All posts by Amber LeBeau

No, There’s Not an App For That — Winery Visit Rant

For a follow up to this post, check out Adapt or Perish — The Wine Industry’s Reckoning With Technology

As part of the visa application process for my upcoming move, I need to head down to San Francisco at the end of this month for an appointment at the French Consulate. Since we’re already paying for a flight, the wife and I figured that we might as well extend the trip to spend a couple of days in Napa and Sonoma.

Photo by Yoni13132. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Appointment slots at many wineries (particularly in Napa) are usually very limited. Often you want to book them at least a month in advance. This typically requires a back and forth email exchange or (gasp) phone call with whatever wineries you want to visit.

I know with the short notice that I’m going to be out of luck at many places. But I don’t like the idea of doing an email fishing expedition with 30 some odd wineries just to see which ones might still have an opening. Picking up a telephone to call is out of the question. I am a Millennial after all.

There has to be a better way.

There has to be an app for this.

Silicon Valley is right next door to the most visited wine regions in the country. Wine drinkers tend to be fairly tech-savvy people and, god knows, how many wineries have been purchased/founded by tech millionaires. Plus, the technology already exists with services like Open Table which makes it easy to search and book on your phone reservations at restaurants nearly anywhere in the world.

Surely, someone has come up with an Open Table-like app for booking winery visits. It is 2019 after all!

Right?!?!

I go to the App Store and search for “Winery Reservations.” I get an ad for Sonic Drive-In and listing for something called Tock for restaurant reservations.

Hmm, alright. Let’s search for “Winery Appointments.” Nope. Just an ad for Vagaro Pro (which I totally misread at first) to schedule salon appointments.

Let’s see, maybe “Winery Visits”? I knew this was going to bring up a lot of results for regional wine apps. Some of these can be helpful with listings of tasting rooms that are nearby and hours. But they all tend to be localized and don’t offer the appointment booking feature I’m looking for.

So I did what any whiney Millennial would do. I whined on social media.

But hey, it worked as Ryan Moore, the VP of Consumer Sales at Ridge Vineyards, came to my rescue.

Alright, I got a lead.

I start checking out the two sites and quickly hit a big ole pothole with Vino Visit.

The initial landing page looked good. However, as soon as you start to search for anything, you get the spinning lag wheel of death with phantom search results. I open up my phone browser and get the same issue with the results page never fully loading.

I double checked the app store to see if there was a mobile app (which is ultimately what I want) and no luck.

Vino Visit screen shot

Sorry Vino Visit, you’re dead to me.

Then I went over to CellarPass (great name, BTW) where I at least found a mostly-functioning website.

CellarPass – close but not quite

I’m going to try CellarPass out for my Napa trip. But playing around its website, I see a lot of missing features and poor design. Again, I was hoping to find something along the Open Table model for functionality and intuitive user interface.

I’ll highlight some areas where I think the CellarPass team can improve. If any of their folks ever read this, my consulting fee is simply a better app to use. 🙂

First, when you go to the landing page and select a region like Napa Valley you get brought to their main search page. Immediately, you see something missing.

Cellar Pass screen shot

Where’s the calendar option?

A calendar. Why is there not a calendar function? Right off the bat, I should be able to narrow down my options to what wineries actually have appointments available on the days that I’m visiting.

The whole reason why I was searching for an Open Table-like app was that I knew that there was going to be a lot of wineries that were already booked up. I don’t want to start clicking on wineries, going to their page, searching for my dates, only to find that I’m wasting my time. This offers little benefit over the “old fashion way” of emailing dozens of wineries and waiting for the reply or rejection.

Sigh. Okay, let’s see what I can search by.

CellarPass gives you the option of searching by varietal. My wife loves bubbles so let’s look at the sparkling wine producers.

CellarPass sparkling wine search

Or not. Or maybe? I don’t know, did it even take my search query?

My page reloaded, so I assumed something happened. It looks like I got a listing of wineries that may have sparkling wines. This is definitely a poor interface with not including the newly added search term up top.

However, I was suspicious why well-known Napa producers like Schramsberg weren’t listed. Neither was Mumm Napa, Domaine Chandon or Domaine Carneros. That gives me reasons to doubt the usefulness of this site. They have pages for all them (like Schramsberg below) though without any reservation link or hours available for tasting. But these pages weren’t included in my search results for Napa Valley sparkling wine producers.

Schramsberg listing

At least include a link to their website.

I’m guessing this is because of “pay to play” with the wineries that do show up in the search being ones that pay CellarPass for their spot. I get that and understand that tech companies need to make money. But come on. Even if the winery is not paying for their reservation link to go through you, they should still be included in a search result. Maybe they get pushed to end of the listings. Fine. But you already have pages created for them. It’s pretty ridiculous not to use them in the results.

Unfortunately, this was not my only search folly. On the sidebar, they give you the option to search by experience and notable features. They provide a lot of great choices that would be almost perfect for a visitor to tailor their experience to exactly what they want.

Almost perfect.

Notable features and experience

It looks like these features are pulled from the winery page that CellarPass has created. Now I’m not a tech person, but it seems like their site should know how many wineries pages they have listed as “Family Friendly,” “Electric Vehicle Charging,” “Food & Wine,” etc. Why not have the number of wineries tagged noted in parenthesis next to each option?

That’s worthwhile information that can help with planning a trip. If there was only something like eight options under “Ghost Winery,” that’s pretty doable to visit in a couple of days. Maybe I change my plans and do a “Ghost Wineries of Napa Tour.” Or if there are only 3 or 4 wineries listed as “pet-friendly” maybe I need to rethink bringing Fluffy along.

Another issue is that you can only search based on one feature or one experience at a time.

What if I want to visit a family-owned, pet-friendly, sustainable winery that does blind tastings?

Well tough luck because apparently that winery doesn’t exist–at least according to CellarPass. Not only can you not add multiple search parameters but even when I search for each of those individually I come up empty.

Cellar Pass screen shot search of blind tasting

Another “pay to play” issue?

However, this may be a technical issue with cookies or caching or whatever. As I said, I’m not a tech person so I don’t know. But I became curious when the very next search I did for “Calistoga” also came up empty. I had to close the webpage and come back before I was able to get results of wineries in Calistoga.

It’s possible that as I was checking to see what was available under each option that it kept adding to my search parameters without telling me that it was. But who knows? Again, poor interface and something that you would think a tester would have uncovered.

What About Tasting Fees?

Another thing that is sorely missing is the ability to search based on the cost of tastings. Fees can easily span the gamut with many wineries offering different experiences at various price points. A search feature based on min/max tasting fees should be front and center (along with the calendar function).

Along those same lines, wineries that offer complimentary tastings (which is become exceedingly rare) should be highlighted.

I suspect this entry for Consentino Winery, which notes that it has complimentary tastings, was written by the winery itself (it’s one of the few listings in all caps). But CellarPass should use a yellow star, green check mark or something to highlight these wineries because this is the type of info that folks (like broke Millennials) want to know about.

Consentino listing

The listing of hours as well as links to social media is a great touch,though.

Finally, WHY IS THERE NOT A MOBILE APP!?!?!

CellarPass mobile screenshot

Is this for wineries? Is this for users? Who knows?

Or maybe there is. I don’t know. When I went back to the app store and searched for CellarPass there is something listed as in development and then a “guest link” app. I downloaded the guest link app where I was greeted by a request for a Member ID, Username and Password.

Clicking the “Learn More” takes you to their support portal where you are asked to log in with an email address and password.

So…is this even something I’m supposed to use? Not intuitive in the slightest.

I went back to the CellarPass website where I saw a tab to “Join CellarPass”.  Clicking that gives you a pop up where you could sign up for a personal or business account. I click on the personal option where I’m sent to an account creation page. I input my details like email and select a password. Then…

I get an error message.

Lovely.

So, yeah, I have no idea what is going on here.

As I mentioned above, I’m going to try and book a few appointments online with CellarPass through my desktop. We’ll see how these go and I’ll write a follow up to this post when I return.

But I’m still stunned that while there are apps to alert you when it’s the best time to get up and pee, so you don’t miss anything good in a movie, that no one has come up a decent app for booking winery visits and appointments.

Come on Silicon Valley! We need to get our drink on!

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The Practical Guide to Picking Out Wedding Wines

If you lurk around on Reddit’s r/wine sub, you’ll often see posts like this one looking for wedding wine suggestions. Back in my retail days, February would be the start of “wedding season” where almost daily through September you’d get customers coming in asking about wedding wines.

Wedding cake

While I understand the sense of not knowing where to start, I actually don’t think going to an online board looking for specific wine recommendations is a great idea. Nor do I think googling “wedding wines under $10” or whatever is worth your time either.

That’s because every wine market is different in both pricing and selection. These lists and helpful suggestions often send you on a wild goose chase looking for something that you might not even be able to get in your area.

Also, the suggestions that focus on mass-produced and widely distributed options (i.e., supermarket wines) may steer you towards wines that you end up feeling self-conscious about serving at your wedding. (More on that down below)

Instead, the best online advice for picking wedding wines is going to be more general. Both Wine Folly and The Knot have good guidelines that are worth a read. I disagree with a few of their suggestions, but they’re solid starting points.

Below I’m going to lay out the practical approach to picking out wedding wines. This is the same advice that I’ve given hundreds of wedding customers during my career and it all begins with the most important rule.

1.) Don’t Stress About the Wine

Photo by Tracy Hunter. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-2.0

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” — Maya Angelou

Seriously. There is SOOOOOOOO much about wedding planning that you’re going to be stressing over. Picking out the booze should be at the bottom of the worry list.

Take a step back and think about the weddings that you’ve attended. How many of them can you remember the wines from? Most likely you’re not going to remember much–maybe the varietals at best. That’s because you weren’t attending the wedding for a wine and dining experience. You were there to celebrate the couple getting married. That is what you remember.

Even though I was in the business of selling wine, my number one advice to couples was to always focus more on the things your guests will remember–the ceremony, venue and maybe the music and food. Those are worth stressing over far more than picking out the perfect wine that will please everyone and pair perfectly with every dish.

Because, frankly, that wine doesn’t exist.

What does exist is a bounty of enjoyable wines that will fit whatever budget you have. That should be your starting point.

2.) Start Planning Early and Have Fun

Picking out the booze should be the fun part of wedding planning. It certainly should be more enjoyable than getting measured for tuxes and dresses or deciding seating charts.

Photo by Geoffrey Fairchild. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Starting early also gives the wine shop time to order any additional quantities needed. Keep in mind, even in big stores with multiple skus, they may have less than a case of a particular wine at any given moment.
But with enough time, they can usually order more in.

The best way to keep it fun is to start early by visiting a good wine shop that is staffed by stewards you can talk to. This is key because a real live person is going to be able to listen to your wants and concerns. They’re also going to know what wines are available in your price range that the online “Best under $XX” lists can’t cover.

Most importantly, though, you can ask them the very pointed question “What would YOU serve at your wedding?”

If you’re dealing with a good wine steward, a question like that gets the wheels cranking. They’re going to pick out gems (maybe different grapes or unique regions) at whatever price point you give them. You are essentially borrowing their expertize to make you look like a wine expert.

People still probably aren’t going to remember exactly what you served. But if you want a better chance of having “wowzer wines” that impress, this is where you’ll find them.

Don’t be afraid to give a budget–and don’t feel like you have to bust it either.

Again, there is so much good wine out there at all price points. Maybe not blow-your-mind level great but good, solid and enjoyable. Any wine steward that is worth their salt is going to find you the best bottle at your budget that they would feel comfortable serving at their wedding.

But if you are starting early, you don’t have to take their word for it. Take home bottles of a few options. Open them up at a dinner party with friends or family. This is where the fun part of wedding planning comes in.

If you want to add a twist (and are worried about your budget), do the tasting blind and include wines at different price points. Go a little under your budget and a little over. Taste through them and see if you or your friends can notice a difference. That will help you zero in on if your budget is reasonable. It will also let you know if the wine steward you’re working with is a good one.

If all the wines are duds, try a different wine shop or steward. Starting early gives you that flexibility to have fun and explore your options.

3.) Keep It Simple

Mauro Sebaste Moscato d'Asti

I like combining the something slightly sweet and something bubbly together.
A nice Moscato d’Asti or a Demi-Sec sparkling wine is a far better pairing with sweet wedding cake than a bone-dry Brut.


I would hope that the wine steward would also be giving you this last piece of advice. Don’t go crazy with multiple options and multiple varieties. Not to sound like a broken record, but your guests aren’t there to attend a wine tasting experience. They’re there to celebrate you! You don’t need to try and cover all the bases to please every person.

For nearly every wedding, you only need 3 to 4 options.

Something red and something white.
Something slightly sweet and/or something bubbly.

Rosé wine is also a popular substitute for one of those last two. The idea of a dedicated sparkling wine for a toast is falling out of fashion so many couples just have people use whatever is in their glass for the toast.

Whichever direction you go with is up to you but you should always default back to Rule #1–Don’t Stress About the Wine!

Addendum: If you’re self-conscious about your wedding wines, avoid the mass-produced brands

Now, this last one I’m including because even though I bang the drum on not stressing, I know there are folks who will stress over everything. (My wife is one of them!)

By far, the biggest stressor regarding wines seems to be the fear of what the wine selection “says” about the couple. (It doesn’t say anything, really!) Often that fear centers on the cost of the wine and if the image it projects makes the couple look like cheapskates. This can lead to the temptation to bust your budget and spend way more on wine than you need to.

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

But if you’re not self-conscious about your wedding wines and are in a last-minute pinch, Costco is a good source for a large quantity of cheap booze.


With all the things that you’re going to get nickel and dimed on with wedding planning, I would discourage falling for that temptation. Again, the vast majority of your guests are honestly not going to care and just want to celebrate with you. (Plus, it’s free booze!)

But I can empathize with not wanting to look like you’re “cheaping out” on your big day. Even though you’re not really cheaping out–you’re being reasonable and working within a budget.

However, if you know that is going to be an issue for you, avoiding the big mass-produced names is the easiest way to skip that stress. Because then your guest really won’t know how much you paid for your wines.

Picking a big name wine that is widely distributed at every grocery store, gas station and Costco is like leaving the price tag on a gift.

It’s also like serving McDonald’s at your wedding. Everyone knows the price of a Big Mac and where you got it at. Likewise, anyone that drinks wine or shops at a grocery store has gone by the huge displays of these big name wines and have seen the shiny SALE tag on them. There are no surprises. They will know pretty much exactly what you spent.

Again, this shouldn’t be a big deal. But if you are truly self-conscious about the image that your wedding wines are going to project, avoid the “McDonald wines”.

If you’re working with a good wine steward, they should be able to recommend wines from smaller producers or less widely known grape varieties/wine regions that are going to over deliver on the price. You can get an under $15/10/5 wine that doesn’t taste like (or that everybody knows is) an under $15/10/5 wine.

That way you can remove another stressor from what should be one of the best days of your life. Most importantly, it lets everyone get back to focusing on what really matters on your wedding day.

Figuring out what the flower girl is putting up her nose.

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60 Second Wine Review — Ergo Sum Shiraz

A few quick thoughts on the 2012 Ergo Sum Shiraz from Victoria, Australia.

The Geekery

Ergo Sum Shiraz

Ergo Sum was a collaboration project between Michel Chapoutier and Rick Kinzbrunner of Giaconda.  The first vintage of this single-vineyard Shiraz from the Victorian Alps was released in 2008.

This was one of several projects that Chapoutier has been involved in. In addition to his own eponymous Rhône wines, Chapoutier collaborates with his longtime assistant Pierre-Henri Morel to make PH Morel.

He also has two projects in Roussillon, Domaine de Bila-Haut and Agly Brothers–the later a collaboration with the Laughton family of Jasper Hill. Chapoutier became acquainted with the Laughtons in the late 1990s when he first visited Australia.

With Ron Laughton, he planted a vineyard near Jasper Hill to produce La Pléiade (Cluster M45). Chapoutier also started Domaine Terlato & Chapoutier in Australia with his longtime importer and founded Domaine Tournon in the Victorian Pyrenees.

2012 was the last vintage of Ergo Sum with Chapoutier and Kinzbrunner. Peter Graham, Kinzbrunner’s assistant winemaker, took over the label as part of his Domenica Wines brand.

The wine was aged 18 months in 30% new French oak barrels with around 300 cases produced.

The Wine

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

Lots of smokiness in this wine but its more distracting than anything.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very smokey with herbal rosemary and black pepper. Underneath is dark fruit but it’s not very defined.

On the palate, the smoke comes through but has almost a char-y character that is a little distracting. Medium-plus acidity defines the dark fruit as black plum and blackberry with a juicy edge to balance the wine’s full-body. Medium-plus tannins are ripe. Moderate finish brings back the pepper but lingers on the smoke.

The Verdict

This wine tastes like it’s in an awkward spot at the moment. There are some hints of character and it has a solid structure. But the pieces just aren’t coming together.

At $55-65, it has the potential to live up to its price point but right now it is fairly underwhelming.

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The Lost Storytelling of Wine

Now that we’ve talked about the Millennial math that is stacked against the wine industry, let’s work on reframing the discussion about value.

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

To appeal to Millennials, the industry has to demonstrate its value. They have to show us why a bottle of wine is worth shelling out our hard earned cash to purchase. As I mentioned in my post Is the Wine Industry boring Millennials to (its) death? the old playbook of marketing is not going to work.

We don’t care about high critic scores.

We don’t care about exclusive, high-priced cult wines that are famous for….being exclusive and high-priced?

And we certainly don’t care about the “lifestyle” image and traditions that enticed our parents’ generations.

But do you know what does entice us? A great story.

The Reading Generation.

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

If you give a mouse a cookie, make sure he doesn’t pair it with something too dry.
A very dry wine will taste tart with a sweet cookie.

LeVar Burton would be proud because Millennials are leading the pack when it comes to reading. The popularity of digital formats are a big driver but even tried and true paper and hardback books are seeing an upswing in interest.

Millennials are infusing bookstores with new life because of the sense of nostalgia and authenticity they give us. When we feel overwhelmed with the world, books offer a haven and sure-fire antidote to the “Boredom Factor” we disdain.

Gosh, wouldn’t it be great if the wine industry could capture some of that?

If only we had a product that could convey a unique sense of place, crafted by people with a passion and personality?

If only we had something that constantly changed, both in the glass and in the bottle, like a great thriller with all its twists and surprises?

Hmm…if only.

A Story in a Bottle

The wine industry will continue to have problems converting Millennial consumers if it sticks with the old playbook of treating wine like it’s a commodity or status symbol. Neither of those interest us.

The health-consciousness of Millennials are moving us away from the idea of drinking cheap wine just to get a cheap buzz.

Photo by Jami430. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Let see, should we spend $25 on a bottle of Meiomi or an order of organic avocados sliced on toasted nine-grain bread with sesame seeds?
…or we could buy a house?

We don’t have the money or inclination to buy luxury “status” wines because we’d rather pay rent, go on a trip or enjoy avocado toast.

Yes, the gameboard has changed with Millennials. But what should send a spike excitement through the industry is that it’s changed in a way that is tailored to the strengths of wine.

Step back and think about it–what beverage beyond wine can so perfectly cater to a Millennial’s sense of wanderlust or their cravings for authenticity and uniqueness?

What beverage can tell a story better than wine?

We just need to stop thinking of (and promoting) wine like its a commodity. We need to reclaim our lost storytelling.

Compelling Characters

This is the personality and people behind a wine. By far, it’s a winery’s most important asset and should be the number one marketing focus.

Print made by Sidney Paget (1860 - 1908). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-PD-Mark

Watson, it was clearly the sulfites in his wine that poisoned him. Jenny McCarthy said they were bad.

The key to every great story is a compelling central character–our heroine or anti-hero. The central character is what separates one book from the myriad of others in the same genre. There are thousands of detective stories but there is only one Sherlock Holmes, one Alex Cross, one Hercule Poirot or one Kay Scarpetta.

And while there are god knows how many Cabernet Sauvignons, Chardonnays, Red Blends, Pinot noirs and Sauvignon blancs out there, what distinguishes each of them is their own central character–for better or for worse.

Maybe its a bulk wine with its central character a boring, non-descript narrator. They come and go like cheap penny dreadfuls.

A winery that wants to capture the attention of Millennials doesn’t need to be a Sherlock Holmes. But they do need to aim for more than non-descript and dreadful.

What makes a character compelling is that they come to life, they’re relatable. The readers learn details that add color to their understanding of the character. This lets the character jump off the page and resonate with them.

What makes a bottle of wine become more interesting and compelling is the character behind the bottle–not the grape or terroir (the backdrop). Of course, the plot (the wine itself) is important but readers will accept a few underwhelming books in a series (I’m looking at you Alex Cross’ Trial) if the character is still compelling enough to follow.

For a winery to appeal to Millennials, they need to build and promote this character.
Photo take by self. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons as user:Agne27 under CC-BY-SA-3.0

And, honestly, a bottling truck is kind of cool.

Show us the details that add color to our understanding of your wine.

Who are you?

Why are you making wine?

What drives you and is distinct from all the other characters out there?

Show us the hard work and setbacks. Your consumer has setbacks too. Show us the excitement and joy of many months/years of labor coming down the bottling line. There are things in our lives that take months/years to come to fruition. We can relate to that.

Let us connect to your wine by telling us your story.

Because that is really the only compelling reason we have to pick up your bottle over every other option that is clamoring for our money.

The Backdrop

J. R. R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King certainly had compelling central characters in their works. But they also brought the settings of their stories to life, even in short-stories that weren’t part of a larger world-building series. While the stories would still go nowhere without the central characters, the backdrop was an essential piece of the puzzle.

In wine, the backdrop is the grape varieties and places that the wine is from. One of my favorite definitions of terroir is “the story of a wine,” and this includes things like the climate of the vintage and the culture/traditions that a wine is brought up in.

Photo by Olivier Colas (http://olouf.fr). Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Fun Fact: The Battle of Pelennor Fields was filmed only about an hour half away from the wine region of Central Otago.
“I am no Burgundy!”

A Pinot noir from New Zealand is distinct from one from Oregon, California or Burgundy for many reasons. All those reasons add richness to the story of the wine just like Middle Earth, Hogwarts and Shawshank added richness to their narratives.

When I encourage wineries to focus more on marketing the unique character of themselves, I’m not telling them to ignore the grapes or terroir. But they should recognize these things for what they are–the backdrop.

This is why making wine from unusual grape varieties or emerging wine regions is not enough to entice Millennials.

As fascinating as visiting Gondor is, we only care about that place because of Aragorn, Faramir and Boromir. Likewise, unique grape varieties like Fiano, Xinomavro, Cinsault and Trousseau or emerging wine regions in Denmark and Sweden are exciting but the novelty of new wears off quickly.

To keep consumers turning the page, you still need a compelling character to drive the story.

The Plot

However, you can have the most compelling character ever written with an imaginative world, but the plot still needs to deliver. As I mentioned above, readers will forgive a weak book or two in a series if the character is worth following. But the strength of that character gets weakened with every dud.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4032043

Yeah, I know it was the Oxycontin but *shudders*.

Similarly, the strength of a winery’s character weakens with every subpar bottle they release. Plus, there is always the risk of a consumer’s first impression coming from that “off-vintage” and them deciding that the character is not worth waiting for another book. If your first experience with Stephen King was Dreamcatcher, it might take some coaxing to get you to try another bottle.

Most importantly, though, the plot of what’s inside the bottle is where wine separates itself from other options. Above all, here is where we can highlight a wine’s value above a similarly priced beverage.

Yeah, you can get flavor and a buzz from craft beer, cider, spiked seltzer water, cocktails and spirits. But each of those items is a short-story that stays static.

The story of a wine doesn’t end when the cork is pulled. That is merely the end of one chapter.

A Continuing and Changing Climax

The evolution of wine in a bottle is something that the wine industry does a poor job of explaining or marketing. And we wonder whatever happened to aging fine wines?

We promote “drinking windows” and isolate people/wines into camps of “instant-gratification” or “cellar-worthy.” We treat enjoyment of wine like it’s a timestamp on a theater ticket. Better get your butts into the seats before they lock the doors.

Photo by CynSimp. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

What they didn’t tell you was that the toxins were really kombucha.

All of that ignores the storytelling that adds value to wine.

Even after the cork is pulled, a great wine (like a great story) will unfurl itself over the course of each glass. Change of direction, build-ups and plot twists are around the corner with the next pour.

What equivalent priced beverage offers that? Yeah, your beer could get warm and change. Or your ice sphere could melt into your diluted whiskey. But that’s more discovering that trees are releasing toxins to purge the planet than realizing that Bruce Willis is dead.

Plus, with many wines, there are still chapters that have yet to be written and are waiting to be experienced months, years or even decades down the road. The bottle you open today is not going to be the same bottle–the same story–that it’s going to be when you pick up the book again.

That’s fascinating and exciting!

It’s something that not even the Choose Your Own Adventure series can top.

Leveraging our strength and adding value.

In hindsight, it will be silly if the wine industry continues to have a “Millennial Problem.” Our greatest strength is that our product has such potential to be compelling, unique and authentic.

We just need to get back to telling our stories.

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Millennial Math — Where’s the value in wine?

A few days ago I wrote about the “Boredom Factor” that is sapping Millennials’ enthusiasm for wine. But engaging Millennials with things that are new, interesting and authentic is only part of the battle. The industry also needs to reframe the discussion about value and pricing.

Photo by Ecole polytechnique Université Paris-Saclay. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

Let’s face it, wine delivers horrible “bang for the buck”–especially compared to other alcoholic beverages. This is true at all price points, but particularly at the low-end (and ironically titled) “value wine” segment.

For smaller boutique wineries, worrying about “value wine” might not seem like a big deal. But the issues impacting the top shelf take root on the bottom.

If you want to know why $100+ bottles of Napa Cab are in danger, head to your local grocery store and look around.

Millennial Math in the Grocery Store

I’ll get to our boutique and more premium wine brands below. But let’s start with a cash-strapped Millennial who want to spend less than $10 for something to drink. You could go to the wine aisle and find stuff like this.

Yellow Tail and other under $10 wines

Then there are other options as well–like Barefoot, Arbor Mist, Cooks, Andre’s and more. At this one grocery store, I estimated that around 40% of their wine selection was sub $10. So, diversity, yeah?

But they all fall into the same “sameness” of sweet, simple or boring Cabs, Chards and Red Blends. Sure, you have the occasional gimmick of things like the “living labels” of Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes. However, after the novelty of a cute label wears off, it’s still the same boring juice in the bottle.

Now right next to the wine department in many stores is a beer department which has likely been greatly expanded thanks to the craft beer boom.

Let’s see what under $10 options our Millennial shopper has there.

22 oz Beer bomber singles

These are 22 oz “bomber” sizes of beer which is only a tad smaller than the standard 750ml (25.4 oz) bottle of wine. In this one Albertsons grocery store, I counted over 80 different SKUs of at least 20 different styles of beer among under $10 bombers. And this was a rather small grocery selection for the Seattle-area market.

If you think of beer styles (Belgian Tripel, New England IPA, Oatmeal Stout, etc.) like grape varieties, the beer department has the wine industry smoked when it comes to answering the “Boredom Factor.”

Even among the same style (like IPA), you are far more likely to find distinct personalities and differences (hoppiness) among various brews than you ever would dream of finding among under $10 Cabs, Chards and Red Blends.

I have a fair amount of industry folks who read this blog so I’m going to ask you to step back and take off your “wine hat” for a moment. If you were a young post-college Millennial shopper with no personal connection (like having visited a winery) or long-term relationship with drinking wine, what would you spend your $10 on?

Are we just waiting for better times?

Yeah, things suck right now for the broke 20-something Millennial. But can we really predict their future buying potential based on the habits of their 20s?

It’s true that most Millennials have not entered their peak earning ages. Likewise, most have not reached the ages when previous generations started embracing wine.

Jason Haas, of Tablas Creek, makes that later point particularly well as he points out some of the silver linings amidst the gloom and doom assessments about Millennials.

The median age of a Millennial is 30, but the Millennials at the peak of the demographic bubble are just 24. Were many Baby Boomers drinking wine at age 30, let alone 24? No. How about GenX? Not much. Millennials are drinking more wine than preceding generations were at the same age, which should be a positive enough trend. — Jason Haas, Are the gloomy messages about the state of the wine industry warranted? I say not for wineries like us. 2/4/2019

I concede Haas’ point and appreciate his optimism. I’ve certainly not hidden my affection or admiration for Tablas Creek’s business acumen. Though Haas is a “proud Gen Xer,” he pretty much runs Tablas Creek like a Millennial with a brand that embraces transparency, authenticity and sustainability along with pushing the envelope for new and exciting wines.

Without a doubt, if more wineries followed Tablas Creek’s example, the Boredom Factor would almost be a non-issue.

But what I fret that Haas’ optimism overlooks is the habits and perceptions that are being ingrained into Millennial consumers right now. Haas’ generation (and the Boomers) had the benefit of a promising economic outlook before them–where there was the potential for growth in earnings and career development.

That is a luxury that many Millennials don’t have and this is something that we are all too aware of. Even if things get a little bit better into our late 30s and 40s, it’s going to be very difficult to shake the mindset and spending habits of our formative 20s and early 30s.

Valuing “Value”

While things are not as bad as they were during the Great Depression, social scientists and economists are already drawing parallels to the spending habits and mindset of Millennials with those of the Silent Generation born between 1925-1945.

Even though the Silent Generation benefited from the post-war boom, many kept the spending habits imprinted on them during the hardship of the Great Depression. Prominent among those retained habits was the idea of stretching your dollar–even when you had more dollars to stretch.

Millennials certainly like to be entertained. We want experiences and to feel connected. And we avoid boredom like the plague.

But we deeply value “value.”

The $15-25 Sweet Spot

Let’s go back to the grocery store and look at the more premium $15-25 “sweet spot” range of wine pricing–with emphasis on the sweet.

Meiomi & 7 deadly with cheaper spirits

Usually, Meiomi is not over $25 so, for the sake of argument, I’m including it here.

When you get up to the higher price points, wine’s competition is not just beer (with many interesting six and twelve packs available in this price range) but also spirits as well. But spirits adds another dimension because they’re far less perishable and the servings are much smaller.

With wine and beer, you ideally want to enjoy it the same day that it was opened. But a comparably priced spirit can last weeks or even months.

Now I can hear wine folks scoffing at the idea of Captain Morgan or Deep Eddy taking away throat share from anyone older than 23. Yeah, I get it. The “Fireball crowd” eventually grows up. But for those folks who lose the sweet tooth and want something with more complexity, the spirits department still offers numerous options–especially among whiskeys.

Plus, because of how long a bottle of whiskey last, a Millennial could even stretch their $25 drinking budget to $40 and still get some very compelling value.

Old Forester and Woodford reserve

Personally not a fan of the Redneck Riviera but I’d take it over Meiomi any day of the week.

Granted, you have to sometimes deal with the inconvenience of getting the product out of lockup. Also, in some states (like Washington) there are crazy high liquor taxes to account for too.

However, this is all part of the sum-value Millennial Math that we deal with on every trip to the store. What the wine industry needs to concern itself with is how all these figures are adding up.

Banking on Premium Spenders

I want to embrace the optimism that as Millennials feel financially secure, they will turn to wine and start spending in the premium category. That means not only a strong wine industry but also a strong economy overall.

But I can’t shake the feeling that even if Millennials have more money to spend, that they’re not going to be impressed with the value they see in high-end wines. This is something that I’ve personally experienced myself. I’m very fortunate in my financial situation to where I can occasionally splurge on bottles like Opus One, Silver Oak, Cristal and Petrus.

You know what? I’d rather drink Pappy.

I feel this way even though I’m a highly-engaged wine drinker with a personal connection to wine. I’ve been bitten hard by the bug and have a healthy cellar to show for it.

But if you ask me for my brutally honest choice of whether to spend another $2600-4000 on a bottle of Petrus or something like the 1981 Glenmorangie Pride, I would choose the Glenmorangie every time.

And this is coming from someone that keeps a picture of Petrus as their background banner on Facebook!

However, when I step back and let my Millennial nature take over–when I think about the sum-value of what I’m getting compared to what I’m paying–whiskey beats out wine.

If that’s the case with someone like me, then how do you think the math is playing out with my co-horts?

The Petruses of the World are not the ones that need to worry.

Petrus is not going to have problems selling their wine. Even if Millennials aren’t spending at levels of past generations, wineries like Petrus make so little at such high prices that they only need a few folks to bite the bullet each vintage. There is always going to be enough people like me who shell out thousands to attend our Super Bowl–even if it ends up being a 13-3 snorefest.

The real hurt is going to be felt by all the wineries making NFL regular-season and playoff-type wines. They’re the ones that are going to have to convince Millennials that their wines are worth the price of the ticket.

Let’s go back and look at our supermarket shelf at some of the $50-100 options.
$50 to 100 wine vs spirits

That is an excellent price on the Grgich. The only thing that kept me from pulling the trigger was wondering how long it had been standing upright under the supermarket’s harsh lights.

Again, why spend $50-100 for something that needs to be enjoyed mostly in one night (unless you spend another $200+ for a preservation system like the Coravin) over something you could stretch for months?

Wine’s saving grace has been that only a small segment of drinkers have developed a taste for brown spirits like whiskey, tequila and rum. But those categories are growing–especially among Millennials and women.

If the boredom factor doesn’t kill off the $100+ Napa Cab, brown spirits certainly will.

But it all starts back in the beginning, with the spending habits and perception of value that Millennials are developing now with their under $10 and $15-25 options. Here is where wineries are losing the battle before the war even begins.

Yeah, Millennials wanderlust is great and can definitely help wineries that are offering different and exciting wines. But that same wanderlust also fuels our openness in trying other beverages like craft beer and brown liquors. The more we try them, the more those other options become players in the “sum-value” game of Millennial Math.

And, right now, that math is seriously working against the wine industry.

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60 Second Wine Review — Canard-Duchêne Brut

A few quick thoughts on the non-vintage Canard-Duchêne Brut Champagne.

The Geekery
Canard Duchene Champagne

The origins of Canard-Duchêne is a love story. Léonie Duchêne was a winemaker and daughter of a grower in Ludes, a premier cru village in the Montagne de Reims. In 1860, she married the local barrel marker, Victor Canard, convincing him to start a Champagne house together in 1868.

Rather than move to the big cities of Reims and Epernay, Léonie and Victor stayed in Ludes. Their son, Edmond, took over the estate in 1890 and greatly expanded the house’s presence in Russia. He soon acquired the rights to be the official Champagne of Tsar Nicolas II.

The house remained family owned until 1978 when the conglomerate LVMH acquired it. Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan noted in the Christie’s Encyclopedia that Canard-Duchêne then became a “second label” of Veuve Clicquot.

In 2003, LVMH sold the brand to Alain Thiénot who began a long process of renovating the house and vineyards. He brought in Laurent Fédou as cellar master and introduced an organic line of Champagnes.

The non-vintage Brut is a blend of 40% Pinot noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. Fédou puts the wine through full malolactic, aging it on the lees 23-26 months before bottling with 9 g/l dosage. Around 10,000 cases are imported to the US each year.

The Wine

Photo by Prayitno. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The palate has more going on than the nose with a lemon-custardly mouthfeel.

Medium intensity nose–citrus and floral notes.

On the palate, the citrus notes carry through but become weightier and more pronounced. Coupled with the soft mousse and slight toastiness, the Champagne takes on a lemon custard feel. Lively acidity keeps it fresh and well-balanced with the dosage. The acidity also brings to life some spiced pear that lingers on the moderate finish.

The Verdict

This is a solidly made Champagne for $35-40. The simplicity does remind me a bit of Veuve but with more citrus notes and a drier profile.

It’s not worth going out of your way to find, but it’s an enjoyable glass.

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Getting Geeky with Zweifel Zürcher Stadtwein Räuschling

I am going to need more than 60 Seconds to geek out about Zweifel’s 2014 Zürcher Stadtwein Räuschling from the Chillesteig vineyard in Höngg-Zurich.

Zweifel Swiss Rauchling wine

The Background

The Zweifel family founded their eponymous company in Höngg in 1898. Previously, the family were viticulturists who were growing vines since at least 1440. But hard economic times, as well as the devastation of phylloxera, encouraged Emil and Paul Zweifel to move into the wine and fruit juice trade.

In the 1960s, the family returned to viticulture with the planting of several vineyards. Today, in addition to selling wine from across the globe at their various wine shops, Zweifel makes private-label Swiss wine. The fruit for these wines is sourced from vineyards throughout northeast Switzerland–including several urban sites in Zurich.

In one such vineyard, Lattenberg along Lake Zurich, Zweifel help pioneer the plantings of Syrah and Sauvignon blanc in Switzerland.

Other varieties of Swiss wine that Zweifel produces include Pinot noir, Regent, Maréchal Foch, Léon Millot, Johanniter, Malbec, Cabernet Cubin, Scheurebe, Chardonnay, Garanoir and Riesling.

An Urban Vineyard in Zurich
Photo by Roland zh. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

A vineyard in Höngg snuck between housing development and the local church overlooking the Limmat river.

The Höngg quarter in the 10th district of Zurich has had a long history of viticulture with vines planted during the time of the Reformation. The most renown vineyard was Chillesteig planted on a sloping hillside along the Limmat river.

In the 1880s, problems took their toll on viticulture in the area with downy mildew and phylloxera devasting the vines. Aided by the industrialization and urban growth of Zurich, the last vines were grubbed up in 1942.

In 1968, Heinrich Zweifel, whose family has been in Höngg since the 14th century, started replanting the Chillesteig vineyard. His goal was to produce wine for his family’s wine shop. Today the 3.2 ha (8 acres) vineyard is planted to several varieties including Pinot noir/Clevner, Pinot gris, Cabernet Dorsa (a Cabernet Sauvignon x Dornfelder crossing), Prior, Riesling x Silvaner (Müller-Thurgau) and Räuschling.

Zweifel farms the vineyard sustainably under Suisse-Garantie ecological performance certification (ÖLN). Nando Oberli tends to the vines while Paul Gasser makes the wines at Zweifel’s Ellikon an der Thur winery in the Winterthur District.

The Grape

Photo from www.antiquariat-kunsthandel.de. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-PD-Mark

The 1546 edition of Bock’s Kreutterbuch was one of the first documents to mention the cultivation of Räuschling.

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz note in Wine Grapes that the origins of Räuschling date back to at least the Middle Ages.

Likely originating in the Rhine Valley, the first mention of the grape (under the synonym Drutsch) was in Hieronymus Bock‘s 1546 edition of Kreutterbuch (“plant book”). Here Bock describes it growing in the town of Landau in Rhineland-Palatinate.

By 1614, it was in the Franken region under the name of Reuschling. Local records in the area showed that producers were pulling up vines of Gouais blanc (Weißer Heunisch) in favor of Reuschling and another variety, Elbling.

The modern spelling of Räuschling emerges in the mid-18th century along with the synonym Zürirebe, meaning “grape of Zurich.” Over the next couple of centuries, plantings of Räuschling would gradually become more centralized around Zurich as vines disappeared from Germany and Alsace. Even in its stronghold of Northern Switzerland, the grape fell out of favor in the 20th century as more productive varieties like Müller-Thurgau took over.

By 2009, there was only 23 ha (57 acres) of Räuschling growing in Switzerland.  Most of these plantings are in the canton of Zurich.

Parentage and relationship to other grapes
Photo by Dr. Joachim Schmid, FG RZ, FA Geisenheim. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Gouais blanc is a parent vine of many varieties including Räuschling.

DNA analysis has suggested that Räuschling is a natural cross of Gouais blanc and Savagnin (Traminer). This would make it a full sibling of Aubin blanc and Petit Meslier as well as a half-sibling to Chardonnay, Gamay, Auxerrois, Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, Elbling, Aligoté, Chenin blanc, Colombard, Grüner Veltliner, Blaufränkisch, Melon de Bourgogne, Knipperlé and Sacy.

Two of these half-siblings, Riesling and Knipperlé, are vines that plantings of Räuschling is sometimes confused for in old vineyards in Germany and Alsace.

The Wine

Note: This tasting note is from my June 2017 visit to Zurich.

Photo by Debra Roby - originally posted to Flickr as Meyer Lemon, CC BY 2.0,

Lots of citrus Meyer lemon notes in this wine.

Medium intensity nose. Meyer lemons with some white floral notes that aren’t very defined.

On the palate, those citrus lemon notes come through and are amplified by the high acidity. The medium body of the fruit helps balance the acid, keeping the wine tasting dry and crisp. There is a phenolic texture to the mouthfeel that reminds me a bit of a Muscadet from Melon de Bourgogne. However, there are no aromatic signs of lees contact. Nor is there any trace of oak. Moderate finish continues with the mouthwatering lemony notes.

The Verdict

This wine tasted like what you would get if a Muscadet and lighter French Sauvignon blanc (like a Saint-Bris) had a baby. The texture and mouthfeel make me think of Muscadet but the citrus and high acidity remind me of Sauvignon blanc.

However, it doesn’t have the minerality of a good Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine or a Loire Sauvignon blanc. But I can see this pairing with a lot of the same dishes (particularly shellfish). I can also see it being a nice change of pace from New Zealand Sauvignon blanc. It would especially appeal to folks who want less green notes or pungent tropical fruit.

For around $18-23 USD, I would still be quite interested in trying a new vintage of the Zweifel Räuschling. You are paying a bit of a premium for the novelty of the grape variety and small urban production. But you are paying a premium on virtually every wine in Zurich.

Still, if you happen to be in the area and want a taste of local flavor, it’s well worth exploring.

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Foie Gras Guilt and Climate Change

I love seared foie gras. But, damn, is it a conflicting love.

Seared foie gras

Even though there’s science to support that it isn’t as bad as detractors say, I still feel guilty every time I order it.

It’s such a seductress. The sultry whispers of earthy sweetness tickling the nose. Then that first buttery morsel melts in your mouth. You can’t help but close your eyes and let the rest of the world drift away.

But eventually, the affair is over. Then you’re sneaking back to reality, wondering where your wedding ring is and if you smell like pepper, nutmeg and shame.

Yes, few things so bewitch and bedevil me as my love of foie gras.

However, I’m starting to realize that the wine industry has its own foie gras guilt-trip coming. And it’s going to leave more than the goose livers seared.

So exciting! Yet so, so soooooooooo bad.

You would think that all things related to climate change are muy mal. But that is not quite the case. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of bad—just ask anyone still trying to thaw out from the recent polar vortex.

However, you know what else is an effect of climate change?

Chapel Down Three Graces

This Chapel Down Three Graces was seriously better than many $100+ Champagnes out on the market.

The booming English sparkling wine scene.

An influx of talent from California and elsewhere into Oregon.

The steep learning curve and jump in quality of Canada’s wine industry.

More study and advancement in our knowledge of grape clones.

The string of successful vintages in Switzerland and Champagne–which apparently means more Dom Perignon and gummy bears.

Riper Rieslings coming out of Germany–as well as more German red wine.

Growing acceptance and excitement over hybrid and non-vinifera grapes.

The rediscovery of “long lost” vinifera varieties that are better adapted to longer growing seasons.

Oh, and now there is a thriving wine industry emerging in Scandinavia as well.

Yes! Scandinavia!

My heart fluttered reading the recent report in Harpers about the pioneering work of producers in Sweden and Denmark.

Alongside longer and warmer summers that have extended the Nordic growing season into September, winters have been milder by almost 2°C, according to Sweden’s Rossby Centre for climate research. Even at 56 degrees latitude, these areas are actually receiving more hours of average sunshine during the growing season than some European neighbours to the south, with colder air tempered by proximity to the sea.

… Think of the Danish and Swedish wine scene like England’s 15 years ago, and you’ll appreciate their burgeoning promise. — Norman Miller, Harpers, 1/30/2019

Not only are the Swedes and Danes bringing more prominence to unique grape varieties (Solaris! Leon Millot! Rondo!) but several are exploring cool-climate expressions of traditional vinifera like Merlot, Cabernet France and Chardonnay.

How cool is that!?

But…

I hate that I find this so exciting!

Photo by W.carter. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

I’ve yet to try a wine made from Solaris but it is high on my list to seek out. These grapes are from Chateaux Luna in Lysekil, Sweden.

I wrote a few days ago about how boring wine is becoming to Millennials. My cohorts crave new experiences and want to try things that are different than what our parents and grandparents drank. The industry needs to respond to these changing tastes and stop trying to market the same ole, same ole to us.

How much more different, unique and exciting can you get than an English sparkling wine, a Gascon Tardif or a Swedish Solaris?

So yay! No, wait! Bad! But yay?

All these new and exhilarating changes are the “foie gras” of the wine industry. It’s hard not to be seduced by their potential and appeal. But you don’t really want to think about how it got to your plate.

Adverse effects on the wine industry

Make no mistake, the same shifting wine map that brings all the interest and excitement to new and emerging regions is doing that at the expense of already established areas. And at the expense of, well, glaciers.

The most obvious is the rising sugars and high alcohol levels that have been a long time battle. Winemakers have become almost circus performers in a balancing act, trying to keep sugar levels in check and pick before acids fall too much.

Photo by Mick Stephenson mixpix. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Tempranillo already gives me issues in blind tasting–especially between young examples like this and older examples with more bricking.
Climate change not only upends the classic profiles of aroma and structure but also potentially that of color as well.
Image: mickstephenson.photoshelter.com

This adds to the harvest complications of the numbers (brix, TA and pH) being ready to pick before the aromatics and flavors are fully developed. Additionally, rising temperatures have an impact on the anthocyanins that give wine color–leading to less intensely pigmented wines. For students of blind tasting, this changes how much weight and certainty we can give color in identifying wines.

It’s especially tricky for producers who want to avoid overly manipulating their wines. But the use of alcohol-tolerant yeast and ML cultures and processes like acidification, reverse osmosis, ultrafiltration and more are increasingly becoming the norm.

Not only do you sacrifice more natural and authentic winemaking, for many regions, there will also be a point where they can no longer “adapt” to a changing climate. Numerous wineries, vineyards, jobs and livelihoods will be lost.

Oh and, yeah, don’t forget about more hurricanes, tornados, polar vortexes, rising sea levels and everything else that is happening to the planet.

Our inconvenient truth

It’s easy for us to talk about all the bad things involved with climate change. It’s also easy for us to get excited and celebrate all the new developments that are bringing new wines to our attention.

But it’s not so easy to connect the two and reconcile them.

Yeah, there are some areas that are making the best wines that they’ve ever made with strings of successful vintages. This has made good wine more consistent, affordable and available than it has ever been.

Yeah, there is a lot of potential in cool-climate wines, new regions and new grape varieties. In many ways, this is the shot-in-the-arm antidote that the wine industry needs for some of its most vexing ills.

Yet, what good is an antidote if it ends up wiping out the entire hospital?

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60 Second Wine Review — Carlisle Bedrock Mourvèdre

A few quick thoughts on the 2016 Carlisle Mourvèdre from Bedrock Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley.

The Geekery
Carlisle Bedrock Mourvedre

Mike Officer started Carlisle in 1998 with his wife, Kendall, after years of home-winemaking. Quickly growing to over 1000 cases, they hired Jay Maddox to assist as winemaker.

Specializing in old vine and field blend vineyards, Officer helped establish the Historic Vineyard Society with Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock, Tegan Passalacqua of Turley, David Gates of Ridge Vineyards and Robert Biale.

The Bedrock Vineyard was initially planted just before the Civil War in 1854 by future generals William Tecumseh Sherman and Joe Hooker. But those vines were lost to phylloxera in the 1880s with Senator George Hearst, the father William Randolph Hearst, replanting the site in 1888.

The blocks of 1888 Mourvèdre used by Carlisle and Bedrock Wine Co. for their Ode to Lulu Rosé are some of the oldest plantings of the variety in California.

The 2016 vintage is a blend of 96% Mourvèdre and 4% Syrah with the wine aged in 25% new French oak barrels. Only 109 cases were produced.

The Wine

Photo by Nick Sarro nicksarr1. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

The juicy blackberries pair well with the savory notes in this wine.

High-intensity nose. Lots of dark fruit–blackberries and cherries–with a subtle smokey quality. Like someone tossed them in a roasting pan on a grill. Black pepper and star anise spice as well.

On the palate, the full-bodied weight of the fruit carries through. The medium-plus acidity amplifies the juiciness of the fruit and accentuates the savory smokey flavors. It also brings out some herbal notes like thyme and bay leaf. The medium-plus tannins are very ripe and mouth-filling. Long finish lingers on smoke and spice.

The Verdict

I bought this from the Carlisle mailing list at $38 and am kicking myself for not buying more. It could be in the $50-60 range and would still be a steal.

This is an immensely complex and delicious wine that is in a great spot now. But it’s only going to get better as more tertiary flavors develop. Should have bought more.

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Is the Wine Industry boring Millennials to (its) death?

For a follow up to this post, check out Millennial Math — Where’s the value in wine?

Ah, Millennials. The infamous murderers of numerous industries and institutions. Now, it appears that wine is the latest victim in our crosshairs.

Photo by Ed Yourdon'. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

As a millennial myself, my first instinct to such breathless takes is to roll my eyes. There are only so many times you can be blamed for economic homicide before it becomes ho-hum. But as a student of wine business and marketing, I know that there are embers underneath all the smoke and silliness.

Because–apocalyptic hyperbole aside–the wine industry does have a “Millennial Problem.”

It’s boring as fuck.

Losing the Millennial Market

This recent hand-wringing over Millennials was provoked by Silicon Valley Bank’s State of the Wine Industry report released earlier this month. The headline grabber was that Millennials were not adopting and consuming wine at the rate of previous generations.

Rob McMillan, the founder of SVB’s Wine Division, commented on his blog reasons why he thinks Millennials might become a generation of “lost wine consumers”.

I’m skeptical about the weight he gives to neo-prohibitionism and health concerns. Cocktails, energy drinks, cannabis, coffee, craft beer, whiskey and other hard alcohols have to deal with negative health-messaging as well. Yet, these categories are growing and taking “throat share” away from wine–particularly among Millennials.

But McMillan absolutely hits it square on the head when he points out how boring wine is making itself seem to Millennial consumers.

We are quickly becoming your parents beverage, and being your parents anything is always the kiss of death for consumer products.

Wine is Boring ..

To this young consumer with a short-attention span – activity, health, the environment, causes with an egalitarianism theme and fun are important both conceptually and as values. The wine industry is just not hitting any of those elements to attract their attention. — Rob McMillian, The Lost Wine Consumer of 2019, 1/27/2019

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Do you know why Merlot sales are still sluggish?
Photo by Benutzer:Stahlkocher. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The only thing in this picture that gives me joy is the decanter. It’s my ideal shape for form and function.

It’s not because of a movie that came out when the youngest Millennials were still playing on their elementary school playgrounds.

No, it’s because it is what our parents and grandparents drink. And who wants to choose that when you’re out on a date or sitting at home watching documentaries about the Fyre Festival?

It’s boring and anything boring is not worth the time, money or calories.

If there is one area I would give credence to about health concerns impacting wine sales, it is that Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z are not interested in just getting drunk.

What we put into our bodies has to give us some tangible benefit beyond intoxication. It has to edify us–mentally, spiritually, physically or emotionally. To Marie Kondo-it, we want the things in our lives to bring us joy.

So how can wine bring joy back to Millennial consumers instead of boring them to tears?

Combating Wine’s Boredom Factor

A tried and true tenet of Marketing 101 is that successful companies stand out from the pack. Especially in a crowded marketplace, you need to find ways to catch the consumer’s attention and show them that you’re different.

Bottle highlight 90+ score

Yawn…

That’s still true with Millennials. This is not an area where marketers need to re-invent the wheel. But what wineries do need to reconsider is how they are trying to distinguish themselves.

Oh, you got a great 90+ score from a critic?

That’s nice. So did several thousand other wines.

Oh, your vineyard has unique terroir and you let the wine reflect the site?

That’s nice. Most all your competitors say that too.

Oh, you won whatever medals from whatever wine competitions?

That’s nice. Look at all that bling being passed out like candy.

Oh, you have heavy screen printed bottles, colorful die-cut labels and REALLY long corks?

That’s nice. How much of that am I paying for in the retail cost of your wine? And why should I even bother when I can get so many other wines in less fancy packaging for a better price?

You can’t market to us the same way you did to our parents.
Photo by Deb Harkness. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

What a lovely, well maintained and cared for vineyard in Napa!
Kind of looks like all the other lovely, well maintained and cared for vineyards in Napa.

In a talk on how Napa wineries can “future proof” themselves, Paul Mabray, of the market research firm Emetry, noted that the industry can’t stay back in the 1970s and continue to do things like they did when Robert Mondavi wrote the playbook on marketing wine.

Yet, that is precisely what wineries today are trying to do. And then they wonder why Millennials aren’t responding?

To reach Millennials today wineries have to come up with a new playbook. I don’t think anyone has all the answers (I sure don’t), but I can tell you two things that will undoubtedly help.

1.) Stop “Doubling Down” on what’s been done before

Seriously. The absolute worse thing that a winery (or wine region) can do is assume that what’s been successful in the past (i.e., Cab and Chard) is going to continue to be successful in the future. Sure, the gravy train is running along smoothly now but the track up ahead is unfinished. What is the backup plan when the nails and steel run out?

Wineries wanting to capture the Millennial market have to go back to the basics of Marketing 101–they have to stand out and be different.

You don’t do that by offering us the same ole, same ole. You don’t do that by offering us what our parents drank.

Photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Garcia. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under PD US Air Force

The Wine of Mencía.
Anyone who went to high school/college in the 2000s should get that.

You do that by offering us something different–different grapes, different blends, different stories.

But Amber, consumers often need to be “educated” on these different wines before they buy them.

That’s true. Folks usually don’t look at a wine list and randomly select a bottle of Mencía, Touriga Nacional or Pecorino. People need a helpful nudge to try these obscure grapes.

However, you don’t have to give them a Wikipedia article. For many consumers, the grand sum of education they need about a new wine can be delivered in two lines.

“This is something different from __________ you should try. It’s definitely not the kind of Cab/Merlot/Chardonnay/Pinot grigio that your parents would buy.”

And that’s it. That is enough to hook a lot of Millennial consumers.

Sure, there will be a few geeks like me who want to know a little more. Your tasting room staff and the restaurant sommeliers you partner with should be well trained to answer those questions. That is why they’re important influencers.

But the vast majority of Millennial consumers care more about the experience of trying something new than the nitty-gritty details.

2.) Show the people behind the wine

Millennials crave authenticity and transparency. They like a story that they can connect to and share with friends and family.

But when the wine world talks about “authenticity”, what is the first (or only) thing they talk about? Terroir, vineyards and farming.

Back label with marketing blurb

“Being famous is great, it’s not like bad or horrible or anything.” — Dave Chappelle

Now that’s all fine and good. As a geek, I love that stuff. But I am the minority. For most Millennials, hearing talk about soils and climate and all that is marketing gobbly-gook. Especially when they are hearing the same spiel from every winery and reading it on the back of every wine bottle.

We get it. Every vineyard claims to be special. Every winemaker claims to take care of the land through careful farming and to let the site speak for itself. Gold star for you.

Yet there is one unique thing that wineries (especially small wineries) have that you hardly hear a whisper about–their people. The very heart and soul of their brand.

It always baffles me how little that is promoted–especially because the best showcase of personality is a person.

Showing personality through Social Media

By far the most significant area that wineries’ fall flat in is how they use social media. I’ve talked before about the woeful state of many wineries’ Twitter use but those same woes can be seen on Facebook and Instagram.

Bottle Porn is useless.
Photo by Petar Milošević. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Pics like this probably sell more take-out meals then they do wine.
Great use of a winery’s time and social media feed, eh?

Again, this is what everyone else is doing. So what makes your bottle porn special? And, no, a fancy near-impossible-to-replicate food dish next to the bottle doesn’t do much to keep us from just scrolling by. Granted, if we’re hungry, it may encourage us to close Instagram for a moment to order something from Door Dash or Uber Eats.

Bottle porn and food pics are recipes for boredom. If you want to capture people’s attention, study after study has shown that featuring people in your posts is the way to go. For wineries, you want this to be the people who are the personalities behind your brand.

Behind-the-Scenes Story Telling

It’s kind of ironic that the wine industry has such a boredom factor when there is so much cool stuff going on. At least it’s cool to consumers who aren’t surrounded by it 24/7.

Every winemaker I know has stories about how taken back they are at the giddiness of consumers at barrel tastings. Sommeliers, wine writers and buyers get blasé checking out barrel rooms because they’ve seen them before. But for the average wine drinker, it’s quite a thrill.

I remember at one of my internships when we were doing pump overs, a few consumers in the tasting room heard the sound of the pump and wanted to know what was going on. One of the staff brought them into the winery to see and they thought it was the coolest thing ever.

So why not try to “bottle” that excitement?
PVPP fining agent.

During this Facebook Live, we’re going to learn the difference between PCP and PVPP (polyvinylpolypyrrolidone). While both are vegan-friendly, only one of these will help remove bitter tannins from wine.

Nearly every day in the winery or the vineyard is a chance to do a quick Facebook live or Instagram story. Right now, producers across the Northern Hemisphere are pruning their vines. Give a quick 2-3 minute tutorial on your Facebook page. Show us what’s the difference between cane and spur pruning and why this time of the year matters.

Again, not everyone will care about those nitty-gritty details. But they will care about a winery giving them something different to experience on their social media feed.

If you want a Masterclass in how to use social media to show personality in a brand, check out the Instagram accounts of the Kitzkes of UpsideDown Wine (@usdoingwine) and the Garretts of Serrano Wine (@serrano_wine). Spoiler alert. They’re both Millennial-owned wineries so they may know a thing or two about not being boring.

These behind-the-scenes moments don’t have to have fancy production value. In fact, it’s even better if they don’t. That makes them feel more personable, more sincere, more authentic.

And that is far less boring than being told about yet another 90+ rated Cab and Chard that was “…sourced from the finest vineyards, handcrafted to let our unique terroir come through.”

Oh please, somebody get me a joint.

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