as South Africa), many wine regions have open up their tasting rooms even in a limited, socially distant capacity. That’s been sure relief for cash-strapped wineries and a welcome respite for wine lovers who need to digitally detox. (Provided they feel safe and welcomed.)
Photo by Sarah Stierch (CC BY 4.0). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons
But make no mistake. There is still a lot of value and a healthy market for online wine events. The folks that have gotten used to finding wine edu-tainment from the comforts of their couch aren’t melting away in the summer heat.

Since launching VirtualWineEvent.com in early May, I expected things to get quieter as places opened back up. But if you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been writing as much, I can tell you that those expectations didn’t play out. Running VWE is turning into a full-time job with managing listings as well as counseling wine businesses about their events. (Though we’re still committed to keeping this as a free resource for the wine industry.)

Now I will say that the number of online wine events featured on the site each day has certainly decreased from a high point of 60-70+ a day in May/June to about 30 to 40 a day. (Though, to be frank, that high point was a bit much.) However, our site traffic keeps rolling on. A big reason, I suspect, is that even though the number of events have gone down, the overall quality has gone up.

Sure, there’s still the smattering of sucky virtual tastings.

But the number is much lower as those wineries putting on those lackluster events likely didn’t see many results for their efforts. Maybe they had a little bump in the first few weeks but probably soon saw attendance and enthusiasm fizzle. However, the wineries, wine shops, educators and influencers that got it–that figured out how the game was to be played–are the ones we see still investing and putting out quality online wine events.

Now, of course, there isn’t a magical formula. However, there are definitely some common threads that have emerged. First among them was the initial approach. As I told Jess Landers of SevenFiftyDaily in her article, How Wine Brands Can Successfully Utilize Virtual Tastings to Drive Consumer Sales, trying to replicate the tasting room experience virtually is a nonstarter. Those who tried usually failed spectacularly.

The wineries that viewed virtual tastings as nothing more than a revenue stopgap were always thinking too small and too limited. Meanwhile, other wineries, like Ridge Vineyards and the many who have partnered with 67 Pall Mall, approached these events as brand-building opportunities instead of wannabe tasting room experiences. These are the folks who nailed it from the get-go and will continue to see results.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about this and more as part of Outshinery’s On the Spot – The State of NOW in the Wine Industry panel.

Outshinery Promo

You can save your spot for the event here.

I encourage my readers to save a spot and join us at 10 am PST/1 pm EST. I’ll be sharing many of the insights that I’ve learned from managing VWE.

I’m not going to give them all away here, but I’ll leave you with this thought.

In a crowded marketplace, you can’t always rely on impulse driving a sale. Think of a label or bulk stack catching a consumer’s eyes. The sign on the road saying “Tasting Room Open.” That interesting name and just right price on the wine list. All the things that we used to rely on encouraging a wine lover to give you a shot.

As the COVID shutdown has shown us, relying on impulse is tenuous. Instead, you need to drive intent. You need to give consumers a reason to look for your wines, to want to go to your tasting room or visit your website and social media.

The ease and global reach of digital video is a powerful seed planter and intent driver. The future of virtual wine events belongs to the wineries and wine businesses that understand this.

And that future is now.

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60 Second Wine Review – Domaine of the Bee

Note: This was a sample wine.

A few quick thoughts on the 2017 Domaine of the Bee red blend from the Côtes du Roussillon-Villages AOC.

Domaine of the Bee Red Blend

The Geekery

Justin Howard-Sneyd is a Master of Wine who, after a long career as a wine buyer for Safeway/Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Laithwaites, founded Domaine of the Bee with his wife, Amanda, and friend, Philippe Sacerdot.

From the first vintage in 2007, the flagship red is a blend of Grenache and Carignan sourced from their 4 ha estate spread out over three plots in the Agly Valley just south of Maury. Many of these vines are extremely old such as the WWI-era plantings in the schist soils of La Coume de Roy & La Roque and the 60+-year-old vines of Grenache planted on a streak of limestone at Bac de Genievres.

From the tiny yields of these old vines, Domaine of the Bee works with winemakers Richard Case (Domaine Pertuisane) and Jean-Marc Lafage (Domaine Lafage) to produce just 2500 to 5000 bottles a year.

The Wine

Photo By Roaa amer zatari. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC BY-SA 4.0,

The roasted rosemary and lovely floral notes add depth to the rich fruit of this wine.

High-intensity nose–rich dark fruit (black cherry, plums) with some savory, roasted herbs. With air, a lovely floral note of violets & lavender emerge.

On the palate, those dark fruits carry through bringing chocolate & a creamy vanilla component as well. Medium-plus acidity with some stem character adds cinnamon spice and keeps the fruit feeling lively. Very full-bodied but well balance with no back-end heat from the alcohol. Long finish lingers on fruit & savory herbs.

The Verdict

This is a big wine but very well made, easy to drink and savor. Superbly solid for $50. With such small production, Domaine of the Bee wines can be tough to find, but in the US & UK, folks can buy direct from their site. For $30, I can also heartedly recommend the “baby brother” Bee-Side Grenache as well.

Bonus Geekery

In this excellent 67 Pall Mall webinar, Howard-Sneyd shares more of his story and what makes the Roussillon area so distinctive.

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Wine and Syrup Bottles – It’s time to do more

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the need for change and diversity in the wine industry.

Mantra Dist GoFundMe

From Mantra Wine Distributors’ GoFundMe page.

Many folks have stood up to put that change into action–most notably Julia Coney’s Black Wine Professionals resource page and DLynn Proctor, Martin R. Reyes MW & Mary Margaret McCamic MW’s Wine Unify mentorship platform. However, there’s so much more that still needs to be done. The obstacles in the wine industry that hinder the growth of BIPOC are omnipresent and systemic.

Tweets, likes, shares and changing profile pics are nice gestures. But unless there are deliberate actions behind them, they’re just another dressing of “thoughts and prayers.” The digital equivalent of changing the label of a syrup bottle while ignoring the sticky mess inside.

Supporting change means enacting change.

Now there are a lot of different ways to do this, the easiest of which is simply patronizing minority-owned businesses. But, especially in the US, there are barriers that make that difficult. The archaic laws that litter the American three-tier system often suffocate direct-to-consumer options. While, thankfully, those cobwebs are being swept away one by one, the main route to new markets for many wineries or distilleries is still through distributors and wholesalers. And for small wineries, that route is often strewn with roadblocks.

Decades of consolidation have dramatically shrunk the number of distributors that small wineries can turn to. While the US wine industry grew more than fivefold from 1,800 wineries in 1995 to over 11,000 wineries in 2020, the number of distributors available to represent these brands dropped from 3000 to just 1200. Plus, there are thousands of producers from more than 60 other wine-producing countries that are also vying for spots in these limited portfolios.

But as stark as these barriers are for the typical small winery, they’re only magnified for wine & spirit brands owned by minorities.

In the Washington Post, Chanel Turner of Fou-Dre Vodka in Washington, DC, recounted her challenges in finding distribution noting, “I would set up meetings with different distributors, and they weren’t expecting to see someone like myself.” Likewise, Robin McBride of McBride Sisters Wine points out in VinePair that the struggle begins with just getting access to the “gatekeepers” in the first place.

So what are we going to do about this?

How can we, from regular consumers to industry folk, enact meaningful change to help minority-owned brands gain access to consumer markets?

Well, for one, we can put pressure on the Top 10 distributors that dominate the American wine market–all but one of which seems to be led by white men. As gatekeepers, they wield enormous influence on what wines consumers see on the shelves and wine lists of their communities. Sure, several of them put out statements about Black Lives Matter. A few changed their social media profile pics. But we’re going to need more than just syrupy sycophancy.

What we also need to do is support folks like Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago.

These two young somms are working to put change into action. After many years in the hospitality industry in Charleston, South Carolina, they’ve started Mantra Wine Distributors to answer the lack of minority-owned wine brands being represented in their community.

While the full impact of COVID has yet to play out, Charleston is a thriving and emerging food and wine destination. In the Deep South, the city’s demographics are younger and more affluent than the median in South Carolina. And with nearly 40% growth in population since 2000, the potential of this market continues to expand.

But it’s not going to be easy. Impactful change never is.

Jonella and Brooke of Mantra

Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago of Mantra Wine Distributors

Orozco and Lago know they have their work cut out for them. It takes a lot of capital to start a wine distribution company.  And it takes a lot of heart to do it in the middle of a pandemic. But heart and hard work is something that both these women have in spades.

While other folks are changing syrup labels, they want to change their community. They want to bring to Charleston wines that the wine lovers and tourists there aren’t getting. They want to share the stories of the many Black, Latinx, Indigenous, LGBTQ+, Women and minority-owned brands that are waiting to be discovered. And they’re willing to put in the time, sweat and tears to make that happen.

The wine industry needs more folks like Jonella Orozco and Brooke Lago.  We need more people willing to chip away at the barriers which limit access, availability and opportunities for minority-owned wine and spirits brands. Projects like Coney’s BWP help increase visibility and amplifies the voices of Black wine professionals while Wine Unify broadens educational opportunities. But we also need to take this fight to the retail shelves and wine lists of our communities.

Check out Mantra Wine Distributors’ GoFundMe page. Contribute, share, help them make this change happen.

If you’re in the wine business and want to help with mentorship and support, contact them directly.

Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. Spread the word and help inspire other folks to launch similar initiatives in their communities.

We’re past the point of just talking about change. Now we have to enact it.

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Talking Virtual Wine Events Next Week at FOMENT 2020 and on IG Live with Tablas Creek Vineyards

It’s been a busy spring and early summer for me since the launch of VirtualWineEvents.com. I’ve been invited to several interviews and panels, mostly to talk about the industry’s adoption of these new digital tools. Two exciting ones coming up is the FOMENT Conference this Tuesday, June 30th, which I’ll follow the next day with by joining Jason Haas of Tablas Creek Vineyards for a chat on his weekly Instagram live broadcast.

I’ve posted the details of these events below which I hope you’ll join us for.

At the end, I’ve also included the videos from some of the projects I mentioned above such as Destinate’s The Future of Wine Tourism Webinar, Pour Agency’s wine marketing series and a couple of The Real Business of Wine panels that I’ve been on.

FOMENT | Wine and Tourism Tech Variety Hour

Tuesday, June 30th – 16:00 ACST, 8:30 CEST, 2:30 EDT (23:30 PDT June 29th)

Broadcasting live from Yalumba’s Signature Cellar in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, FOMENT tackles the future of technology in the wine industry and tourism. While the timing isn’t ideal for Americans, registering for this free conference will get you access to the recording.

A few of the notable guests that I’m thrilled to be participating in this conference with include:

Chester Osborn of d’Arenberg in the McLaren Vale
Lisa Anderson and Max Waterson of Yalumba
Wine writer Max Allen of Australian Financial Review, JancisRobinson.com and many more
Polly Hammond of 5forests and The Real Business of Wine
Wine Business professor Damien Wilson of Sonoma State University

My lovely wife and the tech-brains behind VirtualWineEvents.com, Beth, joined me in our pre-recorded interview. We talked about the need we saw emerging during COVID. Our goal was to create a site where wineries, retailers and wine educators could post upcoming virtual tastings, webinars, Instagram Lives–completely free of charge–so they could be more easily discovered by wine lovers.

We’ve been exceedingly pleased with the response and traffic that we’re having to VirtualWineEvents.com. Even as tastings rooms start to open up, wine consumers are still looking for interesting and engaging online wine events that they can attend from the comfort of their homes. Likewise, savvy wine businesses realize the continued value of platforms that allow them to showcase their brands to consumers across the globe.

Tablas Creek Wednesday Conversations with Jason Haas on Instagram Live

Wednesday, July 1st – Noon PDT, 15:00 EDT, 21:00 CEST

A perfect case-in-point of a savvy wine business embracing digital tools is Tablas Creek Vineyards in Paso Robles. Every week they host a live stream on their Instagram page. While, for the sake of my sanity and phone notifications, I’m glad that the “witching hours” of endless IG Lives have quieted, these online events are still quite popular.

The laid-back, conversational nature of IG Lives is an easy format for consumers to pick up. All you do is follow the person hosting the event. Then when the notification comes that they’re going live, you click on it. You can watch, comment and even ask to participate if the host wants to bring other folks in to join them. It feels spontaneous and unscripted which, for many consumers, comes across as more authentic.

Numerous wineries like Tablas Creek have been hitting it out of the park with these events that they can later upload to their IGTV channel or YouTube. Check out some of the past Wednesday Conversations with Jason Haas featuring guests like Jeremy Benson of FreeTheGrapes.org, Regine Rousseau of Shall We Wine, Patrick Comiskey of Wine & Spirits Magazine, Cesar Perrin of Chateau de Beaucastel as well as several members of the Tablas team.

I particularly liked this one with Elizabeth Schneider from Wine for Normal People.

There’s often a lull at the beginning of most IG Lives while waiting for people to respond to the notification and join. I love that Haas utilizes this time by giving some behind-the-scenes updates about what’s going at the winery and vineyard. In this episode, he talks about some of the viticultural challenges of their Scruffy Hill Block.

So be sure to join us and bring your questions about virtual wine events!

In the meantime, check out the discussions below. I had a lot of fun working with Destinate Travel, the Real Business of Wine and Pour Agency with their panels and projects.

Future of Wine Tourism Session 4: Going virtual

The Future of Virtual Tastings

The Consumer, in Partnership with ARENI Global

How to Get More Customers to Join Your Winery’s Virtual Tasting Room Experience

What Content Increases Winery Followers and Likes on Social Media

What is The Best Selling Point About Your Winery? Hint: It’s Not Your Wine…

What Can Smarter Winery Marketing Do for Your Winery?

How to Increase Wine Sales with Personalized Winery Marketing

This is the full version that the snippets above were taken from. Brandon Lee of Pour Agency gives a breakdown of the key points on their blog.

01:45 – What is SpitBucket and who is Amber LeBeau?
03:45 – Why is it so important for wineries to invest in marketing and what works
04:33 – The power of YouTube and how your winery can take advantage
06:34 – How can wineries reduce the noise and provide more value?
06:44 – Making good wine alone is not good enough to get more sales
07:32 – Wineries are not only competing with their neighbor or other labels
08:38 – What can wineries be doing to capture more attention?
09:16 – Winery video creates connection and engagement in the midst of the shutdown
10:42 – What your winery might be doing wrong with social media and Instagram marketing
12:08 – Make your content meaningful and stop potential customers in their tracks
12:55 – How can wineries incentivize more people to engage with their virtual tasting room?
14:50 – Sell your brand, not just wine. Jackson Family Estates and The Wine Makers on Radio Misfits – The Wine Makers
17:58 – What video would you want to see created to make you take action and buy a winery’s wine?
20:50 – The easiest thing you can do to start winery marketing right
22:34 – Show people who you are, build meaningful connections with everyone within your winery
25:15 – Wineries should be asking their customers what they want
27:54 – Why it’s important to move forward and innovate with marketing even if you have a reputation
30:01 – What is branding and what does that mean for a winery?
32:00 – If you give people a reason to give a damn, they will give a damn.
32:14 – What’s Amber’s favorite wine?

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60 Second Wine Reviews – 2016 Domaine de Cébène Felgaria

Note: This was a sample from the Languedoc Outsiders.

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 Domaine de Cébène Felgaria from Faugères.

The Geekery

Domaine de Cebene FelgariaAfter working many years with Jean-Luc Thunevin of Chateau Valandraud in St. Emilion, Brigitte Chevalier founded Domaine de Cébène in 2006. Most of the Languedoc sits on a broad alluvial plain, but it was the unique schist soils of Faugères that caught Chevalier’s attention.

For Grenache and Syrah, Chevalier focuses on north-facing slopes to retain acidity & balance. The late-ripening Mourvèdre gets full southern exposures. Being highly drought-sensitive, Mourvèdre also benefits from the friable schistous soils that allow its roots to penetrate deep into underground reserves. Though, curiously, finding Mourvèdre on schist is not very common.

The 2016 Felgaria is a blend of 75% Mourvèdre and 25% Syrah from organically-farmed plots. The wine was fermented and then aged ten months in 500L demi-muids before being bottled unfined & unfiltered.

The Wine

Damson plums photo by Stiller Beobachter. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Lovely freshness to the dark fruit in this wine.

High-intensity nose. Very complex and evocative. I featured this wine on a recent Instagram Mystery Grape game and it was tough to sum it up in just 4-5 aroma/flavor clues. A lot is going on here–black fruits, grilled savory, meaty notes, dried garrigue herbs & flowers (lavender, sage and mint). Also a very intriguing, zesty blood orange note.

The wine kept changing in the glass with the fruits and savory flavors carrying over to the palate–plus added spiciness. Full-bodied with juicy medium-plus acidity and ripe, medium-plus tannins. The long-finish amplifies the spice notes (pepper, clove & cinnamon) as well as the dried floral notes.

The Verdict

As I noted in my IG review, this Felgaria has you licking your lips and sniffing the glass afterwards so that you can savor a tiny bit more of it. If you find this for around the $33-40 that Wine-Searcher is listing, that’s a steal. It probably should be closer to $50, IMO.

Bonus Geekery!

Here’s Brigitte Chevalier talking about schist. I love how the color of the rocks inspired her labels.

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How NOT to Respond to a Guest’s Concerns About COVID

These are unprecedented times for the wine industry. Some bumps and missteps are to be expected as wineries reopen after long lockdowns. But stuff like what I’m sharing below needs to be called out and nipped in the bud.

Earlier today, I had this exchange with a friend in Washington State. She does not work in the wine industry but is an avid wine lover who belongs to several wine clubs. I asked her permission to post these screenshots of our conversation with both her info and the winery’s name redacted. The only thing I will say about this winery is that it is relatively well known in Washington. With multiple tasting rooms throughout the state, I’m sure they were quite eager to reopen and get back that traffic flow.

But this is not the way you should treat a consumer–or let them be treated. Especially not one who is responding to your Facebook ad asking for visitors to come back to your tasting rooms.

FB screenshot

Salty language left un-redacted because, well, that’s how life is.

I understand the frustration. 

This should not have played out this way. And what’s equally as frustrating is wondering where else this is happening. While I hope that this is a fluke event, how can we be sure that’s the case?

Even with all the headaches and hassles that COVID has tossed on our laps, the very last thing that any wine business should do is to lose sight of basic customer service. I know none of us asked to be put in this situation and there are a lot of things that are beyond our control. But what we absolutely can control is how we respond when consumers share their sincere concerns.

And there are several ways that this winery could have done better.
Photo by Seedeblay. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

I know that monitoring your social pages is a lot of work, but do you really think that having a page that feels too hostile to interact with helps your business at all?

I’m going to go on good faith that the winery rep didn’t participate in the snarky comments. That just boggles my mind that anybody in the hospitality industry would be so idiotic. The winery did do well in deleting those comments fairly quickly. They deserve props there.

But where they dropped the ball was in not calling out the snarky commentators, who were attacking their customer, and in also not apologizing to their customer for being on the receiving end of this abuse. Plus, it was also disappointing that if they were online to delete comments, they still waited several more hours to respond to her question.

I followed up by checking out the winery’s Facebook page and found the post my friend replied to. The ad has received over 400 likes and has been shared multiple times, so a good amount of people are seeing in it. I found the original question and the cursory reply, noting that they’re practicing social distancing, limiting guests, wearing masks, etc. But no apologies for the other comments nor any further comment or post encouraging folks to treat each other with respect.

And, no, my friend has not gotten a DM apology or follow-up either.

Put yourself in this guest’s shoes.

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

If guests don’t feel comfortable visiting your tasting room, for whatever reason, they’re not going to come.

And in the shoes of similar guests who the industry desperately wants to return.

Here is someone who does want to return. She wants to get back to visiting winery tasting rooms. But she has concerns, like many, many other consumers. So when she sees the Facebook ad of a winery that she likes, telling her that they’re reopening, she reaches out to them.

There’s intent. There’s desire. All she needs is reassurance. All she needs is to be treated like a valid human being.

But instead, she was made to feel that her concerns were “political,” “overblown,” “invalid.” Even if the winery wasn’t aware that guests still get notifications and previews of deleted comments, this abusive behavior should have been called out.

Because what are the odds that this would be a one-time thing? That these Facebook commentators who were attacking this person weren’t going to attack another guest responding to the same Facebook ad and having similar concerns?

And what assurance does anyone have that they wouldn’t be likewise heckled in the tasting room or parking lot by these other “fans”?

If you want to welcome guests back to your tasting rooms, you need to make clear that it’s a welcoming place.

And that extends to how your guests are treated on your social media pages. If other commentators on your Facebook page are attacking your guests, you need to do more than just delete comments. You need to make clear that respect is a value that your winery holds dear.

This is not about being political. It’s crazy that things like personal concern and safety are being turned into political hot topics. But as an industry, we have to rise above this. We have to look out for our customers. We have to make them feel welcomed, valued and safe.

When one winery drops the ball, it hurts their neighbors and everyone else who is also counting on those visitors returning. That’s why we need to call this out and stop this from continuing.

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Why the Wine Industry Shouldn’t Be Color Blind

In the last few weeks, I’ve listened to a lot of very moving testimony from Black wine professionals about their experiences in the wine industry. One that hit me particularly hard was Tahiirah Habibi of the Hue Society recounting her story of taking the Introductory Level 1 course & examination with the Court of Master Sommeliers.

 

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If you are in positions of power, check yourself on how you use that power and who you hurt with it. • • It is time for the wine industry to STOP taking “safe” stances in order to keep your primarily white audience comfortable. Include Black and Brown people in the foundational decisions and planning, instead of using them retroactively as tokens. Enough. • • -If you are the president of a distributor, the CEO of a winery, if you own a wine shop, ask yourself— are you teaching or hiring black people? • • -Make sure you are using your positions in the industry to create front line marketing and placements of Black brands. • • -Make sure your mentees don’t all look like you. White people have the task to other white people to end racism. • • If Master sommeliers are the aspirational peak of our industry, then they will have to challenge each other to make this institution accessible for everyone to aspire to. • • Your intentions may be good but your actions are what you will be held accountable for. • • @richelieudennis @fiyawata #huesociety #assimilationnotrequired #wineandculture #blacklivesmatter

A post shared by Tahiirah Habibi (@sippingsocialite) on

Habibi later goes into more detail about her interactions (or rather lack of interaction) with the Court that is just as infuriating. But that story of taking the level 1 exam really resonated with me. It took me back 13 years ago to when I did my own level 1, spending a weekend at a Tucson hotel for two days of classes and the exam. I remember quirking an eyebrow at the instructors referring to each other as “Master Jones” or “Master Smith” and expecting the students to do the same.

But that’s all it was, an eyebrow quirk. A shoulder shrug.

I chalked it up to a vestige of the restaurant industry where everyone “Yes, Chef!” the master of the back of the house. It never once dawned on me, for over 13 years, how what I could so easily dismiss with a shrug and Whatever would so deeply sting someone else. While in hindsight, it’s so glaringly obvious and cringeworthy, it just blew right passed me.

What troubles me the most, though, is that after all these years, I can’t tell you if there were any people of color in that class. With over 50 people attending, it seems like there would have been. But I honestly don’t know. I didn’t notice.

It struck me how often that is the case–how often I don’t notice people of color at wine events. They just meld into the crowd of other wine folks. Now some might say that’s a good thing, that you’re “color blind” and everyone should meld together. It should all just be wine people doing wine things.

But I reject that. I reject the idea that being color blind is a good thing. Because if you’re not noticing the presence of people of color in the wine industry, then you’re certainly not going to notice their absence.

Being color blind robs us all.

Tapestry photo from Kalamazoo Public Library. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons with no known copyright descriptions.
I don’t know if the people who advocate “All Lives Matter,” saying that they don’t see color or want to see color, realize that what they’re advocating for is a disorder. Achromatopsia (i.e., color blindness) is an affliction, a limitation.

People that suffer from actual color blindness don’t get to see the world in all its vivid richness. They can adapt and make do, but there will always be things that they’ll never be able to experience fully–the colors and context that enliven life.

Why would we want to aspire to that?

Why would we want to strive for a world that will always be less than what it could be?

It doesn’t make sense–especially not in the wine industry where we are immersed in a product whose greatest strength is its diversity.

We revel in the joy of endless possibilities from the multitude of grapes and wine styles we have. We’re fascinated and enthralled by the unique imprint of different terroirs. Every vintage, new chapters are written by mother nature and the hands of thousands of winegrowers across the globe. The world of wine is a world wrapped up in a rich tapestry of diversity.

But this world doesn’t just begin and end in our glass.

Think about all that we’re missing when we don’t notice the people of color in the room.

And especially what we miss when we don’t notice their absence.

Think about the insights, perspectives and backgrounds that we don’t get to hear about. Wine is consumed by our senses–both physical and through the lens of our sense of self. We reflect all of that in our descriptions and interactions with wine.

If we’re not noticing, listening and talking to people of color, we lose opportunities to see wine through lenses that only they can share. We lose the words, sentiments and moments that broaden our understanding and make our tapestry more dynamic.

Just as the thought of limiting our vibrant world to a small handful of wines makes our heart sink, so too should the thought of limiting the voices that help bring this world to life.

So, no, I don’t want to be color blind. I want to see. I want to listen and learn.

I want to notice.

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The World’s Most Over-Hyped Rosé?

It’s National Rosé Day! For exactly which “nation” (U.S.? U.K.? France?), I’m never sure, but my social media feeds are certainly popping with pink. Likewise, several rosé-related virtual wine events are being held across the globe this weekend.

Garrus rose

And while I’m a huge fan of rosé wine, I need to get something off my chest.

When it comes to the thoroughly prized and feted Château d’Esclans’ Garrus, The World’s Most Expensive Rosé Wine, I just don’t get the fuss.

Oh, I’ve tried it a handful of times–most recently the 2018 vintage at the Wine Paris Expo this past February. It’s a frequent high scorer for Wine Spectator and, with their penchant for repeating the same wines over and over again at their Grand Tour, that’s offered me a few more opportunities to try. In wine circles, it tends to pop up at rosé parties–either from someone who wants to “ball” or, ironically, wants to snob it up and make a point about overpriced rosé.

Each time I try my best to taste it with an open mind. But every time I keep going back to my glass wondering, “What am I missing?”

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad wine.

Researching its background with how it’s made is actually kind of cool. The techniques that Sacha Lichine and the late Patrick Léon (Mouton, Opus One) developed for Garrus are undoubtedly innovative. Perhaps echoing back to Léon’s work with Domaine Faiveley, they approached Garrus like making a fine white Burgundy.

The fruit comes from old vine Grenache and Rolle/Vermentino planted on chalky hillsides. Often 100% free-run juice (though some vintages can have up to 10% press juice for balance), the wine is aged in a combination of new and once-used barrels. The wine then sees twice-weekly bâtonnage and lees contact for 8 to 10 months. But being a rosé, where freshness is a premium, Lichine and Léon developed a complex temperature-controlled system to keep the barrels cool throughout fermentation and maturation.

James Suckling has a great video (3:35) with Sacha Lichine where they show that barrel set-up.

Those efforts definitely show up in the wine.

While I’ve never tasted Garrus blind or in black opaque glasses, its mouthfeel is distinctive. The wine has a creamy texture that feels almost like a buttery, vanilla-laden Chardonnay but without vanilla & buttery flavors. I’ll admit that the first time I had it (the 2012 vintage when it was about four years of age), that mouthfeel really caught my attention. I was also impressed with the age as I tend not to have the best of experiences with older rosé. But with ample medium-plus acidity, the wine was still lively and fresh.

I scribbled in my notes that this would be an excellent $30-40 wine. Lo and behold, it was more than twice that! Today, it’s not that shocking to see Garrus over $100 a bottle. And I guess for me, that’s the crux of the issue.

It’s good, but it’s not that good.

While I get the business side of it–the cost of maintaining old bush vines on rocky hillsides, the expensive fermentation & maturation techniques, new barrels, extended aging, etc.–it’s hard for me to feel as a consumer that I’m getting my money’s worth. Full disclaimer, though. Every time I’ve tried Garrus, it has been either at a tasting event–some of which I’ve paid to attend–or that someone else has purchased.

Still, even though I have the means to spend upwards of $100 a bottle on wine, I’ve never tasted a vintage of Garrus that has compelled me to want to spend that on one to take home.

So what does it lack?

3L bottle of Garrus

That 3L bottle cost around 400 euros.
Which is fine on someone else’s dime.

Looking back over my past tasting notes, the words “Shy”, “Subtle”, “Vague” and “Undefined” litter them. The nose, especially with younger vintages (like the 2018 I had this year) often seems very muted, which is always a downer for me with rosés. I expect more pronounce intensity.

I’ve heard that Garrus does shine with some decanting, but I’ve never had the opportunity to experience that. However, it seems like a little bottle age helps as well.

But even with slightly older examples, the texture is always the strongest, if not sole, selling point. The aromatics and flavors still hide in the background. They’re there but they never jump out and make their presence known. I get a little peach, some pear, maybe a bit of exotic mango and the slightest hint of spice that often comes out in the moderate-length finish. Again, pleasant. Enjoyable. Certainly drinkable. But so are many other rosés for far less.

I’m not opposed to the idea of spending money for a “serious” rosé.

I just need to feel that it’s seriously worth it. Which, for me, the Château d’Esclans Garrus is not.

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60 Second Wine Review – 2017 Bedrock Zweiter Zweieiiger Zwilling Riesling

A few quick thoughts on the Bedrock ZZZ Riesling from the Cole Ranch AVA in Mendocino.

Bedrock Zweiter Zweieiiger Zwilling
The Geekery

There’s tons of stuff that I could geek out on here. I’ve been a huge fan of Bedrock for some time, and you can find a few backstory tidbits in my review of the Ode to Lulu Rosé.

But today, I’m going to highlight this remarkable vineyard, which is a monopole and the smallest AVA in the United States.

I’ve included a YouTube vid below from Bedrock talking about how asst. winemaker Cody Rasmussen stumbled upon Cole Ranch in 2016. Its section of Riesling is some of the oldest in California–planted in the early 1970s. The vines are dry-farmed and trained as goblet bush vines. However, they uniquely have an added cane trellised California sprawl-style to control vigor.

Over the decades, numerous wineries have used Cole Ranch fruit. Most notably Chateau St. Jean, Fetzer, V. Sattui, Jordan, Tobin James and Esterlina. Bedrock makes two Rieslings from here–the Erster Zweieiiger Zwilling & Zweiter Zweieiiger Zwilling.

The long German names describe the wines as fraternal twins (Zweieiiger Zwilling), with Erster being the first and drier of the two. The second, Zweiter, is usually harvested between Kabinett and Spatlese-level ripeness with anywhere from 25-75 g/l residual sugar left after fermentation.

The Wine

Golden Delicious apple pic from Glysiak. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Juicy, ripe golden delicious apple trademark this lovely Riesling.

High-intensity nose. Ripe golden delicious apples, nectarines and lime zest. Also a little floral citrus blossoms.

On the palate, the wine feels more off-dry Kabinett level in fruit intensity but with the medium-body weight of a Spatlese. High acidity highlights both the ripeness of the fruit and mouthwatering citrus notes. Long finish lingers on the fruit but introduces some stony minerality.

The Verdict

Such a fantastically delicious Riesling. Both the Erster and Zweiter are around $25-30 and are well worth it. Even though I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, I give the nod to the Zweiter just because of its weight & intensity.

Bonus Geekery

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Re-opening Winery Tasting Rooms — What would bring me back?

For a follow up to tasting rooms reopening, see “How NOT to Respond to a Guest’s Concerns About COVID

Jason Haas of Tablas Creek recently posted a poll asking if people were ready to go back to tasting rooms. While the plurality was raring to go, the majority of respondents to his question were a bit more reserved.

A small sample size, but what’s notable is that Haas was polling highly engaged wine lovers–the kind of folks who would actively follow the personal Twitter account of a winery owner. So if over 60% of people who are probably pretty passionate and geeky about wine are still a little iffy about rushing out to tasting rooms, how do you think everyone else feels?

I know how I feel, and it’s not the best news for wineries.

Like the rest of Haas’ respondents, I’m certainly in the highly engaged and passionate wine lover category. I adore traveling with some of the hardest parts of this pandemic for me being the cancellations of wine trips and events that I had planned for the year. Yes, I fully realize that this is a position of immense privilege. I know that many others have suffered and lost so much more than just missing out on wine tastings.

But my point is is that I should be part of that group that can’t wait for tasting rooms to reopen. Yet looking at Haas’ question, my instinct was to click “Not for a while.”

Mask on a painting image from Mucsi Márton. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Doesn’t this image just scream “Hey, let’s go visit some wineries!”?

My reasoning parallels my sentiments about shopping for wine. For me, wine is a source of joy and pleasure, so I want all my experiences with wine to reflect that. But while I love wine, I don’t need it.

Likewise, while I love visiting wineries and wine country, it’s never something that I absolutely need to do. Especially if the thought of doing so right now makes me wince.

Looking over all the different guidelines on opening tasting rooms from California, Oregon and Virginia is disheartening. There are so many hoops for wineries to jump through and, while they all have the best of intentions, none of them make me feel any better about visiting wineries.

Sure, these guidelines will undoubtedly keep the employees and me safe. I certainly appreciate that.

But they’re also going to add a lot more stress, rather than joy, to the experience.

Reading those guidelines, and even the well-meaning communications from wineries, has me picturing a tasting room visit going like this:

1.) Sitting in the parking lot waiting for my appointment because I’m always compulsively early.

But I can’t mill around the tasting room killing time like I usually do. And then being rushed at the end of the appointment to accommodate the much-needed sanitation and cleaning.

2.) Being greeted with smiling (?) tasting room staff in masks while also wearing my own mask.

Yes, I know it absolutely has to be this way for now, but that’s still such a glaring reminder that things are not normal. No matter how hard we try, it’s not easy to be happy and cheerful in a pandemic mask. You wear them out of solemn duty and necessity to protect yourself and others. And of all the mindsets to have when tasting wine and visiting wineries, solemn is certainly not at the top of anyone’s list.

3.) Receiving a laundry list of instructions–likely emailed before the tasting but also repeated in person as protocol–detailing precisely what we can and cannot do, where we can and cannot go.

Again, I understand why it has to be this way, but that doesn’t distract from the stress and fear of doing something wrong. Which is also not a stellar mindset to have when you’re supposed to be relaxing and doing something pleasurable.

4.) But, overall, having very limited interaction with the staff.

I know that this is for their safety as well as mine. But that interaction is so vital. It goes beyond just asking questions or getting tech notes on the wine. Tasting room staff are the face of a brand and reflects a winery’s personality and vibe. Wine is a social product–made and consumed by people. Losing that personal connection always diminishes the experience.

5.) Being acutely aware of the 6 ft+ spacing in all things–going to our tasting table, to the bathroom, to purchase bottles, etc.

This is a stress of everyday life now. While I have to tolerate it to get food essentials at the grocery store, going wine tasting is not essential. If it feels like a chore or ordeal, why do it?

That’s the ultimate question — if visiting tasting rooms feels more like an ordeal than a source of joy, why do it?

Pine Ridge Tasting Room sign

I do miss wine tastings terribly but…

Or at least, why go now? Why not wait until things eventually (hopefully?) settle with a vaccine and get back to at least semi-normalcy?

Of course, I want to support the wine industry–just like I want to support restaurants as well. I know that many small businesses are struggling and can’t wait for however many months it will take for things to actually settle. I get that.

I will still donate to relief charities, tip generously to delivery drivers and order wine and meals online. But I’m not going to spend my free time and money on joyless endeavors. And I seriously doubt that I’m alone in these sentiments.

Sure, there are going to be folks who are chomping at the bit to get back visiting wineries. But it remains to be seen how those folks feel after actually going through these “COVID experiences” and if they’ll return. They very well could end up joining the ranks of “Let’s wait and see” like the rest of us.

What can wineries do?

Robert Biale Black Chicken sign

Remember those carefree days when wayward black chickens were the worries of wine tastings?

I know this is an incredibly tough spot for wineries. There are no easy answers. But what I would recommend for wineries to keep in mind is that coaxing us back to the tasting room is going to take more than just reassurances about safety. That is undoubtedly important, but just as vital is the reassurance of joy–that this experience is going to be fun and not an ordeal.

While you won’t be able to recapture everything from what it was before, more than anything, an escape to wine country truly needs to feel like an escape. And, perhaps, with a little creativity, wineries may be able to come up with something even better.

Below are some things that would certainly make visiting a tasting room more appealing to me. I know that for many wineries, a lot of these ideas won’t be feasible. But, hopefully, they at least encourage some brainstorming.

And if you’re a winery already doing stuff like this, please let me know! Despite my reservations above, my heart still longs for a return to wine country. I’m also sure my readers would love to know what options they have.

My Ideal Covid Tasting Room Experience

1.) A waiting area that is not my car or out in the parking lot.

It could be a room with interesting art or things relating to the winery’s history. Even better is something outside, out in the vineyard. Just make it clearly designated and well known that here is where we are welcomed to wait (and relax!) till our appointment time. And speaking of vineyards…

2.) Patio tastings are nice, but more private tastings out in the vineyards are ideal.

It doesn’t necessarily have to be that fancy of a set-up. But for wineries with the space and means, I can definitely see many going down this path.

Just get me away from having to stress about the 6 feet thing with other guests and staff. Being greeted by one masked staff member who takes me to a set up in the vines would be much better. Out of sight, out of mind. Plus, it is even more of an enhanced experience that truly feels special and exciting.

I understand that these kinds of more intimate, isolated tastings will likely cost more. But if what’s promised is more compelling than the alternative, it’s worth paying.

3.) Give me some social interaction–even if it’s via an iPad.

This is going to be the most difficult because of safety concerns and regulations. But at least we have the tools to help soften the blow and sterility. As I’ve mentioned numerous times, everyone is getting more comfortable using digital platforms. Take advantage of that.

In my ideal covid tasting up in the vines, I see that masked staff member taking us to a set-up with pre-poured wines and an iPad. While enjoying the beauty, sights, sounds and smells all around us, we can tap on the iPad and be greeted by a truly smiling, unmasked face back in the tasting room. A real person, someone with a name and personality that we could interact with.

They could tell us a little about the wines and winery. Maybe even let us get up from our setting with the iPad and stroll along a delineated path in the vineyard as the staff guides us. Yeah, it’s basically a virtual wine tasting. But it’s going to be one of the least sucky virtual tastings ever because we’re actually out in the vines experiencing something genuinely unique and exciting.

That is something that stirs joy and gets the heart fluttering again at the thought of visiting tasting rooms.

That is worth putting on a mask and going to wine country.

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