Tips from the Trenches: How to #WBC16

Two weeks from today, the 9th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference kicks off in downtown Lodi.  I can’t believe we’ve been running this show for nine years, and that some of us who were there in the beginning, what a long, strange, trip it’s been!

Like everything, the blogging and the career have changed a lot over that time period.  You may have noticed it’s been pretty quiet around here; things are working in the background, the the Wizard of Oz, changing, moving, growing.

One of those things is the Wine Bloggers Conference Scholarship Fund.  This passion project takes up an inordinate amount of time, particularly the few months leading up to the conference, and tends to take over.  Add on top of the my day job (jobs really), and something suffers.  Sadly, it’s this blog.

That said, I’m very much looking forward to Lodi, and as you can see from my series on Lodi wines there is a lot to look forward to.  As I do every year, I write my advice column to both veteran attendees as well as newbies.  There is so much to do, see, and learn at the conference, as well as networking opportunities and camaraderie.

Each attendee has a unique perspective, but for me, as a 9 year attendees (one of only 5), Advisory Board Member, Scholarship co-founder and Director, and wine industry worker, this is mine.

Practical

  • Wear comfortable shoes.  you never know when we’ll be hiking up a hill in a vineyard
  • Wear comfortable business casual / wine country casual clothes with layers.  This is not a lawyers convention!  It can get chilly at night with fog coming in, so bring a sweater.  Wear layers.  It is HOT in Lodi during the day, however it can cool off significantly at night due to the Delta breezes, and hotel AC can be brutal.
  • Bring multiple devices.  There are often times when a laptop isn’t practical (in the vineyard) and your phone doesn’t have reception.  Brnig multiple devices.
  • Bring your own power source.  Power packs, instant chargers and mini power strips are all critical.  There is often a battle to get a slot in the power wall, so bringing a strip will allow you to share the love.  I love this one as it folds, has USB ports and 4 power slots.  I also love a great power squid.
  • If you have a MiFi bring it.  Wifi resources are taxed beyond belief and are not made for 350 people online all day, with multiple devices.   For extra points, give some karma and open your mifi up for others (your billing terms will dictate this, but if you have unlimited or the budget, be kind and share)
  • Bring business cards.  Yes it may seem archaic, but it’s the best way to quickly introduce yourself with a memorable item.  The stacks of cards collected are reminders when we get home to follow, tweet, and read other peoples information.
  • Hydrate.  Lodi is HOT!  There will be a lot of wine.  Water, water water.  If you have a metal / plastic water bottle, bring one.  They come in VERY handy!

Conference Etitquette

  • Be professional.  While we’re there to have fun and learn, no one likes a party animal that gives bloggers a bad name.  We all remember some years where people were not responsible and made the local community dislike bloggers in general.  Please don’t’ be that person.  This is a business conference.  We want Lodi to LOVE us and invite us back!  Act like your grandmother is in the room.
  • Attend the keynote.  Andrea Robinson is incredibly knowledgeable, and is very open to meeting & talking to bloggers.  She spoke in Walla Walla, and is a great resource (and person to know).  She will have an amazing keynote!
  • Attend the breakouts that are important to you.  We are all adults, and we are all well aware that not every session will speak to you.  However, this is a conference, not a frat party.  We’re hear to learn and share, so get ye to the breakouts!
  • Get to know your sponsors.  We have a few hours on Thursday at the Registration, Expo, Gift Suite, and Opening Wine Reception to to say hi and learn who made this conference possible.
  • Attend the Opening Reception and Expo – if you are arriving on Thursday, be sure to attend the opening reception.  This is your first chance to meet the Lodi locals, and meet your sponsors.  There is plenty of time to stop by and still go out and enjoy the evening.
  • Attend the Friday Expo & lunch.  Here, you and meet additional sponsors, mingle with your fellow attendees, and support the Scholarship.
  • Spit spit spit.  I can’t emphasize this enough.  Yes, there are moments (dinner, after hours parties) where I don’t spit and enjoy myself, but you are representing bloggers as a whole, and should have some decorum.  It’s a business conference at the core, disguised as a party.  Present yourself accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to sleep!  There are always many after hours events and parties.  While going to these is fun and a great way to meet people, don’t overdo it.  Sleep is critical during this busy weekend of events.
  • I repeat:  Hydrate.  Lodi is HOT!  There will be a lot of wine.  Water, water water.

Time Management

  • Don’t worry about blogging DURING the conference.  Time is precious and you will stress yourself out and miss content if you try to blog during the event.  Write your thoughts down and save the blogging for when you get home.
  • Attend the break outs.  Too many people don’t attend the core of the conference and they miss out.  While You Need to choose which bits are important to you as a blogger, please don’t be the person that doesn’t attend any of the sessions (that just makes us ALL look bad)
  • Go with the flow, don’t get overwhelmed.  While content is king, if there is a session that isn’t’ interesting to you, use the time to blog, hang out with your fellow attendees, or just chill.
  • Be prepared to want to do more than one thing at once – at the same time, there are often two sessions running at the same time that you might want to go to.  There is no wrong choice, and you can’t do it all so don’t try to.

 

Other Things

  • Don’t be shy – reach out and touch someone.  Ok maybe not literally, but turn to the person sitting next to yourself and introduce yourself.  We don’t bite and we want to get to know you!
  • Find a WBC Scholarship committee member, and get your swag on!  Rodney Strong #wineloveragainstcancer bags are available at the scholarship table, and If you’re super cool, donate to the Scholarship or buy a souvenir stemless glass ($5 to buy one, 2 free with a $50 donation), capabungas, and other awesome swag.  All proceeds go to next year’s scholarship
  • Get some Blogger Bling (namebadge ribbons) at the WBC Scholarship table on Friday!  They are great icebreakers and support the Scholarship.
  • Say hi to the donors & scholarship winners!
  • There are many after hours parties.  These are not private hidden events, but you do need to keep your ears open.  Most are word of mouth.
  • Twitter is the tool of choice.  The #wbc16 hashtag trends every year.  Other platforms that are popular are Instagram and Twitter.
  • Have an open mind.  You never know if there are wines you wouldn’t normally try, that you will love!
  • Bring something from home that represents your region, style, and / or personality.  This could be wine, but it could also be food, a book, or a t-shirt.

Here’s what I think I’ll be doing:

  • Welcome Reception
  • Andrew Robinson Keynote.  
  • History of Grape Growing and Wine Making in Lodi – this is your best chance for an in depth look at the local area.
  • The Truth About Viticulture – a fascinating look at marketing fact and fiction in wine
  • Expo – come see me at the Scholarshp table and get some swag!
  • Wine Discovery Session:   Wine Educator Deborah Parker Wong, DWSET presents From Prosecco to Amarone: The varied and delicious wines of Italy’s Veneto, sponsored by Consorzio Italia di Vini & Sapori.
  • Live Blogging
  • Friday evening excursions to wine country
  • Saturday Breakout sessions:
    • Wine Samples – this is a hot topic amongst experienced media.  Come join the discussion!

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten.  As you can see, there are some sessions not on my personal agenda. It’s not that I don’t find them valuable; it’s just that I don’t think I will be personally interested in them.  In leaving them off my “must do” list, I create some free flow, where I can catch up with my blogger friends, experience some of the local restaurants, join an off the grid get together, or just chill.

I will see everyone in 2 weeks!

 

What exactly is this wine tourism thing?

As we leap in to 2013, I am gearing up for a year of possibilities; a year of trips; a year of experiences; a year of wine!  I am excited to be participating in the 2013 Internatinoal Wine Tourism Confernece, this year in Zagreb, Croatia.  As i prepare for that adventure, I am reflecting back on what I have learned about wine tourism over the past 2 years, since I was in Portuagal at the 2011 Wine Tourism Conference.

Wine tourism is an ever evolving thing.  At it’s core, it is the travel and tourism of people that are seeking destinations orbiting wine and food.  But, it is an evolving industry.  There is a boom in growth in wine culture, in the US, and internationally.

Those who define themselves as wine tourists tend to be more affluent, with a higher level of education and also tend to spread the word about their experiences when they return home.  With over 90% of wine tourism happening as an adjunct to visiting friends & family, there is an untapped market that is ripe for the picking.

Given that, in my small area, there are over 1000 wineries, with more than 2000 in the state of California, how do you stand out?  How do you identify your target audience, and attract them to your business?  As a wine tourist myself, I am often overwhelmed by the sheer number of offerings in a small wine region.  Selecting which establishments will benefit from my business is always a taxing exercise.  When I am alone, I target places I have never been.  However, how do I select destinations when I am in a group?  What makes you stand out?  Being unique and being intriguing is a key factor in this over saturated market.

As I plan my trip to Croatia, the state of wine tourism in the US and beyond is in the forefront of my mind.  After being piqued by the conversations that occurred at the 2012 Wine tourism Conference in Santa Rosa, I am excited to explore this topic more.  While I had already set my discussion topic (with my fellow blogger and co-presenter Liza Swift of BrixChicks) I am infinitely curious about what other people do to attract wine tourists to their regions.  I spontaneously broke in to lengthy (geek) discussions while in Portland recently about how their evolving urban wine scene is unique to the area, and different from the Willamette Valley (more on that later).

In California, there is so much more to wine tourism than the well known grape producing regions of Napa & Sonoma.  There is an entire culture of wine and food that is a large economic part of the state’s bottom line.  But, outside of those primary tourism destinations, and perhaps some of the regions made famous in Sideways or Bottle Shock, do you know about the smaller, alternative destinations?  Creating a brand identity for an international tourism audience is paramount to success.  You don’t want to be foreever known as the winery where Miles drank from the spit bucket, or one that produces (gasp!) Merlot, if you can’t express why your Merlot is out of this world.  This is true for any wine region that wishes to enhance their wine tourism audience.

So, as I get ready to pack my bags, and investigate wine tourism around the world, I task you to think about these two things:
1.  If you are wine tourism business, what are you doing to create a unique message to attract visitors?

2.  If you are a wine tourist, what attracts you to a new (to you) business?  What keeps bringing you back to your favorites?
Happy wining!

Redefining the Stay-Cation

Have you been longing to take some time away but just don’t have the time or the budget to travel to a far off destination?  Do you see the ads for the luxurious trips to spas, wineries and restaurants and just can’t wait to do them?  Yes me too.  I’ve been sitting on miles for years, thinking at some point I’d have both the time and the money to go to New Zealand for an extended trip.  Remembering my trek across Australia 12 years ago (really?  12 years?  Yikes!), and my requisite trip to Europe after…much after…college, I wonder if I’ll ever get the opportunity to truly travel.

To me, travel is distinctive of a vacation.  To travel is to experience the culture, the region, the food, the wine, the rambling streets of shops.  To travel is to get to know the town you are in, for however long you are there.  be that a day, a week, or a month, you can get to know the town and it changes your experience.

So where am I going with with?  With a little creativity and ingenuity, you can plan a staycation or mini break that incorporates these adventures close to home.  We all have limitations.  It might be the economy, it might be a mortgage, it might be college tuition.  Today, over 90% of tourism is based on visiting family and friends.  This is especially true as we head out and about, or home, for the holidays.

For those of us who live in the 9 county bay area, we are within 1 hour of several major wine tourism destinations.  Yes, Napa and Sonoma are two of the most well known, but what about Livermore, Santa Cruz, and the smaller sub-AVAs of Sonoma?  throw in a couple hours in the car and you can be in Amador, Calaveras, Mendocino, Anderson Valley, Hopland, Central Coast, Santa Lucia Highlands, or Paso Robles.

As I plan my holiday activities, I think about how I can make each of these destinations a stop on my itinerary.  Pick a place you’ve never been or haven’t been to recently.  Stay for dinner.  Many destinations are transformed after the witching hour, which might be 7pm on a Sunday or 9pm on a Saturday.  Hang out in the local bar.  experience the twon!  There is nothing quite like waking up early in Carlton, Oregon and walking down the main street.  Yes, the B&B breakfast was amazing, but so was the people watching at 8am as farmers of both vegetables and wine grapes got their day started.

Sitting in the plaza in Healdsburg at 8pm on a Sunday is an entirely different experience than sitting there on a busy Saturday.  When the day trippers go back to the city, and the families go back to their suburban homes, the locals come out to play.  Have a glass of wine in Bergamont Alley, or catch the Friday night music at Garagiste Healdsburg.  If you are in Paso Robles, hang out at Villa Creek and play count the winemakers.  Wherever you are, throw the guidebook away – and find out where the locals are enjoying their time off.

Wineries are often found in unexpected areas.  Did you know there is an urban renaissance of wine business here in San Francisco?  They are a well kept secret and most are not open to the public, but with a little digging you can visit some amazing producers right here in the city limits.  Add a trip to Treasure Island, and you can get a history lesson as well as some great Rhone style wines from Winery SF.  If you are planning a trip, one of my best suggestions is to sign up for flash sale daily deals (Groupon, Living Social etc) email alerts as well as a local events service.  While you might get some spam from the daily deals, you are also likely to find out about a small wine bar or restaurant that you wouldn’t otherwise know.  Some of my best discoveries both in my hometown as well as when travelling have been from these ideas, as well as from recommendations from friends.

Happy Staycationing!

Dream Big

This week marks my 9th Dreamforce, the annual user conference for Salesforce.com.  As one of the largest (ok maybe the largest) CRM tool – at it’s core SFDC provides the basic building blocks of a CRM tool.  Of course, now, 15 years later, it’s so much more than that.  This week promises to be a bit of a crazy one, as usual, filled with great sessions, learning experiences, networking, and dare I say parties.

As I get my body ready for the anticipated lack of sleep, and over filled brain, now is a great time to refocus on the fact the wine & CRM are a natural match.  The philosophy of Customer Relationship Management is one that has been struggling with in the wine industry.  In 2012, only a handful of software companies have solutions that suit the wine industry, but even fewer industry companies are getting the concept of CRM as a tool.  That is changing, and the next few years are an exciting time.

Why does your wine business need CRM?  We all know it’s a tight market out there.  How do you plan to sell more wine this year?  How do you plan to segment your customer base?  Too many times do I get emails from wineries that don’t know my needs or wants.  Why aren’t you paying attention to me as your customer?  You know I bought 5 cases of pinot last year, so what are you doing with that data/ world of the customer?

Keeping in mind that CRM is not a four letter word, many potential customers are scared off by the very concept as a 400 pound gorilla.  Putting the technology on the backburner for a minute, the methodology is the first hurdle to overcome to a successfully customer relationship philosophy. Viewing the big picture is, and should be, the end goal of a consumer focused business.

As I head off to the conference, now is a great time to share some posts about CRM as well as my interview with Paul Mabray, founder of Vintank, about the future of CRM and technology in the wine industry.  Where will the wine industry go from here?  How can we help you get there?

Get your creative juices flowing and start thinking about CRM!  For news from the field, please follow #df12 and my twitter alias!

Cheers!

 

The View from the Top

Sasha Kadey

Christopher Watkins

Ed Thralls

I’ve often said that relationships will get you farther than anything in this world.  Whether that is a romantic relationship, a business relationship or a platonic relationship, it is that connection and interaction that forms the road to future endeavors.

Recently, at the Wine Bloggers Conference, three winery representatives formed a panel to discuss the winery view of bloggers.  Hot on the heels of How Bloggers Influence the Wine World, this session was a lively conversation between the established media, digital media, and three winery employees.

Ed Thralls is a wine blogger who is now working at the Windsor family of wineries in social media marketing.  Christopher Watkins is the manager of retails sales & hospitality at the Monte Bello tasting room for Ridge Vineyards, and also the author of 4488:  A Ridge Blog.  Finally, Sasha Kadey is the Director of Marketing for King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon and is active in social media.

Here, with three very different examples of winery views, as well as bloggers, we discussed how winery work with bloggers, how bloggers can make themselves more visible to wineries, and what they look for in a partnership.  These three are some of the biggest fans of social media and bloggers, and work hard to ensure that they are engaged with the blogging community and that bloggers are engaged with them.

Bloggers, and digital media in general, has the unique ability to be agile and fast.  There are very few mediums as flexible as the online writer has access to.  Gone are the days of paper galleys that go for approval, and are they print in large batches.  Today, we have the ability to not only write on the fly, but also edit that on the fly.  Change your thoughts on a topic, and it is a simple process to edit and add a note to a post after the fact, and call attention to that.  Digital media, according to Watkins, affords the writer flexibility and leverage that cannot be accomplished in other environments.  Digital writers can maximize, and should maximize the tools they have access to, since they cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Thralls, who began his wine career and social media campaign as a blogger himself, now runs the social media marketing efforts or a large winery family of brands.  He goes on to state that the relationship with bloggers and writers is different today than it has been with traditional PR and writers.  Because of this, it’s necessary to pitch them differently.  Gone are the the days of email blasts to the bloggers on his list; bloggers and online media require a different approach and different engagement.

Conversely, bloggers who are pitching wineries also need a different tactic.  Bloggers should not be intimidated about approaching wineries.  As we discussed in the Are Bloggers Influential session, as an online writer, we need to go out and make it happen.  But that doesn’t mean that the thousands of wine bloggers should all pitch the same winery or brand in the same way.  How are you unique?  How do you stand out?  The opportunities are endless as wineries are flattered any time a blogger reaches out and expresses interest in covering your brand in any way.

As a blogger, it’s important to build relationships with wineries and wine tourism, but you need to have a pitch in mind.  It’s far easier to write about a wine that you are having for dinner, but what can you do to stand out?  It’s harvest season right now; that means wineries are a hive of activity, and a wealth of information.  Have you approached your local winery or region about staying in a guest house so you can be the first one up at the early light of dawn, to watch the grapes come in?  We have the unique ability to dig around behind the scenes and learn details about an operation.

As a blogger, we are one of the many.  There are literally thousands of “wine blogs” in the US today, and many thousands moire around the world.  How can we stand out at a winery and make them take notice of us?  This actually isn’t very complicated – it’s all about expressing interest.  We can do that by being active, writing regularly, being passionate, and engaging with the blogging and wine business community.  This is more important, according to the panel, than maintaining a narrow focus of content on our blogs.

One method that wineries use to measure this interaction and passion is the relative activity level in social media.  with Klout being a hallmark (more on that later) of social engagement these days, it is one method to gauge how active a writer is in the greater online community.  Unfortunately, Klout has changed some measurements of social influence and is no longer the best method for measuring these things.  Smart winery markets know this and also look at engagement on tools such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and blog commentary.  It’s all about engagement.  All three of the panelists agree that the full cycle of engaging with the community is much more important than someone who blogs frequently.

Another factor that wineries are looking for is a clear and individual voice.  When developing your blog style, it’s critical to use your own voice and maintain that clearly and consistently.  your voice is your key.  That said, each brand is looking for different people.  While you might be appropriate for Big Label with an Animal, you might not be appropriate for Small Winery on a Mountain Top.

In the end, i’ts about being authentic and staying true to who you are.  There is an attraction to your uniqueness that wineries will flock to.  Doin’t blog, just for the sake of blogging; make sure you have something to say, and even better, something to say that is unique.  quality is better than quantity.  Engagement is better than one directional conversation.

When you are fully engaged in social media, you are active on multiple platforms, and engaging on multiple levels.  Evidence of this engagement, whether it’s using Alexa, Kred, or Klout as a baseline, is more important than large amounts of followers or frequent posts.  To engage your audience is to build your audience and build your credibility.

While there have been a few examples of bad blogger politics, whereas the offenders are clearly digging for free tastings, samples, or experiences, the vast majority of bloggers are honest and integrous people who are looking to learn and share their experiences.  Relationships with bloggers build the long tail consumer business that a winery thrives on.  If you build a relationship you build a customer for life; conversely, if you sell a bottle of wine, you sell a bottle of wine.

So, where will you go from here?

 

The missing link

When I first saw that Marcy Gordon had tagged me in her 7 links project, I was a bit trepedatious.  How would I ever live up to this lofty goal?  how would i pick posts that were meaningful, amusing, and that you wanted to read?  Acccck!
As you may or may not have noticed, this year my blogging has fallen off a cliff and I struggle with both inspiration and motivation to keep on the wagon.  some days are better than others.  So actually, now that I reflect on it more, I’m really fortunate that Marcy tagged me – because it gives me a built in blog post!  Beyond that, I do believe it’s time to pull out my Creative Whack Pack for some new ideas.

Now, back to my 7 Links.  This project asks bloggers to select seven lnks (posts) from blog posts past that exemplify certain categories.  Once i pick my 7 posts, then I get to take 5 bloggers.  Though personally I think I am going to tag 7 bloggers since, well, it’s 7 Links!

And the nominees are —

Most beautiful post:  

How does one define beauty?  It is beautiful writing, or is is beautiful pictures?  That’s an interesting one to choose.  

When I think about it, this post is my most beautiful meal, with the wine and food pairings at Artisan, Paso Robles.

 

Most popular post:  

According to Google Analytics, in my blog’s nearly five year history, my most popular post was about my local wine bar, Barrique.

 

Most controversial post:  

Are you certifiable?  Why wine bloggers should (or should not) be “certified”.

 

Most helpful post:  

Google+ through a wine bloggers eyes

 

Post whose success was most surprising:

One bad experience a firestorm does create:  Hospitalit-eed Off

 

Post that maybe didn’t get the attention it deserved:

Why are RSS feeds such a pain?

 

Post most proud of:

There are actually two that are really in a tie for me, and they both cover a similar topic.  I am passionate on how blogging matters and what it means in the larger scope of things so, feast your ears on this:

It just DOES matter!

Where is the ever blurring line between bloggers and traditional media?

 

As I looked back on my blog posts, I see a clear theme; the things that matter to me, that inspire me to spout poetic, are the things that you are talking about.  What is a blogger?  Why do you blog?  What is the most controversial wine right now?  And then, there is always bacon.  I think I might need to bring back my Bacon Fridays theme – where I make one recipe with bacon and pair it with wine – on Fridays (or perhaps Sundays).
What do YOU want to hear from me?   Inquiring minds want to know!

So I now nominate 7 bloggers (and yes, they are all women, because I think we need to support each other more) who I admire and enjoy reading:

Liza Swift – Brix Chicks
Michelle Lentz – Wine-Girl
Megan Kenney – Wannabe Wino
Gwendolyn Alley – Wine Predator
Mary Cressler – Vindulge
Melanie Ofenrich – Dallas Wine Chick
Gretchen Neuman – Maman des Filles

Crushing it in Dogpatch


Oh no you say!  Not another “do it yourself” urban winery!  Ok, I’d have to agree – that was my first reaction when I got the press release about Dogpatch Wine Works.  Since Crushpad abandoned their urban winery projects and effectively dumped its consumer based wine program after its move to Napa (and subsequent move to Sonoma Valley), I’ve had a bit of a bad taste in my mouth for community crush projects.

But, Dave Gifford’s email intrigued me.  A Crushpad alum, Dave knows first hand how to (and frankly, how NOT to) do an urban custom crush operation.  Moving in a scant block down from Crushpad’s former headquarters on 3rd Street in San Francisco, Dogpatch now operates a 15,000 square foot urban winery with a missing “to enable wine enthusiasts to realize their passion for all things wine”.  I’m hoping that this enthusiasm is somewhat more friendly than Crushpad’s seeming lackadaisical consumer program.  As a former Crushpad customer, I got to know them well as I wandered through three winemaking projects with a group of wineaux.  If you’re super nice I might let you come over for a tasting of the zin, cab blend, and freshly minted BeezleBubblez!  I got to know the team well, and in fact, and pleased to see former head winemaker Mike Zitzlaff joining the Dogpatch crew.

While I fully understand the economics of operating a micro winery and custom crush, a good business plan requires you to commit and focus on your core audience.  A business bill yourself as a “community based winery”, then you need to be…well, community based. Crushpad’s failing was that they lost focus and weren’t interested in pursing the consumer base.  The primary goal was to be a custom crush and attract premier winery partners.  That’s fine, but please don’t tell me you care about me and send me an email halfway through the full winemaking cycle that says “oh hey yeah we moved to Napa”.   Please note these opinons are NOT AT ALL reflective of any experience with DPWW, simply my observatoins as a disgruntled Crushpad customer.

Anyway…back to Dogpatch Wine Works.  Taking a note from Crushpad’s premium vineyard plans, DPWW allows you to choose from terrific grapes including – I’m very happy to report – Windsor Oaks Pinot Noir. Hey Julie, you ROCK!  As a big fan of Windsor Oaks fruit, this could yield some interesting stuff.  Add in the requisite equipment, a bonded winery, and expertise (yeah well ok so I didn’t go to Davis and chemistry isn’t my strong suit so Mike, i NEED you!), you hopefully have – a winery in a box, in a fun urban environment.  Some additional vineyard offerings are Sonoma Coast Pinot, Atlas Peak Cab, and Anderson Valley Pinot.  Ohh AV pinot?  Count me in!

All of these seems familiar, and I get a buzz of excitement that the beast is alive.  The goal of community based wineries is to allow you, for a fee (well yeah they need to make money) to participate from head to toe in the winemaking process.  Theoretically, you will learn a lot, have fun, and get purple with it.  Oh, and you get wine when you’re done!~  Yay!

One feature that Crushpad was missing whilst in the city was a tasting room, where we could actually TASTE some examples of wine they produced.  While in Napa, they did indeed have a microwinery tasting room, but well, it was in Napa.  This alone will add a unique feature which will be a draw; while there is a wine bar in Dogpatch (Yield) a tasting room is going to add interest and attract visitors.

Giving Crushpad it’s due, some of my favorite brands were launched there.  I just wish they had been clear about their goals from the start.

I salute you Dave, for being willing to revisit a space that Crushpad  screwed up abandoned, and taking on the challenge with a renewed focus.  This a huge space and one that I see a lot of potential in; avid wine lovers want to learn and experience the full lifecycle.  This is how we can do it.  Please check out Dogpatch Wine Works if you’re in the city – I know I will be!  I am starting to think I might need to make some more wine…Pinot anyone?

Cheers!

 

**Wordpress ate my homework**  I’m sorry to say that 2 of my best paragraphs ran away.  arrrgh!  I will repost if I remember them.  Yes, yes, I know.  Write in Word, archive, paste.  Bugger.

 

 

Secrets revealed! Lose weight with wine!

Dateline – Biggest Loser Ranch, Tustin CA

Source say Gillian is now force feeding her team red wine.  That’s right, that mystery concoction that everyone told you will make you fat, will make you thin!  I found this proof on the internet:

Before wine diet

Reverse-It-All, the secret ingredient in red wine, has been found to increase your endurance as well as cut weight and reduce the risk of diabetes.  Reverse-it-all also activates the wonder twin powers, in the form of the longevity gene.  Reverse-It-All is only found in the skins of red wine grapes, so I encourage you to use your red and pink wine intake accordingly.

After wine diet

While skeptics state that you would need to drink hundreds of glasses of red wine in order to reap the benefits of Reverse-It-All, I am here to prove them wrong.  According to the renowned Bacon expert, Rick Bakas, “Wine doesn’t make you fat, it makes you lean…..against a wall, a chair, the floor, other people….”.  Therefore, I am going to experiment with the Red Wine Diet.

The key to this diet is the judicious use of a good red wine.  For my first week of dieting, I meandered through Chile, starting with the Viu Manent Secreto Malbec 2006 You can see the full review by clicking through.   This Malbec is a chewy wine, that brings notes of smoked meats and leather.  Chewing your wine 40 times before swallowing has been shown to fill you up faster.

First, you start with this rich red wine.  Pour yourself a glass.  Sip it slowly, enjoying the full flavors.  If you are having trouble picking out taste profiles, pour yourself another glass.  Repeat.  At NO TIME may you eat real food while on this diet.  It is very important that you drink an entire bottle each night, in order to get the correct amounts of Reverse-It-All flowing in your system.

If you are having hunger pangs, I would suggest that you try a critter label, such as Pink Goat.  The critters on the label are actually steeped in the wine, which should help you get your protein levels stabilized.  This wine hails from Chile as well, and is made from the blood of real goats.  This will provide you some protein, and help tide you over until you can eat real food again.

Alternatively, if you are searching for divine inspiration with your wine diet, try the Montes Cherub Rose of Syrah.  This traditional Syrah Rose is refreshing and will help fill you up, while having a cherub sprinkle you with good luck.

For the complete details of The Red Wine Diet, please refer to the user guide, which is available on Amazon.com.

To trade or not to trade, THAT is the question.

Spring, wopinot-days1nderous spring.  The rain has left for now, and the wine festivals are upon us.  Or are they?

Recently, I found that Pinot Days, the San Francisco varietal focused event held at the end of June, will not be offering any trade tickets to this years event.  Huh?  No trade tickets?  To ANYone? While I understand that the definition of “trade” has become blurred recently with bloggers, media, and other supposedly credentialed folks clamoring to take part in free wine, I really think that Pinot Days is missing the boat here.

First, the “Trade Requirements” link takes you to a page that says yo must be a legitimate member of one of the following categories:

  • Wine Retail Owner or Buyer
  • Restaurateur
  • Sommelier
  • Wine Distributor
  • Wine Buyer
  • Wine Broker

Ok, great.  That makes sense.  But when you click on Request Trade Tickets, you are rudely informed that San Francisco will not be offering trade tickets at all.  To restrict trade tickets to a select few individuals does make economical and logistical sense.  This is what Rhone Rangers has started to do, by reviewing each trade request carefully, and making a determination of trade eligibility.  Fair enough.  If I qualify, i get notified.  If i don’t, I make the decision to pay or not pay to attend with the rest of the public.  Understandably, the costs and time required to verify legitimate trade members may be more than the actual cost of the ticket, which presents a good reason for not taking the time to review every site individually.

Now I appreciate the fact that some of these events have gotten out of control, and every Tom, Dick or Harry, attempts to pass themselves off as trade.  However, to eliminate the attendance of restaurants, wine retailers, and traditional media Representatives entirely is to put a big DO NOT ENTER sign on your front door.  As a blogger, I am keenly aware that word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool there is.  See my collective rant about Domaine Chandon’s lack of service recently.  If I am not exposed to things to talk about, then I guess I won’t be talking about them at all.  My focus will be shifted to those wineries I will be visiting at Barrel Tasting this weekend and next, because they WANT me to visit.  They practically begged me to visit.

Yes, many of the wineries pouring at these events have an elitist attitude and feel that they don’t have to “sell” their wines to the trade.  We should know who they are obviously.  Clearly, I should be printing the pour list out and running to my local wine shop requesting each and every wine to be stocked.  Obviously, I am a little befuddled at that thought process, since this is one of the few single varietal tasting events, and it allows me to explore new areas, new wineries, and new tastes in Pinot which I can then review.  Furthermore, I can network with retailers and share my business proposition with them for Vinquire.  Clearly, that is not going to happen this year, as all the 5000 attendees or so will be paying customers who will be having a pinot drunk fest.

Will I pay the $50 to attend?  Probably not.  I really enjoy this event, but I enjoy being able to discuss the wines with the reps, and taste at my leisure before the flooded masses get in.  Without that time, I don’t see the point in spending $50 to drink the pinots that I love so much, when I can drive myself up to Russian River and part-take for the same amount of money and less attitude.

To clarify my point, the issue is not really about the money.  I have no issue with charging trade a nominal fee for the privilege of attending these tastings.  To further emphasise that point I also have no issue with restriction exactly WHO is a member of the “trade” vs. who is on the periphery.

My core issue is with the total exclusion of the trade only event in San Francisco, and the lack of customer service finesse on behalf of Pinot Days.  As new media and Wine 2.0 become the mainstream, it’s important to INCLUDE people, not EXCLUDE them.

As this is an editorial blog, it’s just my opinion and what really matters is YOUR option! Happy reading.

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Bacon is BACK! A day late, a strip short.

Yes I know, I started Bacon Fridays, and then promptly dropped it when my time was not my own.  I am BACK!  BACON is back!

One night this week, I got home and was mildly irritated at myself to discover that i really had no food in the house.  Fortunately for myself, I had a half open bottle of wine and the basic food groups –

  • pancake mix
  • butter
  • syrup
  • BACON!

Sometimes, you just need to have breakfast for dinner!  I also found blueberries and bananas in my bag of tricks, so I cooked up a stack of pancakes and some applewood smoked bacon.

After pouring myself a glass of Calaveras County Syrah, I added the requisite butter and pure maple syrup to my pancakes.  IN the process, the syrup sneaks up on the bacon.  The taste sensation that maple syrup drenched bacon provided is, in a word, orgasmic.

Add in a smokey, blueberry infused syrah, and I was in love.  Pure love.

Everyone should have blueberry pancakes, bacon, and syrah for dinner soon!  P.S.  i recommend the warm climate syrah over a cool climate syrah as it has the fruity smokiness that pairs well with pancakes and bacon.  Cool climate syrah is equally delicious for other reasons, and would go well with meaty dishes including bacon.

Happy short stack to you!

 

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Hospitali-teed off!

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to find myself in Napa, celebrating Lisa’s(@winedivergirl) housewarming.  Since I was staying the night, we had planned to go wine tasting the next day with our friend Brian from The Roger Smith Hotel (@bsimi), who was visiting from New York. When we got going on the rainy winter Sunday, we opted to start with some bubbles, so Lisa took us on over to Domaine Chandon.  Now, I know this winery well.  I have been there many times.  I buy their sparklers int he grocery store – a LOT. 

As we pulled in to the winery, the river passing through the property was a bit wild, which really should have warned us of the impending visit.  As we walked through the retail store, several employees were milling about,  did greet us on entry.  As we made our way upstairs, we saw that while the tasting bar was hopping, it was not busy.  I did see immediately, that there were only 2 employees working the whole bar – which normally would not be surprising, but if you’ve seen this tasting bar, you can easily line up 25 people along the perimeter.

Ok fine, so they were short staffed.  I thought, no problem, there is an opening at the bar, so we’ll side up and look at the menu, assuming the bartender will come by at some point.  And bartender is what they are – Chandon does not offer traditional tastings, but instead offers flights of 2 different sparkling levels, still wines, as well as champagne cocktails.  Having decided on our beverages, we tried to flag down one of the two staff members for assistance.  NO such luck.  We stood.  We waited.  We waited some more.

15 minutes in to this, we mutually decided to high tail it out of there.  Now I know that as an industry rep, a wine blogger, and a hotel beverage manager, we might have high expectations for customers service, but this was just RIDICULOUS.  To not even acknowledge our presence with a simple “I’ll be right with you” set me over the edge. What made this experience worse was that as we walked out, the Chatty Cathys in the retail shop didn’t even say goodbye, or why are you leaving, or anything.  They just ignored us.

Meanwhile, as we headed over to micro winery Elizabeth Spencer, we were fuming.  Inside the tiny tasting room, ev
erything about our day began to change.  We were greeted.  We were smiled at.  We were talked to.  Vanessa INTERACTED with us.  Once she found out we were tradespeople, she asked us about what we did.  She showed me a very cool iPhone app, and she talked to us about the wines.  This experience was so lovely, Lisa even joined the wine club!  I bought a bottle of syrah.  Oh and the wine was delicious!

Feeling redeemed, we even ventured over to Rubicon Estate.  Known for it’s outrageous tasting fees but beautiful grounds, we were at once welcomed by the greeter.  Even after we asked for their trade tasting policy, they treated us as valued guests.  OK< so the guy at the tasting bar was a little stiff, but his coworker truly appreciated my rubber chicken and her escapades.  After Rubicon and some lunch, we made another stop, this time at Miner Family Wines.  While Miner was serviceable, we were basically abandoned after we identified ourselves as members of the trade.  While I realize that many tasting rooms recoup costs by charging for tastings, I feel that $25 is excessive.  If I can avoid paying for a tasting fee by utilizing my connections, that is $25 more i can spend on wine.  Wouldn’t you rather have me buy wine and tell my friends about it then ignore us for the sake of a few bucks that day?

OK now I know they are less likely to get us to buy wine on the first visit, or join the wine club.  But the last time i checked, my American Excess card was just as good as someone else’s.  This is a rookie mistake, because if i were buying for a party or for a hotel, i would certainly not want to buy their wine, based solely on this experience.

Just a note to you winery reps out there – the moral of this story is that one ounce of great service like Elizabeth Spencer, is worth 100 pounds of gold in FREE marketing.  I am telling everyone I know about Elizabeth Spencer, and that they need to go there and talk to Vanessa.  I am also telling everyone to run screaming from Chandon, since you can go to Safeway to get the wines and have a better experience.

Clearly Chandon doesn’t get it.  Clearly Elizabeth Spencer does.  Kudos for the latter for understanding how to treat it’s customers, whether we buy today, tomorrow or not at all.  Apparently, this is somewhat rampant at other established sparkling houses – see Shana’s post on Korbel!

 

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Am I certifiable?

There has been an interesting conversation going on for a while now, about how we measure wine bloggers.  This question is not without controversy and it sparks a lot of thought.  The folks at Vintank, and new powerhouse in the Wine 2.0 world, have even challenged us to create an experiment on how to measure the ROI of social media and blogs.

How exactly do we measure a blogger’s success or contribution to the webiverse?  That’s the key question that is being asked by many wineries and PR agencies as they strive to determine who they should send samples to, give special treatment to, and dole out perks to.

Should we have a Wine Blogger Seal of Approval?  Should there be some sort of credential?  I am divided on this issue.

A credential is a badge of honor.  Think of press credentials.  You don’t have to necessarily be a good journalist to get one, you just have to be a journalist.  That gives you access to crime scenes, events, and trade shows with the expectation that you will do something in return – report on it.

On the other hand, certification implies that your blog must meet a certain set of standard criteria in order to gain access to the elite group.  This is where i have an problem, as I don’t know how you create a specific set of standards for a group of people that are essentially writing Op/Ed pieces.  Yes, there are professional bloggers out there, in the likes of Alder Yarrow of Vinography.  However, the vast majority of bloggers are hobbiests with a passion for wine.  If i write something that you don’t agree with, does that make me wrong?  I hope not.  An opinion is an opinion.  I don’t have to like the same things you do.

The issues that have come up are one of access to a privileged elite of wine.  These benefits have been taken advantage of, much like in traditional media.  Clearly, a few bad bloggers spoil the merlot.

How do we prove our worth to these industry peeps that are we are worthy of the perks?  I am all for weeding out the leeches, those that write a post once and expect to get free tastings for 10 or free passes to every event.  The question is how do we accomplish this without being exclusionary?  The wine industry is finally starting to tune into the importance of the bloggersphere.  By placing barriers to access, aren’t we taking one step forward and 2 steps back?

Michael Wangblicker of Caveman Wines and Lisa de Bruin of California Wine Life have posted thier ideas on this subject as well.  Some of thier suggestions as well as mine are below, with my comments in red.

  1. Age of blogs – There is high turnover on blogs. An older blog may indicate that the blogger is here to stay.  This might be true, but an old blog might be stale.  This needs to be used in conjunction with other measurements to be effective.
  2. Average Number of posts per month – The more frequently a blogger posts, the greater likelihood that their audience will be larger.  This is true in general, but how do we set the bar?
  3. Other Social Media channels – Does the blogger have a good following on Facebook, Twitter, etc.? It may indicate that their readership is larger than implied by visits to the blog.  I think this is important for the bigger picture.  A blogger who is not hooked in to other social media avenues is not getting the full picture.
  4. By Readership?  This might be the strongest option, but i still question how you measure readership.  Do we need a central hits per day list?  If I post on a holiday instead of a weekday, will i be penalized for not hitting prime time?
  5. Quality of writing?  How do you measure this?  I think I am a good writer, but you may not.  This is too subjetive.  These guidelines have to be objective to work.
  6. Their own level of wine education?  Measuring bloggers on their knowledge of wine is putting the cart before the horse.  There are many bloggers, including myself, who started their blog in order to educate yourself.  Rating based on knowledge is going to increase the blogger vs. trad media war that is still going on and the elitism that is perceived witll be exacerbated.
  7. A Blogger Organization, such as Wineblogger.info, can be helpful in identifying those that want to be part of the bigger collective.  If you take the time to associate with such an organization, chances are you are more interested in writing and your blog than the free tasting at Winery X.
I’m not sure that any of these are the answer.  I personally don’t want someone telling me my blog is good enough to be part of the club, because that’s not why i blog.  The more technical KPI’s are tricky and somewhat difficult to ascertain, as the analytics tools are still being developed.  In addition, some people blog on a common site, and you cannot truly gauge visitors.
My feeling is that we need to be INCLUSIVE and not EXCLUSIONARY.  It is important to have open communication with the industry.  Clearly, bloggers don’t like people that give us a bad name any more than the industry people do but we need to figure out how to weed them out of the bigger mix without alienating the masses.
I’m curious as to your opinions!

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