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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?

 

We interrupt this train of thought…

Wine Tourism ConferenceI’m still catching up and formulating my thoughts about the Wine Bloggers Conference, but as I do so, I thought I’d share with you another conference that I’m excited about.  Ok actually two conferences!

First, in November, I will be attending the Second Annual Wine Tourism Conference, here on my home turf of Santa Rosa.  Last year, 200+ wine tourism professionals, bloggers, and media attended the first conference in Napa.    Due to popular demand the conference is now an annual event, run by our friends at Zephyr Adventures (the folks that brought us the WBC).

The Wine Tourism Conference (WineTC) was created, inspired (at least in my opinion and observation) by the International Wine Tourism Conference, to provide hard information about the important and growing industry of wine tourism in your region, as well as the region that conference is held in.  Spawned by the International Wine Tourism Conference (more on that below), the WineTC attracts wineries, wine tourism professionals, wine associations, tour operators, travel agencies, hotels, PR professionals and media who writes about wine and tourism.

Please follow on twitter using the hashtag #winetourismconference for all the lastest news!

The second upcoming conference that i will be participating in is the 2013 International Wine 

Tourism Conference.  This time,

the event will take me to Zagreb, Croatia!  I can’t tell you how excited I am to learn about the area and some of the wines of the region.  I look forward to spending a few extra days exploring the region; after all, Croatia is the birthplace of zinfandel.

You may remember that in 2011 I travelled to Porto, Portugal to speak at the IWINETC on topics of engaging bloggers (view my slides).  This time, I will be teaming up with my friend and fellow blogger Liza Swift of Brix Chicks to discuss new ways of attracting wine tourists to your hidden gem of a region.

The 2013 IWINETC will bring together wine and travel lovers and professionals from around the world to discuss, reflect on and develop their ideas on wine and culinary tourism.  With two days of interactive presentations, demonstartions, and talks, it will also give attendees the opportunity to taste wines fro all over the world, and foucs on the host region of Croatia.  With so many attendees from so many areas, there will be the opportunity to taste many different wines and foods.
Much like the WBC, the IWINETC has grown over the last 4 yeras.  In 2011, there wre 175 attendees; 2013 will bring 300+ attendees from over 30 countries.   It will be a unique experience to share, network, and discuss wine tourism and I look forward to sharing more as we get closer to the date!
Please follow along on twitter using the hashtag #iwinetc during the events!
Both events promise to provide an overview of local wine tourism s well as wine tourism as a while, while providing specific information that you can use, networking opportunities, and a sampling of local wine and food.
Stay tuned on more about Croatia and wine tourism in the coming weeks (and months)!

Why your wine business needs CRM

I work in technology, but my heart is in wine. Every day I see things in the wine business that frustrate me; every day I see how archaic some things can be. The wine industry is notoriously behind the times when it comes to technology, and is even slower to adapt to new methodologies.

What are the reasons behind this? Part of it is certainly economic; however part of it is exposure.  As an IT specialist who spends 8-10 hours a day working in CRM and another 12 thinking about CRM and how to integrate with back office systems,  I spend my days working in CRM systems and designing solutions for a wide variety of companies. And yet, while there are a few key players that are opening their eyes to the value of CRM, the wine biz in general is lacking focus in this area.

On a daily basis, I see siloed, independent systems for finance, customer service, marketing, and order entry that make up a company’s operations.  Each of these systems is independent from each other, with unique data sets that may or may not replicate to the rest of the systems in use.  In the world of wine, for example, you might have your retail POS, a wine club management tool, and an ecommerce or marketing tool.  Switching between the systems is time consuming and clunky, as you have to periodically update tech data set and ensure that each system has an accurate record of your customer.

The need in the rest of the world for an integrated solution to provide the full picture is great. Companies not only need to see the full picture of the customer, but they need to see the full picture of operations.  The methodology behind a CRM culture (and we’re not just talking tools here, but rather a way of doing business), is that you get a full, complete picture of your customer at a glance.  CRM, or Customer Relationship Management, is the art of knowing your customer, and knowing how you can better service them.

Yet today, CRM is still a great mystery to many wineries.  Most understand that it would be helpful, but don’t understand exactly why, or how.  If you reframe what CRM is, you will begin to understand how powerful it is.  More than just software, it’s a lifecycle approach to marketing.  A winery that understands this, knows that CRM can help you develop targeted marketing messages to specific customer groups.  A CRM ecosystem can help your customer service reps receive and resolve issues quickly and effectively, maintaining an audit trail.  A CRM order entry system can track your customer likes and dislikes as well as past orders.

What does this mean for DTC sales?  Everything.  Imagine the power of a tool, and a mentality, that allows you to report at your fingertips.  What did Jane buy last month?  Are you trying to move more bottles of the 2009 Merlot?   Target your offer to those that have shown a consistent order history of merlot.  Conversely, target your offer to those that have never seen Merlot.  With the effective use of CRM based marketing, these efforts become dynamic, and your ROI can be tracked automatically.  The use of a  good CRM database can allow you to market in ways you never thought possible.  In truth, if you build it, and market it, they will buy.

Further expanding on the idea of ROI, there has been a lot of debate recently about whether you can measure social ROI.  According to Vintank’s Paul Mabray, ROI can be measured easily if you view it at a wide angel.  No longer is social ROI a one to one measurement.  If you are tracking the long tail of a marketing effort, the use of an effective CRM mentality will allow you to capture traffic on your website, and new lead management in one fell swoop.  Twitter and Facebook landing pages become information gathering tools that feed in to your CRM database.  Some more robust tools allow you to manage these campaigns and analyze the results from within the CRM system.  How many Facebook likes did you get this week?  This month?  Are you prepared to offer your twitter followers a special deal based on how many times they mentioned you?

Additionally, for any business to consumer company, it is imperative that you have an effective customer service system.  Email is no longer the tool of choice for issue resolution.  Do you have an escalation and resolution policy in your customer service department?  CRM tools that are customized to your internal policies will allow you to track, escalate and assist with resolution in a timely, pleasant manner.  Many tools come with knowledge bases and FAQ structures that you can populate for self service.  As a consumer, if I can answer my own question with a few clicks and suggested solutions, that makes me a happier customer, and gives valuable time back to your team.

But, at the heart of CRM, lies the contact manager.  The base of operations, the contact manager is the centralized database of customer information that allows you to manage customer information across platforms.  No longer do you have to update the customer information in multiple systems.  This is a huge win for a customer, as I have had personal experiences where my information is different for each of the different people I talk to at the same company.  This should never happen in this age.  A good CRM system has a customer portal that allows for self service; enter this portal, and you enter the world of the customer.  Can I update my own email address or subscription information?  What about shipping data?

But, CRM is not a panacea for all that is wrong in the wine industry technology wise.  Each system is only as smart as those that design it.  You need to choose the tool that is appropriate for your business, but you also need to instill a culture of CRM within your employee ranks.  Getting your data correct and maintaining it are constant battles in my world; the good news is, with technology, you can automate some of this.  Can’t ship to Virginia?  It’s easy to create a rule that states pick up only or customer not allowed.  Dummy proofing your system will allow you to give more power and confidence to your employees.

CRM offers a universal view of the customer, in as much detail as you want to go in to.  Do you have information signups in your tasting room?  Where does that information reside?  Can you automate that process of data gathering with a laptop or ipad instead a paper sign in sheet?  Having this information populate directly to your CRM database makes it instantly available across the company and therefore available for marketing purposes.  If you were a customer previously, that information will be available; this allows you to redirect your marketing efforts effectively.

The most important thing is that you have management buy in, and a good business analyst to determine what your true needs are.  There is nothing worse than walking in to a system that has been designed without forethought or intelligence, and trying to use that system.  Can you leverage your current tools to make CRM your operating philosophy?

So, to recap, why should the wine industry adopt a customer relationship management philosophy?  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 custom?

  • Integrated database of customers and prospects
  • Full service 360 degree view of your customer
  • Develop more targeted marketing efforts
  • Have the power of analytics at your fingertips
  • Gain insider knowledge about your customers based on existing data patterns
  • Integrated POS, eComm, Marketing, wine club management
  • Customer service at your fingertips, including self service
  • Measure ROI for marketing and social media marketing campaigns

What CRM tool you use can be as critical as if you use CRM at all.  There are dozens of choices out there, and reasons to choose many of them.  What is important to your business?  Do you need to know more about the existing customer database?  Do you need to integrate with your e-marketing tools already in place?  Do you want to analyze social ROI?  Ask yourself these questions and look to some solutions.

Many of the existing eCommerce and POS systems have some form of built in CRM functionality.  Will that suit your needs, or should you consider growing beyond those solutions?  What information do you need to gather to make informed marketing efforts?  Can you make those decisions now based on the information you have?

There are so many options when it comes to selecting the right tool; there are tools that integrate with Gmail.  There are cheap tools that stand alone.  There are full service tools that can be developed in to literally anything you desire, beyond CRM.  There are tools that integrate with POS and eComm solutions seamlessly.

The most important thing to remember is to view the future, and don’t box yourself in.  The biggest mistake that I see in my job is that a choice was made years ago without the foresight to the growth of the business.  Moving from an outdated system that is inflexible and locked down to a flexible, growth oriented system is a painful process that can cost thousands of dollars.  On the flip side, you can start with a cloud based CRM tool, using strictly basic functionality, and grow that in to a full service ERP, CRM, and marketing machine.

So, where do you want to go?

Have questions?  Want to know more about CRM for your business?  Drop me a line and let’s see how I can help rocket you to the next level.

¡Viva España!

Happy February everyone!  I can hardly belive it’s still “winter” here in San Francisco, given that it’s in the mid 70s, and the sun is shining.  Time to get out and enjoy some crisp sparkling delicious Cava!

Cava is Spain’s version of sparkling wine, traditionally made from indigenous white varieties – Xarel·lo, Macabeo and Parellada.  Most Cava is made in Catalonia, a region at the north east tip of Spain.  Cava must also be made in the méthode champenoise, whereas sparkling wine made in other (shall we say, less than desirable in my opinion) methods may only be called vinos espumosos (sparkling wines).

I am so excited that in 3 short weeks, I will be spend a whirlwind week, learning all about this magical elixer, from the masters of Segura Viudas.

Some of the activities I will be participating in are:

  • An Assemblage master class, where we learn about the traditional cava grapes, terroir, region and climate.
  • A blending session, where we will learn to create our own special bubbly blend
  • A cooking class to learn about the regional cuisine
  • Meals paired with the wines of the region
  • A side trip to Priorat, one of my favorite regions.  Did someone say Garnacha?  Monastrell?  Garnacha Blanca?  Pack me a straw!

And did I mention, they are rather fond of jamon in Spain?

And now, a bit more about my hosts, Segura Viudas:

Segura Viudas has developed a reputation as a premium cava producer, with the property dating back to the 11th century.  The brand was born in 1959, and the wines were first released in 1969.  The Ferrer family of Barcelona, who owns brands like Gloria Ferrer and Frexinet, purchased the estate in the 1980s making it a global competitor.

I’m looking forward to learning more about cava and the Catalonia region of Spain!  As you might now, I was in Spain & Portugal last year, when I spoke at the International Wine Tourism Conference.  At that time, I took some extra time and explored Madrid, Rioja, and the northern regions, so this will be a great way to round out my Spanish adventure.  I wonder if I can accidentally miss my return flight and get lost in Barcelona?

Watch out for tweets and posts from the road!  Can I do this all with just my iPad?  I hope so!

Getting Vertical

Vertical:  To be upright.

Wine does a lot of things to people.  It evokes joy, it livens your tastebuds, it might even make you melancholy.  It can also make you a little Sideways.  When last we saw erstwhile Miles and sidekick Jack in the novel Sideways (and the subsequent movie which while it’s one of my favorite wine movies ever, is not exactly true to the book…ok most movies aren’t but still.  If you haven’t read the book READ THE BOOK!)  Jack was married (perhaps ill advisedly) and Miles was reconnecting with The One – Maya.

Now, several years have passed, and Vertical explores Miles’ life after Santa Barbara.  If you remember Sideways, you know that Miles has a troubled relationship with his mother.  Now aging and unwell, Miles has the unwelcome task of caring for her, and helping her move to another state so she can spend her final days with her estranged sister.

Miles has tried and failed, and tried again, quit drinking, and is attempting to ride out the success of his now published novel, without much luck.  The demands of his publishes and commitments for press engagements are pushing him in  to a hole as deep as the one he was in when the book wasn’t publishable at all.

Bring in Jack, who’s philandering ways and hard drinking habits have now landed him in hot water woith his now ex-wife.

Both a buddy road trip story and a bittersweet look at the life of two middle aged best friends, Vertical explores the relationships of two friends, for good or bad, as they muddle through the difficulties of every day life, love, alcohol abuse and aging parents.

Vertical is tragically sad in places, and hilariously funny in others, in a way sideways was not.  I find it much more real, honest, and open in looking at the realities of life.

I can’t recommend this follow up enough, particularly if you read the book Sideways, and didn’t just watch the movie.  Vertical follow it up with the realities of fame, the perils of life, and how you balance the two.

I’m thrilled to announce that Rex will be speaking in person at the 10th Annual Pinot Summit on February 25th in San Francisco.  After hosting a #winechat twitter session a few weeks ago, I find him engaging, self deprecating, humorous and absolutely delightful.  You can follow him on Twitter as well.

I hope you can join us for this one of a kind event!  Tickets are $130 for a full day of Pinot tasting, educational seminars, and the Grand Awards.  Alternatively, you can opt for the Grand Awards tasting only.

I am trying to do more book reviews now.  I read like someone from Freaks & Geeks, and occasionally I get press copies for review.  This one however, I bought for myself.

Happy reading!

 

Let's go shopping!

I can’t believe it’s this time of year again!  Here we got, out of the harvest festival season and in to the holiday shopping season.  To help you facilitate this, the SF Vintner’s Market is back with their Harvest in the City event at Fort Mason, November 20th & 21st.

At this HUGE try & buy wine event, you can taste wines from all over California.  You just simply, taste, mark what you like, and buy it on your way out!  A novel idea in 2009, now, there are several events that do taste & buy, but this is a one of a kind gem that brings together wineries from all over.

The brainchild of Cornelius Geary and Jeff Player, founders of Wine 2.0 and RadCru.com, this event promises to be a good time.  With the economy still in the dumper, smaller wineries struggle to get their wares of there.  These event will get the winemaker closer to the customers, and allow us to buy what we like without searching out after a tasting.  In addition to the winemakers at many of the winery booths, we’ll be hosting a special section for “Major famous” winemakers and wine industry celebs where you can get a few minutes of personal time and a quick picture with the winemaker!

Some of my favorites are pouring, including Grey Stack, VinRoc, and Modus Operendi, plus a ton of other producers that I loko forward to discovering.

Tickets for the SF Vintners Market are $40 each day for General Admission, or $80 for a VIP ticket which allows you access to a special VIP section, pouring wines that are over $50.  But you, my gentle readers, are lucky.  I have a super secret discount code that will get you $10 off each day, or a huge discount of $40 off the Bounty Hunter All Access Pass, which gets you in the entire shebang.

Just enter “thea” in the discount code section and you’re set!

Hope to see you around, and I’ll be tweeting live under #SFVM10 (or something) to report on my likes & dislikes.

Happy drinking!


I'm gone! To Ore-gon…

Being a California girl, while I have spent some time diving up the coast and meandering through Ashland, I have not spent a lot of time in Oregon.  I have spent even less time examining the finer points of Oregon wines, specifically Oregon Pinot.  Those of you who have known my taste buds know that I am a pinotphile and I usually reach for a pinot before any other red wine these days.  As a local to the Northern California, I have access to some amazing wines.  Recently, however, I have had the opportunity to do some in depth exploration of Oregon wines and have fallen in love.  Again.

It all started with a little blogger conference in Walla Walla.  Having the choice to fly in to Seattle or Portland, I chose Portland since I had several friends in the area, and I was dying to meander through Oregon wine country.  Enter my friends at Solena Estate, and a mini WBC blogger tour of Willamette Valley was born. My Oregon wine friends put together a blogger tour of the area that would seek to educate, palate tease,

and giggle our way through the area.

First, let’s just kick off the day by saying that our transportation was not your typical wine country bus.  I knew something was up when Lynnette said “you’ll know your vehicle when you see it”.  Enter Double Decker PDX, a new tour company that (poor chaps) agreed to take thier maiden voyage with us to wine country. Sitting on top of the old London Transport double decker bus, fully outfitted in leather seats, a wine cooler, and Froot Loop Donuts from VooDoo Donuts, we were off to visit the wine country in blogger style.

Our first stop was the new Grand Cru property of Solena Estate Winery.  This property is where the winery was founded, and as we took a tour around, we were treated to a bit of history from Laurent & Danielle Montalieu, the owners of this beautiful property.  Solena was founded in 2000 when Laurent & Danielle purchases the “Wedding Vineyard”, 80 acres of rolling hillside vineyards.  Instead of a gift registry, the couple asked people to buy them pinot noir vines – a novel gift idea, and one I might steal if I ever get married with 80 acres of land on my hands.  The result was 80 pinot noir vines with 6 different clones, and the Estate Vineyard was born.

Down in the barrel room, Laurent had a surprise for us in 6 barrel samples of the 2009 Pinot Noirs, from various vineyards.  Handing each of us our own personal thief (a dangerous proposition if I’ve ever seen one), we were allowed to wander free sampling six wines, with several of them having wood variations.  The barrel tasting experiences isn’t new to most bloggers, however, the ability to taste all six pinot noirs side by side, with a few extra tastings of wood variations, really gave us food for thought and interesting conversation topics.  My personal favorites were the Guadalupe and Hyland Vineyards, but we also tasted the Thistle, Kaltia, and Monks Gate Vineyards.  In the end, I performed some blending experiments and came up with some truely unique and Oregonian examples of Pinot Noir that I would be proud to bottle myself.

Once we had sufficiently mastered the art of using a wine thief, something I personally needed no education in, we went upstairs to the beautiful event space for lunch.  Here, we were treated to four courses, each paired with a Solena wine, with an extra pinot thrown in for good measure.  Yes, I was lucky – I sat across from Danielle, and once the girls get talking…well you know . Wine flows and all that.

First:  Early Summer Corn Soup / 2008 ElvenGalde Chard

The sweet creaminess of the corn and the salty smoke of the pancetta paired beautifully with the crisp minerality of this chard.  For this non chard drinker, I really loved this wine, with tons of citrus and spice.

Second:  Plank-Roasted Wild Salmon / 2007 Domaine Danielle Laurent Pinot Noir (Wedding Vineyard)

This wine shows it’s true colors of cedar, earth, and mushrooms with a backbone of bright red fruit.  No fruit bomb, it’s chewy spice and cloves really went well with the fennel in the salmon.

Third:  Grilled Cascade Flat Iron Steak (or Lentil Loaf, which I’m sorry to say was the wrong choice) / 2008 Hyland Pinot Noir

Has all of the Burgundian charachter that I expect in an Oregon pinot noir.  Perfumed and delicate, it stood up to the meat (that I stole off of Melanie’s plate)

Fourth  Rosemary & Fleur de Sel Shortbread, Oregon Berries, Bellweather Farms Carmony / 2008 Late Harvest Riesling

Dessert!  Need I say more?

The pairings were simply masterful and many of us savoured each pariing wine.  Fortunately, Danielle made sure we were well stocked and that our glasses were never empty, so we were able to top off any wines that were low.  Err, well, at one point that was all of them.  My favorite pairing was the Salmon, which was simply divine, both with the Chard and the Pinot.  Kudos to Chef Matt Howard for really showing us what all the options for Pinot Noir can be – it’s not just for pork and fish!

What I learned was, the Pinot Noirs of the Willamette are varied and nuanced, and when you have a warm year, they closely resemble those wines from the Russian River and Santa Lucia Highlands.  There is more in the Willamette than Pinot NOir, and there are many sub appellations that are very unique within the larger AVA.  Please go givist Oregon and discover for yourself!  Solena welcomed us with a red carpet expereince, and loved that we were all so excited to be there.  While I have tasted some of the wines before, the unique opportunity to taste so many different pinot noirs in one place really inspires me.  Solena has two tasting rooms:  One in the tiny town of Carlton, in the Yamhill-Carlton district, and the new Grand Cru property.  Please make sure you take the time to stop by if you are in the Willamette!

Stay tuned for Bloggerpalooza Part 2:  Soter Winery

On the birth of a winery

If you’ve been reading my blog for the past year or so, you know that I’ve ingratiated myself  become friends with the Cellar Rat (@cellarrat), Alan Baker, and his partner Serene Lourie (@slourie), who have launched their new brand, Cartograph Wines.  Morphing out of Alan’s previous project, Cellar Rat Cellars, which was some damn fine Pinot Noir & Syrah, Cartograph is truly a labor of love – and it shows.  (You can read my previous review of Cellar Rat here)

This was my third time tasting the wines in barrel, and it is a joy to watch them grow and develop over the course of the past 9 months.  Much like a new baby, these wines change and grow, becoming something special as they integrate in to the finished product.

The first wine we tried was the Gewurztraminer.  I have a growing love affair with this dry & racy white wine, and this had flavors of lychee, grapefruit, tropical fruit, hay and subtle guava notes.  I also tasted Tuscan melon.  .  The wine is made from the first harvest of the planting, and is fermented in stainless steel.  It had just a hint of spiciness and was a great alternative to other whites for the warmer summer months.

Next, we tasted the 2009 Perli Vineyard Pinot, from Mendocino Ridge.  This AVA is known as the “islands in the sky” since it is the only AVA that is non-contiguous land.  Instead, the AVA dictates that the land must lie above 1200 feet, which is the vertical fog line.  This is one of my favorite Pinots, and I tasted creamy strawberries, cloves, nutmegs and rhubarb with a smattering of black cherry and Dr. Pepper.

From here, we moved on to some of the different clone and barrel selections, and we tasted through to help decide what the blend should be.  I lost track of what was what, but it was fascinating to taste the difference between barrels, particularly when we got to the point where barrels of of the same wine, made from wood from different forests, but made by the same cooper from the same area.  I do know that I did find that the 777 clone in 25% new oak was my favorite, with black cherry and spicy cloves finishing with rich black raspberry.

One of the things that I really appreciate about the Cartograph line is the label design.  you can see from the front label, that there are five points on Alan & Serena’s journey in to wine, From France, Minneapolis and Washington D.C. to San Francisco and Healdsburg.  The back label design shows you the wine making process, and allows you the consumer to take part in the experience. The five points in the wine making process mirror the five points on the front, as you go from budbreak through bottling.  Bottling incidentally for the 2009s starts any day now, so I can’t wait to restock my cellar with smoe brand spanknig new wine!

If you’re in Healdsburg, give them a shout.  You won’t be sorry!  If you like Pinot, and you like small handcrafted wines, run out and buy some today.  While you’re at it, grab some of the Gewertz.  You will be happy you did, and your tastebuds will thank you!

Rhône if you want to!

Rhône around the world.  in 11 short days, the penultimate Rhône wine event will commence in Paso Robles.  This year, I am jumping up and down on my sofa like Tom Cruise, because I get to attend, along with some of my best blogger friends as well as several hundred Rhone wine lovers from around the world.

At this annual Rhone-a-thon, Hospice du Rhône shows off its wares with a 3 day extravaganza attendees play wine Jeopardy with the 22 Rhône varieties, while taking time to talk to the winemakers, attend seminars, and enjoy special wine paring meals.

In the jam packed three days, we’ll have a history lesson on South African Syrah, a Rose Lunch, two grand tastings, and an exploration of the Washington State Terroir.  This will be of particular interest to us bloggers who are attending this years Wine Bloggers Conference, which will be held in Walla walla, Washington.  For those of us who are incapable of saying no to an event invitation, there is even a bowling session, where my friends at Mutineer Magazine is challenging us to bowl our best game while drinking some delicious Rhoen.  For those of you who have known me for a while, you realize that the only way I bowl (or play pool, or sing karaoke) is when I’ve had multiple shot  I don’t drink shots anymore, but with free flowing Rhône , this could get ugly.  I promise to hold a magnate to my video card if things get too out of hand.

Given my love of the Syrah and my summertime affair with Rosé, I am very much looking forward to spending the weekend with my other best friends, Grenache and Mourvedre, as well as learning more about the other 19 Rhône varietals.  To gear up for HdR, they are presenting 22 Days of Rhône, to help educate the wine community about the 22 Rhône varietals.  Hey kids at home!  That means you can play alnog.  Together with TasteLive, you can taste along online.  This week, the featured grape is Grenache, so grab a bottle, taste it, and tweet along with the hashtag #HdR2010.

Speaking of hashtags, have you seen the new HdR iphone app? It’s a slick new interface which greets you with a play on Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band album cover, ” with Hospice du Rhone Rhonely Hearts Club. with this handy iphone app, I can see all of the producers that will be pouring at the event, what varietals they are pouring, and when they are pouring it.  Further more, you can narrow the producers down by geographic region, which is helpful if you are trying to explore a new area like South Africa or Washington state.  My favorite part of the app has to be the twitter integration however.   You can click on the feed, but you can also send a twitter report out from the winery’s producer page directly.  That means if you are walking around tasting, there is no need to pull out your notebook – simply click the name of the winery, click tweet it out – and a tweet with the name of the winery and the hashtag is pre-filled for you.  Maybe next year, we can click through on the variety details page? I’m not the most geeky iphone user but i LOVE this tool.

So thanks Hospice du Rhone, for taking on the mission of educating us about these 22 grapes.  I’m excited at the opportunity to mix, mingle and learn with the best of them.

If you’d like to try to win tickets to HdR, my friend William over at Simple Hedonisms has a contest going – the Question of the week Contest.  The generous HdR2010 team is sponsoring ‘Question of the Week, with  tickets to the Friday and Saturday  tastings ($100 value!).  We will combine this with our usual “Question of the Week” with a Rhone theme. (updated) Please post the question on the Simple Hedonisms Facebook Fan site , and a question will be selected for a free ticket, and answered in a blog article.  There is ONE MORE CHANCE to win, on April 22nd at the April Sonoma Facebook Wine Meetup April 22nd at Artiste Winery in Healdsburg.

Good luck and look for twitter reports from the field!

Soléna Soléna Soléna!

I first found out about Soléna Estate wines from my blogger friend Ryan Reichert, (@oenoblog)when he moved to Oregon to start his new career in the wine industry.  Through Ryan, I was introduced to Lynnette Shaw, the tasting room manager at Soléna.  When Lynnette was in San Francisco for the Chronicle Wine Competition Grand Tasting, we got to talking about all things social media and how Twitter, Facebook, and blogging can increase exposure to your brand and introduce your wines to new audiences.  I’ve talked a lot about changing perceptions and increasing your market share through exposure, and this was another opportunity for me to share my passion for new media.

Fortunately for me, Lynnette left me with samples of Soléna’s current releases to sample and share, and knowing that I was a pinotphile (thanks Ryan!) I was excited to explore a bit of Oregon.  Being a California girl, with some much world class wine available at the source an hour away from my house, I find myself occasionally getting stuck – although I am not complaining about my love of the Cellar Rat, Cartograph, Holdredge, and MacPhail, in the well trodden track between my house and Sonoma County.  I suppose stuck isnt’ exactly the right word, since i don’t really find myself that motivated to climb out of the so called ditch, but exploring other regions reignites my passion for wine, and allows me to refresh my palate with new wines.

Soléna’s Estate was started by Laurent Montalieu and Danielle Andrus-Montalieu, and the name is derived from the French word Solene, and the Spanish Solana, for the sun & moon.  the first vintage was the 2003 Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, from Domaine Danielle Laurent vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton appellation.  Low yields in the source vineyards and various vineyard techniques including biodynamics produce high quality fruit and some amazing wines of distinction.


2007 Pinot Noir – Hyland VineyardSome funk on nose, which I expected from Oregon, with rose petals, lots of mushrooms, forest floor and wet river rock.  What I didn’t expect was that this was a BIG pinot, with dark ripe raspberry, blueberry, baking spice, and a touch of jalepeno.  While it did seem a touch hot to me, I did really enjoy this wine.  If you should find it, BUY it.  It is a great example of an unfined and unfiltered pinot from a different region.

2008 Grand Cuvee Pinot Noiris the entry level Pinot from Soléna, and can be found more readily in major markets.  Once again, I found lots of forest floor and mushroom, but this blend had more ripe cherry, red berry, and rhubarb flavors followed by cranberry and strawberry.  This has the softest body, and a plush finish.  The Cuvee is a blend made from a selection of grapes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, and the blending process allows the winemaker to select the best of each vineyard to create a masterpiece.  It’s a bit like a full symphony versus a single stanza, and while it was indicative of Oregon, I found it very much like a Russian River pinot in the cherry berry cola flavor profile.  This wine retails for $25, and is a MUST BUY for the high QPR.


The final Pinot Noir that I tasted from Soléna was teh 2006 Domaine Danielle Laurent. With a small production of 573 caes, this single vineyard designate from Yamhill-Carlton has black cherries and clove, which you immediately feel on the tip of your tongue.  This wine cries for food, and the dark earth and spice would be perfect for a pork roast or brown sugar glazed salmon.  At $45, it’s a splurge but worth it if you are exploring the Oregon pinot regions.

I enjoyed my meander through the Oregon wine country, and I suggest anyone who is a Pinot Prince or Princess to do the same.  I am guilty of being blinded by the amazing wines right in front of me in Russian River, carneros, and Anderson valley, and I forget that slightly farther to the north, there is a world class region waiting to be explored.  For this California palate, I was a bit wary of breaking the glass door between California and Oregon, since in the past I have been less than enthused with some examples, but I am happy to report that my taste buds have grown up and gone to Pinot heaven.

Special thanks to Lynnette Shaw and Soléna Estates for providing this samples and being a great dinner companiona s I rambled on about social media and the wine writing revolution!