From Blogger to wine maker – Thralls scores a home run

Thralls Family Wine - Luscious LushesIt’s enough to make a make for TV movie, or at least – a great article in the Sunday food section.  You know the story, small town boy, goes to the big city to live a dream and makes it big.

In this case, this is the story of a little blogger who could.  When I first met Ed Thralls, he was part of the first handfull of bloggers that were a group, around wine country, figuring out what this social media thing was all about.  Ed was also one of the finalists for the now infamous Murphy-Goode lifestyle (which is another story – for another blogger – who also makes wine.  But more on that later).

Interning at Holdredge Wine (who, as it happens, is someone I have known for over 10 years, and also makes world class Pinot Noir) as cellar rat, Ed sucked up as much knowledge about winemaking as he could.  Realizing that he couldn’t possibly leave this wonderful world of delicious Pinot Noir and juice, he made the leap and moved to wine country full time.  While working a full time job in the wine business, he tested, crafted, experimented, and made wine.  Thus, the Thralls Family Wine label was born.

These days, Ed has created a line of four distinct, terroir driven Pinot Noirs from around Sonoma and Mendocino counties.  Each wine expresses a different piece of personality that makes Pinot Noir such an amazing wine.

Thralls Wine

Ed Thralls – Photo by Thea Dwelle

First up, the so called entry level 2012 Russian River Pinot Noir.  This juicy, balanced, and bold example is everything I love about Russian River Valley.  Not overblown like so many Russian River Pinots can be these days, the bright cherry, cranberry adn red fruit sing out with bold flavor and juicy fruit.  Using 1/3 new French oak gives this wine those beautiful hints of baking spice, without overwhelming it.  This is a fantastic everyday drinker for $32.

Next, moving in to a single vineyard showcase, the 2012 Bucher Vineyard Pinot Noir is one of my favorites.   With a deeper cherry flavor base, Bucher shows more black cherry, dark raspberry, and forest floor than the brighter Russian River.  The nuances of cedar and white pepper on the finish leave you guessing for more after the first sip.  This is a wine that gets better with time, so try it over a couple of days, and see what develops!  $40

Moving further west, the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir takes a step away from the bolder 667 and 777 clones of the Russian River bottlings.  Bringing in some bright 115 and 114 froim the cool, foggy Sonoma Coast, this Pinot Noir has alpine strawberries, cranberry, bergamot smokiness and amazing acid.  This wine goes native, using all wild yeast with 10% whole cluster fermentation to give it a bit of a wild thing note.  Yum!  $36

Finally, for the Pinot Noir geeks in the group, the 2012 Roma’s Vineyard Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley is one for the ages.  100% Pommard clone goes in to this unfined and unfiltered gem, which looks a bit like cloudy cherry Kool-Aid but tastes like a dream.  Roma’s Vineyard sits at about 1800 feet in elevation, high above the valley floor, which creates a sunbelt in a cool climate.  This beauty is popping with mushroom, pine needles, bright cherry cider and rhubarb pie.  It’s bright and has brilliant acidity, and will pop with any mushroom dish or creamy cheese.  $42  (Editor’s Note:  Another fabulous Roma’s Pinot, make in an entirely different style, can be found in Cartograph’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir.)

The 2012’s are Thralls’ third time out of the gate, with the 2008 Syrah being his first attempt at going it on his own.  Beginning with the 2011 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, Ed fed a passion for pinot, and intends on continuing this tradition of small lot, hand crafted premium pinot noirs while also sourcing chardonnay for his next release.

I can’t wait to see what comes next for the Navy Brat from Atlanta, who came to  Sonoma County to pursue a dream!

Hats off to you Wine Tonight, and 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?