When socializing goes mainstream

What’s a tweetup you ask?  Why would you tweet something up?  Recently, I had the opportunity to meet and greet with dozens of the Bay Area’s finest, bloggers and wine professionals, as well as just some very cool people at the The Napa Valley Tweetup – Presented by Robert Mondavi Winery.

Earlier in the day, the Social Media Seminar provided an in depth look at how social media is changing the wine industry, and how users are becoming more engaged via blogs and other social media platforms.  Then it was time to have some fun!  Hidden int he stunning To Kalon Cellar, with it’s giant redwood tanks and awe inspiring barrel cellar, the in crowd assembled to taste Mondavi’s wines and mingle over a social media cocktail.  In the rather cavernous dungeon, we were greeted by Gabriel Carrejo, who is the cheerleader behind many digital media tweetups and networking events.

Once inside, atop the catwalk above those giant redwood fermentation tanks, there were stations set up with each of the wines, where we were instructed to check in on FourSquare at east tasting station in the hopes that we might win some swag.  More importantly, the social locator allowed us to see who else might have been at the event, and seek out those individuals that we might want to meet, by nature of the geo locating tool.  Say what you might about tools like FourSquare – but for social location, networking, and impromptu meetups over a glass of wine, it is an invaluable tool.

As I wandered from station to station, I saw many of my old friends, and was able to reconnect over a glass of wine.  In addition, it was a spectacular networking event as I met many more tweeters and industry insiders that were in attendance.  The benefit to events such as this are difficult to measure; however, on a personal level, having the ability to meet many people that I have not otherwise had the opportunity to do , and to revisit a winery that I have not been to in a while is invaluable.  Changing perception in this business can be challenging; too often, large wineries write people off if they are no longer repeat customers.  this is a poor business decision in a challenging economy, as EVERY old customer can be a new customer provided that the experience is a good one.

Mondavi is one such winery that I have been underestimating.  Long ago, I was a frequent visitor and a fan.  Then I grew up, and started visiting smaller wineries, and other wineries, by passing the monolith as I cruised up 29.  On this night, I was shown the light, both in the warm welcome by the Mondavi staff, and in their willingness to embrace social media and us, the Mediaites, by providing an elegantly casual setting where social media users and curiosity seekers mingled, discuss business, blogs, twitter, and just have a good time, puts the Social back in to social media. Don’t underestimate the power of inclusive events such as the tweetup.  Personalities such as Hardy Wallace have been instrumental in challenging market perceptions in brands like Murhpy Goode, which are often written off by more experienced wine drinkers (ok fine, me) as the mass produced and overdone wines.

Later that weekend, I stopped by Amista Vineyards (@amistavineyards) in Dry Creek Valley during barrel tasting.  An effective user of Twitter, Amista has been attracting tweeters with their personal attention, and inviting tweets promoting their wines and lovely picnice grounds.  While out and about, Vicky tweeted that I was only 3 miles away and should stop by.  Far be it for me to refuse and invitation, so my friends & I grabbed a picnic and headed out to the grounds behind the tasting room.  Having a personal touch with a warm greeting and a welcome sign will bring in people more times than having a cult cab.  Wineries should take note – it’s about relationships first, wine second.  If you are treat a customer poorly or indifferently, when visiting a tasting room, they are almost certainly not going to becoming a lifetime customer.  Treat a customer like a valued friend, and they will cmoe back over and over again.  Amista has won my Customer Loyalty award, along with Holdredge, Manzanita Creek, Mounts, and Michel-Schlumburger – to name a few in Sonoma.  In Napa, the winners are St. Supery, Titus, and Domaine Carneros, which proves that you don’t need to be a small family winery to understand excellent customer service.

I hope that this tweetup was just one of the first in a long series, as it will go a long way in expanding the value of social media and proving that it’s not just about the static post or tweet anymore.  Social media is a living organizsm, and requires maintenance, just like freindships.

Special thanks to Robert Mondavi Winery, Vintank, Amista, and all of my new & old social media buddies who are now valued friends (and I can’t list them all so here are a few of my rockstars, who mentor me and are just generally awesome)

Life ain’t a barrel of monkeys, but it’s sure a Barrel (Tasting) of wine!

jimThe weekend before last, I spent my 2nd weekend up in Dry Creek & Russian River Valley, searching for some new wines and trying to impress my blogging buddies Matt, Robbin, Joe & Amy.  Also along for the ride were Shana and Liza, my regular drinking buddies.

Everything started out innocently enough, with a requisite trip to Truett Hurst to pick up our glasses.  From there, we headed over to Pappietro Perry, who is making some mighty fine pinot noirs that I really enjoy.  Jim, the up and coming wine social media man about town, joined us, and we wandered in to Amphora with our winemaking blogging friend Patrick of Iridesse Wines.   Now, I have not been to Amphora in quite a long time, and as luck would have it, another favorite Lush, Patrick had an inside scoop.  We headed in to the VIP tasting, and were given a whirlwind tour of their offerings.  I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of wine now being presented and will have to go back.

Patrick, Jim, JuddFrom Amphora, the posse invaded Michel-Schlumberger, and availed ourselves on Judd’s hospitality once again.  At this point, we were a bit of a mixed bag, since we kept losing cell reception and Amy & Joe were meandering around the countryside somewhere north of Occidental trying t meet us.  Shana and her crew were sidetracked at Kokomo, so we just continued on our way, drinking through the amazing Dry Creek Pinot that MS has.  Additionally, their Bordeaux blend in barrel as well as the finished versions were stunning.

After MS, it was across the driveway to Mounts Family Winery where we had to give Lana a big shout out.   Since Shana and I were there the weekend before, we had some idea of what they were pouring, but after tasting the Malbec again, I decided to split a case of futures with Liza.  The malbec is something Mounts has only done once before, and it was delicious.  I am SO excited to taste the finished thing!

Since it was getting late, and we had a date in town for Twitter Taste Live, we hightailed it to the Front Street Five, where Patrick’s wife Genevieve was pouring at Camelia.  Since it’s a collection of smaller wineries, I dragged my friends in to Holdredge, where John treated us to a barrel room raid.  I have been going to Holdredge for years, and really love their pinots – but this was my first secret taste of Strawberry Fields and The Other One; these are John’s special blends that are mostly for personal consumption, but he was offering a few futures for special customers. Next to Holdredge, we had a few minutes, so we went back to Hudson Street Wineries, a new coop tasting room that I talked a bit about here.  Sine it was last in the day, we had more time to chat and drink.

Saturday ended with a drinking fest at Palette Art Cafe, who warmly welcomed a VERY merry group of slightly tipsy wine bloggers for Twitter Taste Live – Passion for Pinot.  Earlier in the day, Judd has graciously contributed his Humanitas Gaps Crown Pinot, as well as Michel-Schlumberger Dry Creek pinot, to taste along with the official wines of Gainey, Sonoma Coast, and Willakenzie.  Below are some of my short but sweet tasting notes from that session:

I really want to thank Pallate for being willing to take us on, on a Saturday night.  The service was as fast as we could expect for a 15 person order in a small cafe, and they waived their corkage fee on our TTL wines.  The rest of the wine we slurped that night were opened for only $12 each, and the dishes ranged int eh $6-15 range, making it an economical centrally located casually elegant spot for dining in Healdsburg.  I didnt’ get a chance to look at the wine list, but judging by the glasses on the table before I arrived, there were no complaints.  Stop by and check it out!

Sunday was a wee bit of hair o’ the dog, since most of us had not slept very much the night before.  However, since we were at an annual event, we had to go!  We started out at Windsor Oaks, which I described here.  Next, we meandered out Eastside Road to Copain, which was a return visit for me, but well worth it for the views and the Rhone reds.

After Copain, we headed down the river to Joseph Swan, which I love for its rustic setting and fun with geology and terroir.  On hand, the resident geologist told us a lot about the land, and how it impacts the flavor of the wines.  We were tasting zins side by side, and could really get a feel for how the soil impacts the flavors of the wine – even if the vineyards are less than 1 mile apart. After Swan, we went down to Sunce, which is a requisite stop for the food, and their mystery bottle game.  I rather enjoyed the Barbera and picked some up to add to my collection.barry

About the time we were ending up, Patrick called us and invited us up to Chateau Felice.  Barry & Phyllis Rogers, Genevieve parents, own the property, and generously let us in after the official end time for some tasting and chatting.  Chateau Felice is located in the Chalk Hill AVA, nestled in rolling hills.  I was hard pressed to find a favorite wine here, because they were all absolutely lovely.  However, I did end up with half a case of futures as well as 3 distinct Bordeaux blends that I will savour.  Please go see them up at the Chateau!  Make sure you call for an appointment first, but it will be well worth your time to do so.   The wine was truly spectacular, and the hospitality was even better.

Having survived this barrel soaked weekend, I needed about a week of sleep, but I’ll be back at it tomorrow when we live to drink some more!